Life lessons I learnt in my 20s.

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It’s hard to pinpoint what the single most defining moment of my 20s was.

Bursting into post-breakup tears in someone’s backyard with a bunch of random people consoling me? Graduating from uni and receiving my first real paycheck? Knowing all the words to Taylor Swift’s angry songs? Or how about that time I met this guy at a bar and agreed to marry him 8 months later?

One thing’s for sure: I’m leaving my 20s behind this week with life lessons I can count on two hands. I hope you’re sitting down with your morning coffee, ’cause this is going to be a long one.

1. Losing him will help you find yourself.

I was sixteen and so in love. An intoxicating, heart-stopping, high school sweetheart kind of love. But a third of my life later, he was gone. Just like that. I cried for a week (or four.. okay, maybe eight) until I met someone else who promised me the world for two months, until he left too. It was then that I started writing a blog. Pouring my sorry little heart out to anyone who’d care to read. And from that point on, I learnt the beauty in goodbyes.

It’s unnerving – in a Sliding Doors kind of way – to know that if I had stayed with him, this blog – this micro-universe I’ve created – would have probably never existed. I would have never met some of you. Or my husband, for that matter. And I would have never written this book, either.

Your 20s give you time. Time to leave the one who’s not The One. Time to get your shit together – find your worth – and maybe meet the one who is. It may seem unfathomable when you’re heartbroken, but you’ll come out the other side better, smarter, wiser. After all, what doesn’t kill you, will only make you stronger. All you have to do is to lose that fear – and him.

2. All the stuff you’ll regret will be the stuff you didn’t do.

I’ll be turning thirty with a few regrets. It’s almost exclusively stuff I should have done three years ago. Things I should have done three months ago. All the things I didn’t do, or haven’t done.

I wish I had seen more of the world in my early 20s. Saved more money. Paid off my debts earlier. Cut toxic people out of my life. Most of all, I wish I had taken risks: quit my job, sell my car, move to Scandinavia, be a journalist or a nomad, or not see my family for half a year even if it nearly kills me.

I look back now – six years on – and although I don’t regret the life I’m living now for a second, there is still a big part of me that regrets not seizing the moment when I had the chance. What about now, I hear you ask? Well, there’s mortgages to service, jobs to hold down, bills to pay, babies to make. Most of this stuff was just a blip on the radar when I was in my early 20s.

3. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

There’s a quote floating around on the interwebs that goes a little something like this:

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

I’m certainly not the most accomplished person I know, but I do try to put 100% into everything I do. My husband is probably the only person who truly knows the science behind my blog, the book I co-wrote, the photos I Instagram, the stuff I write. To paint a quick and superficial picture for you, my behind-the-scenes looks a little like this:

Spending 7 hours writing/proofing this post, and another 5 hours planning/photographing it.
Taking 1.5 hours to edit this photo on my phone
3 months just write this chapter
Each day: up at 6am, work 7-4, exercise until 7pm, then work on this blog from after dinner until midnight. I never stop thinking, even if I want to or need to.
It took 4 plane trips, 36 hours and a 45 minute light plane ride just to see this.
8 years to work my way up from a marketing assistant to a marketing manager.

It’s so easy to presume that everyone else effortlessly leads a better life(style) than you do – heck, I still fall victim to it (that’s why I deactivated my Facebook account – plus I got sick of all the faux birthday messages). It’s so important to realise that good things don’t come to those who wait – and that everything in life is usually just a clever game of smoke and mirrors or a shitload of work (and often both). Remember that behind every dream there is an element of blood, sweat and tears. Everything takes time. Success is just a series of small wins. And nothing worth it ever came easy.

4. Your parents aren’t as half-bad as you think.

The thing about getting older is that you start to see your parents in a different light. You see wrinkles on their hands that you’ve never noticed before. You see them getting sick – and taking longer to recover. A dullness in their eyes that has only come with age. You start to see their flaws because you’ve inherited them too. Most of all, you begin seeing them as who they are: perfectly imperfect people who are doing the best they can with what little they have – and with the instruction manual they never received.

I grew up in a household where physical and emotional abuse was a daily occurrence. The visible scars have disappeared but time never heals those wounds buried deep inside my mind. Needless to say, I had an unconventional and dysfunctional relationship with my parents, which has honestly only ‘normalised’ over the past 6-12 months. And although I wish that maybe things could have been different, I realise now that the love was always there. It was just squirrelled away in pockets my parents were too afraid to dig deep enough into.

As the months and  years pass, I think they, too, realise that life really is for rent. One of my biggest wishes now is to enjoy the time I have with them before it’s too late.

So be nice to your parents. There are people out there who aren’t lucky enough to get the chance.

5. Not everyone is going to like you. And be okay with that.

I learnt very early on that the colour of my hair despised some people. I was eight when I was called ugly every single day by the Aussie kids in my class. Being the only Asian kid at my primary school, no one would go near me. I was constantly teased because of my mother’s name. Big kids on bikes would pass me as I walked home and call me a ‘nip’. I didn’t even know what that was until years later. It continued in high school but waned when they realised I spoke better English and ran faster than they all ever could.

So my formative years were pretty shit, but things have looked up since then. Probably because I’ve stopped caring so much. Everyone’s got an opinion, and whilst some people will dislike you for big reasons, others will pick on you for petty ones. Unless they’re your husband, your best friend or your mother, remember that what people think of you is actually none of your business.

6. People change. Things change. It’s no one’s fault.

I will put it out there: since getting married three years ago, I no longer see/speak to half the people on my wedding guest list. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

It’s not that they’re bad friends. Or that I’ve been crap at keeping in touch. Life got in the way. People moved away. I disappeared from Facebook. We all got busy. It’s no one’s fault, really. No one’s been a bad friend or anything.

If I can be honest, though, it has taken me the past 12 months to be okay with this. I was the one who had 500 ‘friends’ on Facebook until one day – the day after my 29th birthday – an innocent ‘cull’ made me bitterly realise I could probably count the number of good friends – can’t-live-without-friends – on no more than two hands.

But then I learnt to appreciate each and every friendship for what it was: my work BFFs whom I don’t see so often anymore, the platonic male friendships I made after the break-up (then naturally dispersed when I married my husband), my engaged friend who went along on the crazy 12-month ride they call wedding planning, and all the others I held close to my heart who defined my 20s. Like relationships, these friendships taught me an important lesson and so much gratitude: that even though they might not last forever, they were there when I needed them most.

7. Fake it ’til you make it.

By the time you’re on the wrong side your 20s, you’ll realise that everyone’s screwed up some way or another. We all pretend to know everything but, dig a bit deeper, and you’ll realise that everyone from their mid-20s to their late-60s just flies by the seat of their pants.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt? That faking confidence will get you somewhere. Not out of the woods completely, but at least out of the neighbourhood and down the street a little.

Public speaking used to turn my stomach into anxious knots. I never thought I could ever look after my own marketing team. And I never, for a moment, thought I could blog for an audience of tens – sometimes hundreds – of thousands of people. Even now, the latter makes me really anxious. But I’ve learnt that to do what I need to do – and to do it well –  I need to face my fears head-on with a strong belief in myself that allows me to persist in the face of failure, no matter how petrified it makes me feel.

As Bill Cosby once said, “Decide that you want it, more than you are afraid of it.”

Because confidence is everything.

8. What would you do for free?

When it comes to figuring out what you should do for the rest of your life, a lot of people suggest thinking of something that you’d happily do for free. On some level, I agree. On another, I call bullshit.

As you can tell from the thesis I’ve written so far, my love for the written word knows no bounds. But I know for certain that it would suck as a full-time job. It’s not until you write and publish a book that you realise it’s just work at the end of the day. There are rules. There are deadlines. There’s the being paid less than what you’re probably worth (and the inevitable chasing up of invoices) or the not-being-paid-at-all, and there’s a whole lot of people telling you that you’re doing it wrong after you’ve done it.

That’s when the very thing you’ve always loved doing becomes a chore because it becomes your livelihood.

My take on it? Relinquish it as a hobby (or freelance on the side, if you want the best of both worlds) but if, like me, you rely on the security of a full-time income, find a day job that you don’t mind getting up in the morning for. Only then can you live by your own rules, doing what you truly love without relying on it solely to make ends meet.

9. You can have it all. Just not all at once.

It was year 11 Economics when I learnt about Opportunity Cost.

Defined as “a benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else”, Opportunity Cost will sadly become more and more applicable in your late 20s.

In an ideal world, I would have, by the time I turned 30: travelled the world, lived abroad for a year or two, started my own business, got married, given birth to my first child, climbed the ranks in my career, built my forever home, turned this blog into a full-time gig, still have money in the bank and keep my sanity intact.

Sounds ridiculously unrealistic, doesn’t it? I’ll admit that I’ve achieved maybe half of these things over the past decade, but it hasn’t been without a lot of sacrifice. But I have prioritised – and that has made the world of difference. What makes you happy? What gets you up every day? Figure that out and those sacrifices will seem like less of an opportunity cost.

10. You are not free until you have no need to impress anybody.

The truth is, I’m still figuring this one out.