20 Lessons from My 20’s: Reflections from a woman at 30

Dear readers, apologies for another bit of absence on my end. I’ve found myself with somewhat less free time to blog as I’ve begun to work in earnest on some particular aspects of self-care that I have come to realize I’ve been neglecting. More on that, perhaps, in another post. 

For now, this is something I started working on about a month ago, on the morning of my 30th birthday.  It was about 5am and I had just awoke from a deeply disturbing dream and couldn’t go back to sleep. This is rare for me. But that morning, when sleep wouldn’t return, I got out of bed and started writing…. thoughts, lessons, advice…Just a lot of things I had come to realize as I reflected on the last decade of my life. I didn’t revisit the document again until recently. I added some more and decided to stop at 20. 20 for my 20’s. Here it is. 


selfie. age 29.

selfie. age 29.

1. You do not need to impress the scene kids at school. You do not need to get nervous in the pit of your stomach when you go to the student center because you think you might run into the group of people who you assume know cooler bands than you. They do not know cooler bands than you. You are no less interesting than them, and you are a lot nicer, and you will look back and laugh that you were ever intimidated by their asymmetrical haircuts.

2. In general, you should stop caring about what people think of you, because this will come up again and again. The people who are worth it won’t make you feel so nervous about being who you are.

3. You will find love again. And again and again and again and again. You will think you will never find it again, or feel it again, but you will. Please especially remember this when you think you have found “the one.” Know that anyone who makes you feel that horrible is not the one. Know that you will find kinder and more real love very soon. Know that you deserve better.

4. The cats you have as pets children in your grown-up life will be some of the most important and wonderful things that ever happen to you. You will learn to take care of something and put it’s needs before your own. When you think you are a shit person with nothing going right, you will remember that you have kept alive a living being who thinks you are the most wonderful person on the planet. You will have cats that get you through the deepest kind of heartbreak and the most inconsolable of loneliness—not because of what they do for you, but because you realize you are capable of doing all that you do for them. This will be helpful for you when you are trying to decide if you are ever capable of having a child (which you will never do in your 20s, so don’t sweat it); you will feel like maybe you are maternal after all.

5. Just because that guy has good politics about the war and capitalism and says he’s a feminist does not mean it is okay that he had sex with you when you were blackout drunk. This will only remind you of all the previous times in your life when men have done things to your body without your consent and flashes of it will burgeon, from time to time, like a dull and burning pain in the pit of your stomach. You will, in your later 20s, do a lot of processing about not just that time, but the times before that, when you became a statistic, and you will promise yourself to unlearn the way those incidents made you feel undeserving of kind and respectful relationships. This will not be easy.

6. Being vegan is not a phase. Being an activist and wanting to fix our broken system is not a phase. Being queer is not a phase. Don’t let anyone be dismissive of the parts of yourself that you feel in your gut are true. They are you and they aren’t going anywhere.

7. Stop making fun of yoga. In a few years, it will save your life.

8. In many ways, you are very mature for your age, and always have been. In many other ways, you are extremely immature and have so much more to learn.

9. Stop stressing out so much about what tattoos to get. You will, inevitably, have chosen different things at different points in life, but that’s sort of the point. When you hit thirty, you won’t regret a single tattoo you have because they will act as persistent story-tellers of a time and a place and a you that existed once upon a time. You will be grateful for these ink-scar memories.

10. You will think nothing will be better than the community you had in Cleveland, then you will find it bigger and brighter in Chicago. You will think nothing will be better than the community you had in Chicago, then you will find it stronger and more securely in Minneapolis. You will think nothing will be better than the community you had in Minneapolis, and you may be right, but you will find lovely people and solid routine in Boston and you will grow to love elements of even the hardest years of your life in that city.

11. You will not figure out what you want to do career-wise until the last week of your senior year of college. This may feel too late, but it’s not. You will get your shit together and start on a path that you tackle full-force. You will succeed in so many ways on this path, but you will also question it. 50% of your job will be “doing what you love” (teaching), but the rest of it will be lessons in not having control over big important parts of your life. Lessons about thick skin and being over-worked and under-paid and sacrificing your personal life. You will think many days that you want to leave academia, but you decide that you will not make any move to leave unless you can think of something you’d rather be doing. You will not think of something you’d rather be doing.

12. You will spend so many minutes hating your body, that the minutes will add into days then months then years. It will get better, then it will get worse, and then better again. Tell your body you love it everyday. Say it over and over until you believe it.

13. When you are feeling the world and you are in it, it will be magic and it will be heavy. You will try so desperately to hold on to the magic parts but they will fade, and you will be left with the heaviness. You will build up walls to avoid the fall, and the magic will become less. You will be cognizant of this and you will, every once in a while, re-read this, just to remember.

14. Breakups don’t get easier. They get harder.

15. You will have no choice but to live with the decisions you make and you will never know for certain if many of these decisions were “right.” But you will have to cope with them, and more important learn from them, and more important than that, grow from them. This process will help you make better decisions–(and you will come to find that the best decisions are the ones that feel good in your gut and honor the truest and kindest parts of who you are; the best decisions are made when you act from a place of compassion for yourself and others)–the next time around.

16. Trust the power of getting rid of shit. You will find decluttering to be one of your most effective self-care tools.

17. You will spend most of your 20s thinking you are stronger than your past. You will think that traumatic events from your childhood and adolescence won’t impact you. But you will be wrong. This will all come to a head very soon. When life becomes the most unstable it’s been in your adult life, you will begin enacting patterns you didn’t know you learned. You will have to work very hard to break these patterns. But you will have the tools to do it. You will be okay.

18. You are worthy and deserving of love. You will have to keep re-learning this. Don’t give up.

19. That night you felt like your life was falling apart but had a sense that it wouldn’t be a big deal later? You were right, it won’t be a big deal. But keep feeling those emo-feelings, 21-year old Raechel. It means your heart is still beating.

20. Love is not enough. But it is worth all the hullaballoo.

14 thoughts on “20 Lessons from My 20’s: Reflections from a woman at 30

  1. Gabby @ the veggie nook says:

    words can’t event describe how beautiful this post is! Many of these lessons are ones I’m learning and relearning a lot, and as someone in their late 20s this was an amazing reminder of what’s important and such an inspiration. Lady, you’re pretty fantastic.

  2. lysette says:

    Raechel, this reflection is heartbreaking and affirming. I felt like I relived the uncertainty and intensity of my twenties with you. Take care, prepare your thirties for the spring xo

    • raechel says:

      I appreciate this note, Lysette, thank you. There was something beautiful about the intensity and uncertainty of my 20s, but I’m looking forward to more stable times in this new decade….

  3. FoodFeud says:

    This is so fantastic, Raechel! I can totally relate to so many of these points, but I love that it can 100% be summed up, “keep those emo feelings…it means yr heart is still beating.” So true! We are alive and lucky to even have the hard parts of living and learning.

  4. lacy j. davis says:

    I feel all of these so hard. I actually think shit DOES get so much radder, funner, richer (terrible english here, but you know what I mean) once thirty hits. Here’s to being a wise and young-looking older woman! :)

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