I am turning thirty this week. While I am unsure if I am writing this because I missed my opportunity to ever make it onto a “30 Under 30 List,” or to uphold the vow I made to myself to practice positive thinking and focus on the good in every situation, I could not resist the urge to share some of the knowledge I gained during the most transformative decade of my existence.

Looking back on my early twenties, I remember a mentor of mine telling me her “twenties were hard.” Being the overly-confident young person I was, I remember thinking “Well, THAT sucks, that won’t be me.” To my dismay, however, I quickly learned that my twenties would be hard, too.

"When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around." - Willie Nelson

Between graduating from college during the Great Recession, graduating from law school during the afterglow of the Great Recession, breakups with boyfriends who I hoped would be “the one,” getting my first “real” job which I actually hated, having my own version of a spiritual awakening, the deaths of friends, living on my own for the first time, jobs falling through, births of new family members, and finally learning the power of surrender and stepping into who I really am, I can honestly say I have emerged from my twenties as a stronger, happier, and more confident human being than I knew I needed to be a decade ago.

While I don’t know what my thirties will hold, I have survived my twenties and I leave you with these ten gems of realization (and now advice) I picked up along the way.

#1. You are responsible for your own life. Regardless of whether you grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth or no spoon in your mouth because whoever raised you couldn’t afford one, once you reach your mid-twenties, you realize that YOU are the only one responsible for creating the life you want for yourself. Sure, having a secure family unit and a lot of money may make attaining the life you want for yourself easier, but it may just as easily make it harder to branch out and do what you really want with your life. You have to accept that everything from your childhood, whether good or bad, is in the past and it is up to you to define and direct your future. Whatever it is that you can’t get over, get a therapist to help you work through it. It will only make it easier for you to create the life you envision for your future self.

#2. The Universe is self-correcting (if you allow it to be). When I got my first job in my twenties, I enjoyed what I was doing but I always felt an itch to start the career I always knew I wanted to have. This looked nothing like my first job. There were many sleepless nights when I would toss and turn thinking about how I could possibly make the transition to a new, more fulfilling career without having the work experience everyone told me I needed to have to change career paths. I felt as if I was trapped and I could not find my way out. That’s when I realized the power of surrender. In one of the many self-help books I’ve read, I remember reading that “the Universe is self-correcting.” I interpret this to mean that things have a way of working out. But to take this a step further, I realized that they only work out if you allow them to. Many of us have developed a habit of getting in our own way by doing things we know deep inside we should not be doing.

During times of crisis in my twenties, I realized that I had no choice but to go after what I really and truly wanted for myself deep down inside. I could either live in a deep dark state of wondering “what if” or make the choice to do what lights me up and makes me feel like my best self. It is often said that people’s lives are a reflection of the choices they have made. To me, people’s lives are a reflection of whether or not they have made the choice to listen to their “gut” or “inner guide. It is definitely harder to listen to that voice sometimes, but it is always there. Realizing the power that emerges when you surrender to that voice you don’t always want to listen to, but you know deep down is right, is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

#3. Focus on the substance not the form. Ever ruled someone out as a potential date because they didn’t look the way you imagined your life partner looking? If there’s even a glimpse of physical attraction and you think you could be compatible with them, go on a date with them! Focus on the substance (who they are as a person), not the form (how they look). Have an awesome job that allows you to feel like you are doing exactly what you need to do to get ahead in the career you want but you hate your job title? Suck it up, for now (unless you’ve been in the job for an excessive amount of time with no promotion). Focus on the substance (the fact that you love the day-to-day in your job), not the form (the job title). It is easy to get caught up in how things look on a surface level but if you dive into how it makes you feel, I guarantee you will feel more satisfaction with your life and in return, you will get the results you want faster.

#4. Focus on the work. Many of us have a tendency to avoid living in the present. We constantly think about the future and dwell on the past. Unless you’re doing a self-help workshop where you need to think about those things to analyze where you are in your life in the present moment, STOP. There are three things I came to accept in my twenties: 1. I cannot predict the future; 2. not being able to predict the future stresses me out; and 3. I do not like feeling stressed out. So how have I learned to avoid this stress? By focusing on finding the good in my daily tasks as I complete them.

In law school, many people get summer internships at law firms with the hope that by the end of the summer they will receive an offer for full-time employment. When I was a high-strung summer intern, not being able to predict whether or not I would get an offer forced me to find comfort in doing the daily assignments I was given. I could either focus my energy on worrying about what the unpredictable future held or focus my energy on figuring out how to do a good job on the work I was given in the present moment. When in doubt, focus on doing a good job with the work right in front of you. What you are doing in the present moment will dictate your future.

#5. Go to the doctor. In my lifetime, I have seen people close to me and a number of our world’s thought leaders die because of illnesses they detected after it was too late. None of us knows when we will die, but I cannot encourage you enough to go to the doctor regularly and to take your health seriously. While having a solid family, great friends, and a great career are very important, none of that can be maintained if you are not in good health. Feel yourself up from time to time (or have someone else do it), eat healthy food, and for Pete’s sake, go to the doctor regularly.

#6. Do Not Freak Out If You Are Not Married. When I think of my friends who are married, they all have one thing in common: they met the “one” and got married when they were comfortable with who they were as individuals. Someone once told me timing is everything when it comes to relationships and I thought it was the most unromantic thing I had ever heard. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that as scary as that might sound, it is accurate. By timing, I mean the timing of you stepping into your true self. I strongly believe that once someone is in alignment with who they really are, doors open in that space, if you want them to. It just takes some of us longer to step into our true selves than others.

#7. Tribes can be elastic. In Seth Godin’s book Tribes, he writes about humans and our tendency to form groups with the purpose of protecting ourselves. Think about that. In today’s world, most of us are not hunter gatherers who need physical protection from each other in the outdoors. Rather, we work indoors in confined spaces, travel in cars and public transportation, and go home to a shelter made of more than just twigs. That change in environment does not mean that we don’t need our own tribes though. Each one of us still needs a support system made up of family, friends, and colleagues.

In my twenties I realized the importance of making genuine connections with people on a personal level. This applies both personally and professionally. The best friends and mentors I have found have been the people with whom I have genuinely connected. I also know that genuine friendships are elastic. We meet people when we are going through similar life stages but as we get older, our life stages are not always in sync with one another and this is okay. People are affected by inevitable life events in different ways and you have to give people space and time to deal with things that happen in life. At the end of the day, you will find things you have in common again and bond over that. Until then, accept the person for who they are and determine if you want them in your life long-term. You are in control.

When you are your authentic self, you allow yourself to create the life you have always wanted because you recognize who you are and what you need to be fulfilled.

#8. Comparison is the thief of joy ... sometimes. How many times have you thought you had a good day and then logged on to your Instagram account only to see a girl you sat next to five years ago in college and barely even spoke to posting about some epic thing you’ve always wanted but don’t have yet?

Living in the era of social media, it is now easier than ever to compare your life to your peers. I’m not going to say you should not compare yourself to others. I think you should use comparison as a barometer to gauge how you think your life is going and what you can do to get yourself in a position to do what you want with your life. I also think allowing yourself to feel that pang of jealousy when you see someone’s cool LinkedIn profile or Snapchat pictures is a healthy thing that can allow you to correct your course. Those things that make you feel jealous make you feel that way for a reason. Figure out what that reason is and if it’s something you can change in your life then change it. If not, unfollow that person.

#9. Your greatest power comes from your authenticity. Is it just me or was “authenticity” the buzzword of the year? What do millennials like? Authenticity. What makes your chai latte taste better? Authenticity. Not too sure about the last one, but I will admit, I understand why that word is so powerful.

Whenever I ask people why they think their thirties have been better than their twenties, nine times out of ten, I get the same answer: “You are just more secure and you don’t care about what other people think as much.” I always thought that was B.S. but (gasp!) now I actually think this is true. Yes, it’s about knowing who you are but more importantly, it’s about accepting who you are. It’s about accepting the things you don’t like about yourself and making the choice to either work on changing them or letting them be. It’s about accepting that you are good at certain things and learning to use your talents to your advantage. And most of all, it’s about accepting that when you embrace your strengths and weaknesses you are being your authentic self. When you are your authentic self, you allow yourself to create the life you have always wanted because you recognize who you are and what you need to be fulfilled.

#10. Positive thinking is real. Enough said.


Whitney Marshall is a Washington, DC transplant who is passionate about reading self-help books, cooking, meditating, and predicting trends in television viewership patterns.

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