I’m turning 30 in just a few weeks. Kind of crazy to think about it. Kind of crazy to think where I was when I turned 20—I was just about to study abroad in the U.S. (I ended up meeting my better half during that year!). I was focused but not entirely sure yet what life would look like. I lived in Europe at the time and pictured myself moving to a bigger European city after grad school or maybe Asia? But wow, lots of things have happened since then. And most of them didn’t go ‘according’ to plan. But I regret none of them – so here are my 5 biggest learnings from my 20s:
Live according to what feels right for you
I didn’t turn vegan until I was almost 24. I was vegetarian before, mainly when I lived in Europe and then when I moved to NYC, it suddenly felt right. I didn’t feel like social pressure or external judgment could hold me back anymore—I’d also just moved to one of the most open-minded, liberal cities in the world—and took the leap. What I learned was that in my early 20s, I made a lot of compromises to please others: I wanted to make my family happy at holiday events and not cause any worry to my biologist mom who kept telling me that plant-based protein wasn’t of the same quality as animal protein and that I was risking deficiencies. So it took me some time to empower myself, follow my gut and do the actual work and research to create the life that felt and still feels right for me. Abstaining from animal product consumption (next to marrying my husband) was definitely the best decision I have made in my 20s. It liberated me emotionally and makes me feel profoundly connected to myself.
Sleep is not negotiable
In college, I was able to go to bed late and thrive on just a few hours of sleep. Things became more intense in grad school, but ever since I started working and working out (which only happened around 25 or so), sleep started becoming my fuel. While a clean diet of real food is a must, none of it will make up for a lack of sleep. I am my best self when I rest 8 hours a night. So I decided to make sleep non-negotiable and will always try to prioritize it. Sure, I’ll go to weddings and dance until 3am—because I love it!—but that’s not something I do weekly and I will make sure to rest, nap and sleep-in the next day before tackling my day and working out. Sleep is the absolute best investment I have learned to make in my health and physical well being in my 20s.
Mental health is a priority
Growing up, I dealt with significant challenges around family, mainly related to some mental health issues that my dad had during my childhood and teenage years. While I learned to cope with them and take care of myself, I also recently felt like I needed more external support and accountability to do some more inside work. I learned that even if I feel balanced and on top of things, there is always more that you can do to clean up some emotional skeletons. I learned that even if you have a loving, supportive partner, it’s not his or her role to represent this external accountability.
Traveling is a must
I always, always loved traveling. I did my first trip alone at 17 or 18 with my best friend from high school. We went to Tunisia together and the following year we did a trip to China and Singapore. That was crazy far, especially for two young girls traveling on their own. But it totally gave me the travel bug and this profound desire to always explore, learn and grow. I made traveling a top priority since I got married and started working. Be it local weekend trips, or transatlantic adventures in Asia, Europe or Latin America, I decided that that’s where I want to spend my money and time.
I often tell my American friends that I used to be an anti-athlete. I grew up in a traditional European family where working out was not a thing—my parents preferred to ‘walk everywhere’ over hitting the gym—and when I wanted to join the track and field team in high school, my parents weren’t interested (instead they let me join the theater group). So when my husband turned out to be really into running, I took a leap and tried to get into it as well. Initially it was motivated by the desire to learn something new and spend more time with him. Rapidly, it went from that to me developing a semi-competitive mindset and signing up for races. Now I was the driver and convincing both of us to do a Swim Run or a half marathon together. I surprised myself the first time I finished an intense 10K trail run, when I beat my expected time and almost started to cry. Running helped to develop focus and grit that are transferable to every part of my life. Chipping away at your own personal best version of your life requires grit because it comes with plenty of set backs, failures and hurdles. In my 20s, I learned that giving up isn’t an option, ever.
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Photo: The Plantiful via Instagram