20 Lessons I Learned in My 20s | Adventures with Shelby

20 Lessons I Learned in My Twenties

As I enter a new decade, I have been reflecting on all the life changes that my 20s have brought!  Thinking back over the last 10 years it is crazy how different life looks at 30 compared to 20.  I think this is one of the most drastic periods of change – transitioning from an adolescent fresh out of teenage-hood to a full blown adult.  It’s been quite a journey and I am very grateful to be where I am.  

20 Lessons I Learned in My Twenties | Adventures with Shelby

I have had many pivotal moments over the last decade: studying abroad in Paris at 20; being an exchange student at UVSQ at 21; graduating 12 days before turning 23; living and working in northern France from 24-25; deciding to forego my contract for a second year in France; meeting my future hubs; restarting my professional career at 26; getting engaged in Morocco; getting laid off at 27 and re-restarting my career again (LOL); a pandemic delaying our wedding for a year and a half; then finally getting married at 29!!  

The last 10 years have been a wild ride.  When I turned 20, I had only been to Canada and France.  Over the course of my 20s, my country count has grown to 23 (plus one US territory)!  A lot of travel has been put on hold due to the pandemic and uncertainty over the last two years but 24 countries is really not too shabby!  
Because I am cheesy like that, I wanted to put together a list of 20 things I learned in my 20s.  Enjoy!

1. No Gown, No Gavel

(Lil Wayne reference for anyone wondering how much I have actually changed LOL).  Leave the judgment for the judges!  When I think of all the insecurities of my early 20s, it makes me cringe.  Who cares what people think of you!  I quickly learned that those who judge others the most are usually the most insecure themselves.  

2. Time is fleeting - spend it intentionally

If I have learned anything in the last 10 years, it is how crazy fast time passes.  If there is something you want to do, you need to actively pursue it.  Otherwise, you will find yourself further in life kicking yourself for never having tried.

3. You have to make time for your loved ones

How many times do you tell yourself you’re going to make plans with someone or reach out to someone and the next thing you know it’s been months – years!  Time goes by so fast, and if you don’t make the conscious effort to keep in touch with those that are important to you, you will find important connections falling short.

4. You also have to make time for yourself

Self-care is a hot topic right now but it cannot be underemphasized.  You can’t love or care for others if you don’t first love and take care of yourself – mentally, physically, and emotionally!  I have learned that sleeping well and eating right makes a big difference.  

5. Speaking of eating - you are what you eat!

Figuring out how to manage your own diet is a huge part of growing up.  Why do you think people joke about the freshman 15?!  When you move out on your own, no one is there to nag you about eating your veggies.  The earlier you establish healthy eating habits the easier it will become to maintain a balanced diet.


6. Exercise is your friend

Your metabolism changes with age so it is important to not only establish a healthy diet but also an exercise routine!  Not everyone likes to run (I get it folks – I am not the norm) but there are plenty of different ways to exercise – bike, walk, dance, gym, social sports – find something that you enjoy and embrace it. 

7. Not all friendships last a lifetime and that's okay

 Sometimes friendships fizzle out.  Sometimes you head on separate paths.  Sometimes friendships come crashing to a halt.  I took it very personally when I lost touch with people before, but I have grown to learn that the friendships that are worth it are the ones that last.  Recognize which friendships are important to you and make the effort to maintain those.  

8. Life doesn't always go as planned

You can’t always plan out timelines and milestones – it’s just not how life works!  There is always something you didn’t account for and you just have to take it and move with it.  Goals are just that – goals.  Something to aim for but not a marker for failure if you aren’t married by X age, or a Manager by X age.

9. Life isn't a competition

Are you not as far along in your career as your friend?  Are your peers getting married and having babies while you are still chilling single?  It’s not a competition!  Everyone has a different path on a different timeline, so don’t compare yourself to others.  Your own health, happiness, and success should not be measured in comparison to others.  

10. Every closed door opens a window

This is such a cheesy saying but I am telling you this is the biggest lesson I have learned in my 20s!  I was so bummed when I wasn’t accepted to TAPIF on the first try.  But this denial pushed me to leave my internship and seek my first post-college job which led to learning so much in my field and making some amazing friendships!  A few years ago, for the first time in my life I was let go from a job.  This was incredibly humiliating and shocking for me.  However, once I knew I was getting the boot I went full force on the job hunt and I found an employer that I like even more and will stay with long-term!

Lille, France | Adventures with Shelby

11. Recognize and Appreciate Mentors

Throughout my 20s, I have had many mentors between teachers, managers, coworkers, and peers.  People can have huge impacts on you without realizing it.  I feel so thankful to have had so many boss ladies in my life to look up to, push me, and to provide invaluable advice and insight.  

12. Respect Your Elders

Despite generational gaps and misconceptions, we can really learn from our older loved ones.  I had the chance to live with my grandma for a couple of years in my 20s and I am so thankful that I had that opportunity to get to know her on such a deeper level.  They won’t be here forever so embrace them while you can!

13. Embrace the Mischief

Stay up all night!  Book a last minute trip!  Go on a crazy adventure.  Some of my best memories are when I was being completely reckless.  As we age we only get more responsible – don’t rush growing up!

14. Water is Life

I cannot comprehend how I used to go out drinking and not have a sip of water.  My older siblings and cousins used to joke about how much worse hangovers get with age.  OMG I did not foresee how truly awful hangovers can be.  Say it with me: alternate your drinks with water!  

15. Traveling is worth more than some cute IG photos

I was definitely bit by the travel bug during my 20s and I never plan to stop exploring!  Traveling taught me so much about myself and has opened my eyes in so many ways.  


16. Financial independence is nothing to scoff at

I was so torn with my decision to not renew my TAPIF contract and return to teach in France.  There was a part of me that felt like I was giving up a life of adventure and travel.  What I quickly learned was that earning a steady income allows you to finance more adventures!  I still go on trips and do fun things, but now I don’t have to stress out over a dwindling savings account and an income barely enough for rent and food.  

17. Charity does not always require money

There are many ways to give back outside of monetary donations.  I just donated my hair for the third time this decade!  Donate gently used clothes and belongings that you don’t need.  Or better yet – donate your time!  I started volunteering as an ESL teacher to gain experience before teaching in France and it was such a fulfilling experience that I have continued volunteering in similar programs.

18. Live presently

I had a friend in college who used to yell at me if I was on my smartphone while we were hanging out.  At the time this was a new phenomenon: having the internet at your fingertips!?  She kept telling me it was rude to internet-surf when you are spending time with friends.  Fast forward several years and I finally get it!  Phones are great distractions from what is right in front of you so try to be present in the moment and you’ll have much more quality time with those around you.

19. Also plan for the future

I used to think that living presently and planning for the future are mutually exclusive.  They are not!  Don’t live like it’s your last day because if it isn’t your last day you are going to have to deal with all the consequences of this day on the next one!  I have been really lucky to have mentors through my 20s who gave me a little kick in the bum – ensuring that I was contributing to retirement even when I thought that was silly.  What 20 year old really cares about retirement?  But I will thank myself later for planning ahead!

20: Every year is a blessing - don't take it for granted

Was 2020 a shit year?  Maybe 2021 too?  That’s alright because at least we are still here.  Not everyone can say the same.  I have sadly outlived several peers and it feels disingenuous to complain about getting older when some people don’t have this privilege. We all have our moments of “oh god am I really this age already?” but it’s important not to look at new years of life as a negative.  

Cheers to a new chapter – a new decade – and many more life lessons to come! 

Big Schloss, WV | Adventures with Shelby


20 Lessons I Learned in My 20s | Adventures with Shelby


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