I turn twenty-eight in exactly 17 days (how did I get so old?!) and while technically I can still say I’m in my twenties, I’m inching ever so close to the big 3-0. For whatever reason, birthdays always make me kind of contemplative, reflecting on the past year while at the same time looking forward to what the next will bring. I believe your 20s are all about new experiences and deciding what people and things belong, and which ones don’t. Sometimes people come into your life and make it better. Other times, the people who enter make it a lot more challenging than it’s intended. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out the people who are vital to your well-being and the ones who you wouldn’t mind trading away for a slice of pizza.
- The Encouraging Professor
Hopefully, you’ve been lucky enough to have (or will have) a professor who will challenge you, support you and most importantly, prepare you for life outside the walls of your college or university. For me, it was my advisor and Psych Professor at UW-Stout. Dr. Biggerstaff had one of the biggest hearts of anyone I have ever known, but he also had the ability to see in others what they didn’t see in themselves. When I began college, I had no idea what I wanted to study, who I wanted to become. He helped me own my strengths and showed me the true potential that I had.
- Your Favorite TV Show/Book Character
Whether it’s George Costanza from Seinfeld or Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, this character will allow you to make it through awkward moments, tough days, and will serve as your spirit animal. “When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year,” to borrow lyrics from the Friends theme song, at least you can relate to these characters. They’ll help you clear your mind, even if it’s just for 30 minutes at a time.
- The Cool Boss
Work-life in your early 20s can be pretty miserable as you try to climb the ranks. Sometimes, it’s not any better in your late 20s, either. However, if you have a boss like I was lucky enough to have at the first job I landed when I first got to Colorado, a boss who knows how to nurture and help you grow professionally and socially, it will not only make you a better employee or business owner one day, but a better person.
- The Horrible Boss
Sometimes you have to learn by watching the way a person, who you don’t want to become, acts. If you’ve worked somewhere that you have felt useless, undervalued, and undercompensated—and I think unfortunately at some point, we all will experience some level of this–it’s almost as valuable, even though it’s a lot less enjoyable, as a good work experience. This way you’ll learn how to act and react to situations in a different manner.
- Your Parents
The dynamic between parent and child is always changing and growing. During your twenties, at least for me, you begin to see your parents as equals, people who were once in your position, going through the same things, experiencing the same challenges, successes and setbacks. You take on a whole other level of appreciation for the sacrifices they made for you growing up, the love, support, guidance and never-ending supply of hugs they provided. Your parents will start relying on you more heavily and you’ll continue to turn to them when you need help. Or you won’t. Regardless, you’ll have a much clearer picture of the people who shaped you into the person you are, whether you want to believe it or not. It will also help put your own life into perspective.
- Your Doctor
Your doctor is usually a person you take for granted, except when you need immediate help. When you’re healthy, you have no reason to think about medical professionals. As soon as you’re sick or injured (I’ve had more “oops that’s gonna leave a mark” moments more than I care to admit—I’m kinda very accident proned), it’s the only person you want to see. And yes even at 28, lollipop requests post-visit are perfectly acceptable.
- Your Favorite Bartender
What’s better than drinking on the weekend in your 20s? Funnily enough, I really didn’t start drinking until my late 20’s. But now that I responsibly kick back with a few cold ones, having a favorite bartender and not paying for all of your drinks on the weekend is pretty alright. When you start establishing your “spots” in whatever city you’re living in, you’ll begin finding drinking establishments that you really like. And if you’re tight with the bartender(s), you will always have a fun night out and may reap many benefits.
- The Friend Who Believes In You
There are friends who have your best interest in mind and then there are friends who have your best interest in mind in terms of how it relates to their life. The friend who supports your dreams, helps you reach your goals, and has an open channel of communication with you and expects nothing in return is a true friend. Your responsibility as a friend is to make sure you can reciprocate and do the same. If you’re lucky, this friend(s) will follow you into your thirties, forties, to infinity and beyond.
- The Negative Friend (aka Frenemy)
One of the best parts about growing up is that your parents don’t make play dates for you any longer. You decide the people you want in your life and the ones you don’t. If you’re having issues with a friend who constantly insults you or makes fun of you in front of others, acts as if he/she is better than you, or who finds the worst in every situation, you don’t need to stay friends with that person. Allow yourself to let go of toxic people.
- Your Haircutter
Your hairstylist’s main purpose may be cutting your hair, but they’re actually doing much more than that. They’re listening to you without judgment (or at least aren’t judging you to your face). You’ll come to learn that a haircutter is basically a therapist who makes you look good at the end of your visit. And if you’re lucky, they’ll even tell you when your locks are out of style and need a change.
- The Workers in Your Community
These people are your lifeline, whether you realize it or not. It’s the sandwich maker at your favorite lunch spot who knows what “the usual” means (extra tomatoes, pickles, hold the mayo) and the barista who prepares your drink (regular coffee with cream, sugar and just a touch of cinnamon) when you enter the coffee shop so you don’t have to wait for your necessary dose of caffeine in the morning. It’s the garbage men and women who clear your household trash and the plumber who rushes over to your home or apartment at 3 in the morning when a pipe bursts. These people have the ability to make your daily life pleasant or a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
- Your Mechanic
My tried teaching me all that I needed to know about cars—I’m proud to say that I can successfully change my own oil, a flat tire and know how to jump start a vehicle if the battery ever dies. There are however many, many things I still don’t know, which is where my mechanic comes in, often times sporting a red super hero cape (metaphorically speaking of course.) If you have a mechanic you trust and know will do the right thing by you with the work and pricing, don’t ruin that relationship. All you need to do is live a week without your car (especially in places without convenient public transportation) and you’ll see how dependent you are on your vehicle.
- The Decision Maker
I sometimes thingk life would be a whole lot easier if you could just flip a coin for all of those life-altering, crazy-hard decisions. Whenever you have a big choice to make on the horizon, you will undoubtedly see this person out of nowhere. When you have to decide: Do I keep my current job or start my own company? You’ll run into this person at the bagel store. If you’re trying to figure out: Should I settle down with my boyfriend/girlfriend? You’ll see this person waiting in line for dogs and a beer at a baseball game with thousands of other people in attendance. It’s as if they’re sent into your life at certain moments to make sure you don’t get in your own way. Value the randomness of this, as it truly may not be that random.
- Your Spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) / (Some of) The People You’ll Date
Depending on whether you’re single, dating, engaged, married, or divorced, you’ve either found or are still searching for “your person”, the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Sometimes it’s the people we marry who make us better versions of ourselves. Other times, it’s the ones we leave. As you continue through your 20s, this may or not make sense (something I’m still trying to figure out myself), but when it does, cherish that information.
- Your Accountant/Financial Advisor
The moment I truly felt like an adult was the moment I filled out my first application for my 401K. It’s easy to not think about the future when it comes to money and financial security, but something I’ve come to learn in my twenties, something that you will soon come to learn if you haven’t already, is that there is never a “too soon” to begin preparing for your future. A good accountant and financial advisor, whether that be a parent, a spouse, or someone with an official title, they have the ability to help you prepare for your future, as well as come up with a plan for the present.
- Your Mentor
This person is someone you feel comfortable with, someone who you trust and has proven time and time again that he/she has your best interests in mind, based on the many different trials and tribulations you’ve faced together. This person serves as a role model and also guides you with any major professional or life questions you have. I’ve got an arsenal of mentors on the ready for when I need them most; friends, my parents, my sister and a host of others. A good mentor in your life, especially in your twenties, is invaluable.
- Your Four-Legged and Furry Friend
Okay, so they may not technically be considered “people”, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less important or significant. Whether you have a cat or dog, these amazing animals have an innate ability to make you feel better after a rough day with just a simple purr or tail wag. Their unconditional love is unwavering and are there to help you get through the most trying times in your twenties, as well as be with you to celebrate the victories.
- Your Roommate
Whether it’s a person off Craigslist or a friend, your roommate will see when you’re suffering or succeeding. They’ll be able to help you through dark times or make your life much harder than it should be. You and your roommate(s) will learn intimate information about each other, such as who routinely has one-night stands (with the pint of Ben & Jerry’s), who never has the rent check ready at the end of the month, who is messy, as well as who destroys the toilet when he/she wakes up in the morning. Before you sign a lease, beware of the person you’re living with.
- The Friend of a Friend
Your social network (not talking about the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but IRL networks) will continue to grow as you age, even if you choose the people you spend time with more carefully. At birthday parties, weddings, or basically any special occasion, you’ll meet friends of your friends and most of them you’ll tolerate or possibly even like, but never see again. However, there will be at least a few friends of friends that you’ll become extremely close with and they’ll end up becoming your best friends or at least very important people in your life.
- The Ones Who Are No Longer With Us
I’ve unfortunately lost people whom I loved very much over the past 8 or so years, but just because they are gone, it doesn’t mean that they left completely. There will be people who we lose over our lifetime, as teenagers, in our twenties, and as we get older, but I believe that these people will in some way always have an effect on us, some leaving a lasting impression more than others. Whether it’s a dearly departed friend, family member or even personal hero whose work you admire, just because you can’t see and/or touch something or someone, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be an internal source of power and strength for you. I’m inspired by my dear grandmother every time I pick up a book or help a student in the library (she was the person who instilled in me my passion for reading) and get courage from my cousin Nick whenever Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” comes on to the radio (he lived a life with no regrets, something I need to remind myself to live as well every once in a while).
We also can’t forget about the ability that we have to change our own lives, as well as the lives of others. As Mahatma Gandhi, a person much wiser than myself, once said, “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”