Having recently exited my 20s, which were without a doubt some of the most difficult and beautiful years of my life, I was inspired to share a bit of the wisdom I've gained on the topic of making the most out of this precarious decade, especially if you're single. Note that I did not say "surviving" the 20s, because being single and in your 20s (or at any age, for that matter) is NOT a disease to be fought or medicated or "gotten over." It's a stage of life (for those of us not called to a single, celibate vocation) and is given to you (like all stages in life) so that you can, through grace, make of it something beautiful for God.
This post is not a survival guide to single life in your 20s. It's simply my best advice about making the most of the time God gives you in this "developmental sweet spot" so that you can begin to live the abundant life he has for you. After looking over the list below, I realized that the most important thing to begin to do in your 20s is to develop virtues and habits that will help you live a good life, no matter your age.
Without further ado, my "do's" for thriving in (not just surviving) your 20s:
*Be honest. With God, with yourself, and with others. SO much of the heartache I endured in my 20s was the result of my refusal to speak the truth to myself.
*Invest in real friendships, especially (if you're a woman) with other women. I can't imagine my 20s without the love and support (not to mention all of the movie nights, wine tastings, late night heart-to-heart chats, effusive texts and emails that you really can only send to girlfriends, etc.) of my girlfriends. Single, married, married-with-children...they're ALL gems and so essential to the good life.
*Go on blind dates and allow people to set you up. Because you never know. Also, who doesn't love a good blind date story?
*Learn to pray, and develop a consistent prayer life/routine. You have the time, you have the freedom, you have the need. Boom.
*Spend your money wisely. It isn't really yours, after all. It's His. Ask God to make you a good steward of your financial gifts. This is a lesson I'm only just beginning to learn. On that note:
*Be smart about saving, but be generous with giving. More on this in the next post.
*Learn to dance/sew/crochet/bake/garden/sculpt/paint. Why? Because "the glory of God is the human being fully alive." (St. Irenaeus)
*Read the Bible. Every day. Work on memorizing your favorite passages.
*Go to therapy. Why not process through all of that family-of-origin stuff before you start your own family?
*Get moving: join a gym, join an intramural team, run in the park, do HIIT workouts in your living room, dance, go for long walks through your neighborhood or city, hike, bike, rollerblade...doesn't matter how, just do it! Not only will you feel better and look better, but you'll be happy, and happy people don't kill their husbands--they just don't!
*Eat well. If you can, try to avoid processed foods. Stay close to the earth. Support local farmers. Grow your own food.
*Learn to cook for yourself and others. Thanks to spending lots of time in the kitchen throughout my 20s, I'm no longer concerned about whether or not I can handle cooking a turkey, or roasting a chicken, or develop a "signature" side for holiday meals, and I now positively love cooking for others.
*Play with little kids: whether it's your nieces and nephews, your friends' kids, or the kids you babysit. So often, single people spend all of their time only with other single people, which is not real life! It's also a recipe for depression. I always leave an outing or babysitting session with my nieces refreshed by their creativity and silliness and innocence and curiosity; they keep me from becoming too self-focused (and I always need help with that!).
*On a similar note: offer to babysit/help out your married-with-kids friends and relatives. They will dearly appreciate the break and you will get to spend time with kids. Win, win.
*Spend time with your elderly relatives. My grandmother Mimi lived with my parents for the last six years of her life, during which time I lived at home for only about six months, but I still regret not spending more time with her. When I did spend time with her, even if it was just to pray a Chaplet, it was always a blessing for both of us.
*Get off of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc if social media is making you unhappy, causing you to compare yourself to others, or sucking away all of your free time. In my early 20s, I took a couple of Facebook vacations (one for a Lent and another for an entire year) and didn't regret them one bit.
*Hone your craft. If you're a teacher, do everything you can to become a better one. Same goes if you're a writer, photographer, chef, designer, or what have you.
*Become involved in your community: this could mean involvement in your parish, your local government, your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. In what way(s) should you get involved? A good indicator of how you ought to serve others is by looking at the gifts that God has given you. For example: I try to teach at my parish (Confirmation class, Sunday school, RCIA, etc) and sponsor for RCIA candidates/catechumens whenever I can.
*Develop habits of generosity. Practice saying "yes" more than you say "no" (but don't let yourself get burned out!). If you pass someone on the street who is asking for money, always give them what you have on you. If you don't have cash, offer to buy them a meal. If you have the time, offer to sit with them while they eat.
*Spend time with your family.
*Work on your relationships with your family members. It's so worth it!
*Go to Confession regularly. Because not only do you need to be forgiven, you need to hear that you are forgiven. Over and over and over again.
*Feast. Stop living according to the boring black-and-white secular calendar and learn to live according to the blessedly multicolored and way-more-fun liturgical calendar. Celebrate feast days (especially Solemnities, your baptismal day, your favorite saints' feast days, the 12 Days of Christmas, and the entire 50 day Easter season) with special treats, and even parties if you can swing it--I've hosted St. Nicholas Day parties and have been to St. Joseph parties, Annunciation parties, Epiphany parties, and of course Christmas parties. While we're on the subject: treat every Sunday as a feast day, because it is the feast of Our Lord's Resurrection from the dead. What is more worth celebrating than that?
*Fast. Do without something you like on Fridays, in remembrance of Our Lord's Passion and Death. Fast for your most urgent prayer intentions. Fast for your friends and family. Fast for those who cannot feast. This is still something I'm learning to do, and since I've struggled with eating-disorder stuff in the past, I usually don't fast from food. Instead, I sometimes do "fun media" (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, and blog-reading) fasts on Fridays.
*Learn about your faith. Because if you love someone, you want to know everything about Him. (Also, if you want to be married with children some day, you need to be prepared to answer those "Mommy, where do we go when we die?" and "How is Jesus God AND God's Son?" type questions.)
*Work on forgiving those who have hurt you.
*Work on forgiving yourself.
*Ask God what He wants you to do (instead of just telling Him what you want to do). It wasn't until I was 27 and looking for a new job that I realized that until that moment, I hadn't ONCE asked the Lord what he wanted from me. This was partly because I was afraid that if I asked Him, He'd say he wanted me to be a nun, but also partly because I was convinced that I knew what was best for me (which of course I didn't). Take it from me: you will be much happier and peaceful if you ask instead of tell, but first you have to:
*Ask God to reveal His particular love for you. Only when you know you are loved can you be truly free to say "yes" to Christ.
...and most importantly:
*Pay attention to Reality (and not just when it comes to dating), NOT to the Evil One, who speaks through anxiety, discouragement, confusion, and fear.
That's all for now--Stay tuned for Part 2: what NOT to do if you want to make the most out of your 20s. In the meantime, I'd love to hear any of your "Do's" for thriving in your 20s, or simply for living the Good Life at any age. Please share in the comments!