I’m a twenty-something single living in the Midwest. I have no control over my age, and if it were my choice at this very moment, I wouldn’t be single or in the Midwest. I’m in a transitional stage right now, and it doesn’t get easier the older you get. But I recognize that it’s worth it…in the end, whenever, wherever, whomever, that is.
I ask for advice a lot. I read a lot of books. I challenge myself to grow and I want to be the best version of myself I can be. I talk out my feelings and fears with a counselor. I’ve gone to conferences by myself. I journal my thoughts, challenges, and write down three things I’m grateful for, so even the most desolate days are not marred with an outlook on life I don’t want to possess. I’m deeply invested in who I am and who I’m becoming. Of course, there are reasons for this. I used to think that you could tell a partner “take care of me and I’ll take care of you.” It isn’t true. You know what statement is? “I’ll take care of myself for you if you’ll take care of yourself for me.”
Your twenties seem to be largely based on “relationships” above all else. And I’d argue there’s no where else that is more evident than dutch, conservative, west Michigan. It’s a lovely place to live, Grand Rapids. It’s been voted best place to raise a family, Beer Town U.S.A., Top 15 Emerging Downtowns, among other things. I was raised here, moved to Chicago for a few years, and moved back to settle down, which sadly didn’t happen. People settle down here young. I have many friends and family that married before 23, and also have friends from high school that have had three children…and we haven’t even had our 10 year reunion yet. There’s a pressure here, and your relationship status is the first thing you’re asked if you’re a woman. Not your career, not your goals, not your passions.
Good Great people live here, and I choose to believe everyone means well, but some days this question is hard. I’ve been reflecting a lot this year on what being twenty-something means and how I’m defining it in my own life as a single, independent, successful, Christian, adventurous woman.
These are the pieces of advice I’d give to every other twenty-something, whatever your life looks like right now.
1. Don’t Settle.
Your twenties are a great time for exploring: your interests, relationships, the world. Settling down in a job you don’t love or with a partner you aren’t sure about won’t do you any favors in the long run. You’re establishing roots for yourself in your twenties and laying the foundation of what your life will look like going forward. Take it seriously. Date with intention. Be Honest. Put in the time with the right company and work your way up. Recognize when there are red flags. There will be plenty of them. The worst thing you can do is ignore your gut or tell yourself that something will get better as it progresses. Titles do not fix anything. Don’t be reckless with anyone else’s heart and don’t put up with anyone that is reckless with yours.
2. Invest in Yourself.
Find out what your passions and interests are outside of work, outside of your family, outside of college, outside of your last relationship. Do those things. There are going to be tough days at work or with family, or with your relationships, but at the end of the day, you only answer to yourself and you are the only one contributing to your happiness. It is a daily choice, to be happy. Live a life you are proud of. Find the time to do what you love, whatever that may be. Kay Cannon, while commuting to work in NYC, wrote one page in her screenplay each day. A few years later, “Pitch Perfect” came out. Find your confidence and still the voice that tells you that you are not worthy or not good enough.
3. Stick to A Budget.
You’re out of college and hopefully making a decent salary to provide for yourself. Don’t go crazy. You don’t need to necessarily build a brand new house, buy a brand new car, wear only designer clothes, get take out every night, or spend a fortune on happy hour. It all adds up, and you really haven’t earned that lifestyle by simply graduating. Chances are, you have student debt. Or credit cards. Or at least one costly, but entertaining vice. GET OUT OF DEBT. It is smart. It is insanely attractive. And it helps you sleep at night.
4. Develop a Routine.
There are many studies that suggest routines help battle depression, health problems, and also help you establish confidence and self worth. Find yours. Maybe it is a weeknight where you volunteer, or going to the gym three mornings a week, weekend meal prep, or attending church every Sunday. Maybe you grab a glass of Napa Cab at night and sing at the top of your lungs in your living room (in which case, you are welcome to come over and join me.) I believe routines are essential for singles. It battles the loneliness. Life in your twenties can often feel out of control, unpredictable, wild, up in the air. Balance yourself with routine, hold yourself accountable, and develop a life you are passionate about living. Don’t wait for life to begin when you have the career you want, the financial status you are striving for, or the marriage you are praying will come. Start it now.
You’re young. You’re able-bodied. You have the time, or at least, you can make the time and can make do with less in order to travel. Don’t lose your sense of adventure and don’t live too cautiously. If you have the passion to travel, grab your passport and do it. This is the time. Your thirties are going to look a lot differently and chances are, you’ll have a lot more responsibility then. Backpack Europe. Road Trip across the US. Take in the World Cup or Olympics. Get out there and get going. Try all the local foods, learn about other customs and traditions, and appreciate the cultural differences. It will give you a sense of appreciation and a different outlook that will shape the way you see the world for the rest of your life. Literally, as I am writing this, my friend Cliff from Australia called me to plan out timelines for a holiday in Bali. Arguably, traveling is the only thing you can spend money on that will make you richer.
6. Call Your Parents.
Your parents are still there for you, and they want to connect with you. Forgive them for the shortcomings they may have had with you growing up, and forge a friendship with them that will last the rest of your life. They’d probably still love to give their advice, but mostly, they just want to be included in your life. Don’t shut them out until you start a family of your own. Cherish this in-between time. Call them. Invite them for dinner. Make plans to see them. Write them letters. Thank them. And then forgive them again.
7. Educate Yourself.
Assuming you’re out of school for most of your twenties, continue to learn. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, whom you can learn from. Listen to TED talks. Take a professional development course. Read CONSTANTLY. Learn a language. Never stop. The more you work your brain, the more you challenge yourself, the better you feel and the more you have to offer the world. Your perspective matters. Your knowledge is needed. Keep yourself motivated. I have a friend that has a list of topics scribbled on a piece of paper she’d like to learn about and researches them on her lunch break. She is one of the smartest people I know. James Altucher, a successful entrepreneur and author, writes down 10 ideas each day.
8. Find a Counselor
Even if something traumatic hasn’t happened, and especially if it has. Now is a great time to learn more about yourself, your false beliefs, your fears, your childhood, your defense mechanisms, and all those little things that make up who you are. Your twenties are a great time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go. Your emotional health is just as important, if not more, than your physical health. Invest in yourself: your past, your present, and your future.
9. Learn How To Cook
Ramen, Kraft Mac n Cheese, and Hamburger Helper do not a meal make. Master at least 20 recipes. (If you need ideas or recipes, send me your email address.) This ensures that you 1)will not get overly bored making the same thing 2)You can host friends, coworkers, or family around your table confidently and 3) earn SO MANY bonus points if you cook for a date. Seriously. It is an attractive quality for your health, wallet, senses. Plus, you’ll feel really good about yourself.
10. Cancel the Cable Subscription.
It is expensive. It is unnecessary. Reality TV is diluting you from the joys and adventures of this world. You can stream almost anything from your computer for either free or a small fee compared to cable, if you must watch. There are so many better things to be experiencing instead…like the 9 things above.
LOVE 6 and 10. It is amazing as you get older how much you realize you took your parents for granted and how much you still have yet to learn about them. And I am seriously considering cancelling my cable. You may have pushed me into the light.
Thanks for sharing!
Dana VanTongeren says
You can do it Lindsey! Put that money and time toward something else!
Angela Koeller says
Dana – I’ve loved reading your last two blog posts. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve even seen each other but I had to let you know that you have a gift for writing – keep doing it! I can totally relate that while this is an awesome place to live there is a ton of pressure (from well meaning people, I’m sure) to settle down. Keep doing your thing, I’m glad you have found happiness – you deserve it!
Dana VanTongeren says
Thank you so much for your sweet comment! You have no idea how motivating and impactful it is to me. Thank you!
Love this post. I firmly believe that it’s inpossible to be in a truly healthy relationship until you’re confident that you know (and love!) yourself.
I’ve been living in Chicago for 6 years now, very happily single and thrilled with the direction my life and career are going. I really love my friends and family in GR, but I do feel like the environment there makes me feel like I’ve “failed” in some way…despite the fact that I’m quite happy! The old adage that comparison is the thief of joy is so tru
Maybe someday I’ll meet someone who adds to my joy instead of subtracting from it, but it hasn’t happened yet. And that’s okay. I’m just enjoying my 20s as a single girl in the big city!
Glad to hear you’re doing so well and so glad to have reconnected over instagram.
Ps I haven’t had cable for years…now what I really need to do is cancel my Netflix…
Dana VanTongeren says
Renee, thank you so much! I couldn’t agree more. I love your outlook on life and love and thoroughly enjoy keeping up with your adventures (and amazing recipes!) on Instagram!
Fantastic! So very, very proud of you! ~ mom xoxoxo