Your 20s are a time to explore the kind of real, functioning adult you want to be, make some mistakes (OK, a lot of mistakes), and, in this day and age, move back in with your parents more often than not. They're also a decade in which you're bound to learn some important life lessons — sometimes the hard way. Here are five things you'll probably learn during this less-than-illustrious time in your life:
1. Partying is actually bad for you:
We all took D.A.R.E. in middle school. We all know drugs and alcohol are theoretically not good for our bodies. But in college, it was just that — theoretical. Remember the days when you could drink all night, stay up till 5 a.m., and still do something the next day? As our 20s progress, partying starts to be harder on our bodies, and we figure out that, wow, we might actually be doing some damage. Perhaps drinking water every so often and trying not to black out is a good idea, if we want to function not just tomorrow, but as we grow older, too. It's a harsh lesson, but one that we can't help but learn as our bodies start to be startlingly worse at recovering from nights that wouldn't even have phased us just a couple of years ago.
2. Parents are just people.
This one freaks me out big time because growing up, I idolized my parents. While they're still my heroes in a lot of ways, it's weird to be sort of on the same page as our parents and realize they're not superhuman or infallible. They're just human beings — making the best choices they know how, and sometimes royally screwing up those choices. They have dreams, and they have fears, and they are lovable and hateable and fundamentally breakable, just like the rest of us. It's also both wonderful and scary, as we move toward having families of our own (or start those families), to realize just how much most of our parents loved us and sacrificed for us, and just how little gratitude we may have shown them.
3. No single thing can complete your life:
I used to think that if I had the perfect boyfriend or the perfect job or the perfect body, everything would be just right and I'd be happy forever. But as I edge toward my mid-20s, I'm realizing more and more that we can't count on just one thing, even if that thing is nearly perfect, to complete us as people. Maybe you've landed a great job, but feel lonely every day in a big, scary city. Maybe your significant other is the person of your dreams, but you're feeling uninspired at work. There are a million things we want, a million things we're sure would complete us, but even getting that perfect something won't make your life ideal. We have to find balance, and also learn to accept ourselves without the trappings of perfection we think should define us.
4. Money isn't everything — but it is something:
Our 20s are a weird time, because our incomes are probably shifting drastically and often. Some people went from being poor college students to employed people with things like retirement accounts and hefty salaries, basically overnight. Some are still piecing an income together and figuring it out. It's hard to determine how much of a role money should play in our young lives. Sure, it shouldn't be all we care about, but it can contribute to pursuing the things we've always dreamed of, like travel or security or living somewhere new or planning for a family. Your 20s are a time to begin to figure out your relationship with money — but not let how much of it you have define you. It's also not a bad time to actually learn some money management skills, which are going to be important no matter how much you make down the line.
5. Life is fragile:
Gone are the days of feeling like invincible adolescents. As we get older, bad things are going to happen to people we care about more and more often. As a 20-something, you're likely to encounter death, if you have been lucky enough not to have done so yet. People we love — people who are our friends and peers — might be people we lose. But we're lucky. Because while we may not feel invincible anymore, we are learning the value of loving people with all our hearts, every day, because we have no idea how much time we'll have with them. Our own and others' lives are incredibly delicate things, and we should treat ourselves and others with respect, affection and dignity. If we learn anything from this crazy, often horribly lonely and confusing and bizarre decade in our lives, let it be that.