Recently, I turned the ripe old age of 25.
I arrived at its doorstep with a freshly inked spot on the left side of my chest (see photo above).
Armed with balloons and 90s-esque homemade feast, we soaked up on the late-March breeze over night swimming and then Baguio City. Candles were also blown (as I was whooping and sneezing) at my new office and after an MBA class. Such is my welcome to quarter life.
Ah, 25. We finally meet. So let me take this opportunity (excuse, more like) to share the nostalgia. Here are some life lessons I carry with me, as I greet another year:
#1 Create a strong sense of self
If there is something being 25 accomplished for me, it’s knowing who I am better. In high school, I had a terrible case of identity crisis trying to find out who I am and wishing I was someone else. Thankfully after so many years of trial-and-error resulting to lost friendships, lost opportunities, and lost sense of direction, I have hit home. I learned that time gives you space to grow and forge your own path. And it’s up to you to fight for staying true to yourself.
Thus the name, followyouroad.
#2 Take chances (with bleach, tattoos, and people)
My younger self couldn’t have imagined going blonde, getting a tattoo, getting into a long-term relationship, and even travel blogging. I can only count family travels with one hand and I’ve never been abroad with them, too. Surreal how seemingly unfrightened I was, since I’ve always known myself as a jumpy, terrified, hesitant person. I’m happy I took my time but still took my chances.
#3 Quit comparing
The thing with being the middle child is that you’re so used to comparison. You become overly sensitive of other people’s advantage over you, and you secretly yearn the attention they get. It took me years of resilience to accept that I won’t graduate on top of the class, be the prettiest girl in the group, or land the perfect job. When I let go of comparison, I became freer to do things that mattered to me and not anyone else.
#4 Reality check other people’s comments
Whatever my choices were — and I mean whatever — other people seem to feel important enough to give unsolicited feedback. About my job (freelancing vs. becoming a full-time employee), the person I’m dating (or staying single), and my weekend lifestyle (studying vs. traveling). I realized we comment only at the level of our comfort. As I’ve learned to stop comparing myself, I also learned to simply ignore comments. Bliss.
#5 Improve your work ethic
It’s okay not to land your dream job the first time — or the second, the third, and the fourth times. What’s most important, I learned, is doing my best even for the shortest projects. Eventually, consistently good output pays off, as word will spread and soon opportunities will knock on your door. A good record speaks for itself and can give you the biggest breaks.
#6 Learn genuinely
From grade school to grad school, I never was the honor roll kind of student. Grades are important, yes. But engaging with a diverse group of people, handling a hectic schedule, and troubleshooting when things fail will sometimes teach you far more than any class lesson.
#7 Don’t allow yourself to always be too busy
Though I juggle multiple responsibilities, I always make sure to make time for friends. Even if that means taking half-days off at work, missing some classes, or pulling all-nighters. Being “busy” is never a status symbol. My MBA professor told me, “You’re a good student, but you’ve maximized your absences. Set your priorities straight.” Of course, I didn’t tell her I already have.
#8 Get life-proof friends
…friends who can be with you through multiple changes of weight, complexion, boyfriends, and salary grades. As I grew up, I found that true friendship is more than daily meetings and slumber parties. It should be able to withstand, encourage, and carry you through the tough times… because they do exist!
#9 Celebrate singlehood
When I was single, I’ve always cherished my alone time be it doing the laundry or the groceries, or going to trips and events (“Who are you with?” to which I answer, “I invited myself!”). It made me confident that wherever I go, I can always thrive. Not to mention, independence will always be attractive.
#10 Redefine love
I now define true love as… humbling. It won’t always leave you feeling “the happiest woman alive” or “on top of the world”. Admittedly, it will sometimes trigger your deepest insecurities or unearth issues from childhood. Any real-ationship will need to endure letdowns and heartaches. At the end of the day, all that matters is if you love the person thru their periods of being unlovable, lost, or irrational.
#11 Become good at goodbyes
By this time, I’ve come to crossroads between “goodbye” and “try again” hundreds of times. The magic lies in the knowing the right when — to resign from a job, to stop seeing toxic friends, and even to give up pursuits that are going nowhere. I used to think quitting was unacceptable. But now I see distance and absence as part of the circle of life.
#12 Pursue something outside your work
If there’s one thing I’m proudest of the past five years of my career, it’s my work-life balance. Never was I made for work-school-house only kind of grind. That meant leaving the office on time, not taking work home, and finding time for travel and leisure. This led me to meet amazing people, open new opportunities, and refresh my mind. Between work and life, I choose life 60% of the time. That formula is yet to fail me.
#13 Think long-term
#YOLO is great for taking chances (#2), but I soon found that it’s a wasteful way to live. I’ve learned to take in the things that suck — the slow, repeated, un-Instagrammable grind. For me, this meant saving money, showing up for work daily, and studying for school on weekends. When you know where you wanna be in the future, it’s easier to make short-term sacrifices.
#14 Keep writing
This is exactly how I became a writer: I wrote most of my high school life in a diary like an enormous throwback. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to get back, too. Recommendation: Don’t publish it on social media.
#15 Try new films, new books, new music
Cultivating a healthy curiosity is always beneficial. I can even say I learned more thru plain Google search than my MBA program. Download videos, buy thrifted books, and listen to bands you haven’t heard before. This will broaden your mind in ways no paid internship or exchange program can.
#16 Be kind
We’ve all had gossiping co-workers, brothers who make it their business to provoke us, and partners who upset us. But those things are not excuses to lash out and be mean. Even the most annoying officemate is going through a rough patch. I keep reminding myself to be kind. To just think that they’re doing their best to survive life in ways they only know how.
#17 Take care of your body
If there’s one form of vanity we should all have, it’s being healthy. Go to the gym, do a daily skincare routine, eat well, and sleep. Boyfriends, jobs, and friends come and go, but you’ll only have one body. You won’t regret taking care of it.
#18 Look pretty
If you know me, I’m not exactly a vain person. But I know what a put-together outfit, good-looking shoes, and prepped-up face do to uplift your mood and confidence. Allow yourself to feel better and look better most of the time. To me, that’s one of the best weapons in life.
#19 Invest early
Never too early to pay for life insurance, invest in the stock market, or save your paycheck. At 25, I learned that early money habits will go with us through adulthood. My first job paid me barely minimum wage and even then I had to pay for rent and bills. Now that I’m earning so much more, I know better than splurging above my means. Complaining about running out of cash before payday isn’t cool. You can do something about it.
#20 Don’t try to change people
Parents may always be nitpicking and unsupportive. BFs/GFs may always be clueless and disappointing. Friends may always be too sheltered to your liking. Don’t count on them changing. Love them anyway.
#21 Passion and profit won’t always meet
I learned that the more I try to make money out of writing, the more I started to hate writing. And the more I tried (or willed myself) to be passionate at work, the more I felt burnout. Now, I’ve accepted that passion and profit won’t always intersect. In fact, they’re best separated.
#22 Date yourself
Sure, we can all have a bunch of awesome friends, a loyal partner, and very supportive parents. But alone time is equally important. Whenever I spend too much time with others, I find that a part of me gets lost in the togetherness. That’s why I’ve learned the value of withdrawing and flying solo.
#23 Don’t feel guilty about saying no
Earlier, “yes” my default catchphrase. But now, I’ve appreciated the value of “no” — to Ultimate tourneys, uncomfortable favors, a promising job interview, or even meeting friends. While taking chances is great, trading FOMO for JOMO has its perks!
#24 Moving out is a good choice
Disclaimer: moving out is not for everyone. But it was one of the best choices I’ve made. I stopped taking air-conditioning all night, eating all the groceries in one sitting, and even buying fancy soaps for granted. I felt overflowing gratitude for what my parents have done for me when I started paying the bills and my own tuition fee.
#25 You won’t have it all figured out
Finally, I don’t claim to know all the wisdom in the world. Who knows? Someday one of these learnings will need to be unlearned. Not having it all figured out leaves me room to be surprised, experiment, make mistakes, take chances, quit, and start over. It’s still the only way to grow.
Now I’ll hand over the mic to you… what have you learned at age 25? 🙂