By Nicole Abboud • August 05, 2016•Writers in Residence, Issues, Other Issues
I remember the moment precisely. I was 19 years old and had just walked up to introduce myself to a life coach who was visiting my college campus for an event. Her name was Panny. As we chatted, the topic of growing older and womanhood came up. I recall Panny telling me that life only gets better for women in their 30’s. That stuck with me, and I couldn’t wait to turn 30!
Well, I’m turning 30 this month. Everything is supposed to fall into place now, right?
As I sit here on the eve of my 30th birthday, I thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the major “If I knew then what I know now” moments and lessons I’ve learned in my 20’s. Through this brisk walk down memory lane, I’m hoping that at least one law student or new lawyer out there in Ms. JD land will read these lessons and benefit from them earlier in their lives.
Lesson 1: Do not spend a minute improving your weaknesses
I am an athlete. I used to compete in high school and grew up with the mindset that with dedication and consistent training, I can become great at anything! While this might sound like the right attitude to have, it actually left me wasting too much time trying to improve on weaknesses that I had, believing I could make them better. While self-development and improving one’s self is a good thing, the problem with fixating on improving weaknesses per se is that it’s a waste of time and energy. People will spend their lifetimes trying to fix what they believe they’re lacking when their time is better spent becoming even greater at what they’re already good at. I spent much of my 20’s agonizing over what I believed I was missing in terms of skills and knowledge, only to realize that all I really needed to do was amplify my strengths and become a powerhouse when it comes to those talents that I already possess.
Lesson 2: Your choices create a ripple effect
Sure, we can easily dismiss our 20’s as a time of carelessness, self-exploration, and questionable wardrobe and dating choices.
However I’ve learned that the decisions we make in our 20’s have a compounding effect and create a ripple that we feel many years later. From the people we befriend to those with whom we burn bridges, life has a funny way of constantly bringing people back into our lives that we might have met at some point and never thought we'd see again. Thus, the way we treat and interact with others in our 20’s will continue to play out in our lives well into our 30’s.
Aside from this cyclical nature of human relationships, many of the decisions I personally made in my 20’s might have seemed like small, isolated incidents at the time but in fact, set off a chain of events that led me to where I am today. For example, when I was 26, I met a fellow lawyer at a networking event, and we shared our mutual frustrations with the practice of law and our mutual aspirations of teaching. 3 years later, the same lawyer had begun teaching at a local college and reached out to me via Facebook (where we had connected following the networking event) when his school was looking to hire a law professor. What I dismissed as a night of complaining to a stranger about my desires to teach ultimately led to my current position as an adjunct professor at a community college.
The lesson here is that we shouldn’t be so dismissive of the decisions we make in our 20’s because they are, in fact, very important building blocks (sub-lesson: networking really works!). Our 20’s are a defining decade in our lives and decisions made during that time period help us lay the foundation for the rest of our lives.
Lesson 3: Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you
I’ll admit. For the most part, I am a play-by-the-rules kind of girl. As much as I tried to be rebellious in my 20’s (and trust me, I’ve tried. At 19, I pierced my lower lip, rationalizing that it was juuuust rebellious enough and yet still reversible), I rarely colored outside the lines.
But looking back, I realize what a mistake that might have been. I failed to explore many of my curiosities out of fear that I would be thrown off this path that I thought I had to walk. I wish I would have taken more college classes that challenged me creatively, not just intellectually. I was a Political Science major so most of my classes and my extra-curriculars revolved around politics and law.
I wish I had taken a fine arts class or volunteered with the on-campus radio station. Taking a few random electives or spending free time on exploring your curiosities will not throw you off your path and in fact, will make you a better-rounded individual. This is true when you’re in school and when you’re a new lawyer. Make it a priority to explore what you’re curious about.
Lesson 4: Feel things. Really feel them
Love. Heartbreak. Passion. Happiness. Loneliness. Sadness. Excitement. Anxiety. Feel it. Soak it all in. Allow yourself permission to feel the depths of despair on the bad days and rejoice in the utter highs of the goods days.
While most of our 20’s are spent analyzing every single emotion that comes across us in an effort to suppress the bad, I’ve learned that it is when we are the most vulnerable and honest with our feelings that amazing things happen. For me, it is when I finally came to terms with what was causing my unhappiness as a new lawyer that let me to create what I consider to be one of my greatest accomplishments – my podcast. I allowed myself to explore the causes of my feelings and channeled those emotions into a medium that forced me to grow as a human being.
Lesson 5: Avoid being the “Company” in the “Misery Loves Company” equation
I think we all have those people in our lives who are negative, where nothing ever seems to go right for them, and they bring us down. Those are the people you need to walk away from. Just walk away.
I know this might sound harsh because if this person is your friend, then you might feel like you need to fulfill your friend duties. I get it. But at some point, their negativity begins to affect you and your life, and you don’t have time for that. Do what you can to help these people and then put a cap on it.
Jim Rohn, author and motivational speaker, said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Think about that. If you’re surrounded by complainers and Debbie Downers, you will become one.
A somewhat related sub-lesson: Spend more time with older folks
When I was in high school, as part of my honor roll duties, I had to perform 50 hours a year of community service. Since I lived near a retirement home, I decided to volunteer there. I remember sitting with the retirement home residents and talking to them about their lives and what they had experienced. I’m not sure I fully understood the importance of what they were telling me since I was only 16, but the notion of spending time with and listening to older folks did not leave me. There is much wisdom to be gained from those who have experienced more than we have and perhaps done what we want to do.
If you’re currently a 20-something year old, then what I hope you take away from this post is that your 20’s matter. Take it seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. Cheers to another decade full of lessons (and perhaps some more questionable wardrobe choices).
Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @nicoleabboud and let me know what major lesson you learned in your 20's.