I’m on a 4-hour flight to California. For some reason, I always write my most important words on airplanes. There’s something about being 10,000 feet up in the air and looking down at everything on the ground. You start to feel small. You realize you are pretty small and life is pretty short. You’ve got a short window of time to make a dent in your space in the world. Use it wisely, I tell my 20-year-old self. Use every moment wisely.
I turned 30 on Thursday. It was everything I could have wanted. We rented out my favorite coffee shop, filled it with candles and balloons, and I got to spend the evening hugging the people who made year 29 unforgettable. I’ve lived in Atlanta for four years now. I’ve made this place a home.
“Look at the transformation of this place,” my friend Blake says to me as we huddle close by the door. “This used to be your hideaway place. And now look…”
He’s right. The room is filled with people I love. There’s no hiding in this space. I’ve grown up. I’ve grown wiser. I’m ready for 30 and I feel no fear of getting older because every year teaches me something better than the one before it. I used to think it was cliché when people told me life is the ultimate teacher and now I never leave home without a notebook because there are just too many notes to take.
I’ve known for a while I wanted to write something down to commemorate another decade down. I still have so much to learn but I am beginning to believe wisdom comes at any age. Wisdom is always there waiting for you when you are ready to look up, look around, and take it all in.
So for anyone in their twenties, this letter is for you.
People will say a lot about what your twenties “should” be like but ultimately it is up to you. This is a precious time to figure it out. Ask all your questions. Say “yes” to things that scare you. Those things will be what end up making you.
Say “yes” to the first date even if you are pretty certain you won’t end up marrying him. People can always surprise you.
Say “yes” to opportunities which take you to new places. If given the chance to travel, always take it.
Admit when you’re not okay. You don’t have to hold the entire world together, that’s not your job. When you are struggling, let someone in. This matters. People cannot help you if you don’t tell them where you are.
And another thing— there’s no shame in feeling lost or depressed. Anyone who makes you feel less than because of these feelings isn’t someone you want in your corner. Admitting your need for help is a brave act and it should be commended, not condemned. On the day you whisper, “I’m not okay… please don’t leave me alone in this,” feel no shame. You’re braver than you know.
When you’re 21, you’ll be a few credits away from a major in Women’s Studies. At this point in your life, you are pretty hardcore. Your edges will soften in the years ahead as you learn what it means to be a real woman. You will learn the depths of yourself and what you bring to the table. You will value equality in all aspects of life. You will come to believe it isn’t about men being higher or women being more powerful— we all bring something necessary to the table. We all get a voice and it matters that we hone it, train it, and learn to speak with kindness, above all else.
Your words are pretty powerful. They can either build a person up or tear them down. Choose to build people up. You’ll learn in year 29 that words that don’t bring life are words better left unsaid. The bible talks a lot about the tongue and that’s because it is powerful but also the easiest way to bring others to ruin. Choose prayer over gossip. Choose encouragement over competition.
I promise you this: when you begin celebrating the people around you, something will change. When you stop believing your resources are scarce and you just begin to share what you have, the world will open up. Take off those scarcity glasses, babe. Look around you, there’s plenty.
Sometimes life will take you somewhere new. Sometimes you will be the one to pack up the suitcase and drive 1,000 miles down south. Wherever you go, God is with you and for you. That’s a complimentary travel guarantee like that first free checked bag. Go in peace. Go expectant. Go knowing that it won’t always feel like a honeymoon period. And about that honeymoon period… the day it wears off isn’t a signal to run back to everything familiar. The best refinement happens through hard lessons learned. Dig in. Don’t run.
Invest in good dinner plates. When you’re 27, you’ll think it’s silly to spend your money on plates but you’ll learn your lesson when the ones you bought from the dollar store start sparking and burning in the microwave. Buy the plates. Buy a cookbook. Learn to make a dish to share with other people. You spent the first part of your twenties loathing any form of hospitality but now you’re beginning to see it’s beautiful and sacred to offer someone a meal you made with love.
Sometimes a guy will make you feel like you’re the only girl in their orbit and then, not even a few weeks later, they’ve chosen someone else. I learned in my twenties why the overused phrase “guard your heart” matters so much. Believe it or not, it’s not some cheesy Christian term meant to have you kiss dating goodbye. Like everything else in the Bible, it’s in there because it carries weight.
Guard your heart is a way of saying, “Be careful with who you let in and what you give them access to. Some people come in for the long haul and some people come in with no intention to stay. Choose wisely. What you give to someone is given for good. You’ll have a hard time getting it back. And the biggest thing you can keep for yourself is respect.
RESPECT. It matters. Gosh, it’s everything. At the age of 22, your aunt might write you a letter to commemorate your graduating from college. You will read it out loud to your best friend on the empty beach in Cape Cod before packing up your life into a broken suitcase and moving to New York City.
She will tell you respect is the most important thing in any relationship. Like a spare tire, it’s wise to always have it around.
Two people must respect each other to remain on the same page and keep fighting for this thing called love. Mutual respect means everything. Who are we if we aren’t respected by the person who claims to love us the most?
When you’re 25, you’ll sit at a small kitchen table in the New York City apartment of one of your best friends and you both will write a list. You will call it “the list” and you will seal the envelope and write on the top of it “don’t open until you find THE ONE.”
This list will be a pile of attributes you hope your future spouse will possess. The thing is, you’ll lose that list somewhere in the next 2 years and maybe that is for the better. You should have a few “non-negotiables” as I like to call them. The things you stand for in another person and cannot be swayed on. But you will learn in the next few years that there is no perfect person. There is no “one” you cannot live without. People never come along to complete you.
Look for the one who doesn’t see your dreams to be impossible. Look for the one who grounds you in truth but also teaches you to reach for more. When someone says something like “Oh, I don’t want to have kids” or “I could never live anywhere else but here,” believe them. Don’t show up to a relationship thinking you can change the other person.
This advice is coming from someone who thought she could do it. I entered into a lot of relationships thinking I could change the person sitting across the dinner table from me. People have to want to change for themselves. I no longer believe I exist to change other people or make them better versions of themselves by my own good works.
When you’re 26, a friend will coax you to try out a dating app. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready. Time spent investing in you is never wasted. Listen to your gut because it is usually right.
Eight months later, you’ll return to that dating app download screen. Two weeks later, a man with a short red beard and a white OJ Simpson Bronco will be at your door picking you up for the first date. Laugh with him. Allow him to open the car door for you. Don’t run when he wants to see you again immediately. Three months later, you’ll be saying “I love you” to him in the mountains of Georgia. Three months after that, you’ll be saying “yes” to him in a backyard covered with twinkle lights as your favorite people surround you. Five months later, you’ll wear white and he’ll look handsome in tweed. You’ll say vows and you will say to God beneath your breath, “Thank you for the wait. It was worth it.”
Love, you’ll learn, is never perfect. It’s tough and two people must show up with armor on. Love is a war for one another in a world that begs you to consider other options. Learn the art of devotion in a fleeting culture. Make love the top priority.
People will come and go in and out of your life. And that’s okay. Things end. Friendships don’t always go on forever. You’ll hopefully have your people though. And you’ll learn, as you grow up, that you don’t need the whole world sitting at your table. It really only takes one, maybe two, people who get you and want to be with you in the mess. You don’t need everyone’s approval. And you don’t have to stick around when friends make you walk on eggshells, or disrespect you, or make you feel like you’re always doing the chasing.
Find people who value you and check up on you. And then… this is a big one… return the favor. Friendship is a two-way street. No matter what. Go out of your way to show others that they matter to you. Serve your friends. Be the 2am phone call. Respect one another.
I used to think I had to hold onto every friend I ever made and then some important people walked out of my life. And the biggest freedom I gained? The day I stopped believing I was less than because I didn’t have them anymore or that it was my fault when they chose to leave.
People will choose to leave you. It will happen. And the hard but beautiful truth in that is just how resilient you’ll turn out to be. You’ll never know how resilient you actually are until people leave you or life breaks your heart or the cards don’t fall as you plan. Rejoice in these unseen tragedies because these pieces are a part of your becoming.
When you are 26 and sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office about to be prescribed for medication, release the shame. There is no shame in that small pill you’ll begin taking. There is no tie between that small pill and the God you are searching for. God is not looking at you with a look of dismay and thinking to himself, “Ugh, that one just can’t hold it together.”
In the years to come, that small pill will thicken your faith in God. It will allow you to breathe and finally find worth in yourself. That small pill will be a miracle to you so don’t discount it as anything but that. Don’t allow others to make you feel small in your faith because you need medication to thrive throughout a given day. Your God is bigger than that and you have nothing to prove to other people.
Another note on God: you’ll adopt a “Moses” kind of faith in your late twenties. Moses is the one in the bible who had intimacy with God. He felt the freedom to ask God all his questions and God never turned him away or liked him any less. You will learn God isn’t coming at you with a measuring stick or a disdained face. You will learn there is such freedom and beauty in inching closer to God and deciding not to run anymore.
Your prayers matter. They’re not dumb. They’re not trivial. Pray about nearly everything. Submit other people to prayer. Prayer is the way you and God dialogue back and forth. He’s not holding out on you or waiting for you to clean up your act before you chat. This isn’t his nature or his character. He isn’t out to get you.
Work hard. You’re not owed anything. Above all else, invest in your craft. Make a vow to that craft: I will do my very best to know you and master you.
Believe in that 10,000 hours rule. Put your blinders on and stay focused. Like I said— the world owes you nothing so don’t stand there with your hands outstretched waiting.
Write the dang book. Stop talking about it. Stop berating yourself for not starting the thing and just sit down and begin. Struggling with where to start? Open a word document and type these words: chapter one. There… that’s where it all begins.
The outcome will be sloppy and beautiful. Tell yourself now, “I will not be enslaved to perfection.” Write from that pit in your belly where all the visceral feelings live. Slam your fingers against those keys until you feel something mad and wild release from you.
Don’t sign up for the role of writer for that bestseller title. Sign up because you are desperate for the craft. Sign up because neglecting the art of writing would be the greatest tragedy of your short life. Sign up because you don’t recognize yourself when you’re not writing.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t force yourself into diets or restrictions as an act of hatred. Feed your body real food as much as you can. Say “thank you” to your body at least every six months for the things it gives you without you even asking. Without this skin, you wouldn’t be here. So again (because it is worth repeating): be kind to your body because you only get one.
When you are 24, you will think the idea of “self-care” is really selfish. It’s not. Taking care of others begins with taking care of yourself. It’s a domino effect.
Moisturizing is essential. Wear sunscreen.
Look beyond the screen. It’s easy to judge a person by their Instagram feed but you’d be better off knowing this: every person you’ve seen living a “perfect” life on Instagram has some struggle. What people choose to curate isn’t the full story and there is absolute freedom in not needing to know all the details of another person’s life. Be in the lives of your people. Consider that enough.
Our phones are a silly little device meant to connect us. They were originally made so we could hear the sound of each other’s voices from miles away and relay messages quickly. It’s on us to make sure we stay connected when the phones shut off.
Pick up the phone and call just to hear someone’s voice on the other side of the line. Buy flowers for your friends just to see their reaction. Go above and beyond whenever you can because that’s the stuff that will actually, actually fill you.
This is just the beginning to a list of life lessons that could go on for days. My last piece of advice: write it all down. Sit down at the end of each day and ask God, “What was there for me to learn today?” There’s always something. Life is always teaching you something worth paying attention to.
Above everything else: you’re capable. It matters that you’re here. On the days where you struggle with purpose and desire, you’re not alone. These questions you’re asking make for ground. Ask them all. Find what makes you come alive. You might not even be able to imagine at age 21 what you will be doing at age 26. That’s okay.
Take in the grace. Take the next step forward. Say yes and thank you. Take too many pictures. Cease the moment and live in it for as long as you can. Stay honest. Stay real. Stay golden.
tying you closer than most,