“Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m in my twenties and I’m from the United States…”
This has usually been the first few words I rattle off to someone when I meet them for the first time.
When I was 20, saying the number out loud instead of some other number with “-teen” added to the end was very strange to me for a couple months.
I quickly got used to it.
And now I don’t exactly want to stop saying it.
But sadly, a decade doesn’t last forever…
Towards the end of this year I will be saying adiós to the best decade of my life (thus far) and for a while I haven’t been sure how I really felt about it. Last month I created this list and started reminiscing about all the adventures, mishaps, lessons, milestones, achievements, disappointments and losses I’ve experienced up until now in my life.
I’m now just shy of five months before I have to say goodbye to my twenties.
The decade where everyone says you learn, grow, change and live more than any other time period in your life. It’s also a decade where you will never have as much freedom as you do at any other point in your life.
It’ll seem like you have all the time in the world to live, experience the world, find your passions, build a career, educate yourself, and travel. The list of things we want to do while we’re young is endless but the unfortunate reality is that time is not. Time is limited and our energy and drive to accomplish our dreams goes one of two ways: up or down.
Our twenties are the years where we can go hard and fast after our dreams. In the last few years, more people between the ages of 20 to 29 travel the world, live overseas, get advanced professional degrees, start businesses and create new technologies. They are achieving these things more so now than at any other point in the history of mankind.
But it’s also the decade where you can meet the person you’ll marry, start a family and build a life together. As a young American woman who grew up in the Midwest and then later went to a university in the South, these three milestones, in particular, were hammered into me from a young age.
Nevertheless, what many people in my community lost sight of was this: it’s a possibility but it’s not a guarantee.
What I can guarantee is that you will learn a whole lot about yourself during this time period.
And the learning won’t stop as long as you keep embracing it. Craving it. Seeking it out.
If you know me (but as you will also see in this post), you know that my life took a different route during my twenties. It wasn’t a journey I ever expected to go on but I’m eternally grateful for it. And though I’m struggling a little bit with mixed feelings as I enjoy the final months of this exciting, once-in-a-lifetime time period, I’m happy my life has turned out this way.
But overall, I hope you find my story encouraging and inspiring, whether you’re a twenty-something on paper or at heart.
Each of these experiences have had a major impact on me so it was extremely hard to create the order for this list.
So, without further ado, I’ll get right to it.
5. Be able to discover who I am, what I’m passionate about and who God sees me without distractions
This one is exactly like the header describes. I’ve been blessed with the huge opportunity to get to learn who I really am and what I really love to do. I switched majors in college towards the middle of my time at Jacksonville University.
I tried nearly everything I could get my hands on. I joined the JU Rowing team, chatted with Spanish speakers at the weekly conversation table (Mesa Latina), signed up for a graded swimming class (and it took me until I was 12 to overcome my fear of water! haha), tried spinning classes at the crack of dawn, swam with manatees, met people from all around the country and world. And that was just college.
A couple of semesters in a row, the study abroad coordinators urged me to consider studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country for a whole semester instead of just a summer term. They saw my passion for the Spanish language, which was what a lot of people noticed about me way back then. They convinced me that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a short 6-week immersion experience. I needed to go for a whole semester.
They were right. But after spending a couple of months in Sevilla, my long-standing favorite Spanish city even to this day, I felt that they were wrong. A semester wasn’t enough time. I should’ve studied and lived abroad for a whole year!
I eventually did go back to Spain to live for that *long* amount of time but time flies when you’re having amazing experiences and learning so much. A year of living there has now almost turned into four. It’s a part of the world that’s come to hold a special place in my heart.
I’ve still continued to enjoy this past decade doing and trying everything I possibly could. What I’ve kept in the forefront of my mind is that it’s better to experience something by yourself than miss out on it entirely. Lots of my friends had already found a life partner earlier in their lives and were starting their families. Naturally, I was happy for them but there were many times I felt lonely and left out. But very few times did I feel so sorry for myself that I skipped going somewhere or trying something new because someone couldn’t go with me. My mid-to-late twenties were full of these types of experiences.
It wasn’t until I hit my late twenties that I embraced several of my strengths and weaknesses. One major turning point for me (and my career) was when I finally self-identified as a writer. For a long while it was a hobby but it’s more than that. It’s a part of who I am and how I view the world. And by embracing this side of me, I found my purpose and what I believe the calling God has placed on my life. It’s also the underlining purpose of this blog: to inspire young Christian women to travel and discover the world. Even if the media says differently or if you have to travel alone.
I don’t think I would’ve been able to cultivate many hidden talents and interests in my life if I hadn’t have had this time to do so.
4. Not spend most of this decade dating someone
This one is also a little bit self-explanatory.
I’ve kept my dating life quite private. But, if you’ve ever sat down and talked to me, you would know that meeting someone was at the top of my list. Alongside pursuing a career and personal interests. I’ve always been extremely ambitious and self-motivated. It’s very rare for me to sit on the sidelines and not be actively making plans or searching for a solution.
However, I was quite shy when it came to meeting guys and being romantic with them. I had virtually no experience of my own and my parents weren’t very openly affectionate at home. I didn’t necessarily put this area of my life on the back burner. Instead, I focused on developing my social and domestic skills and my personality as a whole. Not to mention my faith in God deepened with each passing year.
I made a conscious decision to pour my heart and my dreams out to God instead of pouring myself into a handful of dating relationships. I think a combination of this habit and developing my own personality were the main components of my success in both friendships and relationships during this decade.
During my early and mid-twenties, I met lots of people from all walks of life. Young guys who grew up in the same country as I did but plenty of guys who did not. I didn’t officially start going on what I would consider dates until about age 26. And the learning just increased from thereon. I do feel like when I was 27, I experienced a short-term period of exponential growth in terms of relationships. I was a bit impatient when it came to meeting that ‘perfect’ guy. In reality, I only put pressure and a time limit on myself which meant that things could only end badly.
But, God redeemed my wasted time and I found a silver lining to the experience. I learned exactly what I wasn’t looking for in a man. And in the long run, I could’ve wasted more time than I did so I was fortunate enough to only waste the amount of time that I did on that experience (six months).
I did, however, write one of my most favorite pieces on my blog. Though I wrote it while dealing with a profound bout of sadness, it was still a beautiful post that I created. A girl I met in my hostel that weekend encouraged me to keep writing even if I felt sad. So I did.
The main reason why this topic made the list was to point out that I didn’t meet anyone worth my time and introducing to my family until much later in this decade. I also didn’t spend most of my twenties dating the same person and not being able to figure out who I was apart from the relationship.
I was blessed with the opportunity to develop my personality, character, and passions on my own. And because I focused on developing a strong foundation of who I am and who God sees me as, I could present a more complete person to a man, when the time came for our paths to cross.
3. Move abroad by myself and obtain a work visa
In the past year, I have talked quite a bit about this particular achievement if you’ve seen my Instagram account or my contributing posts and comments on English teacher or Spain immigration groups on Facebook.
I’m spending some time at home right now while I finish this post and just yesterday I came across a slip of paper I tucked away inside the Bible I received after my high school graduation (I use a bilingual one in Spain). It said, “List 3 dreams you have for your life.”
One of them was “live in a Spanish speaking country,” and I can excitedly say that I’ve done that (and I’m currently doing that!). I always did see myself living abroad but I figured it would be somewhere in South America. Well, God directed my steps to Spain and now Madrid in particular. I had no idea the difficulties of obtaining a work visa in another country but teaching abroad through the Auxiliar de Conversación program helped me get a peek at visa applications. And with each renewal of my visa-and personal interest- I built up my knowledge on the topic. Then, I put all that knowledge into practice and I applied to modify my existing student visa to a work/freelancer visa. In fact, I spent the whole month of July last year working on it and gave up my chance to travel home for part of the summer.
It really pays to be extra detailed and to do your homework with anything you do. Whether it’s applying for that dream job of yours. Getting a promotion or applying for a grant or scholarship. The thing you will always have to prove to someone is why they should choose you and not someone else.
If I have learned anything through my very unconventional career path, it’s to go above and beyond someone’s expectations for you (and your services) and to never give up on yourself. All of my failures have been turned into major life lessons and have helped catapult me to success. I may not see the reason or the end result in the midst of the failure but I figure it out eventually.
And you will, too, when it comes to finding your passion and forging a career path for yourself.
2. Travel to two of the most romantic cities in the world as a single girl
Your twenties truly are for travel. Slow, fast, group tours, solo travel…However you travel, just do it.
I am a huge advocate of travel. I’ve been traveling to other states my whole life. But, after I got my first taste of international travel way back in 2006, I got hooked on it. Technically I only border hopped down to Mexico on paper. But the reality was my high school mission team and I went all the way down to the furthest tip of the Baja California peninsula. A 50+ hour drive from the border of Tijuana and San Diego, California.
As a teenager, I experienced a number of emotions and new sights in just the span of a couple of weeks. I even came into contact with extreme poverty for the first time in my life. I went on a life-changing trip long before I was a twenty-something.
My reason for adding this one to the list is simple. Don’t put off travel for later. Or for when you want to go with that special someone. Go anyway.
What if you will never have the chance to go to Paris with your significant other? Or what if you meet someone who can’t stand really long international flights?
Go while you have the time.
And, you know what?
Go back to cities over and over again and rewrite your experiences there.
Did you have an awful time in a popular European city because it rained cats and dogs or you lost your phone?
Go back and strive to have a better experience.
I didn’t ever plan on going to Paris, the City of Love, by myself but I did. I read the year before that you could ice skate on top of the Eiffel Tower during Christmastime (which was also conveniently around the time of my birthday) so I researched it, bought my flight and accommodation, planned my trip, and went solo. Despite being very surprised at the high cost of living and an awkward moment on top of the Eiffel Tower itself, I had a wonderful time. I even saw a friend from study abroad and got to hear him speak his native language (French) and get a personal tour of his favorite part of the city.
But, before my experience even began, on the train into the city, I met a couple of other American girls who were headed to London via the Gare du Nord train station. One of them said it was their third time in Paris. I confessed that it was my first visit and that I was alone. The friendly, blonde-haired lady smiled and said, “Paris isn’t meant to only be experienced once. You can go back again and again and have completely different experiences each time.”
I was very much encouraged after that short conversation. I did vow that I would go back there with someone special one day but I focused on how this would be my experience.
And it was the most incredible first solo trip I did in another country. I even had a working understanding of French by the time I left – after only 5 days! (Thanks, Spanish, haha)
That conversation I had on that gray December day outside of Paris back in 2014 has stuck with me ever since. It was also what encouraged me to add Venice to my list when I was planning my first ever trip to Italy last April. A couple of my friends really wanted to go to Venice as well but when it didn’t work out, I still kept the city on my list.
I knew Venice was quite a bit more romantic than Paris -and more expensive too!- that I limited myself to only spending 24 hours there. I again vowed, a little more seriously this time, that I would return but only with a special someone in tow.
The best thing I could’ve ever done that trip was to let myself go and experience Venice.
From the train ride into the city to walking the streets underneath the glow of the moon, it completely enchanted me. And it encouraged me during a time in my life when I was doubting the chance of ever meeting a guy who could fall in love with me. Being romanced and being wooed by Venice was an amazing experience. I met a family from Greece who was lost and needed help getting back to the main drag (The Gran Canal). I bought a beautiful scarf from a street trader who was from the town and had a conversation with the owner of my B&B about Venetians and tourism.
Because I was open to conversations and traveling alone, I was able to have some one-of-a-kind conversations with other travelers and locals.
So, if you do happen to be single and the next time a trip to an incredibly romantic city presents itself…
These cities are romantic for a reason, mainly because their language, history, or architecture heavily influences them. Let yourself be romanced by them and don’t wait for someone to take you there or go with you.
Go by yourself and then go back. Rewrite your experiences with romantic cities as many times as you can.
Meanwhile, I’ll get back to you on what those cities are like with my special someone. 😉
(Spoiler alert: The special someone and I did eventually get married.)
1. Not get married or start having kids
This is the big one. It’s one I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and come to terms with as my 30th birthday approaches.
While I am happy to say that I’m now in a very loving and long-term relationship, getting married and having at least one child during my twenties was not in the cards for me.
I don’t know about you but I have been a planner for most of my life. I do indulge in last-minute travel planning quite a bit, however, long-term plans are always well-thought-out and carefully planned. I even planned the free time my brother and I had on a trip to one of my parents’ conferences. I listed the times we would do different activities and for how long.
I was about 8.
I had places to go and things to do, obviously…
And God listened to my plans.
He heard all of my prayers even though He didn’t answer them when I wanted Him to with the answers I wanted. He also forced me to wait. And learn how to use my time wisely during that wait.
He was working on the bigger picture and orchestrating each step I took. Each person I met. Each place I ever set foot in. Even the languages I fell in love with and the different English speakers I met.
Every experience was a signpost in the journey I was on to the person God had in mind for me. They were stepping stones to new and bigger blessings He wanted to give me.
Now, at 29 years old, I think it’s safe to say I’m glad I didn’t get my wish of getting married by 25. I didn’t know exactly who I was at that age and I was still very immature when it came to love. I’m glad I was able to learn and stumble my way through each experience gracefully and become the person I am today.
The past couple of years have been full of growth in all areas of my life. I’m glad to have worked on my own weaknesses, personal struggles, and heartache on my own before God saw it fit for his and my path to come together.
I’ve worked hard to become Sarah. And you better believe I’ll keep working on becoming an even better version of her at 30 and beyond.
One step at a time.