30 For 30: The Most Important Lessons I Learned in My 20s


If you're reading this...I'm 30. 

Somehow, I survived my 20s. All praises to the most high, honestly. I am alive. A little older. A few knicks and bruises. But nevertheless, I've arrived in one piece.

Over the past 10 years I've: studied acting in London, graduated college, moved to Los Angeles,  owned and operated a magazine, made friends, lost friends, fell in love, fell out of love, had some dark moments, had darker moments, made a film, won some awards, worked for some reputable brands, gotten things really wrong and a few things very right. I've been homeless, food-less, money-less, agent-less, hopeless and, at times, next step-less; however, here I am. I've been thinking about what I'll say or what 30 will mean---what I hope will happen over the next decade. Though, if I've learned anything from life thus far, it's better to just enjoy the ride instead of trying to drive. But I just wouldn't be me if I didn't try to make it neat. Tie up all the loose ends. Make sense of all the frays. Give meaning to all of the things that still nag me about where I've been and who I've become. So---I figured the best thing I can do is equip some other young person with a manual to come back to when life is hellbent on showing you who's boss. 



1) Define who You are and never stray from that. 

This doesn't mean you can't change. It doesn't mean that you can't feel different, look different, think different or be different. But what I've learned is that defining who you are early and in great detail will save you from getting into relationships, environments, jobs, circumstances that are in direct opposition to where you see yourself going. It's not a foolproof plan (hello!) but I can truly say that knowing my firm "yes"-s and my firm "no"-s has kept me from losing too much of myself in the process of breaking apart to come back together aka my 20s.

2) Don't let men (or women) break you. 

Listen. Listen. People will act a fool on you, ok? They will. Best friends will lie on you. Lovers will betray you. Professional peers will try you. It's life. We're all just doing our best. And as much as social media will have you believe that everyone is just out here not "giving a f***"---you'll be hurt. You'll be disappointed. You'll cry. You'll scream. You'll hold your tongue. Or you won't (because sometimes...whew). You will feel so much. And that is ok. BUT DON'T YOU EVER LET ANYONE BREAK YOU. Do you hear me? Ever. You can peel away layers. Soak their disloyalty out of your skin. Lay in bed for however many days you need to regain your strength but you must get up. I don't care what it takes. He/her/they don't get to stand over you like Ali over Liston. This is your ring champ, always. 

3) Your mind should work for you not against you.

Etch this down somewhere where you can always see it. Your mind is either your best friend or your worst enemy---there is no in-between. The great news is that you get to choose which role it plays. You get to decide whether this thing that you're living with everyday is going to lead you to your purpose or walk you to destruction. It's a daily decision to fix your mind to be your biggest cheerleader. You have to program it to sift through all of the images/music/films/emails/texts/documentaries on people more famous/wealthy/seemingly happy than you---and still see you as the creme de la creme. No matter what or who you believe in---your mind is going to be the deciding factor in your life. Pay close attention to what you're feeding it. 

4) Develop a routine. 

The thing about being an adult who is free to do whatever you please is---well, you can do whatever you please. If you want to watch 10 straight episodes of a TV show and never even get up to eat or drink---you can! And no one will ever know unless you want them to---at first. Eventually, people who have learned the importance of having structure in their lives start to pull ahead of those who haven't. There are no teachers, pastors, mamas, etc...when it's just you and your goals. You have to set the tone for your life. And developing a routine will help you do just that. 

5) It's ok to not be ok. 

This has become a more popular slogan over the last few years but it wasn't as much when I was going through some tough growing pains. Everyone is so happy on social media, on TV, in films, on tampon commercials, etc...that you almost forget that there is a huge range of other emotions you can experience. We're meant to experience them all. Happiness is not the default for many people and that's totally ok. Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Sadness is real. And valid. 

6) call your family more.

Just do it, alright? Listen to your grandmother gossip about all of your cousins and her neighbors. Act shocked when your grandfather tells you the same story twice. Write down the birthdays of your aunts and uncles---and remember to send them wishes. You're getting older and so is everyone else---they will not always be there. So in your "super busy" 20-something life---make time for them. Trust me on this one. 

7) Call your friends more. 

Nah, forreal. I've written this down as a new decade promise. When was the last time you heard the voice of your closest friends? Not through a social media app either. When was the last time you just sat on the phone and kicked it for hours, asked about their family and laughed about some of the silly things you did together? Don't let Facebook/Twitter/Instagram be the only way you know what's going on in their lives. (still learning this...)

8) Love People and Tell them so. 

Everybody is too cool, man. If you love someone---say it. Say it all the time. But know that love means responsibility. It means accountability. It means protection. It means you owe something to that person you're saying it to. It is not light. And it's not easy. But it's always worth it. 

9) sleep. 

You will not sleep when you're dead. You're not hustling while everyone is sleep. You're not going to sleep when you're rich. You're not going to sleep when you have it all. You need to sleep now. You need rest. You need to recharge. Your mind (see number 3) can only do its job when you allow it to turn off for a bit. Get. Rest. Check this out: someone is always awake in the world. There will never be a time where your refusal to rest is actually going to help you. It may feel like it but eventually your body is going to get what it needs---better it be voluntary than through force. 

10) try to miss as little important moments as possible.

This is particularly hard for creatives. This idea that you always have to be one call away just in case it's the call of a lifetime. I get it. I really do. But your best friend only gets married once. Your sister only has her first child once. Your friend only goes through her first major heartbreak once. There have been so many things I missed out of commitment to my goals that I regret. I know it's not always possible---money, time and distance can all play a part--but whenever you can be there for an important milestone, do it. You won't get those moments back.

11) Be humble.

Or life will humble you. 

12) don't just travel to say you've been. Have an experience.

Social media killed traveling. Not just the act of getting on a plane and seeing some sights---I mean actual traveling. Going somewhere you've never been, experiencing local culture, spending time away from what you know and immersing yourself in life lived differently than your own. Now, everyone is going to the same places to take the same pictures and have the same experience---over a weekend. Choose where you want to go. See what you want to see. It doesn't have to be the hot attraction of the moment. Or the most popular music festival. It can be the small town where your granny grew up or the country you did your 4th grade geography project on. Wherever it is---make sure you'd be there even if social media didn't exist.

13) Listen to the elders...and the babies. 

They know all. They make you stop. They make you get quiet. They make you think outside of the box. They make you remember that life is for living---not recording. 

14) Love yourself. 

Forreal. The scar on your forehead you got from jumping on the bed with your favorite cousin. The wrinkles in your neck that are just like your father's. The flat feet. The not so big booty. The breasts that don't perk. The teeth that aren't straight. The hair that has to be tamed daily. The sensitivity that makes you put up walls and come off as unavailable. The nerdiness that makes you look up everyone involved with films you love---right down to the catering. The theater kid that thinks a Friday night is for curling up with Hamlet. The arms that have always been a bit flabby. The birthmark on your stomach that is identical to your sister's. All of it. Embrace it. Love it. Get comfortable with it. You've got about 60 more years with it. 

15) Forgive.

Whew, chile. Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. But is necessary for any semblance of peace. And you'll get to a place where peace is paramount. Forgiving someone is not for them----it's for you. 


Numbers 15-30 will be posted here. Thank you all for the support, shares and comments throughout this year! I hope to keep building on this platform in my new decade of life! Have you learned any important lessons? Share them below! 

Want to buy me a gift to mark this special occasion? Go here.





Iman Milner1 Comment