A lot of people think college was the best four years of their life, and others never wanted high school to end. Maybe you can’t wait to hit that age where it makes sense to settle down with a spouse, 2.5 kids, and a house in the suburbs surrounded by a white picket fence.
But your late 20s? Ugh. They’re just an awkward, in-between phase. No one ever talks about how excited they are to turn 28 or 29; there’s even an alleged curse on age 27 because a surprising number of celebrities die at that age.
Well, I’m here to argue that our late 20s get a bad rap. No one ever talks about the good parts. Sure, there are difficulties: trying to build your career; juggling said career, friends, and dating; dating in general. But there are plenty of perks to take advantage of between 25 and 30 that we don’t discuss enough.
1. You have an awesome group of friends.
By now, you’ve established some rock-solid relationships with people who truly get you (and won’t make fun of you for staying in on a Friday night). High school and college throw a lot of randoms together in classes and dorms—who become your friends through default—but now you get to choose people who complement your interests and actually add value to your life.
2. You know how to cook more than mac and cheese.
Not that there’s anything wrong with mac and cheese, but expanding your palate and kitchen skills in your 20s will benefit your health and your wallet. You don’t have to know your way around the kitchen like Ina Garten, but it’s nice to know how to whip up a few nice dinners. (Not there yet? Start with one of these incredibly easy and healthy meals anyone can master.)
3. You know what kind of person you want to date…
… and you’ve stopped wasting time on people you know you don’t. There’s merit in dating different types of people, but by the time you hit your late 20s, you’ve—hopefully—realized what qualities are actually important in a significant other (honesty, ambition) and which aren’t (cool car, hot body).
4. You make better life decisions.
So it turns out your brain isn’t even fully formed until after you turn 25. Research indicates that the frontal lobes, which manage impulse control and planning, are the last areas of the brain to develop. (That explains those 3 a.m. Jager bombs.) Now you’re better at making the right choices for the long run rather than the short term.
5. You know what works for your body (and what doesn’t).
You’ve figured out that liquor does make you sicker, so you stick to wine (or vice-versa). You may have also realized that eating a lot of sugar and processed food will make you feel like crap. And that a yoga class or a run feels really damn good.
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6. You know how to take care of your brain too.
Staying mentally healthy is something you (hopefully) don’t have to think about much in your teens or early 20s. But the more life experiences you go through, both good and bad, you understand the damage that stress, anxiety, or depression can do. I’m not saying it’s easy, but learning how to handle whatever is going on in your mind is crucial. (And if you are going through a tough time, here are 81 mental health resources to turn to.)
7. You’re not afraid to ask for what you want.
Something clicked for me after age 26: I realized that it’s OK to be assertive. I realized that if you want to be in control of a situation, it’s OK to control it. Speaking up is something especially young women struggle with, although I think the tide is finally changing. Personally, I’ve started to be more vocal about my desires in work, life, and relationships—and damn, does it feel good.
8. You’ve learned how to say no.
Along those same lines, I’ve also realized that it’s OK to say no. Saying no to something doesn’t mean you’re being rude, lazy, or negative. It simply means you’re choosing to give more time to things that matter in your life than those that don’t—like that second date or third beer.
9. You actually have $ to spend (and save).
By your late 20s, chances are high that you have more disposable income and a few more zeroes in your savings account than you used to. And let’s be real: Getting a raise or a promotion is so much better than good grades in school. Plus, your late 20s are a win-win: You’re still young enough for stores like H&M or Forever21, but you also know it’s smart to invest in some nicer clothes that’ll last longer than three washes.
10. Your friends are getting married.
I know, weddings can be crazy expensive (refer to No. 8 if your social schedule is getting out of control). But on the bright side, they’re fantastic excuses to visit some surprisingly beautiful places (looking at you, New Jersey!), hang out with friends and family you don’t see that often, and take advantage of an open bar and free food.
11. You get to play with said friends’ babies.
It’s a totally trippy feeling when your first good friend has their first child, and you realize they’re responsible for raising another human being. But it’s pretty sweet to get your baby fix and hang out with your friend at the same time. Plus it gives you some time to get the hang of it before you decide whether or when to have kids of your own.
12. You relate to your parents on a different level.
It’s pretty cool how family dynamics change as you get older. My parents and I relate on a different level now that I’m a full-fledged adult and can thoughtfully discuss real-life things like politics or finances. Who knows—maybe they’ll even ask you for advice.
13. You’ve made your house or apartment into a ~home.~
Not saying you have to graduate from IKEA and Target completely, but chances are your house or apartment has some unique, creative touches that aren’t cliche posters of Audrey Hepburn. Hanging out in a comfortable, cozy space you’ve created from scratch (even if you have roommates) is a pretty fantastic feeling.
14. You can appreciate a night out as much as a night in.
This may be my favorite thing about my late 20s. I still love to have the occasional big night out with friends, but I also love staying in with Netflix and popcorn. And I don’t feel bad about doing either. #IDoWhatIWant.
15. You don’t have to prove yourself at work every damn day.
Now that you’ve been working for a few years, you no longer have a resume that lists your high school student council experience. That makes a big difference; people at work have probably grown to respect you and your ideas, and maybe you even manage a team of your own. The responsibilities are bigger, but mentoring someone younger can also be super rewarding (and duh, it’s awesome when you can pass off some of your busy work).
16. You can network without feeling like a fraud.
Another work perk of your late 20s: It’s way easier to email people whose work you admire, and they don’t automatically get annoyed by some college kid wanting to “pick their brain.” You’re at the point when people are not only willing to meet you, but they’re more than likely interested in your work as well.
17. You’re not (as) addicted to your phone.
If you’re born in the late ’80s to early ’90s, you’re one of the last (lucky) generations to experience life sans smartphone. Obviously, you’re still on Snapchat, Instagram, and all the other apps of the moment, but you’re also well aware there’s more to life than staring at a screen 24/7. Savor it, folks.
18. You get to decide how to spend your free time.
One of my pet peeves is when people say they’re bored. I know it’s so easy to fall into the standard weekend trap of going out, waking up late, working out, hanging out, etc., but there is so much you can do in your spare time: Take a photography class, read, practice yoga, start a side business. Take advantage of it now—all that alone time is going out the window when (if) you have kids.
19. You’re finally OK with just being yourself.
I’m not saying to settle for mediocrity, but at some point in your late 20s, you stop worrying about how you stack up next to other people. You realize that life is no longer a popularity contest (thank God) and that your only real competition is yourself. It’s cheesy, but as long as you’re doing your best, whatever that looks like, you’re doing great.
20. You’ve figured out your values and priorities in life.
By this age, most of us have experienced a tragedy of some sort—whether it’s losing someone close to us, going through a health scare, or dealing with serious family drama. The silver lining? Going through a rough patch will make you reassess your values in life, which is a really important thing to do in your 20s.
Maybe you realized that being close to your family is more important than traveling the world. Maybe you realized that helping others makes you happier than making a lot of money. Maybe you decided you want to be a creative entrepreneur, not a corporate lawyer. Whatever it is, now that you’ve got your priorities straight, you can start planning a life that lines up with them.