Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What I Would Tell My 20 Year-old Self

Natalie in Florence
As I’m in my early thirties, it was really fun to think about being 20 again and what I’ve learned. In my twenties, I was definitely lost in so many aspects of my life but I always remember what Tina Fey said in an interview. She said, “Say yes.” It’s something I learned in improv class as well. When you open yourself up to risk, you open yourself up to failure but also opportunity. My twenties taught me to be flexible and open to the joys and challenges of life. Now is your time to experiment and have fun! Here’s my best advice: 

1. Sit Down With Yourself

It’s okay to be lost. I was very lost at three pivotal ages: 20, 27 and 29. So I sat down with myself and asked “what would make me happier than I am right now?” I finally figured out my major in University at 20 after humming and hawing about it (not so coincidentally English and Geography); I figured out that I wanted to write at 27 after being in a career that didn’t work for me and I figured out that I really wanted to be a travel writer/blogger at 29. 

Natalie in Cuba at 21
Those decisions helped me figure out my goals from there. I also asked myself: What are the three things I must have in a career? What are my three best skills and how can I use them towards what I love to do? What have I always loved doing since childhood? For me, I knew that I needed a mix of my passions of travel, writing and social media. I manifested those three words like crazy into my thoughts and told everyone and anyone that’s what would make me happiest. Shortly thereafter, I got a job as a travel columnist. Two months after that, I was working in social media for a travel company. Now I’m picking up clients related to my niche: Toronto and hyperlocal travel. 

Your dreams can happen but you need to know what they are. When you know what they are, people will go out of their way to help you, especially if you’re genuine about your passions and goals. Make sure you have a specific niche and hone it. Own it. The more specific your niche is, the easier it is to find ideas/clients/sponsors/advertisers/like-minded souls that fit who you are. It will take time but don’t give up! 

2. The Hardest Decisions are the Ones You Will Remember and Be Proud of the Most

Breaking up with my boyfriend of five years? That was my hardest decision but the best decision because I know myself now. I know what I want in a relationship. More importantly I know what I don’t want in a relationship. I like myself and I’m okay with being by myself, which will bring in greater love. 

Quitting my job in HR to take a solo trip to over 13 different countries in Europe for three months? That trip was seven years ago and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life (or the look on my boss’s face when I told her!). From there, I learned to take care of myself and be okay with myself; learned so much more about architecture, art, history and geography than any textbook or class could tell me; and became much more street smart. That trip was how I created myself and it was a catalyst to change my career, become a travel agent and now evolve into what I am: a freelance writer and social media specialist specializing in travel.  The earlier you can travel, the better. If I didn’t have a boyfriend in my early twenties, I would have been traveling MUCH sooner. 

Natalie now
Put aside a travel fund, automatically deposit it, don’t touch it and give yourself a deadline for your trip. Remind yourself of the big picture and how you will feel after accomplishing your dream. Once you buy the ticket, then it gets real - and exciting! You’ll be much more committed to your goal. You can break up your trip goals (i.e. buy the plane ticket; buy the train pass; buy the tour portion; buy the first and last night accommodation). Any “big chunk” money--Grandma’s birthday gift; Christmas money; that check from the government-- goes straight to the travel fund. What do you want to remember in your life? That incredible life-changing trip you took all on your own or the number of times you went to McDonald’s or Starbucks to satisfy a short term need? 

3. Bad Friends, Good Friends and Friendship Cycles 

I realized to recognize the patterns of a bad friend so I could keep the good ones around: Is she flaky? (i.e. always late; always breaking promises; not emotionally present; all-the-time there for you and then *poof* gone); Does she talk badly about other people constantly or is consistently negative? Does she make time for “friend time” without the significant other? Does she break her own personal patterns? (i.e. the homebody is all of a sudden going out with you, the extrovert or vice versa. What’s her motive?). Trust your instincts. 

I’ve also realized that friends are in our lives for certain periods and that’s okay. Old friends can also return later on in life. One friend cannot be everything and it’s good to mix it up and get other perspectives through doing different activities or joining groups. (note: this also helps with networking).  My best friendships have been ones where we’ve given each other freedom and always picked up where we left off. We may not have time on our sides but we have respect and love, so we try to make the time when we can.

Remember: those who matter don’t mind; those who mind don’t matter.

4. Have an Emergency Fund

I never thought I’d be unemployed or in an unstable period for over six months. What’s even more distressing is that I didn’t have any money to back me up. The parents can only live for so long and help out. Even in debt, I put a small amount towards savings so if I ever end up in the same situation again, I’ll have something. Something is better than nothing. Our economy is volatile and there’s no such thing as job security. Protect yourself. It might suck now--I know, I want that Tory Burch dress too--but you’ll thank yourself later. 

Natalie in Prague recently
5. Remember the Little Things

Smile. Be on time. Make someone’s day. Make your bed. 
It’s amazing how it makes you feel when you do it--and when you don’t. 

6. Buy One Investment Piece 

I love coats so when I was working in my first big job, I bought a fancy winter coat that for me, was really expensive. It was my salt and pepper coat from Club Monaco but I saved up for it. I earned it. The coat was perfectly tailored and every time I put it on, I walked with confidence. I would strut like Beyonce down the streets. Whatever your investment piece is---those killer heels, that structured bag--is worth more in confidence than it ever is in price. People will notice!

Natalie Taylor is a freelance writer and social media specialist in the travel industry based in Toronto. She blogs about life in Toronto and hyperlocal travel at nearafar.com. Find Natalie on twitter @nearafar.

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