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List 5 words that describe your 20s.

discovery, freedom, uncertainty, doubt, risk-taking

naive, curious, persistent, confident, frustrated

What is the best memory from your 20s?

Hard to choose!

College life.

There was the first time I volunteered in Latin America, during college in 2003, teaching in underserved schools with a team of local and international volunteers in Nicaragua. That experience not only influenced my choice to pursue studies and work in international education, it shaped my philosophy of teaching and development work. Somewhat related was the time I went back to Nicaragua in 2006. I was living in Costa Rica at the time and needed to renew my visa by spending 3 days outside the country. I had gotten on the bus to cross the border with the equivalent of about $2, hoping to survive on the charity of the community I had volunteered with in 2003. (The place I was working at was months late in paying us). Not having communicated with anyone from that community in many years, I was banking on them being there and remembering me (and on me remembering how to get there). Luckily, despite the village having grown into a town, I managed to get there and find people I remembered. And thankfully, they were very welcoming. It was a humbling experience facing such uncertainty and depending on folks who barely had enough to get by. An interesting thing I’ve realized about my earlier 20s is that I took a lot of risks I probably wouldn’t have taken now. I’m not sure how much is age making me more fearful or experience making me more sensible.


What do you know now that you wish you knew in your 20s?

That it’s all in the head—I create my own unhappiness, regardless of the external circumstances, but can equally take charge and be happy. Well, even if I “know” this now, 10 years from now do a survey about people in their 30s and let’s see how much I internalize it by the end of that decade.

Nothing, really. I would not have had a real 20s’ life if I knew what I know now when I was in my 20s.

What’s your advice for those currently in their 20s?

Take risks, believe in yourself, show gratitude toward all the people that help you along the way.

Trust your instinct, follow your curiosities, and always pursue happiness.

Lauren Marar, 29 and three-quarters

Ben Gao, 58

Profile for Shirong Gao


A compendium of people's accounts of life in their 20s.


A compendium of people's accounts of life in their 20s.