23 Things I Did ‘After’ 23 (When Life Should Have Been Over)… Why Lists and Age Deadlines Are Irrelevant

Wedding Cake, multi-tiered

When Is The Right Time To Settle For This?

I have to say at the outset, this is a different kind of post today. I’m curious to see how you feel about this.

Recently, there has been a viral flame war – a sort of digital call and response- over a blog post initially entitled 23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged at 23″Instead of just making a comment, I wanted to share this with you- to see if I am off-base (getting old?) or what.

To respond to the first post, a reader posted a response blog entitled “Sorry, I’m Not Sorry. (My Response To 23 Things) in which she defended her life choices as a few dumb mistakes (getting pregnant), some great results (Aiden, her baby), and a life with a new person (Andrew) whom she couldn’t imagine being without. Good for her.

On these lists of 23 Things, the #1 item to do before 23, whether married or single, is get a passport. Good for both of them!

It’s great to see young people (and to me people under 23 are young… ) realize the value of a passport for opening the world and their minds. That’s good for all of us.

But what puzzled me about both these posts and the hundreds of comments I read following each one, was the idea that you need to break free by 23, or life is over.  I’ve never thought I missed out by becoming an expat later in life. Do you?

Vanessa Elizabeth, in the original blog post, commented that people get married to have someone to cuddle with when it’s cold, and so they can wear socially unacceptable clothes while drinking $5 beers at a dive bar they frequent.

Ouch!… that paints a pretty dismal picture of life after 23. No wonder they think life is over! I might off myself too if that’s all I had to look forward to.

Taylor D-C  (aka, Notjustanotherteenmom) doesn’t have a passport but agrees that travel with her new husband is the way she would like to experience the world.

From there the list of 23 Things goes downhill… well, you decide. Here it is:

23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23

1. Get a passport.

2. Find your “thing.”

3. Make out with a stranger.

4. Adopt a pet.

5. Start a band.

6. Make a cake. Make a second cake. Have your cake and eat it too.

7. Get a tattoo. It’s more permanent than a marriage.

8. Explore a new religion.

9. Start a small business.

10.Cut your hair.

11. Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face.

12. Build something with your hands.

13. Accomplish a Pinterest project.

14. Join the Peace Corps.

15. Disappoint your parents.

16. Watch GIRLS, over and over again.

17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting.

18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places.

19. Sign up for CrossFit.

20. Hangout naked in front of a window.

21. Write your feelings down in a blog.

22. Be selfish.

23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year.

So what do you think?

Me? I was actually a little disappointed that some of these passed for revolutionary, big ideas.

No wait, I take that back. I admit it, I was actually slightly annoyed. I was annoyed that someone -so many people- think these items amount to a life changing discovery list, one that is going to make a difference and help us find out who we are and where we belong.

In fact, the reason I’m writing this post is that I’m surprised that list passed for viral worthy content! I think most of you who are reading this have had much bigger ideas than these. You have done more, and enjoyed the world more- and at later ages- than either of these ladies have begun to dream possible.

So here’s my comment to them:

Dear Vanessa and Taylor-

I know you’re in your 20s, but c’mon, where’s the vision?  I think you can do better.

Vanessa Elizabeth, you complain about girls “settling” for getting engaged before 23 and, yet, I have to admit, I don’t see anything on your “Stay Single” list that’s destined to change the world. I understand that you are saying to other girls to avoid settling till you find yourself and experience the world. But I believe you can explore the world, and make a difference in people’s lives at the same time. It is much more gratifying as well.

Taylor, you admit that you don’t really know yet what you want to do. I hope that you get that Africa trip someday soon. In fact, I think if you make it a priority for you and Andrew (and Aiden), it really may change your whole lives.

At 23 I was both married and a mom. Despite that, I found out who I was and gave something back to help others in the process.

Vanessa Elizabeth (wanderonwards.org following her move to China), here are 23 Things I Managed To Do After 23. Taylor, this list can be your inspiration- I had no college degree when I started doing these things; it came later, while I was working. Being a mom didn’t stop me, and you can find a way too if that’s what you want.

Here’s my response to your lists. I call it,

23 Things I Did After 23 (When Life  Should Have Been Over)

  1. Visited all but 2 states in the United States
  2. Filled my passport with more than 20 country stamps (and that’s just the current one)
  3. Negotiated a $10M marketing partnership on my first trip abroad (Sweden)
  4. Helped my daughter fulfill her dream of going to Space Camp
  5. Coached my daughter’s softball team
  6. Played 3rd base on a ladies softball team called the Pink Panters (our average age was 46 playing against 20-somethings) AND lived to win the Championship
  7. Started a catering company in my spare time (while holding a full-time job and being a Mom of a teenager)
  8. Taught myself computer skills (to a degree that I became a mentor for others at work)
  9. Sent to Azerbaijan by company to train foreign office staff in Baku
  10. Resigned my position at one of the world’s largest energy companies to go back and open my own business in the former Soviet Union. (I had found my “thing” … teaching business skills to others)
  11. Explored a new religion; learned to understand Muslim Azerbaijanis and helped them understand Christians a little better
  12. Taught myself Russian and Turkish languages so I could teach in each language
  13. Have met with 3 foreign Presidents and discussed entrepreneurial development ideas
  14. Used my cooking skills to start a community dinner- $1 all you can eat yet still made a profit
  15. Trained more than 400 students at my own business in Azerbaijan, and at least 500 more students at a local university over 3 years
  16. Wrote a daily column and edited a local 4 language newspaper
  17. Helped my students gain employment in western companies to support their families
  18. Designed a business-International NGO partnership that enabled ex-pats and businesses to buy baby clothes made by a women’s co-op and donate them to a local orphanage
  19. Taught a women’s entrepreneur’s course.  16 women created a co-op raising and selling sunflower seeds, making enough to support all 16 families as well as seeding the crops for the following year
  20. Supported NGO/PVO groups with business training, volunteer support that included counseling, judging, selecting for numerous grants, awards, and projects
  21. Chaired the Vocational Training Committee for the International Rotary Group in Baku, and organized College Career Days to help students define career paths
  22. Created strategic plans for US government agencies, teaching them how to achieve their goals
  23. Wrote a paper on International Terrorism and Negotiating Large Scale Hostage Events that I presented in Austria to an international symposium

photo of giant Nutella jarI’ve cut my hair (not really a momentous event, though it was a lot shorter than I thought it would be), and made lots of cakes. I’m sure I was a disappointment to my dad, but not much I could do- he missed out as much as I did.

I watched television in German, English, Italian and Turkish- all a heck of a lot more interesting than “Girls” ( no matter how naked Lena Dunham might be).

Not sure why eating an entire jar of Nutella made the list, but being overseas showed me how well liked it is. So, if you mean taking time to veg out and relax with a guilty pleasure, yes, I’ve spent entire weekends recharging while marathon watching English language DVDs when someone came from the states and had fresh ‘news’.

I’ve never felt an urge to hangout naked in front of a window, nor seen the virtue in learning to be selfish. Quite the contrary- I have wondered what it would be like to wear a hijab or a burka and I continue to strive to be selfless when it comes to helping others.

Instead of joining the Peace Corps, I wanted to become an army of one volunteer, building lives with my hands, making strangers into lifelong friends.

I have accomplished many Pinterest projects and will continue to write down my feelings in this blog.

My feelings at this moment? That I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities that I have had as an expat, a repat and a continuing supporter of young people who are looking to make the way better for those who come after.

As for number 18? Well, maybe we can meet in a public place to talk about how to expand the self-centered items into something truly worthwhile. But, if that makes you uncomfortable, you may indeed allow me to check that one-off too.

I wish you each luck on your 23 Things To Do Lists and hope they grow into really worthwhile projects that make a difference wherever you go.



2 thoughts on “23 Things I Did ‘After’ 23 (When Life Should Have Been Over)… Why Lists and Age Deadlines Are Irrelevant

  1. I don’t think the point of the original “23 things” list was to be revolutionary or earth-shattering. I think she just meant that cutting your hair off and eating nutella are a better use of your time than getting married when you’re not even grown yet. Fact: The frontal lobe of the brain is still developing until 25 yrs old. You’re not even who you’re going to be yet at that age. I must agree that eating copious amounts of chocolate spread is, in fact, a better idea than getting married at that point.


    • Hi and thanks for responding. i appreciate your professional input about development.

      I agree with you about the point being about not getting married so young.

      My only addition to that discussion was to say, ok, if you know you have lots of time and you’re not ready to get married, at least do something useful that will add to who you are becoming.

      Too often I think we settle for mediocre and think that’s as good as it gets. The quality of people you meet is better if you put yourself in more dynamic places, like a study abroad semester, or a world cultures class at a community college. It isn’t about travel or becoming an expat, it’s about having interesting things to talk about and challenging yourself as you grow up.

      Good discussion, thanks!


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