30 Lessons I Learned In My Twenties

I’ll be turning 30 at the beginning of March, and I am excited the same that I am for every passing year. It is a celebration of still being alive. I never expect age to continue blessing me so each birthday is beautiful. For the first time in my life I feel like I am turning an age that I was meant to be. I always felt out of place as a teenager or “20-something”. I’ve never voluntarily gone to a party, never tasted alcohol, never disobeyed my parents (except for that one time, but it was for love!), never had a “wild side”, never wavered on my convictions, never felt a need to belong. I was born to be 30, or older, or oldest. I’m pretty sure 80 will be my sweet spot.

They say that your 20s are a time for exploration and your 30s are a time for settling down. I think I’ve always done both and will continue. I want to explore until my feet won’t move and my mind shuts down. Curiosity is the fuel of the human spirit.

Life is the grandest teacher, and I am a pupil who seeks to understand every gift. This is what I’ve gleaned.

30 Lessons From my 20s

  • 1. Choose carefully those who surround you.
  • 2. Being a good person is the best life and business advice, consistently.
  • 3. Organization and respect are essential for business.
  • 4. Sharing your authentic voice sets you apart.
  • 5. Age is irrelevant.
  • 6. Ask for help when you need it.
  • 7. Never put deadlines on your dreams.
  • 8. Seek to set yourself outside of the center of your universe.
  • 9. Create as honestly, unapologetically, and powerfully as you can.
  • 10. Find humility in your mistakes and pride in your successes.
  • 11. Smile when you’re crying.
  • 12. Jump in every cold body of water you see.
  • 13. You don’t have to be naturally good at something to master it.
  • 14. See small wins as massive successes.
  • 15. Never treat anyone like they are less important than someone else.
  • 16. You are never only one thing.
  • 17. Feed your inspiration or it will die.
  • 18. All of the things you wanted to do will fall away unless you actively pursue them.
  • 19. When you hug people, hug them so genuinely that you pass your joy to them.
  • 20. It doesn’t matter how great or weak you think you are, we are all equals.
  • 21. We all have a gift to give.
  • 22. The more you go your own way, the more you’ll inspire others to do the same.
  • 23. If you believe in something, speak your truth.
  • 24. Never put yourself above learning new things.
  • 25. Stop glorifying being busy, it is not attractive.
  • 26. If something is important to someone else, it is important.
  • 27. You can never fully know someone else’s situation, so act with compassion.
  • 28. If someone doesn’t like what you create, create more of it and know that your tribe is out there.
  • 29. Just because you aren’t good at some things doesn’t mean you’ll never be good at anything.
  • 30. Begin, or begin again.

Which do you connect with or what would you add?

As I’m sitting as my desk writing this, I keep pausing to think about the most important moments in the last decade. I remember times when there were awards or prestigious shows or accolades, but they are not the moments that bring me joy or that get me lost in the memories. These are the times that stand out….

Running through a corn maze with my family who all complained about going, but I made sure to infect them with my joy. By the end we were all laughing.

Being pushed down the street in the dark in a shopping cart when I accidentally went miles away on a photo shoot with my friends and only after they left realized I had the car keys but no car. My husband started walking toward me and I toward him and we met in the middle where we packed all of my stuff, myself included, into a discarded shopping cart and he wheeled me all the way home.

Realizing that the people I’ve looked up to my whole life are fallible and human, and the mess of emotions that come with that realization.

Sleeping in my car at the beach overlooking the Pacific ocean the first night I drove out to Los Angeles to live. Our apartment was in such a scary neighborhood and it was half the size we were expecting (only one room) and had cockroaches all over the place, so we drove until I couldn’t stay awake and fell asleep looking at the ocean.

Creating a self-portrait while standing waist deep in the glacier lagoon in Iceland.

Writing my first novel.

Sand dunes.

Creating portraits with my sister on a beach in Australia.

Using my hair to express myself.

Countless strange things for photo shoots.

Teaching self-expression to survivors of human trafficking and starting a photo school in India.

…Memories I hope I will never forget.

If I had to sum up my 20s in a few words, I would say:

Embracing my weirdness
Cultivating community
Becoming a leader
Finding my compassion
Being an unwavering optimist.

I feel like I lived so much. Since I was 20 years old I…

Married my best friend
Started taking photos
Started a photo business
Wrote 3 photo books and a novel
Taught workshops all over the world
Gave motivational speeches to huge crowds
Visited 18 countries 
Bought my first house
Exhibited my art

Started my own convention
Met the cast of Doctor Who…

…and so much more. This life is a beautiful one – not without hardship, but I did mention my unwavering optimism? The bad stuff has no place in this blog post. If I could go back and tell my 20-year-old self what lies ahead, I wouldn’t dare. “Spoilers”. It was an incredible decade.

What lies ahead? For me a sign that I am doing what I love is wishing the future will hold more of what I’m already doing. I hope for more travel, more intimate time with my family (this year I’m traveling to Brazil with my dad and the UK with my mom, sister and aunt), more photo opportunities and platforms to express myself, more community…

But I also have big dreams. 

To publish my novel.
To make a documentary.
To create a more personal art series.
To be a represented motivational speaker.
To write more poetry.
To expand my charity.
To know myself.

I vow to always, always be open to becoming whomever I feel I should be, even if that person doesn’t align with who I thought I would be.

On to the unknowable, incredible future,
where though heartache waits
in the echo-chamber that I dare not dwell,
so too, and more so, the piano plays my sweet dark song
that beckons me on through the mysteries.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
– Walt Whitman

  • February 20, 2017 - 7:47 am

    Paulo Carvalho - Wonderful post! You are beautiful and a huge and lovely person! Brazil! If you want to learn a few words in Portuguese, you know who to ask! Have a good week!:)ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:23 pm

      brookeshaden - Ah yes I will have to ask! Like “no butter, milk, eggs or meat” – that’s always a toughy but most important! 😀 Thank you for your kindness!ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 8:34 am

    Elou Carroll - I think this post was exactly what I needed to see today, so thank you for that. Thank you for continuing to inspire.

    If you’re planning your first trip to England, I would recommend you make sure you go to at least one incredibly old place. There’s no inspiration quite like the old, ruined places over here. They’re also all incredibly beautiful. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:24 pm

      brookeshaden - Aww thank you Elou! Ah this will be about my 5th or 6th trip I believe, but I agree with that recommendation 100%! My favorite parts of England are the oldies 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 8:57 am

    Colman Love - When you are feeling low/alone/self pity, go serve someone else…ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:24 pm

      brookeshaden - I LOVE that. So true in so many ways.ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 11:13 am

    Linda Drake - You are wise beyond your years and have one of the most beautiful souls I have ever come across. Happy Birthday!! Your 20’s have produced some of the most captivating images. I am curious to see what your 30’s will bring!ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:24 pm

      brookeshaden - Aww thank you Linda!! That is TOO nice of you! I can’t wait to see what it brings as well 🙂 Hugs!ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 11:45 am

    Dave - A few things I’ve learned: 1) Everyone on the planet has some crazy part of their thinking or life. We’re all screwed up in some dimension or another. It’s ok. We can work through and adapt. 2)Don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to your best friend. No, you’re not fat/a loser and always will be/stupid/you didn’t deserve it/ugly or whatever else. Certainly don’t be listening to yourself saying it over and over in your own head! 3) You only need permission from yourself. If you want to do something, make it happen. No one will stop you unless you let them. 4) Turn off the TV and social media. Your peace of mind depends on it.ReplyCancel

    • February 20, 2017 - 12:25 pm

      brookeshaden - Those points are so well taken. Especially being kind to yourself. It makes me incredibly sad when I see that point falling apart for some people. It takes practice. Thank you Dave, for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 4:39 pm

    Fit BMX - Beautiful post! (Huge!)
    I love your list of 30, it is great and dead on. I turned 29 a month ago, and I feel like it took me 28 of those years to get an idea, so I am hoping this year is the best yet. 🙂
    I have also never tasted alcohol, smoked, and have never been to a party. I avoided them all like the plague!
    Thanks for the hair color photos, I have always wondered what your natural hair color was! LOL
    You look tired, but very cute in that shopping cart! 😉ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 7:35 pm

    Lisa R. - What a beautiful post and full life you’ve already lived. I am excited for you and the amazing things to come. Many blessings to you in all that you do!

    P.S. The shopping cart – priceless! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 7:52 pm

    Yuliana - You are an inspiration for me! Thank you for this post, I hope all your personal and professional life goes well!

    Greetings from Venezuela 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 8:09 pm

    Katie - Thank you for your amazing spirit and openness- needed these little reminders badly!! Keep that flame roaringReplyCancel

  • February 20, 2017 - 11:02 pm

    David Limrite - You are amazing and I am thrilled and lucky to have crossed your path. Thank you for this post. Happy Birthday. Your 30s are going to be fantastic. Enjoy every moment.ReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 1:25 am

    Maria Paz Fernandez Garcia - Thank you so much Brooke, for another great inspiring post. I am twice your age, and I have learnt that when you get past a certain age, you need to start undoing the age barriers even more! I look forward to seeing you in Madrid next month! If you need any advice about my birthplace do let me know! Feliz cumpleaños! Happy birthday! xReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 8:14 am

    Alice Solantania Saga - you are SUCH an inspiration to me brooke. THANKS FOR BEING SO WONDERFULLY BEST! i will share your wisdom in my next blog post. i need to take them all to heart. all 30 of them. happy birthday to you (in advance). i am in the midst of your challenge, and i am loving it. i do take my time though since all has to take its own time once in a while. much love to you. aliceReplyCancel

  • February 21, 2017 - 10:21 am

    Amani - I love you so much Brooke <3 Happy birthday in advance. I'm sending you the BIGGEST hug!ReplyCancel

  • February 24, 2017 - 9:56 am

    Sandy - An amazing read Brooke and some wonderful Take a ways. Number 9 and 19 resonate with me! Thanks for sharing with us!ReplyCancel

  • February 27, 2017 - 8:27 pm

    Betania Mia - I really enjoyed this blog entry in particular. You seem to have such a love for life and passion for learning and selfacceptance. I have read several of your blog entries and must say I enjoy them all. Thank you for sharing your heart with us all.ReplyCancel

  • March 8, 2017 - 7:07 am

    Daniel - This is beautiful, reading this made me smile 🙂 thank youuu!!ReplyCancel

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