I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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girl smiling in nyc exploring making the most of early twenties

How can we make the most of the defining decade of our twenties? 

Or as I prefer to call them “The Exploring Years”

The Defining Decade – our twenties

This blog post was pulled from the old 2016 HW blog archives

If you had asked me 2 years ago what I thought my 20s would look like, this is not what I would have pictured.

I thought my life would always stay on track, on a line leading upwards, getting more clear with each passing year. I thought it would slowly but steadily move up, like a ladder or mountain. Instead, my life has turned out like this second graph.

The “should have”‘s and “could’ve been”s flood my brain when I think back on my life in the past 3 years here in New York City. The vision I had in mind when I moved here flipped a whole 180 when I began traveling.

But here’s the thing: I’m surprisingly content with it. 

our twenties and how to make the most of them

Reminding Myself that All is Well

Sure, my current life situation makes me nervous and confused and uncertain at times. I’m not sure where I want to live in 5 years, the dreams I had at 19 are drastically different from my dreams at 21, I lost my desire for money and houses and materialistic things – all of which I thought I used to want. But for some strange reason…I’m happier. I seek simplicity and inner peace and a life of fun.

My life slimmed down a bit. I like simple things like my favorite books and the country. I read a lot and feel my mind expanding tremendously. I feel happiest petting a dog and strolling beneath the snowfall. I feel happiest finding a patch of sunlight and observing the people on the subway. I notice that the simple joys always bring me the most pleasure.

How to Make the Most of Our Twenties and the "exploring years" twenty two year old blogger and photographer shares best tips on high risk, high reward and taking leaps of faith Helena Woods

Making the Most of Our Twenties or Our “Exploring Years”

But when it comes to my long-term career plans. I just feel uncertain. Is this normal? Is this okay to be confused, unsure and exploring as much as I have been in my 20s? So, I decided: I’m going to call these years: the exploring years

Here’s What I’m Doing to Take Advantage of My Twenties

Throw All the Paint and See What Sticks

This is the time to explore all of your interests. What interests you? What makes you giddy when you just think about it? Jot a list of all the things that you feel passionate about in life. If you’re unsure about a specific long-term career path like I am, just explore. Just go out and explore all of your interests! All the things you might consider doing at some point in your life. And don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t come to a decision right now.

Ash and Ember brooklyn williamsburg bridge

Photo by Ash and Ember

Day Jobs and Side Hustles

I’ve learned recently that sometimes one must push forward and deal with the things one doesn’t want to do in order to find time to pursue what you really want, like work a 9-5 office job so you can scheme up great ideas for your freelance business that you hope to someday own. But as long as the day job doesn’t drain you of energy, joy, and peace, there is nothing wrong with having a side hustle while you figure it out. 

I love having a stable income while I work on my side-hustle. I enjoy working different jobs and being of service to others and society. Not only am I still able to save money for traveling (see how I’m able to afford to travel here) while I’m working daily on my creative side hustle, but I’m also able to save for retirement; it’s never too early to open up an IRA!

How to Make the Most of Our Twenties and the "exploring years" twenty two year old blogger and photographer shares best tips on high risk, high reward and taking leaps of faith Helena Woods

Thinking Long-Term

What will make you happy 30 years from now?

What makes you happy now may not make you happy down the road, but still – keep going. Just keep going. One small step at a time. Remember that time is out most important currency. How do we want to spend it?

Importance of Self Reflection

Think of an end goal to strive towards. Begin with the End in Mind. Do you want to own a house someday? Create a startup? Have a normal 9-5? Live around the world? Is having a family important to you? Would you rather give up stability in order to travel, freelance, and live a life on the road? Do you value adventure or peacefulness? Stability of flexibility? 

All of these questions are important and part of the exploring years. Plenty of quiet self-reflection, ponderings and time to ask yourself questions about your deepest, most enduring values are important during this defining decade of our twenties. 

How to Make the Most of Our Twenties and the "exploring years" twenty two year old blogger and photographer shares best tips on high risk, high reward and taking leaps of faith Helena Woods

My boyfriend and me backpacking Costa Rica in our “exploring years”

Start with Why

When you start with why everything begins to unfold easily and naturally. When you begin with “why,” all the HOWS and WHATS begin easier to navigate and take action on. But we can’t take a step until we know why we do it. We don’t need to know the final destination, but we need to know why we are intrinsically driven and motivated to do something. Uncover those layers. Dig deeper and find your greater fulfillment and purpose – it all starts with the question, “why?” I share all about how to do that here. 

This is the time to adventure, to take risks and to chase big dreams

This is the time to make a mess. To wildly create and follow those gut impulses. For high risk and possibly high rewards. This is the time to take real risks, courageously follow our hearts and bravely follow our gut instincts. This is the time to run wild with our dreams and aspirations, our creativity and imaginations. To throw all the paint on the white canvas and see what sticks! Especially if you don’t have debt, children and you’re not following your mom and dad’s expectations of you. If you don’t have student debt right now like I don’t (I share how I did that here and here), seriously go take some risks and build something. Go see the world, go experience, go learn about yourself!

This is the time to truly live and live out loud.

How to Make the Most of Our Twenties and the "exploring years" twenty two year old blogger and photographer shares best tips on high risk, high reward and taking leaps of faith Helena Woods

Go out there and do it. Take a leap of faith and trust. 

We have no commitments and no ties when we are this young. The world is our oyster, and we have every right to seize every and any idea that pops into our fantastical, young minds.

The Rollercoaster of Our Twenties

At 22, I’m still questioning, exploring and imagining about what I want long-term wise. What I thought I wanted a month ago is not what I want now. It’s an exciting albeit stressful rollercoaster ride to be strapped in on! But by experimenting and testing, day by day, choice by choice, and little by little, I’m getting close to what I truly want out of my twenties – my defining decade. What I’ve learned over the last few years….is that we just have to keep going.

But the journey is what makes it so much more exciting and worth riding on, isn’t it? If we already knew exactly how our stories would pan out, would we actually take the leap? Would we still show up everyday, put the hours in and try

Go out there and paint wildly. I’ll be cheering you on!

xoxo Helena

This book has inspired me on my journey through the Defining Decade of my twenties – click here

Defining Decade how to the make the most of your twenties

skydive lake elsinore How to Make the Most of Our Twenties and the "exploring years" twenty two year old blogger and photographer shares best tips on high risk, high reward and taking leaps of faith Helena Woods

Defining Decade & The Exploring Years: How to Make the Most of Our Twenties

May 6, 2016

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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