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How To Make Your 20s Really Count

Think your 20s are trying? Take it from Jasmine Mendiola: Pregnant at 21, a single mom at 22, and grappling with her son's leukemia at 28. She rushed through her 20s at warp speed.

When people find out I’m in my early 30s, they’re shocked. You see, I was pregnant at 21, a single mom at 22, and at 28, found out my son Mio had leukemia. I worked five to eight jobs at a time to support myself, Mio, and his medical needs—and had to go to court to fight for shared financial support from his dad to be able to afford the cancer treatments.

How did I survive all that? Definitely with a lot of help. I’ve always been a bibo girl, so company wasn’t hard to find. But ultimately, I overcame the obstacles to what was supposed to have been my “me decade” when I accepted that my life was not going to be what I thought it should be. When I focused on that, everything fell into place almost instantly. Never mind that it took a while to come to this realization. But don’t worry; if I made it through my rollercoaster 20s unscathed, so can you. Here’s how.

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Don’t rush. “It’s the journey, not the destination” and “Stop and smell the roses” were clichés I paid no heed in my 20s. How could I? I had become a mom even before I could be anything. So I packed my nights with parties and events, my weekends with even more work, and bought things just because others had them, trying to compensate for being robbed of my youth—even if I knew I owed my son a mom who was complete on her own. My lifestyle eventually burned me out. So when unexpected life challenges throw you off track, don’t be in such a hurry to get over the hurdles. I don’t regret ever having my son, but I should have relished those early years of being a mom instead of carelessly throwing caution to the wind just to feel like a “normal” twentysomething. 

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Focus on the highlights. A lot of the things that we think complicate our lives are just imagined, really. It helps to have something tangible to hold on to, a memory to look back on, or a reminder of your past mistakes. Letting it all out on my blog helped me process my feelings. And when I found myself in need of a miracle, I focused on positive outcomes and praying, instead of wallowing in despair. Repeatedly telling myself, “I can raise my son on my own,” “He will be cancer-free in three years,” or “I will be loved” was effective in making me feel secure about myself and what I could do. This made me confident, proud, and ready to be who I was meant to be before I turned 30.

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Be in good company. I learned that difficult times help weed out the people who are there just for the good times, but disappear when the going gets tough—and show you who will stand by you no matter what. You don’t need to have a lot of friends; choose quality over quantity. Make time for those who really matter to you: family, lifetime friends, and your partner in life. You’ll realize that people already absorbed in their own problems will just make your burdens more difficult to bear.

Pack light. Trust me when I say an excessive lifestyle won’t get you anywhere. Too many nights out = too many hangovers. Too much work = less time for yourself = succumbing to vices (smoking, alcohol) to cope. The stress and heartaches became too heavy for my spirit. So I learned to just take what I needed, did what I could (overachievers, listen up!), and I was fine. Do that and you’ll even have room to make space for what you find along the way. 

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If life is a journey, you could say my 20s was one hell of a trip! Focusing on the positive kept me from dwelling on all the ill feelings I held against the people and circumstances that caused me so much pain over the years. When I embraced my unexpected life as it was, I learned to love every moment of it—working crazy hours in the fashion and beauty industry, being a hot momma by day and hanging with my girlfriends at night, witnessing milestones of my son’s early life and my parents’ retirement years, falling in love with life and the people who truly cared for me. Looking back, I wouldn’t have had my life any other way.

Ed's note: Check out the Mio Fights Cancer Facebook page.

This story originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, November 2012. 

Minor edits have been made by editors