Here’s what our 20s taught us, and the dreams we have for our 30s

For many young people just stepping out of their twenties, 30 is the turnaround age.

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Thirty years! They say life begins at 40, but for many young people just stepping out of their twenties, 30 is the turnaround age. The argument is that the distance between 30 and 40 is shorter than that between 20 and 30 because in your twenties, you don’t focus on the count, but in your thirties, you want to make the years leading to 40 count.

This week, we had a chat with four youth regarding the regrets and lessons associated with their twenties and the dreams they have for their 30s.

Godfrey ‘Mkubwa’ Emoja.

Creative Director and Businessman Godfrey ‘Mkubwa’ Emoja.

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Godfrey ‘Mkubwa’ Emoja is a creative director/businessman, he turned 30 in 2022

My twenties were all about discovering myself, walking away from my parent’s shadow and forging a path of my own, one that would become my identity. I identified my creative talent - I am a poetry and verses trainer at Maseno School and Creative Director at Talent Industry.

I also learnt barbering, dreadlocks retouching, learnt how to do manicures and pedicures and a whole range of styling and beauty skills, which eventually led to opening my own salon, called Mkubwa Beauty Parlour.

Through the years, I have successfully run The East Africa Poetic Hour Battle, the first meet up of East Africa’s poets to celebrate the region’s poetry and culture through a yearly competition since 2017.

The most important lesson I learnt in my 20s is that you must have a handy skill. When Covid-19 led to closure of public spaces, which meant there were no performance spaces, my barbering skills and locking hair kept me going. Learn a handy skill in your twenties, it is an asset you will always have.

My greatest regret was not getting a chance to ever hug my father. Passing away before we built a father-son relationship robbed me of an important mentor and teacher that I didn’t know I needed.

I turned 30 in September 2022. Turning 30 is such a big deal for me, I did not have a big celebration though because I have never been a party person. In my 20s, I followed my heart and started a business, and now that I’m in my 30s, I feel I know the direction I want my life to take. I want to go back to school and get a degree in business management so that I can better manage my business and creative ventures. Thankfully, I’m not living in my mother’s house, but I am under pressure from her to get married and have children – I’m hoping to start a family in my early 30s.

Jagero Lydia Avannah

Customer Relations Officer Jagero Lydia Avannah.

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Jagero Avannah, who works in customer relations, turned 30 this year

I have always been scared of turning 30, but now that it’s here, I am taking it one step at a time, after all as the saying goes, at 30, you’re old enough to look back, and young enough to look forward. For me, this is a defining age. After celebrating my birthday, I was broken, since I did not know how to handle things without my mother, who passed away before I celebrated my birthday. She was my guide and strength.

I always thought turning 30 was going to be just a little bit difficult, but it seems to be more difficult now that my mum is not around. Over the past 10 years I achieved lots of things and also made mistakes, however, I honestly can’t imagine having better 20s. Looking back, I feel thankful for all the chances I took, opportunities I created, and most importantly the people I met along the way. The decisions I made, good or bad, made me friends and I found a career I love.

I enter my thirties without a mother, but with an absolute understanding of who I am, what I value, and what drives me each day. My 20s taught me that achieving my dreams requires sacrifice because big dreams come with big sacrifices. I also learnt that I have to put in the time and work to achieve what I want even if it means missing out on birthdays, holidays, and even date nights.

I also learnt to start saving money. I'm aware that this is the age where one is stuck between saving money and you only live once (YOLO) mantra. This should not be the case since to better manage your money, you should learn to save, however little, for the future. I also learnt not to give my hard-earned money to anyone that borrows.

My 20s also taught me that things may not work out at times and that is okay, that there are moments when relationships, projects or even ventures will not go as we expected due to factors we have no control over. When this happens, learn to pick yourself up in readiness for even greater opportunities.

This is not all, I have learnt not to care about what people think since some are waiting for you to fail. Also, the idea you have been thinking about is a step towards something great, so just start, and above all, be consistent and learn the value of time.

Javan Namema Ojunga

Environmentalist Javan Namema Ojunga.

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Javan Namema Ojunga is an environmentalist, he turned 30 in July

In my early 20s, I did not take life seriously. I had many friends who were not a positive influence. I had not discovered my purpose and wasted a lot of time doing unprofitable things while wasting the money I had.

In spite of this lack of direction, I started an organisation called Mazingira Africa when I was 22 years old - we have since changed names to Green Footprints Alliance.

Since then, I have been engaged in climate change activism, advocacy and general environmental conservation and been privileged to share my knowledge and expertise on environmental conservation in various forums and earned accolades while at it. I embraced my passion and it opened a lot of doors.

What I really regret about my 20s is having too many friends who wasted a lot of my time while affecting my productivity. My advice to those in their 20s is to focus on building themselves first. Build your career networks and choose your friends wisely, and finally, invest time wisely because wasted time cannot be recovered. Turning 30 is a big deal to me. The only gift I have for myself as I step into this decade is to invest my time more wisely and live a purposeful and fruitful life.

At some point I gave in to anxiety since I had fear of the unknown, but I gathered courage, and now, I am confident I will triumph just as I did in my late 20s. Now that I am 30, I have a clear roadmap and plans about self, career and my associations. Being on the third floor comes with many sacrifices, seriousness and responsibility. I look forward to starting a family and starting a couple of serious business investments. I also plan to start an environmental mentorship program for children, youth and women.

And who knows, in the next phase of life, I might just go into elective politics and lend my voice in the leadership and governance space to advocate for climate justice.

Griffins Machaka Binyanya

Civil Engineer Griffins Machaka Binyanya.

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Griffins Binyanya, a civil engineer, is turning 30 this November

This year as I turn 30, I will not only be celebrating my birthday, but two other major milestones - my journey to sobriety and growth in my career. Looking back, sobriety has been the best gift I ever gifted myself.

The liberation from dependence has been worth it. It’s been 18 months since the turnaround and I have been able to grow in ways I never thought were possible.

The toughest construction job I have ever attempted as a civil engineer is re-construction of self. The work is still going on with mixed results. It took me a long time before I discovered life is a do-it-yourself project.

My drinking problem begun after my graduation when things didn’t work out as planned. When you are a top student, there’s a tendency to approach life with a sense of entitlement, and when things failed to materialise as I had expected, I begun drinking, a habit that went on for 10 years. The habit worsened following the death of my brother in 2019. At this point I was in denial and went into depression. My life was out of control and I was using alcohol and drugs to escape it. My drinking caused a lot of pain to my family and loved ones and soured our relationship. I distanced myself from them and was in my own bubble facing life the best way I knew how. Drunkenness kills the man inside you, alcohol drains your confidence and your productivity.

Towards the end of 2020, I started developing health complications which I ignored. Sometime in August last year, my dad found me lying on the living room floor unable to get up and in such a bad state. Had he not looked up on me, I shudder to think what might have happened.

On examination, I was put on intensive medication to salvage my organs. My doctor asked me to cut my alcohol intake, but rather than slow down, I decided to stop drinking altogether. My previous tries to stop drinking had backfired as peer pressure forced me back to my drinking ways. I was out to impress friends, and while at it wasted a lot of money. In the process I lost jobs, opportunities and subsequently my career growth.

Life has since been easier since I stopped drinking alcohol and healed from entitlement. I have since made great strides building my career, having set up my construction firm, which has created employment for several people.

Today, I’m glad to report that I have regained control of my life. Your thirties are when you should surround yourself with positive, ethical people who are committed to excellence. Rather than trying to achieve one bold act of greatness, focus on daily successes, over time, these successes will lead you to greatness.