18 Things I Really (Really!) Wish I'd Known In My 20s

Written by Sarah Von Bargen

Later this month I'll be celebrating my 35th birthday with a 10 day trip to Portland and Seattle. I'll go whale watching with friends, drink my weight in Stumptown coffee, and explore the bay with my dude. And for the first birthday in ages, I think I'll feel completely at peace with where I am in my life.

But I spent a long time getting here and my twenties were like most people's: a blur of questionable boyfriends, underpaying jobs, school debt, a landlord who grew pot in the basement and a lot of ramen. SO MUCH RAMEN.

If I could travel back in time, here are twenty things I'd tell my cute, freshly-graduated, 22-year-old self.

1. Trust your gut.

If you think he likes you, you're probably right. If you think he's cheating, you're probably right. If you think she's going to be your new BFF, you're probably right.

2. Processed carbohydrates and sugars are gross.

I know your 22-year-old body is really cute and you think you can fuel it on Pringles and Diet Coke. It's not hard to switch to wholewheat bread and noodles or substitute honey, maple syrup or raw sugar for the white stuff. It's delicious and you'll feel so much better!

3. It really doesn't matter what you major in.

What does matter? The internships you get, your work ethic, your interpersonal skills, who you know. High-five, 22-year-old self! You didn't ruin everything with that English degree! Just make sure to get work experience in many different fields until you find one that you love!

4. Create an active lifestyle.

Again, those Pringles will catch up with you eventually but you don't have to drop $50 a month on a gym. If possible, walk to work or to the grocery store or just about anywhere within a three mile radius. If you make it a habit to get some daily activity, you won't have nearly as many moments of, How did I inadvertently gain 30 pounds? Or, Why can't I walk up a flight of stairs?

5. Learn to enjoy your own company.

There will be times in your life when you really want to see that movie, check out that new boutique, go to Thailand and no one wants to go with you. But that doesn't mean that you can't go by yourself and have a good time. Take baby steps and work up to doing the big stuff on your own.

6. Don't give away your power to others.

I'm still working on this one but I think it's important to realize that just about everything in life is relative. What if you walk next door? Maybe it's a different story. It's important to have faith in your abilities, regardless of how they compare to others.

7. When in doubt, make the effort.

You'll never regret wearing that nice outfit, buying the thoughtful gift for the friend you haven't heard from in a while or over-tipping. If it doesn't work out, at least you'll know you did your best.

8. Cook at home.

Seriously. You will save so much money, and you'll maintain a healthy weight.

9. There are seven billion people in the world.

I promise you, you'll love someone else. You'll make new friends. You'll find coworkers and neighbors that are awesome. If it's too hard (or if someone is making you feel bad) then walk away. There are a million other people out there who won't make you feel bad! Learning to let go of relationships is one of the most liberating experiences you'll ever have.

10. It's easier to make money than memories.

Cheesy? Yes. True? Also, yes. If all your friends are springing for a weekend at a cabin, save up for a few weeks and make it happen. You won't remember the two weeks of eating in and watching Netflix, but you'll remember three days of fun with your buddies.

11. You can find common ground with just about anyone, anywhere.

Regardless of a person's gender, age, race or religion, there are common denominators of the human experience: falling in love, being homesick, being dazzled by baby animals. You can get so far with most people just by smiling and asking them questions.

12. If it's important, make an extra copy.

Make a copy of your keys, your lease, your birth certificate, your social security card. Then give the copy to someone trustworthy. For important documents, take a photo and email it to your primary account.

13. Floss.

Really. It's pretty gratifying in a slightly disgusting way.

14. Excuses are embarrassing.

With the exception of excuses like "My grandma died," most excuses are embarrassing for everyone involved: the person giving them and the person listening to them. I just don't know where to start. I'm tired. It's too expensive. These all really just translate to, I'm not making it a priority. See? Embarrassing, right?

15. Engage in calculated risk taking.

Dancing on the table, taking a spontaneous road trip by yourself to a neighboring state, trying a new type of food — it's unlikely that any of these things will kill you. But they will probably make you more interesting.

16. Learn how to live well within your means.

Make a budget and stick to it. Pay off your credit cards every month. Learn to cook for yourself. Get a bike and use it (then you won't need a gym membership or all that gas for you car!). Cancel the cable. Split internet with a neighbor. Consider buying clothing second hand. You'll be amazed by how painless saving money can be!

17. If you don't know what you say, silence is always an option.

If someone says something that you don't like (and you don't know how to respond to it) just stare at them and don't say anything. Totally terrifying. And totally effective!

18. Act like you know what you're doing.

You can pretty much conquer the world with a confident walk and a well-thought-out outfit. We teach people how to treat us and when you show people that you're a force to be reckoned with, others will treat you as such.

That's my practical advice for surviving one of the toughest decades of life! What do you wish you'd known in your twenties (or what questions do you have for someone who made it through to the other side)? Let me know in the comments below!

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