20 Things I Wish I'd Known In My 20s
I recently turned 30. For many people—especially women—it's a scary time. It's the moment we realize that life looks nothing like we expected it would. Personally, I'm a glass-half-full kinda gal. Instead of focusing on what I'm missing, I'm thinking about the bullets I dodged, the lessons I learned, and the life I'm working to create. My 20s have simultaneously been an incredibly formative time, while also being the decade where I've made myriad mistakes.
After all, I'm a work in progress, but there have been some huge takeaways. Here are my top 20 things I know now that I wish I'd known while I was living my 20s:
1. Don't be afraid when reality doesn't match what you thought it would look like.
When I was a kid, I thought high school would be exactly like the show Saved By The Bell. In reality, nobody was friends with the principal, our lives didn't revolve around kidnapping our rival's mascot, and I couldn't fit in my locker. But more than that, I thought I'd be confident and mature.
Similarly, I look at my friends in their 40s, an age where I thought everyone has it together and realize they're still figuring it out, too. Here's why that's a good thing: when you're stagnant, you're dead. Anyone who tells you they have it all figured out is either an idiot, a liar, or hasn't truly lived. So whatever your perception is of what things "should" look like, let it go.
2. Don't focus so much on the future that you ignore what's in front of you.
This applies to everything! Don't future-trip in relationships. Don't work so hard that you can't enjoy the little things. Don't spend so much time "pursuing" happiness that you forget that you have access to it at any moment you choose.
3. Courage is a decision.
It's not an emotion, it's a choice. Your fears can't shape your life unless you're happy being unhappy. You don't need to be "ready" to make a change. You just need to acknowledge your fear and take action anyway.
4. You aren't too old for a career change.
No matter how many degrees, time, and money you've put into something, it's a sunk cost. You don't get it back by sticking out something you don't love. Don't listen to your parents. (Sorry, mom!) You aren't "playing it safe," when you're doing something you don't love. You're playing it scared. Do you really want to live with regret because you were afraid to pursue your dreams and embrace your potential?
5. You are going to change.
I was pretty adamant about a lot of things in my 20s. Things I believed to be universal truths. For example, in my early 20s, I thought holistic health was a bunch of witchdoctors prescribing tea. Clearly, a lot has changed. Often, we acknowledge how much we've grown and changed, but we think that we won't change in the future. We assume all our growth has led us to this point where we'll remain. You're always evolving. Accept it.
6. Nobody's opinion is more important than your own.
Other people's views are not more relevant than your own. It doesn't matter if they're older, more successful, or better educated. Their opinion is simply that, an opinion, and nothing more. Learn to cultivate self-trust, knowing that what's right for you is your truth, no matter who disagrees.
7. Nobody is good at life. We're all learning.
"#Winning" is not a real thing. It's not growth or true success. Knowing yourself is. Don't ignore your flaws, but do get curious. Nobody likes you more just because your Facebook is filled with photoshopped selfies and check-ins at cool places. Your waistline, your resume, and your job don't make you better at life. Owning your shit and loving yourself because of it is what makes you a winner.
8. You don't need to know what you want.
There's so much pressure to know "what you want to be when you grow up." Most of us are in careers that have nothing to do with what we studied in school. We're taught to pick a career and stick with it forever, but that's an antiquated view. If what you're doing is making your skin crawl, you probably won't "grow into it." Don't commit to something just because you're supposed to. It's fine to play it safe as long as you're experimenting with things that actually light you up.
9. You can figure anything out.
Don't know how to do something? Google it, YouTube it, find a mentor. My greatest accomplishments are the things I was terrified to do because I didn't know how. Everything can be figured out. It's about resourcefulness, not resources.
10. It's OK that you're single.
You aren't more valuable as a person just because you have a partner, more Facebook friends, or any other form of external validation. Until you can self-validate, you'll always feel like you're lacking.
11. Be aware of what you're really upset about.
When it's hysterical, it's historical. If you're going from 0-60 because they forgot to give you extra hot sauce with your order, it's triggering an old wound that hasn't been healed. Don't take it out on the delivery guy.
12. Communicate as your best self.
This means a few things: stop thinking whoever can shout the loudest is right. State your needs. Don't avoid conflict just because it feels icky or you think the person won't like you. Stating your truth and being rejected is better than being loved for someone you're not. Communicate as your best self.
13. Other people's baggage is theirs to deal with.
This one is huge. You aren't a good friend, lover, or family member by taking responsibility for other people's problems. The goal is interdependence, not codependence. Support others in a loving way, but allow them to work things out on their own.
14. Don't try to change people.
Meet others where they are. Love them for who they are, not for their potential or who you wish they would be. I spent my 20s trying to change others instead of working on myself. But as the serenity prayer says, "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." My advice: know the difference and don't take other people's issues personally.
15. Acknowledge that this moment won't last forever (even if it feels like it will).
Everything in my 20s felt like it lasted forever. Waiting for a guy to call me back, getting a promotion, for things to "go my way." When I was struggling with severe depression, my best friend gave me a ring that said "gam zeh ya'avor." Modeled after a magic ring of King Solomon's, it translates from Hebrew as, "This too shall pass." Whenever I was sad, I looked at it and found the strength to continue. (And I tried not to look at it when I was happy!)
16. You don't need to settle.
In my culture, single women in their 30s and 40s are cautionary tales. When I was unhappy in a relationship, I was taught to "make it work," lest I wind up alone for the rest of my life. That may be the worst advice I was given. Ever. The truth is that "the good ones" are not a limited commodity. And until you know yourself, you won't know who is right for you. If I had married a man simply because I was supposed to, I'd already be divorced. The best way to find the right partner is to be the real you, not the you you're supposed to be.
17. Forgive yourself for past screw-ups.
I've made so many mistakes. For most of my 20s, it was the only way I learned anything. But after learning the lesson, I held onto the pain and guilt instead of surrendering and forgiving myself. Often, we focus on forgiving others instead of forgiving ourselves. And while it can be painful and challenging to have compassion for ourselves, it's the first step to letting go of your old story and writing a new one. The truth is that you can't go back in time, but you can focus on what you want to create in the future.
18. Find gratitude for the good, the bad and the straight up ugly.
One step of past forgiveness is gratitude. While that may sound crazy, it's the fastest way to accept who you are and where you've been. It's easy to find gratitude for the good things, but being thankful for the painful experiences allows you to embrace your growth and transformation.
19. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Nobody knows everything. Most of us simply fake it. There's no weakness in asking for help. Just be sure to ask the right people. Ask the person who has what you want. Your partner, friends, and parents, though convenient, aren't necessarily the best sources.
20. Find your tribe.
Just because you were friends as teenagers or in college, doesn't mean you need to stay as close. As you develop into your true self, you'll align with people who mirror that. Transition can be lonely, but you're more likely to find real friends if you're your real self.
Bonus tip: Nothing good happens after 1am and nothing good comes from drinking alcohol in the form of a shot. (Seriously, nothing.)
They say that your 20s are for defining and your 30s are for refining. I couldn't be more excited to see what the next decade brings! So here's the takeaway: No matter where you are, it's never too late to learn from your past and embrace your potential.
Amita Patel, LMSW, is the owner and founder of AlignedHolistics.com, a coaching services company that empowers individuals to achieve their goals and make them stick. She received master's degrees from New York University in both philanthropy and fundraising, and clinical and medical social work. Today, as a coach, writer, and wellness expert, Patel works with individuals to break through their barriers and embrace lifestyle change from the inside-out. Her no-nonsense holistic approach combines nutrition, physical activity, relationships, career influence, and personal philosophy. She has been featured on CBS, NBC, and the Huffington Post.