Advice to my 20-Something Self

I had a bit of a mini-crisis just before I turned 30. It wasn’t so much that was concerned about being “old,” it was more about what I perceived as my lack of accomplishments. I have the tendency to focus on what I haven’t accomplish rather than what I have.

Now, a couple of years in, as I’m settling into my 30s I can’t say that I’m completely wiser. But, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two. So here’s my advice to my 22-year-old self:

1. Realize how much you have to learn. I could have also titled this one “shut up and listen.” I was pretty good at being humble in my first few jobs after college. I knew when I had a lot to learn and I tried so soak as much of it in as I could. I think this is a challenge for a lot of recent grads–college gives you just knowledge about the world to think that you know it all.

It’s also easy to be insecure about your lack of experience. Yes, you need to prove yourself. But you can gather a lot of insight from watching others.

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2. Don’t waste your time on people who careless with your heart.
I loved deeply and sometimes recklessly in my 20s , and I don’t regret it. All of those failed relationships offered me something different: a lesson about what I didn’t want, a lesson about myself, a connection to new friends or a new part of my life.

But, like a lot of 20-something women I had a lot of insecurities about love and dating. I fell hard for the wrong guys and when they dumped me I hung on in my mind and heart long after they moved on. So I don’t regret the string of failed short and long term relationships that characterized my 20s. What I would change is how my heart and mind lingered on men that had rejected me. Yes unrequited love is the stuff of songs and poems, but it’s also a waste of time. Be sad — dwell you heartbreak for a little while, but move on. It’s over for a reason. You are better off without him. I promise.

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3. Be careful with others’ hearts.
Getting your heart stomped on is part of your 20s — it’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is being the one who stomps. There were men that I dated too soon after a break-up, ones that I wasn’t really interested in that I strung along. When something isn’t right, you should end it as graciously as possible. I was so wrapped up in my own internal drama that sometimes I failed to notice that I might have been causing heartbreak. I was often not my best self in relationships in my 20s. I shouldn’t have been so reckless. They are better off without me. I promise.  

4. Take more professional risks.
My working class roots served me well in my 20s for working hard and saving my money. That responsibility has served me well, but it prevented me from taking some of the bold risks that some successful people take in their 20s.

I was instilled with the importance of knowing where my next paycheck was coming from, and so I never took a year to just travel or work for free, or to take on debt for grad school. If I had it to do again, I still might not, but sometimes I wonder where my career would have been if I did.

5. Write it down. All of it.
This is advice for every stage of life. Write more: record all of those odd, funny, painful, and beautiful things that happen in everyday life, that you think you’ll remember. Because you won’t, the details always slip away. Especially during your 20s when life changes so fast and when so many of  biggest choices and decisions of  life happen: write it down.

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6. Stay out late but skip the last few drinks.
For most people your 20s are the time in life when you go out the most–parties, bars, clubs. It’s fun, and  inevitably there will be a lot of drinking. And while getting embarrassingly drunk and having a hangover the next morning kind of seems like a right of passage, it’s seriously not worth it. Most 30+ year-olds have stories of some stupid shit they did in their 20s, and most of them probably regret most of that stupid shit. You can have fun without being an idiot, plus you’ll be able to remember all the stupid things other people do and you’ll get home safely.

7. Live alone.
I never did this one. I went from living with my mom and brother, to a long string of roommates, to my boyfriend who became my husband (and I hope I never have to live without him). I couldn’t afford to live alone in my 20s, but if I could have, I certainly would have. I have done a lot of things alone in my life: from traveling to other states and countries to just going to plays, movies, museums and dinner alone. It’s in these experiences of solitude that my mind feels free, that I feel closest to my true self. I think that if I lived alone I would have felt lonely and isolated sometimes, but I also think I would have discovered more about myself.

8. Chill out.
This is another one the my 32-year-old self needs to hear as well. I’ve spent so much of my life worrying: would I get a job, would I be successful, would I meet the right guy? My worrying got me nowhere — the job, the success, the guy, they happened or they didn’t and fretting about them or giving myself some artificial deadline of “if this doesn’t happen by this time, then I fail,” didn’t change the outcome.

9. Fail more.
Or maybe rather, “don’t be so afraid to fail.” Like everyone, I failed spectacularly throughout my 20s, but I never learned to embrace it–to see it as the blessing that it often is and to get over it and move on more quickly. Which leads me to the last lesson for my 20-something self.

Try and try again.

10. Get over yourself.
One’s 20s are usually defined my a certain amount of navel-gazing. And I don’t think that I was any more self indulgent that the average person, my consent introspection then (and now too) is nauseating. The world is so much bigger and more interesting than my own personal dramas.

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4 responses

  1. I want to love this, not just like it. 🙂 I turn 32 in two months and I agree with all of this.

    1. kathleenerindavis | Reply

      Thanks so much! Glad you liked it!

  2. I love this. And your blog is a good read! LMK if you’d like to be friends. ❤

  3. Very good advice. I’m in my mid twenties and I think I’ll try out point number 4 🙂

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