Top 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me in My 20s

1. Travel. Spend a lot of your money and time traveling when you’re young. See how others live. It’s how you develop compassion and learn that there is always someone worse off than yourself. This will, in turn, make you appreciate being you. Learning about other cultures and religions and customs helps open your eyes and your heart and your mind. Time and money spent on this will never be wasted.

2. Do Your Secret Dream. You know that thing you love to do? That thing that makes you stay up late and rise early just to find time to do it? The first love that you dream about while working at your “real” job? Find a way to do it for real. While you are unencumbered by children or mortgages or demands of career advancement, do your thing. See if there is a place in your world any way you can to do this secret dream so that you won’t get into your thirties or forties or even fifties and look back with regret that you didn’t do your thing from the beginning. You’ll have less time and energy and more responsibilities later that will make the road to your secret dream much longer and more bumpy.

3. Be Choosy in Who You Love. The whole “love the one your with” is ridiculous. I’m sorry to take such a hard-nosed approach on this one but it is better to be alone than with the wrong person. You may somehow wind up married to the one you’re with (it seemed like a good idea at the time…) so be sure the one you’re with is worth marrying. If not, see #2. You need more time for that anyway.

4. Have a Plan (but you don’t have to have everything figured out). If you float through your twenties without a plan, you may end up somewhere you didn’t want to go. I’m not saying things have to be written in blood or stone, but get a general idea of a direction. And then go that direction. I’m convinced that any direction is better than apathy or complacency with your current situation. If you’d rather be working as a real artist rather than a sandwich artist when you’re in your thirties, get started on that in your twenties. Understand that your twenties don’t last forever so use them wisely.

5. Get to Know Yourself as a Grownup. Who are you now? Do you like that person? If you do, congrats! You’re way ahead of the game and I’m not even sure why you’re still reading this. If you don’t, no worries-you’re completely normal. I suggest you spend some quality time with that person you see in the mirror. Take a moment to sit down and ask yourself what’s important to you. If you can’t figure this out, you may not know yourself very well so get to know yourself better. And if that’s the case, pay particular attention to #3.

6. And Then Embrace Who You Are. Once you figure out who you’re supposed to be becoming, embrace the best parts of yourself and hold onto them for dear life. And those gross parts, those things about yourself you want to keep locked up in the closet-work on them, be vulnerable with them, and then embrace them too. Maybe you don’t love some things about yourself, but I bet the things that you are most hesitant to share with the world are the things that will make you most endearing to those who truly love and appreciate you for you. Follow their lead and give yourself a break.

7. Start a Roth IRA. I’m not one to give financial advice or do math on this blog. But I have heard of this thing called compound interest and I know if you start with small amounts they add up over time. You think you can’t afford to start in your twenties? Wait until you have the aforementioned kids and mortgage. Start young and small and just trust me on this. Your forty year old self will thank me. And you.

8. Use Sunscreen Every Day. Your skin is gorgeous and pliable and unmarked by scars of that glorious sunshine you don’t even think about now. Want to avoid things like wrinkles and skin cancer? Just slather it on your face and neck every single day before you walk out of the house. Make it part of your routine. You will not regret this choice in any way so just do it! How many other situations in your twenties can you say that about?

9. Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway. Those things that you really want to do (see #2-6)? Things that scare the hot mess right out of you? They’re probably actually good for you-you just can’t see it yet because you don’t have a lot of life- or self-experience. These might be those life-altering things that will bring you great personal joy or self satisfaction or glory or riches or rainbows or unicorns. But you won’t know til you take the leap. It might feel terrifying, but if you feel a layer of excitement and intrigue underneath the fear, it might be a good leap for you to take.

10. Be Adventurous (for these are the stories you’ll be telling the rest of your life). This goes hand in hand with #9. Being adventurous doesn’t mean being stupid. But it can mean taking calculated risks. It can mean leaping, jumping or diving for that thing you really want. Maybe in your job or personal life or school or introspection. Only you can decide where your adventure will take you. And if you have no adventures to speak of, you will never be invited to parties in your forties, a fate worse to consider than death when you’re twenty, I realize. You will be more interesting, more engaging, more satisfied and more joyful if you live a life full of adventure.

Don’t wait for life to happen to you. Embrace it with a sloppy wet kiss that will surprise you both. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Copyright Meredith Shafer 2015

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