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With my 40th birthday just weeks away, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and a lot more reflecting than I normally do. Maybe that’s what happens when you get old.
A few years back, I wrote a post for my nephew who was graduating from high school, sharing those key pieces of advice I wish someone had told me at 18 (had I been willing to listen).
But if I’m being honest, my early twenties were even rougher than my teenage years and fraught with some pretty big ups and downs–depression, divorce, bankruptcy, and too many bad choices to count. And every once in a while I wish I could just go back and give my 22-year-old self a few pieces of sage advice.
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Mostly, I would tell her life gets easier in many ways and harder in a few. Your life becomes richer and fuller. That motherhood and life experience will change you, and that the heartbreaks and struggles will make you stronger. You’ll be less worried about yourself and more concerned with what’s going on around you. You don’t get as worked up about the little stuff as you get older. You gain a lot of perspective.
Here are a few other things I would say:
1. Embrace Your Independence
Marriage is awesome, and having kids will be the best thing you ever do.
Even so, being single is pretty great too. It’s the only time in your life where you will be able to paint your living room lime green, just because it’s yours, and the only time in your life will it will only take you 20 minutes to get your apartment spotless.
So be young and enjoy it the lack of responsibilities! Go out with your girlfriends. Travel the world. Go to the beach every weekend. Spend the whole day reading or watching TV, just because you can.
You see, as you get older and your priorities shift, and you have a lot more people depending on you, you’ll sometimes long for those days of doing whatever you wanted. Of course, commitment and motherhood offer wonderful new challenges and horizons to explore, but don’t forget to enjoy the time to discover and simply “be” yourself.
Someday you may miss it.
2. You Look Awesome. Really.
Even though you might feel self-conscious and uncomfortable, and never-quite-skinny-enough, you actually look amazing! No really, you do! This is your prime, so you might as well enjoy it.
Believe me, you won’t always be able to eat Potato Burritos with extra potato burrito sauce from Casa Que Pasa every night and still look the way you do. And you won’t always be able to wear those low rise jeans. You’re going to have to work a lot harder at staying in shape.
So instead of beating your body up and critiquing yourself, focus on all the amazing things your body can do—from running a mile to getting super low on the dance floor. Rather than thinking of ways you wish your body was different, focus on what you love about yourself. And work a little harder to stop taking it for granted!
3. Form Healthy Habits Now
I know it probably feels that way, but you are not indestructible!
And while I know you love those Potato Burritos, with your beer and tequila shots on the side, you might not want to get into the habit of having them every single day.
And along those lines, there’s probably a few other habits that would be good to adopt as soon as possible, things like wearing sunscreen and saving money and establishing good morning routines and working out regularly.
Of course, all the practical activities come with time, but it takes a while to get there. Forming new habits requires discipline and dedication. It means repeating tasks over and over until they feel natural. The sooner you start, the easier it is, whether it’s washing the dishes every night or making the bed.
It’s great to go out and have fun–and you should–but spend at least a little bit of time being purposeful about the future. You’ll certainly appreciate it later!
4. Get a Handle on Your Finances
You’ve never been all that good with money, but part of being an adult is figuring out your finances. So just say NO to spending beyond your means! Spending every cent you have is a huge mistake, and going into debt is an even bigger one.
Start saving now! If you’ve ever seen the calculations, starting to save $100 a week in your twenties you can retire with over a million dollars in your late sixties. Even as little as $10 per week results in huge returns.
Right now you’re not making all that much, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to spend every cent you have, especially when you are being offered credit left and right. And it’s fun to be able to buy whatever you want.
But there will be long-term consequences to the choices you make now, and you’ll never want to find yourself stuck because of the bad choices you have made. Digging your way out of a financial hole is certainly possible, but it’s much easier if you never start. So learn to tuck away a little for a rainy day. Refuse to take on debt and live within your means. It’s a recipe for long-term financial success.
5. Dare to Dream BIG
I promise that right now you have absolutely NO IDEA what you are actually capable of, and in your life you will do some pretty cool things that you can’t even begin to imagine are possible.
But it will take you a long time to figure out your place in life, and if you really want to achieve fantastic and fabulous accomplishments, you must start with a BIG dream. RIght now, the world is entirely open to you. You’ve got plenty of time to experiment and figure out what you’d like to do. You’ll have years in the career field to explore your degree (or go a totally different direction).
Think what you would want if the sky was the limit. What would you imagine yourself doing in a perfect world? While many people accomplish greatness later in life, the majority of successful people are well on their path to achievement by the time they hit their mid-to-late thirties. If you start down a strong path in your twenties, you’ll experience so many more opportunities.
6. Listen to Your Heart (& It’s Okay to Make Mistakes)
You are surrounded by people who have an opinion about what you do–friends, co-workers, professors, siblings, and parents too. And while it’s okay–even wise–to listen to the advice of others and keep it in mind, you shouldn’t be afraid to listen to your heart, even if it sometimes means making a mistake.
You will make mistakes, in life and in love, and that’s okay.
But you will also make some really good choices by following your heart too.
You know yourself better than anyone else. So pay attention and stay in tune to what’s right for you, what speaks to you and what drives you. While it’s important to build connections and relationships with others, it’s also key you focus on trusting yourself. Give your gut some credit.
And if you sometimes get it wrong? Well, that’s okay too.
Your biggest mistakes will become your biggest lessons.
So even when you lose, you win.
* . * . *
Now when I think back on my twenty-something self, the biggest thing I see is potential. I might not have had it all figured out (and I may have made quite a few bad choices along the way) but all those experiences shaped the person I would ultimately become.
And that’s pretty cool.