18 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in My 20s

I just turned 29.

While it’s hard to believe that my 20s is nearly over, I will say that I’ve had a pretty awesome decade. And while in some ways, I wish I could be 23 again, I am also grateful to be where I am today and excited to enter a new decade.

One of the privileges of getting older is that, as the old saying goes, you also become wiser. I know so much more about myself and life than I did when I was 20. I know my strengths and I know what I need to work on. In many ways, I’m a completely different person than I was even six years ago.

Here are 18 important life lessons that I’ve learned in my 20s:

  1. Live in the moment 

Human beings spend about 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing at that moment.

And contrary to what you might think, all this thinking makes us unhappier–not happier. Thinking about the past often makes us depressed…and thinking about the future makes us anxious. Living in the present moment is what makes us happy.

It’s easy to get lost in our own heads sometimes and forget about what’s going on around us.  But life passes by so quickly–and the older we get, the faster it goes.

Try to set your worries and thoughts aside and just focus on what you’re doing in the present moment–practice mindfulness. If you can achieve that, trust me, you will be a much happier person.

2. Don’t overanalyze 

Many of us (myself included) have a tendency to read into things a bit too much. Our minds have a tendency to jump to the worst case scenario. We take things personally and make everything about us, when oftentimes, it has nothing to do with us at all. The problem is that overthinking can be self-destructive.

So instead, train your mind to develop more positive narratives. Is your roommate giving you the cold shoulder? Maybe he just had a bad day! Is your friend not responding to your text? Maybe she’s just been busy! If you catch yourself overanalyzing something, stop, and ask yourself if what you’re thinking about is really rational. And then try to focus on what you’re doing in the present moment instead.

3. Claim your own self worth 

Probably more than any other generation that preceded us, we millennials tend to seek validation in every which way. We count Instagram likes and followers, as if those numbers define our self worth.

And I’ll admit–It’s easy to get caught up in seeking such superficial validation. But seriously…who cares?

What matters is how you think of yourself. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Be confident in yourself and know that you are great–without needing to hear it (or see it) from other people.

Treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would a good friend.

Did you not get that job you really wanted? Don’t take it personally. Move on. Did that guy you really like never call you? Clearly he didn’t realize just how special you are. His loss. You’ll find someone better who does appreciate you.

Rejection is not easy to deal with. When we get rejected, it’s so easy to get down on ourselves and question ourselves. Which is why it’s so important to believe in your own self-worth and not let others define it for you. If you always seek the approval of others, you will never truly be happy.

So remind yourself of all your wonderful qualities–and love yourself.

4. Don’t care what other people think

No matter how hard you may try to be nice to everyone, there are always going to be people talking badly about you and people who don’t like you. It’s just the reality.

Try and forget about the negative things that people say about you, and focus on the positive instead.

And…

5. Don’t remain friends with judgmental or negative people 

They are toxic and will always find a way to bring you down. It’s not you–it’s them (even though they might try to make you believe otherwise). But it’s up to you to get rid of them.

6. But do keep the good people in your life

Good friends are hard to come by. I mean the really good friends. The ones that don’t judge you when you tell them your deepest, darkest secrets…the ones who will tell you if that dress really doesn’t look that good on you (tactfully of course)…the ones you can call at 2AM when you are crying over that guy or girl who broke your heart…the ones who come to your house and keep you company when you are feeling bad and can’t get out of bed…the ones who are always there to support you, no matter what.

Those kinds of friends are few and far between. As you get older, you will inevitably go through difficult situations. Some of your friends might stick around. And others might abandon you. It’s the sad reality.

Plus, you change so much in your 20s, so you will grow apart from some friends, as sad as that may be to think about. People change–and so do friendships. But the really strong friendships will be there for life. 

7. Learn from your mistakes

You are going to mess up and do things that you regret. You are going to fail. It’s part of life.

What matters is how you handle it. Don’t dwell on your mistakes or let them bring you down too much. Learn from them, pick yourself up and move on.

8. Never stop learning 

In college, we’re always learning new things. We’re reading and soaking in new information on a daily basis.

But when we finish school, we have to make more of an effort to accumulate knowledge. We have to be intentional about our growth.

Whether you prefer listening to podcasts, reading books or watching videos, find ways to keep learning on an everyday basis. Pick up a new language. Read about the history of mankind (I recommend Sapiens for that!). Watch TED Talks. Whatever you do, just keep learning.

Not only will this increase your own self-worth and confidence, but it will make you a more interesting, smarter individual. And a better conversationalist!

9. Stand up for yourself

Is your boss not paying you what you deserve? Speak up!

Is that guy you’re seeing only texting you at 11PM at night? Don’t put up with it!

Did some punk cut you in line at the grocery store? Politely tell him that he is behind you.

Not totally satisfied with your meal at the restaurant? Say so!

For people that aren’t very assertive, this can be hard and take some practice. But the older you get, the easier it will get to stand up for yourself.

Train yourself to say “no” and put your foot down. And don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

10. Take risks 

Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had have been a result of risk-taking. Life is just too short to not take risks! Period.

11. Treat your body well 

When I was 20, I didn’t think too much about my diet…I would party multiple nights a week…Let’s just say that I wasn’t living the healthiest lifestyle.

My two cents? Be kind to your body. Your habits now can dictate your future, so start developing positive habits now. Exercise regularly. Eat a healthy, plant-based diet. Drink alcohol in moderation. Get 8 hours of sleep a night. And wear sunscreen!

Your body will thank you in the end.

12. Open your mind 

Just because someone has a different or unique way of doing something doesn’t mean that it’s wrong—or that your way is right.  To think that your way is or should be the only way of doing something is the definition of close-minded.

Living abroad and traveling has really helped to open my eyes and learn to be more accepting of differences, even if they may differ from my way of doing things.

13. Fake it till you make it. 

Let’s say you really, really want this job…but your confidence is wavering a bit and you are worried about the interview, not quite sure that you can handle the workload…What do you do? Fake it!

Pretend like you have all the confidence in the world, act confident, pretend like you believe in yourself and you can handle it all–and my guess is, you will get the job. And you will succeed at it too.

If you act like you believe in yourself, other people will too. And the best part? If you fake it, eventually, you will actually believe in yourself too– eventually you will “make it”. Guaranteed.

14. Relish singleton.

Most of us get married at some point in our 30s. So live it up in your 20s. Move to some exotic country. Live in a house with a bunch of friends and throw house parties on weekends. Party on a weekday when you have to work the next day. Go on bad dates and moan about it to your friends after. Go on good dates. Kiss many, many frogs before you settle down on just one.

Do all the things that you won’t be able to do (or will be much harder) once you settle down and start a family.

15. Know what you want – and go after it

My mom was the definition of go-getter.  If she wanted something, whether it be a job, a pay raise or a doctor’s appointment in a jam-packed schedule, she would go after it–and almost always get it. She had a way of being able to convince people to do just about anything she wanted.

Over the years, she taught me how important it is to go after what you want. Know that things will not be handed to you on a silver platter, so don’t expect them to. If you want something, you’ve got to give it your all and chase after it.

16. Don’t plan things out too much 

When my dad goes on a trip, he writes out the exact day-to-day itinerary. He buys the travel guidebooks and highlights the things that interest him. He knows exactly where he will be staying and what he will be doing.

Let’s just say that I do things a little differently.

Personally, I think the beauty of life is not knowing what is just around the corner. I like that I don’t know where I will be or what I will be doing in two years–or even one year.

If you plan out your life too much and set too many timelines for yourself, you are likely to either a) rush into something that you aren’t ready for or b) end up disappointed.

17. Spend your money on experiences–not things 

It’s funny to think that I used to place any sort of value at all on material things.

I went to a high school where you were looked down upon if you drove a beat-up car or wore non-designer jeans. It’s laughable now, but at the time, I thought that those things were important.

But think of it this way: What do you think you’ll remember years down the road? That Gucci handbag or that incredible vacation you took with your friends? I think you can probably guess the answer to that one.

I definitely don’t live a completely minimalist lifestyle now–and don’t get me wrong, every now and then, I still like to go shopping just as much as every other girl. But I’d much rather spend my money going skydiving or jetting off to Bali than on a few material possessions.

18. Value your time 

In our 20s, we tend to think that we have an endless amount of time at our disposal. At least I did. I would do things here and there to maybe save some money–but would end up wasting my precious time in return.

Over the years, I’ve learned to place much more value on my time than money. For example, if I go to the grocery store 10 minutes away and end up buying what turns out to be some rotten fruit, I probably won’t spend the time to return it.

If someone that I’m not totally crazy about wants to hang out, then I will most likely decline. If a job wants to pay me below what I know I’m worth, then I won’t accept it. If it’s going to take me 1.5 hours by bus to get somewhere…and 30 minutes by taxi…then I’ll take the taxi (assuming it’s affordable).

Time is our most valuable commodity. So treasure it. Make the most of it. And don’t waste a single second of it.

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