In hindsight, it’s blindingly obvious I could have pursued success, love, and contentment more effectively in my younger years. While everyone’s life lessons are subtly different, I doubt I’m alone in saying that I wish I knew the following ten things while I was still in my twenties.
1. We shouldn’t change just to please others
While bending your personality to suit the desires of a friend or romantic partner might keep them around for longer, it won’t lead to happiness. Concealing your true identity is exhausting, frustrating, and ultimately likely to lead to profoundly negative feelings about the person you were originally trying to please. Working to change bad habits and cultivate new attitudes can be a valuable pastime, but only if the motivation comes from within.
2. Most satisfying careers take time to develop
If you went to a great school and got exceptional grades, it’s easy to assume that you’ll walk straight into an ideal career. Instead, prepare to be patient and to face disappointment several times over. In addition, remember that it’s never too late to transition to a new, more gratifying vocation.
3. Judgments say the most about the person who forms them
Cruel comments, broken relationships, and painful rejections can really damage your self-esteem, but it’s worth remembering that these negative judgments typically come from another person’s unresolved issue. Similarly, it’s useful to be aware of how your own judgments are influenced by personal baggage. For example, that colleague you hate at work might not be intrinsically awful—perhaps he reminds you of a hidden side of your own personality that you have always disliked.
4. Forgiving yourself is imperative
It’s all too tempting to dwell on shame, guilt, and insecurity associated with past mistakes. A useful alternative to wallowing is choosing to forgive yourself and focus on drawing useful lessons from the past. This approach can help you to cultivate a positive attitude and improve your chances of future success.
5. Keeping in touch requires effort
When you’re in your teens and early twenties, most of your friends live nearby and have plenty of free time. Once those friends grow up and start moving away, having children, and following demanding career paths, you’ll need to make a sincere effort to stay in touch. While it’s healthy to grow apart from some people, taking the time to write a long email or arrange a dinner date can ensure that some significant bonds remain as close and relevant as they were when you were younger.
6. Everyone should work to keep fit
In my early twenties, I thought gym memberships were only for bodybuilders and the overweight. However, I now realize that people of all shapes and sizes can benefit from regular workouts that boost cardiovascular health and improve physical strength. If you start a fitness regime early in life, your body will definitely thank you in older age.
7. It’s healthy to have boundaries in friendships
Many of us derive a lot of our self-worth from our positive contributions to others, especially if we played the role of supporter or counselor in our family of origin. It’s important, however, to draw the line somewhere; good friendships are reciprocal and respect boundaries. If someone is exhausting your resources with no regard for your well-being, it’s okay to (politely but firmly) take a step back. Being more selective about how you use your time and energy will help to make sure you cultivate friendships that are supportive but don’t ask you to take responsibility for someone else’s life.
8. Aging doesn’t have to be a bad thing
Many young people are downright terrified of the aging process, fearing the development of the slightest wrinkle and obsessively worrying about becoming irrelevant. For most people, aging actually comes with increased confidence, a more stable sense of self, and growing wisdom that helps with difficult life choices. In addition, if you take care of your body (as mentioned above), there’s no reason why you can’t look fantastic at any age.
9. A rigid timeline will only make you feel bad
It’s tempting to craft a ‘life plan’ that includes achieving various goals by specific ages. Unfortunately, life is inherently unpredictable, so these plans are almost guaranteed to make you feel like a lazy under-achiever. In addition, prizing an arbitrary life plan over your own happiness can tempt you to stay in unsatisfying relationships, suffer in unrewarding jobs, and make huge commitments (such as getting married starting a family) before you’re truly ready.
10. Self-care is vital
Finally, while there is value to working hard and being ambitious, you won’t enjoy the fruits of your labors if you are too exhausted to stand up. It’s extremely important to deliberately set aside time for relaxing and doing the things that make you feel peaceful, content, and rejuvenated.