It’s so long since I was anywhere near my twenties, that the digits on my birth certificate are much closer to the forty mark, rather the days of discovery and lack of responsibility.
During those ten years I did a lot of dumb things, some I regret. But in reflection I also did things I enjoyed, which if I could go back I would have done more of.
In reflection of that decade of my life, I share some thoughts on things I wish I knew when I was twenty years old:
No, everyone is not having a better time than you…
Most of my twenties I believed everyone was having much more fun than me.
This was because while a “typical” twenty something was out spending all their money partying, I had more introverted interests like writing poetry and spend my Fridays writing for penny review sites like Ciao.
Because of my crippling sense of shyness, I knew I’d never be the life of the party, which made me feel like a pathetic loser.
The truth is, everyone has those feelings of unhappiness and insecurity that I did, they just chose to express themselves in different ways by living for the weekend and getting drunk. It looked like they were having a good time, but that just wasn’t true.
You don’t need to have it figured out yet (or ever)
Twenty-year-olds often feel lost, but what they forget is, they’ve been pushed through a production line, from school, to college, to university – being told the way what your supposed to do.
It’s no wonder when you then become an adult and are free to make your own decisions you don’t know what your purpose in life is!
The good news is, you don’t have to have it all figured out when you’re twenty, and you’ll even find there are people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, even older who are still wondering what they are supposed to do!
Keeping this in mind, and lower the pressure you put on yourself – you don’t have to know what your purpose is, the fun part is the whole life ahead of you to try things and discover more about yourself!
It’s okay to follow your own path…
I remember the first time I asserted myself. I was in the final year of college and my form tutor was dishing out the university application papers to the class like confetti.
As my classmates all began filling in the papers, I looked at my blank form. I had no idea what course I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, or whether I even wanted to stay in education a minute longer. I picked the form up and left desk and passed it back to the teacher. Through my shy, awkward mouth I mumbled the words
“Look, you might as well have this back, because I don’t want to go to university… yet…”
His response was one of alarm and hostility, despite this pressure and my usual respect of authority I refused to back down, as this my life he was talking about!
Your life is your life, and you’ll come across many instances where someone is trying to pressure you to do something you don’t want to.
If you face this situation, my simple advice is – do what pleases you and follow your own path.
Yes, it’s scary making adult decisions, but they become easier the more you make…
The first time I bought a car was an unforgettable experience. Although I found the car I wanted and the price was good, when it came down to signing the paperwork, I flaked and said “I needed to go home to think about it.”
I saw the dreams of the saleswoman big commission dropping for her very eyes, and in hindsight I could have used my indecisiveness as a bargaining chip to a better deal. But this wasn’t some trick to play hardball, I was just intimidated by making such a mature decision – I’d never spent thousands on anything in my life, and having to put my name on a contract threatening repossession of my worldly goods if I couldn’t keep up the payments was too much to handle!
Although I called back the next day to buy the car, this illustrated my feelings on intimidation having to make adult decisions.
As a twenty-year-old living with my parents, the thought of dealing with adult problems scared me:
- How do you own your home?
- When do you pay bills?
- What if a leak happens in my home? How do I find a plummer?
- If I have a car accident? How does insurance work?
- How can I look after a family, when I can’t even look after myself?
The fact is – when you’re not used to making these decision, it is terrifying, but luckily, they don’t all come at once, and you get better each time at dealing with this, until one day your significant other raises the conversation about having kids and you say “Sure!” without giving it a second thought.
There is no such thing as “being left behind”…
A constant source of embarrassment in my twenties was the feeling I was behind people of a similar age. They’d completed university and got a good job, settled into a relationship and married, and were fully independent in their own home, with friends who had deep intellectual conversations about politics and the like.
Contrast that to myself I felt like a man-child, I was directionless in a dead-end job, never had a relationship, lived with my parents, couldn’t drive, with friends whose biggest concern were what video game to buy next.
The feeling of being left behind is another hangover conditioned into us by a system obsessed with achieving milestones starting from being able going to the toilet without shitting your pants all the way to obtaining a piece of paper to get a “good” job.
They say life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon – personally I think neither is correct as that suggests life is a competition with others. In reality it’s more like a series of personal bests – you are responsible for you. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself and constantly compare yourself to others – focus on your own personal journey.
The years go quicker than you think…
At 15, I was given options by my school where I would like to go next – I didn’t have a clue. Something I considered was an apprenticeship, but that took five years to qualify, which I thought was way too long to do for a small wage.
In hindsight I realise it was never that long. At 15, 5 years is such a long time because it’s equal to 1/3 of your life so far. When you get older you realise it’s not actually much – I’ve spent longer in dead-end jobs that got me nowhere.
At twenty, I talked to people who were 35, and disrespectfully viewed them as “old.” That’s okay, but when you start working a job, living a life, having a family, you get so busy that you soon find that you’re now the 35 year old talking to the know it all twenty-something.
Something I’ve always wish I could tell twenty year old me is to appreciate the scarcity of time, the next decade goes quicker than you know.
Wow! You’re not crazy successful yet – what did you expect?
At twenty I had a sense of entitlement – I was on minimum wage in an entry level job, but knew I was better than that. Instead of working on myself I would snipe at others:
I’d look at people in higher position and tell myself how much more clever I was, and that I could easily do their job.
I’d look at my parents with a fully paid of mortgage, and think they were lucky boomers, benefiting off a post war economy.
See a guy with an attractive girlfriend, I’d think what she saw in that loser.
And I’d see wonder kids on TV, people who were successful in their profession from an early age, and wish that I could have that too and feel bad that I wasn’t rich, good looking and talented.
When you’re twenty years old, unless you’ve got a good level of privileges, connections and/or luck you’re not going to be crazy successful, because after all you’re only twenty and haven’t achieved anything yet. For the good stuff you’ve got to work for it.
It took me about a decade to realise that the world didn’t owe me anything. As a twenty-year-old I really wish that I got the concept of working on yourself, putting in hard graft and creating your own opportunities over time, instead of looking at others and thinking “why them?” and expecting instant gratification.
Age is no crime, but the shame of a deliberately wasted life among so many deliberately wasted lives is…Charles Bukowski
So many things to say, so little word count to say it in…
When I came up with the idea for this post, I knew I’d created a monster. There is just so many things I want to tell myself I could write a book about it.
After some tough edits to reduce the word count, I’ve removed dozens of others things I wish that I knew when I was twenty. Check out these honorary mentions:
- Learn to listen – really listen.
- There is no such thing as a “typical” twenty something.
- Embrace your weirdness.
- Use your youth and lack of commitments to try lots of things.
- Take the opportunity to mess up.
- Always have goals (even if you don’t know what you want to do).
- She was never meant for you anyway.
- Life is about experiences, not bucket list moments.
- You will hurt people, don’t live with regrets and make amendments for your behaviour.
- You are not the protagonist in a badly written movie where it will all just works out.
- Keep future you in mind.
- Read the first bullet point of this list again.
The survivors to this list reflect advice that is not just of use for anyone in their twenties, but also are still true reminders for my thirties and onwards – I still often get insecure thinking everyone else is happier than me, forget life isn’t a competition, feel guilty when I do something in my best interest, and still wonder if I’ll ever establish my purpose in life.
If there are any twenty-year-olds reading this who want advice on direction, feel free to read and take my experience to heart, then chuck it all out and do things your own way anyway, because that’s what we all do at that age!
Actions to take away:
Finally, to close this post, I wanted to share some take away actions to get you thinking:
For twenty somethings: think how the items on this list apply to your life? Think of any opportunities to be kinder, compassionate and patient with yourself. And please do feel free to share your thoughts below.
Anyone no longer in their twenties: What advice would you give your twenty-year-old self?
Take care of yourself and see you next time.
James @Perfect Manifesto