I wasted a lot of time believing a lot of things in my 20s. Like that everything in my 20s was forever and that decisions were permanent and unchangeable. That how a boy treated me – or how much he liked me – should connect with my own sense of self-worth and confidence. That the career I chose at 25 would be the same as the one at 35 and there was no use considering a change of career. Thinking that every relationship would (and should) stay the same. And believing that who I was then, was who I would still be a decade down the line.

I was so so wrong about so many things. If I could go back and have a word with my 20 year old self, I’d tell her a few bits of learned wisdom.

Worry less and take more risks

Things are going to go wrong and bad decisions are going to be made whether you take the risk or not. And if things don’t work out, the lessons learned are usually even more important. So you’ll never regret the risks taken, it’s the ones you don’t take that you’ll look back on with regret. You’re young, you have time, so try to worry less and take more risks.

Friendships will come and go, and some of them need too

Do not befriend, or stay friends with people who are toxic to you, simply because of the years that friendship has lasted. Sometimes, you have to walk away and never look back. Not all friendships are meant to be forever, and sometimes friendships change for no other reason than you outgrow one another. But you will appreciate the ones that are good and that last even more, make time for these people.

Goals are not what life is all about

The worst kind of expectations you can fall victim too, are your own. It’s nice to have goals to aspire to achieve, but becoming consumed by a need to complete them all within a set timeframe can lead to feeling like a failure. Often achieving the goal itself isn’t the most rewarding part, it’s the journey to the goal that really has impact. Enjoy the journey.

Boundaries are healthy

People will test your boundaries and attempt to break them. People will abuse you not having any at all. Create boundaries. Be strong and firm if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries. Don’t adjust you and yours to fit them. Boundaries are healthy and not setting them – or setting them far too low – is going to lead to a lot of necessary future healing.

Likeability is not something to aspire for

People will either like you or hate you no matter what you do, so you may as well spend less time caring about what others think of you, and more time caring about who you want to be and what you think of yourself.

Failing is not failure, it’s wisdom for the future

The lessons from failing are way more valuable than the false sense of confidence sometimes gained from too quick success. Paradoxically, sometimes failing forwards is the best way to reach success.

Looks, fashion, it’s constantly changing

So spend less time on makeup and the ‘right now’ look, because in a matter of months or a year, it’ll just be something else. The only thing this constant changing does, is make you feel shittier about you because you can’t ever keep up. Instead embrace being unique, being comfortable, and being at home with your own style and how all of it makes you feel. You don’t need to conform to someone else’s idea of what you should look like.

Change is scary, but more often than not, imperative to growth

The future is never a given, so enjoy every second in the present and stop thinking so much about what the future ‘should’ be and just enjoy each day and see what comes. Because what you think the future may end up being will change many, many times. And living with a sense of certainty that you can 100% control that outcome, won’t make it so.

Stop believing there is correlation between your self-worth and how a person treats you

How they treat you is all about them and nothing at all to do with you. So if they treat you badly, harm you, make it their mission to break you, this is all a direct correlation of their own feelings towards themselves. Remove the link between their treatment and your self-worth.

Spend more time appreciating how you look right now

You can spend countless hours worrying over looks and your body, thinking you’re too fat, too ugly, not good enough. But trust me, it’s all wasted time. Because ten years later you’ll look back at photos and admire yourself in a way that you couldn’t ever see back then. Youth is fleeting, enjoy every moment of it whilst you have it, because its only with age you appreciate how you looked in the years prior.

It’s okay to fall in love with the wrong people

You are not stupid, shameful or worth any less because you fell in love with the wrong person or made a mistake. Whether it was toxic, abusive or just totally not right, every relationship that was wrong for you, will give you a steadfast bout of wisdom on how to only accept the right ones – and nothing less than this – for the rest of your life. So fall in love again and again, with the right or wrong people. Do it all and learn from it.

Normalize any conversation that matters to you

Get into deep conversations about your mental health, emotions, challenges, struggles, feelings. Just normalize it all. Say what you want to say confidently as if shame and stigma isn’t attached to any of it. I bet so many people feel the same as you.

Eat, sleep and exercise isn’t just a direct effect on physical health, but it massively contributes to healthier mental health

Sounds so super boring, but the quality of your sleep, getting some physical activity in and eating healthy, these things really do improve mental health and wellbeing. And trust me, your 30 year old self and beyond will damn well thank you for it! That 20s body recovers pretty quickly, but the recovery period ages just the same as your body does. Take care of and maintain your body, not for aesthetic reasons, but for the huge mental impact it will have and also to prolong the vessel that’s got to see you through the rest of life.

Mental health is just as important as physical health

When you’re tired, you sleep. Hungry? You eat. If your mind is feeling out of balance, stressed out, overwhelmed, give it what it needs; rest, silence, a break from social situations. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Things aren’t always end of the world

Cry less over things that seem like the end of the world, because you’ll take a step forward every day anyway and get through them all. And in the future, life has so many ‘end of world’ moments, but you’ll find a way through them all.

You don’t just learn in your 20s

To believe that your 20s is the only time you can build on your education, start a new career, learn a new language or sport, create a cure for cancer, this is just a limiting mindset. Age really is just a number. Your whole life will change in numerous ways a number of times. You are always learning, so your 20s is not the only time you can learn or do something differently.

No one knows what the hell they are doing either

There is no clear path to adulthood and there is absolutely no right way to do life. Whether in their 20s or beyond, no-one really has a fucking clue what they’re doing either. Everyone is figuring it out as they go along with varying levels of success. People are broadly the same, we want the same things – food, comfort, money, love, happiness – and if we all knew how to get them we’d be following a one size fits all guide book. But we don’t. Because there isn’t one.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Because there is no clear path to adulthood and no one knows what the hell they are doing either. Sure, some people might seem to be smarter, richer or more successful than you, but success and happiness, even wealth, they aren’t linear measurements, they are really quite personal. You could spend a whole lot of time wishing or trying to be like someone else, only to realize none of their ways of reaching success or happiness, are actually ways that will make you feel successful and happy.

Enjoy the pre-level up phase

It’s only now at nearly 40, that I realise that pre-30 was all about mistakes, learning, trying, failing, maybe a bit of success, falling down, pulling myself back up again. But when I stumbled in my 20s, I took those times – that I now look back on with appreciation for the lessons – so so hard. So when I hit 30 I analyzed the shit out of every pre-30 decision, and only then did I realize that I needed that decade to gain a whole lotta wisdom on how to do things better; what to avoid, what was good for me, bad for me, what was absolutely the most important things to spend my time and energy on.

My 20s self didn’t know a lot. 30s me only knows a little more. The biggest thing gained in my 30s so far is self-reflection and realizing that your 30s and beyond is just a continued whole load of chaos pretty similar to the 20s – just with a better understanding that this is what life is and way more confidence than the previous decade to handle it all – and that’s totally okay actually. In my 40s, I wonder what I’ll tell my 30 year old self.

What would you say to 20 year old you?

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.