What I Wish I Could Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

Smiling woman riding bus
Smiling woman riding bus

This year I will be celebrating my 40th birthday. It feels weird to even say that. Forty. Officially mid-life. In the words of my younger self -- "old."

Just yesterday I was 20 years old. Chomping at the bit to take the world by storm. Completely certain that I had it all figured out to blaze my perfect path. Because of course my carefully laid plans would ensure that every one of my personal, professional, and spiritual goals were met -- sooner rather than later.

Fate chuckled.

And it isn't until now, 20 years later, that I can finally appreciate the humor.

It's ironic that we expect teenagers to possess enough wisdom and maturity to figure out exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives. To embark on a course that will forever influence their futures.

We don't even let them buy beer.

And yet here we end up. Mid-life or later, reflecting on what we woulda coulda shoulda done. Wishing that the wisdom of our cumulative life experiences could be paired with the energy and appetite of our youth.

So what would I advise my 20-year-old self?

Money isn't as important as you think it is.

Sure, we need enough to afford the essentials, but beyond that, money simply isn't pivotal. Instead of pursuing a profession based on compensation, I wish I had been confident enough to pursue my passions. To immerse myself in work that fulfilled me and that made a difference. Considering we spend most of our waking hours working, I wish I had invested those hours in projects that tapped my natural talents and inclinations. And trusted that the finances would adjust.

Shots are rarely a good idea.

I know they seem like it at the moment. What screams PARTY more than a round of shots for everyone! But this is how it begins. One shot turns into I-can't-remember-because-I've-blacked-out. The edge of the rabbit hole leading to poor choices, regrets, and miserable recoveries. Alcoholic drinks are fine -- as long as they're not served in small glasses that require single gulps.

Travel as much as you can.

There are always reasons to avoid travel. It costs too much. Work schedules. School assignments. Being busy and not having the time. Make the time. Nothing has been as eye-opening, enlightening, and educational as my travels. I wish I had done even more when I was young and commitment-free. Experience as many different cultures as possible -- not only the sexy beach resorts, but also the villages in developing nations. Connect with people. Eat the local food. Try to understand how others live, to better understand how alike we all are.

Avoid relationships with bad boys.

Spoiler alert: you can't change him. And "bad" isn't exciting and sexy -- it's simply bad. Want to go on a few dates with an exciting and slightly dangerous guy? Go and have fun. But anything more than that will only lead to increased stress levels, heartache, and lonely Saturday nights. See the guy who is always busy with boring pursuits like work, school, and family? He's the real catch. Give him a chance.

Go to college.

Do this. I mean really do this. Not the work-full-time-during-the-day-and-take-college-courses-at-night route. I mean the live-on-campus-and-immerse-yourself-fully-in-the-college-experience route. I regret that I treated my evening college courses only as a means to an end. Jump all in. Build relationships with your peers. Involve yourself in extracurricular activities. Create memories. And earn the degree that is now an absolute prerequisite for pretty much any job you might be interested in.

Walk away from toxicity.

People only change if they want to. Let that sink in. You can't do it for them. You frankly can't even influence it. So your options are to spin in circles trying, engage in the drama, or walk away from it all. Value yourself and remember that people will treat you how you allow yourself to be treated. If you don't like it, leave the situation. Don't take the bait. Don't try to defend yourself or change someone's mind. Don't justify the situation based on the person being an old friend or family member. Just walk away. Your life will be much happier and more peaceful for it.

Your word is everything.

Do what you say you're going to do. Tell the truth. Pay bills as agreed. Live up to your commitments. Your character and integrity affect everything: Your credit. Your reputation. Your professional prospects. Even your relationships. Be a stand-up person, even if others are not.

Become a parent.

Don't fall victim to analysis paralysis. Yes, there will be challenges. Parenting is a lifetime commitment, and there is no handbook. The responsibility, commitment, and costs are staggering. But if you're even considering it, do it. Don't wait for a perfect time that never arrives. Know that everything else will work itself out. And that the journey will bring you more joy and wonder than you can ever anticipate.

Do you.

People spend a lot less time thinking about you than you think they do. They're too busy thinking about themselves. So why waste your energy trying to impress others or worrying about their judgments? Follow your own heart and do what is right for you. The people who matter will always support you. And the haters will hate no matter what you do.

Life is short and we only get one shot at the game. I've learned that experiences matter more than things, that the integrity of relationships matters more than the number, and that ultimately I am the captain of my own ship. As I've become more comfortable in my own skin, I'm ready to stop trying to live up to every expectation -- and instead, live for me. All while seizing the gift of every day left.

Faye is an almost-40-something mother of three who has recently left a 20+ year career in the financial services industry to pursue her passion for writing and to spend more time with family. She chronicles her experiences in making the leap to self-employment, her adventures in parenting, and her other favorite topics on her blog at Leap of Faye. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.