A couple weeks ago, my family and I celebrated my little sister’s 20th birthday. Although it lacks some of the excitement of turning 18 or 21, reaching 20 years old is momentous in its own way. It’s saying goodbye to a decade of adolescence, putting the teenage years officially in the past, and—maybe for the first time—looking adulthood straight in the eye.
Leading up to my sister’s birthday, I took some time to think about what advice I’d give my 20-year-old self, now 5 years further down the road. Being a twenty-something myself, I’ve discovered your twenties is a decade characterized by immense pressure to figure out yourself, your life, and where you’re going. I decided to make a “wisdom list” to share with my sister, and to share with anyone making the transition from their teens to their twenties.
So here you have it:
20 things I wish I knew when I was 20
1. It’s okay if your life doesn’t look like everyone else’s. You don’t have to go to college, attain 5000+ social media followers, move out on your own, have a career, or do anything else society makes it seem like you should by this point in your life.
2. You are okay. Right here, right now. Just as you are. Not based on anything you do. Now breathe a deep sigh of relief.
3. Self-worth is one of the most important things to ever have. Knowing and embracing that you have value can literally transform every area of your life. Trust me.
4. Do crazy daunting things. Say “yes” sometimes to things you’d normally say “NO WAY” to. In between the terror and exhilaration, you’ll discover more of who you really are and that you’re capable of doing way more than you ever thought.
5. Working on yourself is some of the hardest work you can ever do—but it’s the most worthwhile. Facing your inner crap isn’t easy in the slightest, but through it, you’ll find a whole lot healthier and happier version of you on the other side. Invest the work.
6. It’s okay to ask for help. Realize your limits, and know when to reach out when you need help getting to where you want to be.
7. Relationships don’t have to last forever. Some people are meant to always be in your life; some are only meant to be around for a season. It’s okay to let someone go when life says it’s time to move on.
8. Document random memories. There are things you’ll forget you ever did, but not if there’s evidence. Take pictures during that late night fast food run. Then someday when you’ve forgotten all about that slap-happy taco trip, you’ll find those photos buried deep in your camera roll and laugh all over again when you rediscover them.
9. Never stop learning. I thought I knew everything I needed when I finished high school, but I could not have been more wrong. Let new ideas shape and challenge you to become a better, more informed, and more open-minded person. The world will thank you!
10. Your identity is not your past or in your future. Who you are at your core is not some old version of yourself, or anything you went through in the history of your story. Likewise, you are not some future version of yourself you have yet to attain, or anything you’ll achieve or experience in the days ahead.
11. You have a voice. Your thoughts, opinions, preferences, and views matter. Teach other people how to treat you by telling them when something is not okay. You don’t lose people’s respect for speaking up for yourself—you gain it that way.
12. You don’t have to know what you want to do with your life. But now is the time to try all the things (well, maybe not all the things, but a lot anyway) to figure out what things you love and what things you want, or don’t want, to fill your life with.
13. Every experience, good or bad, teaches you something. Even if you fail, you’ll walk away with a new story to tell of how you chose to be brave and give something a try. That’s where real learning happens.
14. Do healthy things sometimes. Make time now and then for a simple workout. Eat fruit sometimes instead of carbs and sugar. You don’t have to be health obsessed, but you might find the occasional healthy choice makes your body and mind feel refreshingly good.
15. Don’t aim to be the best; aim to be a good person. Success isn’t about what you can accomplish. The people who are truly successful are the ones who have integrity, who keep their word, and genuinely care about others. It’s not about what you do—it’s about who you are.
16. Life is a gift. It can get really hard at times, but the life you have is the only one you’ll ever get. Appreciate that fact about yourself, and appreciate it about every other living thing you see around you.
17. You have value. There has never been another person like you with the same experiences, skills, interests, or relationships as you. You are insanely unique! You are an incredibly interesting person with a valuable story to tell. So tell it.
18. Life is hardly ever black and white. You may discover that the line between right and wrong can get blurry, and that things you always thought were true are actually pretty complicated issues. So ask hard questions, and try to understand other people’s points of view. You might just end up expanding your own.
19. Things won’t go perfectly. Failure, discouragement, frustration, depression, setbacks—they’re all things that suck to face but they’re all normal parts of being an adult. Don’t beat yourself up when the going gets tough. Know you’ll get through it, and that you are NOT alone.
20. Becoming an adult is a process. Don’t stress feeling like you need to get adulthood all figured out right now. Growing up happens one step at a time. Lean on those who are further ahead who can help you take the next step in front of you into adulting. Then keep going, one step and one day at a time.
What advice above resonates most strongly with you? If you’re past your early twenties, what advice would you give to someone just making the transition from teenager to their twenties?