Seven Important Things I Wish I’d Known in my Twenties

That I’m grateful to be learning in my thirties.

1. Stop chasing the wrong things.

Whether it be the boy who’s not your type but whose undivided attention you covet, the illustrious job at an expensive restaurant that’s actually more dramatic than high school, or the illusion of being a “cool girl” and outwardly appearing to have your shit together — regardless of what you are currently chasing, what’s meant to be in your life will show up and stick around. No chasing, forcing, filtering, maneuvering (i.e., manipulating) or controlling is required.

You’ll come to learn that wanting someone’s attention is not the same thing as caring about them. You’ll discover that a job with status means nothing if you hate the role, resent the staff and don’t believe in the culture. You’ll figure out (the hard way, no less) that looking like you have your shit together, and actually having your shit together, are two vastly different things. And you’ll eventually conclude that in the end, half the stuff you ran marathons to catch up to, you won’t even end up wanting.

2. Don’t take your friends for granted.

They may not be perfect or always act how you want them to, but that’s not the point of friendship. Newsflash: you’re not perfect either; in fact, it’ll take you many years before you garner enough self-awareness and humility to be a half-decent human being, much less a tolerable one. You can’t, with any good conscience, allow a considerable breadth of patience for yourself while simultaneously holding others to impossible and unachievable standards.

What you don’t realize is that eventually, when life gets really tough (not just the “a-guy-I-didn’t-really-like-to-begin-with-broke-up-with-me-and-my-life-is-over” tough), you’ll need these friends. You’ll appreciate having people step forward and support you. In fact, some of the friends you took for granted will show up even though you’ve planted years of silence in the empty spaces between you. Feel grateful for this because you didn’t necessarily deserve it.

3. Stop trying to be someone you’re not.

I know that when you drink alcohol or when you adorn yourself in the latest overpriced fashion/makeup trends, you feel a little more like that cool girl you’ve always aspired to be. Plus, you’re now equipped with the false confidence to go after that boy who’s not your type. But let me be honest with you: there is no real legitimacy here, these masks don’t actually work long-term at hiding your identity. No matter how you look or how confident you feel when dressed up or inebriated, you can’t make up something that’s not there.

You may have spent your whole life wishing you were Rachel, but you’ve always been (and always will be) Monica. Instead of dwelling on the things you aren’t, why don’t you acknowledge all the great things that you are? Like being exceptionally detail-oriented, an avid collector of hobbies, a life-long introvert, and someone who ultimately breaks up with alcohol a few years down the line? Why don’t you realize that there’s nothing wrong with you, except for the fact that you keep trying to fit yourself into spaces where you don’t belong? Square peg, round hole. (Spoiler alert: it’s not the peg’s fault.)

4. Learn to love the good guy.

There’s something incredibly sexy about spending your precious time and energy with a human being who respects you and treats you well. I know you can’t grasp that right now, instead opting for the ones who make options out of you by noon, but you have to believe me on this one. They blow the competition out of the water. Though it might seem exciting to follow Mr. Complicated around like a lost puppy, there’s no pot of gold sitting at the end of that rainbow. There’s no rainbow at all, for that matter.

It feels awkward and uncomfortable when you get close to good guys because it’s supposed to — they crack you open in a way you’ve never experienced before. You’re vulnerable and fully seen, which is scary because if you get rejected, you’re rejected for who you actually are, not for who you appear to be. But the ones who are worth your time and energy are the ones who see your flaws and love you precisely because of them, recognizing this privilege as a sacred gift. The rest are merely obstacles to overcome.

5. Spend more time with your parents.

Your parents won’t be around forever, so while they may annoy you or drive you that special kind of crazy strictly reserved for immediate family, do your best to get to know them. Have conversations with them about their childhoods, write down your favorite recipes of theirs so you’ll always have access to them, and do as many things as you can together. Despite the fact that you hate admitting this, you’re largely a product of your parents; in the nature vs. nurture debate, your mom and dad are responsible for both.

And those characteristics of your parents you wish you hadn’t been bestowed? They don’t have to be bad things. Use them to your advantage. The same trait can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you play your cards. For instance, I like to use the term “detail-oriented” instead of “mildly obsessive”. Celebrate them for who they are, not for who you wish they were, or for who they couldn’t be. You don’t realize it now, but one of your parents won’t even see you turn thirty. It’ll be your most excruciating heartbreak to date, you’ll miss him every single day, and you’ll regret not getting that favorite spaghetti recipe for the rest of your life.

6. For Pete’s sake, learn to manage your stress.

I’m going to reveal something that you’ve been blissfully unaware of until now: you’ve got anxiety, and lots of it. Shocking, I know. I’m not sure how you spent most of your teens and twenties saying “nope, not me, I’m not anxious” because girl, you’re as anxious as they come. The thing is, what you don’t own will own you. Your best bet is to listen to your body because it can’t keep secrets from you for very long.

That tension headache you can’t kick? The pain in your shoulders that keeps you from restful sleep? The upset stomach you can’t ignore right before leaving for a social function? How about the fact that the moment you come down from an especially stressful period, you always get sick? Start implementing productive tactics to mitigate your anxiety as early as you can. Journal, practice deep breathing, meditate, go for walks, talk things through. The invincibility of your twenties comes at a price: it catches you completely off-guard and sends you to your knees when you hit your thirties and realize you’re not infallible after all.

7. And by the way: recognize that you struggle with control.

This is not an achievement or a strength — this is something you will likely battle for your whole life, and it only ends up robbing you of joy and happiness in the end. There are things you can control, and things you can’t; learn how to distinguish between them and focus your energy on the former. If it’s not within your realm to control it, learn to let it be and let it go.

This may be the hardest thing for you to master, and it’ll require effort on your part every single day. It’s behavior that has been praised and validated since you were a very young child. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. Sometimes you’ll catch yourself veering off-track and will have to redirect. But remember never to glorify your tendency to be a control freak, striving for perfection at every expense. The judgment you place upon others is only a mirror for the impossible standards through which you gauge yourself. Do your best, but don’t strive to be the best.