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20 Things I Wish I’d Known In My 20s (But I Had To Learn By Myself)

Karen Nimmo
Feb 3 · 5 min read

“Spirit first. Because that’s what’s most important. It’s not how well you can perform or how much money you can make. But if you’re not the human being you should be, you’re not doin’ it correctly.” — Gladys Knight.

A young client who was finishing up her therapy had a final request.

She wanted some generic life advice: how about 20 things for 2020? she said, throwing down a challenge.

I didn’t have to think about it for too long. The older you get, the more you’ve seen, the more you’ve messed up, the more you have to say.


The more scared you are of saying it because you know there is no One-Size- Fits-All strategy for life — that we each have to cut our own path.

Still, I was up for the challenge. Here are some things to ponder.

20 Things I Wish I’d Known In My Twenties

In the course of a lifetime, only a few people will truly “get” you. And some of those won’t stay around, either. So look after those who do. But it’s also worth knowing friendship (and love) develops in surprising places, at every age and stage. Stay open to it.

Well, some do a bit — hopefully this includes your parents. But most people are too busy grinding down their own paths to worry what you’re doing on yours. In the end, even your parents just want you to be happy and self-sufficient. Aim for that.

Just saying.

I once had a flatmate whose summation of the human experience was this: “you’re born, you live a bit, then you die.” I thought he was an Eeyore; turns out he was right. Hopefully you get a long gap between the beginning and the end. But none us know what’s coming. Use your time well.

You can’t save it all by yourself, but you can do your bit.

Try living at high-revs 24/7 and you’ll know what I mean. Down time, flat patches, boredom — whatever you want to call it — is necessary to recover and recharge, think and create — and make change.

Chronic boredom is a problem, though, so if you find yourself there, do all you can to change it.

Moods and emotions are not consistent. It’s harder than you think to stay in a good space mentally. There will be ups and downs, good days and bad, so you need to learn tools and strategies to manage yourself through both. And you need to keep using them.

Bodies don’t take care of themselves either. They play up, get sick, need drugs, health checks and regular maintenance. The older you get, the louder “use it or lose it” jangles in your ears. The earlier you pay attention to it, the better.

I once heard this said: a lie can be half-way round the world before truth even has her high-heeled shoes on. It’s true. Lies spread fast — and they hurt. Think about that for a while.

Spending too much time in your head will drive you crazy — and make you an insomniac. Making things is the best way to counter it — it takes you out of your head down into your body. That’s good for you.

Truly, most people are trying hard with what they’ve got. Most people want to be good, kind, contributing humans. Some people are assholes though, and even if they have a valid reason for it, you need to stay away from them.

Food, alcohol, substances, porn/sex, moods, emotions, reactions — to have ownership over these is to own your life. NB: Don’t expect too much too soon, it takes time and practise.

You can’t. You can support them and be there for them, but creating a good life is their gig. Just as creating yours is yours.

Being alone, to experience and think and dream will sustain, even bolster, your mental health. But feeling isolated will take you the other way. Do your best to stay connected — to people, to neighbours, to pets, to the supermarket checkout operator. And if you’re not lonely, keep an eye out for those who are. A kind word makes a big difference.

Having regrets shows you’re aware of the mistakes you’ve made, the not-so-great ways you’ve treated others or yourself. Holding onto things you can’t change will destroy you though, so train your eyes on the road in front.

People you love and care about will be lost to you, and you have to find ways to deal with it. It takes way longer than you think, sometimes forever. But you need to know that you can live a good, even great, life alongside it.

Drop your lofty expectations of people. Even of yourself.

Hurt, rejection and pain are part of the human deal. But keep learning to let go, or at least loosen your grip on it.

Yep, they do. And great things happen to mean people. Go figure.

To quote from Max Ehrmann’s timeless Desiderata: “For all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world.”

It doesn’t always seem that way, I know. Sometimes it seems like the beauty has been sucked out of it. But there is a lot of good in the world. Make it your mission to keep looking for it.

Thanks for reading! Join my email list here if you’re interested in practical psychology for everyday life.

On The Couch

Practical psychology for everyday life.

Karen Nimmo

Written by

Clinical psychologist, writer, still learning how to live. Author of 3 books, including Busy As F*ck: 10 on-the-couch sessions for busy people everywhere.

On The Couch

Practical psychology for everyday life. Owned/Edited by clinical psychologist and writer Karen Nimmo.

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