16 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Early-20s Self
(Even though I wouldn’t have listened.)
Twenty-nine is a weird age. I definitely don’t feel as wise or mature as I thought I would, even though I know I’m a little further along in life than I was ten years ago.
I feel like there’s a certain itch that many of us feel at 29. Maybe it’s that we’ve been in the real world for a while maybe it’s not exactly living up to our (oversized) expectations. It’s hard to define, but there’s just something that makes us to take a step back, reconsider old beliefs, change things up.
Actually, there’s proof: One study found that people are apparently more likely to make a radical decision or major change at an age that ends in a “9.” (The researchers’ conclusions were based on data from an extramarital affairs website and a list of marathon runners — but still!) I too feel some sort of major change coming on (probably not an affair or a marathon though).
So here I am, at the tail end of my 20s. Older, a little wiser, but still figuring it out. While I try to make up my mind about what wild and crazy decision I’m going to make this year, I’m taking some time to reflect on what I’ve done, both right and wrong in the past decade. Here, a few lessons I’ve learned.
1. You’re not going to have it all figured out.
And that’s okay. I used to imagine the late-20s Locke with all her sh*t together. I didn’t have specifics in mind, but more of a vague picture of a woman with incredible hair and an amazing career. Okay, I *finally* like my hair color, but I’m still working on pretty much everything else. And the weirdest realization? I’m pretty okay with it.
2. Life isn’t going to be as linear as you think.
Industries will change. (Goodbye, magazine journalism — hello, Instagram!) Jobs won’t work out. Cities won’t be your home forever. Relationships don’t evolve into what you’d hoped they’d be.
3. Your network, on the other hand, will stay the same.
Yep, even if you move, change jobs, start dating someone else. I wish I had realized the value in my relationships I’ve made throughout my 20s — from my first boss to the recruiter I met with once to the person I went on a couple dates with in 2012. Don’t burn bridges, and stay in touch with people. Technology makes that easier than ever to do these days.
4. You really are the average of the people you spend the most time with.
In your 20s, your network really is your net worth—as cheesy and cliche as that may be. If you start hanging out with the best people you know — the people you really want to spend your time with — your life is going to improve. The opposite is true, too.
If you start hanging out with the best people you know — the people you really want to spend your time with — your life is going to improve.
5. You can keep learning once you leave school.
The best part of your later 20s? Your education is now FREE. Go to events, listen to podcasts, read books — you can literally change or pivot your career with free tools online. This past year, I got certified in content marketing online and became a certified health coach (okay, that last one wasn’t free), which has helped me pivot my career completely. I only wish I did it earlier!
6. Stop waiting for your “real life” to start.
Y’all. We’re not in some weird transition/waiting period. Life is happening at this very moment. This — right here, right now — is your life. Stop waiting for something to change in order to start living your life, and start living it now.
7. Be nice to your body.
My overall health has gone through so many ups and downs in my 20s, from my lazy college days to my active but overindulgent NYC years. I still haven’t gotten it just right, but I have reached a point where I’m better at thinking: Is this food going to make me feel better, or worse? Is this workout really what I need today? I’ve learned to tune into how I’m feeling, both mentally and physically, and I’ve also realized how inextricably linked my mental health and physical health are.
8. Be nice to yourself, too.
There are enough people out there who are going to make you feel like crap. One major area where I’ve started doing this is forgiving myself for my past “mistakes” or bad decisions. I recently heard an amazing quote from Jack Canfield, who said: “Every decision you’ve ever made is the best one you could’ve made with the knowledge you had at the time.” Phew. That helped me breathe a big sigh of relief. I have a tendency to overthink every little thing I’ve done in the past, but this helped me understand that I did my best.
9. Go all in with what you love.
You know that hobby or business idea you’re obsessed with? DO IT. Double down on your strengths in your 20s and forget the rest. That doesn’t mean quitting your day job because it’s not what you love. It means starting a side hustle or enhancing your strong skills to eventually make the move into what you truly LOVE to do.
Double down on your strengths in your 20s and forget the rest.
10. Stop saying yes just because you feel guilty saying no.
I was a “yes” girl in my 20s. I said to yes to every date, every assignment, almost every event. I had to talk myself down when I missed something because I felt so guilty, and I often found myself exhausted at the end of insanely busy weeks. At 29, I’ve finally learned it’s okay to say no. It’s better to miss some dinner that won’t matter in the long run, and take some time for self-care.
11. Speaking of which… Staying in is not lame.
Partying with your friends is super fun, I get it. But wasting an entire weekend being hungover is super lame. It takes away time that you could be using getting to know yourself, working on something that’ll help you take your career to the next level, or just going to a workout class and the farmers market. I don’t have a lot of big regrets, but wasting too many weekends being hungover in my 20s is definitely one of them.
12. It’s easy to fall in the love with the *idea* of someone.
It’s a lot harder to actually put in the work that makes a relationship work. Dating is another one of those things I wasted a lot of time in my 20s. Well, maybe I wouldn’t say wasted because it certainly helped me understand what I was and wasn’t looking for. My advice: Don’t get too caught up in the idea of someone before you find out who they really are.
13. Life isn’t black and white.
Sometimes the answer isn’t as clear cut as you think. Sometimes two people can be right. And sometimes (this has been the hardest thing for me to learn) when someone says one thing, it means something completely different.
14. Tune into your gut — and trust it.
Another one I’m really working on. It’s a tough one, because your “gut” is pretty much impossible to define. But when you get that little twinge in your stomach, listen to it. I’ve heard meditation can help you tune into this little thing called intuition, but again, meditating another project in progress for me.
15. Life may not live up to your expectations.
Maybe you thought you’d be a millionaire by age 30 but you still live with three other roommates. Perhaps you had your heart set on being married and having two kids by now and you’re still single AF. We all have parts of our lives that don’t line up with our hopes and dreams—no one else’s life is as perfect as they’d hoped either. Everyone is dealing with their own disappointments, even if they’re not showing those in between their lavish apartments and beautiful babies on Instagram.
Everyone is dealing with their own disappointments, even if they’re not showing those in between their lavish apartments and beautiful babies on Instagram.
16. Share what you know.
When you share what you know, what you’ve learned, or what you’re still working on (!) people actually do appreciate it— and respond. I’ve enjoyed sharing a few snippets of my life here and there, but it’s things like NBA player Kevin Love sharing his struggles with anxiety — and the massive, positive response it inspired — that show for sure the value of opening up about your own personal experiences. It might feel a little self-centered, or even narcissistic, or even scary. But hearing other people get vulnerable and share stories, struggles, and successes has really helped me recently. So I hope this might do the same for at least a few people.