15 things I wish I could go back and tell my 20-year-old self.

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Turning forty got me thinking about what advice I’d give my 20-year-old self (which, she would, naturally, discard as idiotic lunacy, because old people don’t know anything).

I won’t mention sunscreen because they made a whole song about it, but for God’s sake, wear sunscreen. Otherwise, here is a list of the 15 things I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self. Hop in Doc Brown’s DeLorean with me, and let’s set the date to 1995.

  1. Be yourself. Whoever that is. I’m not just telling you this because it’s the surest way to happiness. Right now, you really care what people think of you. The irony is – they will like you WAY more if you are authentically you. There is an energy and a confidence that comes through when you are comfortable in your own skin. It doesn’t matter whether you are an introvert, an extrovert, a jock, a weirdo, an artist, conservative, liberal, boy, girl or something in between. To be fully yourself – It’s magnetic, infectious, and frankly, it’s sexy. And it’s a hell of a lot less work than pretending to be someone else. The pretending will grow tiresome by your 30s. And btw, not everyone will like you, of course. But the right ones will. You will attract the right ones. And this is how you will find your tribe. It becomes a cycle. The more you are yourself, the more you attract your own kind, who then reinforce how awesome you are, thereby attracting more people. Everybody wins. Especially you.
  2. Speaking of people liking you, and worrying what they will think. You’re really self-absorbed at 20. You assume everyone is noticing us, thinking about us, talking about us. They aren’t. No one cares as much as you think they do. So just do what’s right, by your own standards. If something doesn’t feel right – or worse, dangerous – don’t accept it. Make a scene. Don’t worry about propriety or whether it’s polite or ladylike. If someone is making you uncomfortable, if your gut is throwing up the red flag, if the hair on the back of your neck is standing straight up, get out of there or call for help. This is most certainly not the time to worry about what people think.
  3. Say “NO” more. This will ensure you have time for yourself and your own needs – which will give you the bandwidth to meet other people’s needs when it actually matters. They will not be as upset or let down as you imagine they will be, if you turn down a Coffee Bean meet up.
  4. Sometimes, especially early on, you will end up in a career simply b/c you need a job (and money!). Not b/c you’ve found your calling, or are drawn to a specific vocation. That’s okay. It’s also okay to decide it no longer works for you 15 years later, and do something totally new. Your happiness and fulfillment are all that matter. You need money to live, but as long as you work hard, enough money will come.
  5. What’s with the self-loathing? You are smart, funny, adorable, and most importantly – you are human. You are no better or worse than anyone else. You are part of this incredible universe, and also your own individual self. Both of which are miracles. Why do you tear yourself down? Get out of the city – go sit in front of the ocean, or take a walk in a forest. This will give you a humbling feeling of your own powerful worth – you are both tiny and immense. And those ugly things you tell yourself over and over again – that pattern can be undone. Create new neural-pathways by telling yourself a positive story. The next time you go to tear yourself down with hurtful words about not being good enough, show some self-compassion and kindness to yourself – in the same way you would for a friend who is hurting.
  6. You will use shopping, alcohol, food, etc to fill up the emptiness, until you realize it isn’t working. This is connected to the self-loathing and it’s a horrific cycle. Notice how bad you feel after. That hangover, stomach ache, credit card bill, etc — It’s directly connected to how good you thought it felt to shop at Barney’s in Beverly Hills, even though you are only making $25K a year. Stop the pattern. Pause more. Wonder why you are doing it. Ask yourself, what can you afford? (and not just from a monetary standpoint). But also know, that you will only truly stop once you get fed up. Once you are sick of your own bullshit. Then you will clean house. I’m sorry to tell you – if you don’t make changes now, it will take about 15 years to get tired of your own bullshit. But you get some really nice shoes out of it. J
  7. Be present. What does that even mean(!!!), your 20-year-old self asks. Slow down. Notice. Be a detective in your own life. What’s happening right in this very minute. The magic is there – hidden between the details. Get out of your head. Stop wondering about a different past, and projecting a fictional future. Just be. Mediate for 20 minutes a day, every day. This will teach you how to be, and show you that there actually isn’t an emptiness in you. But rather, your own gorgeous heart and mind and body. Which are all perfect, just as they are.
  8. Speaking of being. If you are a doer (my dear 20-year-old self – you are absolutely a doer), be In other words, if you tend to take action immediately and often, take less action. Ponder more. Sit with it more. Conversely, if you tend to think and turn over decisions in your mind, starting going into action more often, vs. playing out all scenarios in your mind, before acting.
  9. Keep exercising. But not for the same reasons you are doing it now. Don’t do it to be skinny, do it to be strong – physically, emotionally, and mentally.
  10. It’s not going to go the way you imagine it will all go. Even if you try to will it to happen (oh, and you will try to will it!). You won’t get married at 26. You won’t have kids at 28. So go enjoy yourself. Stop worrying and planning and assuming you have to be something specific at 25 or 30 or 35. Don’t sweat the timetable. Settle down around 40. (That is exactly what you will do, by the way.) Or Don’t.
  11. BUT!!! If you want a family, just know … there is never a good time to have a baby. Don’t wait too long. Circumstances like financial stability or being mentally “ready,” be damned. By the time all the stars align, your body may decide it’s too late. I know, I know…as a 20 year old feminist, you are rolling your eyes at me. I’m still a feminist, I’ve just got 20 years of experience and hindsight. And no baby (YET!).
  12. Date tons of guys. Break hearts, get your heart broken. Be monogamous, be a slut. Do it all. But don’t do it for validation. Do it for experience. Because you will find out that there actually aren’t that many “the one(s)” out there. So when the right ones do come along, you will have a level of perspective & appreciation that ensures you treat them right, and value how good you’ve got it (finally!).
  13. Failure is not bad. It’s just feedback. Learn from it. Allow yourself to be humbled. Allow yourself to be gutted. Allow yourself to be brought to your knees. It will make you more empathetic, textured, interesting, and loveable. It’s hard to imagine now, but the tough times become the best times, b/c they define you. They show you what you are made of. And to come out on the other side of devastation, is sublime. This is living. Everything will come together for you. And then it will come apart. Over and over again.
  14. There’s a difference between being tough and being hard. Be tough. Set boundaries, but keep an open heart. No matter what pain you go through, do not harden your heart. Forgive others – and I can’t stress this enough – forgive yourself. Quickly. Allow vulnerability. It actually makes you more loveable, not less.
  15. Be nice to Peter when you meet him next year during computer class. You will bump into him again in about fifteen years, and you will fall in love with him. That actually goes for EVERYONE you meet. It’s really true what they say – you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. And those you help, will remember. And return in kind.

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2 Responses to 15 things I wish I could go back and tell my 20-year-old self.

  1. Kathleen Brown says:

    Dear Maggie, I am obsessed with this post. You give such great advice. I am not in my 20’s but there are so many good reminders I needed to hear, and I appreciate you sharing. I just printed it out and posted next to my desk. Thank you! YOU ROCK! xoxo, Kathleen

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