10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20

Wish I'd Known When I Was 20
Me, age 20

Well, my birthday just passed. I’m 25! Again! For the *mumble, mumble* time! I thought it might be a good time to reflect. So if I could talk some sense to my 20-year-old self, here are some things I’d say:

1. Learn your lessons the first time

Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Don’t be insane. Learn your lessons ~ you’re not meant to be a journalist, he doesn’t love you, bar hopping & mixing different kinds of drinks is a bad idea ~ the first time and move on.

2. “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them”

Maya Angelou said this one & it’s true. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache & time if you stop making excuses for other people’s bad behavior and instead see them for who they really are, the first time.

3. What you do in the world is more important that how you look

Stop looking at “beauty”/fashion magazines filled with Photoshopped women who aren’t real. You can’t compete with a figment of somebody’s imagination. Nobody can. Stop trying. Sitting around looking pretty will not get you where you want to be. And in 10 years, very few people will even care what you look like. Go DO what you were put on this planet to do. Go write novels.

4. Hiding your light serves no one, least of all yourself

You’re really smart. You always have been. You’re also blonde & a female. People will expect you to be dumb. Don’t play into that. Let your light shine. Some people will be intimidated by you. That’s about them; it has nothing ~ I repeat, nothing ~ to do with you. Don’t dim yourself to their level. Let your light shine bright.

5. Listen to your heart every time

I mean it, listen to your heart every single time. The only times in your life that you’ll really get into trouble is when you let your head talk you into or out of something. Go with your heart every single time.

6. It’s your life, remember that

Your life is not your dad’s expectations or your mom’s hopes. It’s not what your grandmother wants for you or your grandfather wishes you would do. It doesn’t belong to your best friend, whom you’re afraid to let go of, or the guy you’ll date for two years who will shatter your heart. It’s your life, and when all is said and done, you’ll be the only one responsible for your own happiness. Remember that every time you make a choice.

7. People will come in & out of your life

People come & people go. Say what you need to say ~ always. Then be willing to wish them well and let them go.

8. Don’t settle

You know what you want. You know what you have to do to get it. Don’t believe you can’t have it. Don’t make excuses or assign blame or accept good enough. Don’t take anything less than everything you want.

9. Don’t let fear derail you

Grab onto somebody’s hand, hold your breath, & keep going.

10. It’s never too late

Sometimes it may feel like that. Some days it may feel like that a lot. But it’s never too late. You’re still breathing, so it’s not too late.

If you could talk to your younger self, what would you say? Please feel free to share your thoughts & experiences in the comment box below.

111 thoughts on “10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20”

  1. Wow! You have just spoken to my inner child who has been screaming everything in your post for years! Thank you, thank you I am filled with inspired hope amidst that inner childlike voice screeching,’I told you so!’ I look forward to your future posts. 🙂

  2. Happy belated birthday, Shelli! Isn’t it amazing how much smarter we are after we’ve turned 25 for the um…yeah…time?

    There are a lot of things I’d like to tell my younger self, many of the same things you listed above. Mostly, though, I’d want to tell ‘her’ two things. First, you’re going to waste a lot of time on things that aren’t going to improve your life one little bit, so THINK about that whenever you decide to do-or not do-anything. And second-stop being so self-conscious. DO things that make you feel silly. STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. Often. People who judge you for it don’t matter anyway.

    But even if I could go back and tell her all of these things, she wouldn’t have listened. Because the younger version of me was pretty stubborn. Hmm. Actually…she still is at 25 and holding. 🙂

    1. Hi Kristy! Thanks! Yes, being 25 is lovely, especially knowing everything I know now. 😀 Oh, I could’ve written lots more (& wasting time on stuff that’s not going to improve your life would’ve made the list) but like you said (& which made me laugh), I was stubborn, too. I thought I knew everything & wouldn’t have listened to anybody anyway. Are you 25 also? That’s fabulous. We should go out & have drinks!

      1. Yes, a drink sounds great. But I want to go to a senior center that has a bar. After a turning 25 a few times, that’s about the only place where there’s a hope of anyone actually believing it. 🙂

  3. Hi Shelli,

    Happy Birthday!
    I just had a birthday as well and, as usual, did a quick review of whether I had learned these lessons yet. My list is about the same but includes “Stop holding yourself responsible for other people who refuse to be responsible (which includes siblings)” and “You can’t fix him (I really wish I’d known that when I was twenty!)
    I like to think that somehow knowing these things now will filter into some other dimension where another twenty-year-old-me can benefit from the knowledge and make different choices.

    1. Hi Robyn! Happy Birthday to you! Okay, I’m definitely adding your two to my list, especially “You can’t fix him.” Well, I don’t know if it’ll cross over into some other dimension but maybe some 20-year-old somewhere will read this comment & think she should listen (maybe, there’s always hope, right?) 🙂

      1. Hi I’m 20 and my best friend just sent this to me while I was crying about my 5 year complicated on and off relationship with my “boyfriend” whom ” i cannot fix” thanks to this post and site I have the courage to finally do what I should have done a long time ago. Thank you!!!

        1. Hi Sari! *waves*

          I am thrilled that you’re 20 & that this post helped you. I’m sorry to hear that you’re sad about the “boyfriend” (been there, done that, nope can’t fix them) but am so glad to hear that you have found the courage to make the choice that’s best for you. You are most welcome. *hugs* for you. 🙂

  4. Well (said) written, Shelli. I applaud your post and was so taken by it that I immediately sought out your Twitter account and retweeted you. So many people, men and women, need to read this.
    Have a great week.


  5. Great post and Happy ’25th’ Birthday, Shelli 🙂 I always reflect on the year(s)/decade(s) gone past and contemplate what I’ve learnt. What I fervently wish I had learnt sooner is to stop trying to please anyone but yourself. And like Kristy, I would have told my 20-year-old self to let loose every once in a while and stop taking everything so seriously.

    1. Hi Maria! Thanks for the birthday wishes; 25 is fabulous, which is why I’ve been there a while. 😀 Amen to stop trying to please everyone else at the expense of yourself ~ it’s been added to the list.

  6. I’m going to print this out and put in on my bulletin board next to my novel outline. Thanks for the timely reminder 🙂

    Happy birthday!

  7. I’ll be nearing a birthday in my late 20’s this year and already your advice is very applicable. I wish years ago I’d already learned and LIVED this advice of living without fear and following your heart. But if I had known it, it wouldn’t have been a real 20’s experience. Here’s to making it all count in the future!

    1. Hi Jess! Well, happy birthday to you soon! Yes, I suppose it’s true that my 20’s wouldn’t have been a real 20’s experience, but I still wish I would’ve known earlier. 🙂 Amen to this: “Here’s to making it all count in the future!”

  8. OMG Shelli!!! You really packed this post with some goodies!! OK, before I get to excited and carried away with my feedback let me just tell you, Happy Belated Birthday! I hope it was everything you knew it would be, my friend. 🙂

    Now, back to your lessons….I loved absolutely everything about this post. 1-10 was incredibly true! You wrote these to yourself, but I know plenty of people who can benefit from these great lessons. Many of them I’ve had to learn myself… who am I kidding… all of these I had to learn myself. 😀 Well, except the blonde lesson. 😉

    Would you say that many of these you learned writing your first novel or did life just kind of steer you to each one?

    I ask because I am currently working on my first novel and my first eBook. I’m hoping to have the eBook done first. (fingers crossed) Both of which are teaching me lesson I needed badly to learn. The main thing being patience. I needed a lot of that, and boy am I getting my share.

    There are so many things that I would tell my younger self… right after a smack across the noggin. 😀 I would tell myself to go after “it” now and stop letting people tell me that it’s not possible for me. I would tell myself to trust my intuition as well. I simply didn’t do that enough. I would scream #6 at my younger self. And tell me to stop trying to please people. That will NEVER work out the way that I plan for it too.

    There are certainly more, but that would be a post in itself.

    I really enjoyed this read though. Thank you for sharing these fine lessons with the rest of us. Good stuff here!! 🙂

    1. Hi Deeone! Thanks for the birthday wishes, you awesome man! Yes, it was great ~ 25 always is, year after year 😉 Thanks for the fab compliments, too. I learned some lessons through writing and a lot through just living & making all kinds of mistakes, some of the same ones, sadly, over and over again. Patience is a hard one; I still haven’t learned it. I tell my husband I’m making progress; he says, “No, you’re not.” ~ lol. Thanks for your list, too ~ trust your intuition is one I would’ve been screaming at my younger self, too. 🙂

  9. Happy Birthday, sweetie! I just celebrated mine a few weeks ago. Are we both Aquarians? Wonderful!

    This is a fabulous post. I’m tweeting it out and printing it off.


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  11. Hi Shelli, I just came across your page by chance, really, and you won’t believe how refreshing it was to read this. I’m 20 right now, and everything you said made sense and resonated in me in some way or another.
    And I’m taking these lessons to lead me to more happiness. You’re lovely, thank you and happy birthday!! Please write more pieces like this, I know my future me will be most grateful to you.

    I wish you lots of happiness, love and health.

    1. Hi Marinna! Thank you for the fabulous compliments & all the good wishes! You don’t know how happy it makes me to read that you’re 20 & coming across this now, that it resonated with you. I really hope & wish for you that the things you read will lead you to more happiness. *hugs* 🙂

  12. Hello Shelli,

    Great list, however in my opinion all the mistakes we have made during the learning curve called life shaped us to exactly what we are today.
    Thank you for sharing!


  13. I really love the advice. So true & I wish I knew when I was 20 & struggling to make sense of this world.

  14. What a powerful and beautiful list! Took me a long time to get #4. I always allowed others to dim my light. Whew! Glad that’s a thing of the past because the best thing we can do for ourselves and others is let our light shine bright! Thanks for these wonderful reminders 🙂

    1. Hi Ingrid! *waves* Thanks so much for the compliment! I completely agree about dimming your light, the best thing you can do for everybody is to let yourself shine bright! 🙂

  15. Deja Vu! I had to grin at your comment about being 25 again! When I turned 30 I thought it was the end of the world and my life was over! A good friend suggested I simply celebrate the 1st anniversary of my 29th birthday. I could handle that…and did so for the next 5 years! Fortunately, I finally realized that life beyond 30 was pretty good after all. I’d hesitate to reveal how “anniversaries” have past since that point in time, but let’s just say it’s been a good journey and keeps getting better! As I’ve discovered over the years, and you so clearly point out, if there is ANYTHING to be learned along our individual journeys, it is the one simple fact that it’s never too late to explore new avenues and adventures. Enjoyed this post!

    1. Hi Peggy! *waves* Yes, I decided 25 was a good number. I used to jump around and be different (always younger than my actual!) ages, but then it got confusing. So now I just keep celebrating 25. 😀 I’m so glad to hear it’s been a good journey and keeps getting better; for me, too. Like you, though, I don’t see the need to reveal just how many anniversaries it’s been. Cheers!

    1. Hi August! *waves* Thanks for the lovely birthday wishes. I must say 25 (over and over!) is fabulous. 😀 I’m glad this post spoke to you; that always makes me happy to hear.

  16. Homie if could rewind the hands of time,

    I would never have dated that 6 year girlfriend of mine,
    I would have never put my mouth on that nine
    I would have told my parents to let me shine
    I would have stood strong for friends that stood the test of time
    I would never have dashed those times that i dined
    I would have had the courage to speak my mind
    Above all i would have aged properly like fine wine


  17. As the 20 year old you speak of, it’s great to read things like this. It’s amazing to me some of the things my mother has been telling me for years and I am just noticing ring true now. Wise woman. Trust me this helps and hopefully my mind will take all this into consideration over the course of my life! Thanks for taking the time to reach out to us “less wise” generation.

  18. Looking at your photo there is no way you’re 25. Let alone 25 “again”. Sorry, don’t believe you! Love the advice to yourself, especially #10. I need to remember that one.

    1. Hi Melinda! *waves* Awww, you’re sweet. Yes, I’ve been 25 for several years (though, I’m not saying how many :D). Yes, #10 is one that I often remind myself of, too. Cheers!

  19. Shelli, terrific words of wisdom – now how do I pass them on to my tall sons (18 & 21)? LOL…thanks! And yeah – if you’re celebrating 25 again, then woman, I aspire to be you! Cheers hon, from one February baby to another (I’m the 17th)!

    1. Hi Christine! No advice on passing on words of wisdom, sorry to say. Sadly, my boys don’t much listen to me either. 🙂 Happy belated birthday to you, too! (Just FYI ~ you can celebrate 25 over and over again, too ~ lol)

  20. This is a fantastic exercise. I think I want to steal the idea and make my own blog post. I think it would probably be VERY different from yours, and that’s the fun of it. I’ll be sure and link to this blog if I do.

        1. Okay, that was awesome. I especially love this line: “Life’s not all about the trains, man.” I wish my 20-year-old self would’ve known some of the things on your list, too (especially the Apple stock :D). Thanks for sharing!

  21. Wow! This is really good advice. I feel very inspired!!! And as I’m not even 20 yet, it helps even more. Thanks! =)

  22. Pingback: 11 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20 « Brock Heasley

  23. I came across this site on StumbleUpon while avoiding doing my homework. Ironically, it was posted the day after my 20th birthday! I found the advice inspiring, and comes from a much more personal place and meant a lot more than the generic sites which say similar things. Of course I have told myself many of these things and tried to live by them such as “don’t let fear hold you back from anything”, but reading this gives an extra push of confidence and support. You’re a great writer, thank you for this piece!

    1. Hi Amy! Well, there’s something to be said for avoiding homework. 😀 Thanks for the fabulous compliment. I am SO happy that you’re finding this when you’re 20 & that you found it inspiring. That just made my evening. Happy belated birthday & cheers to you!

  24. I needed this. I just came across this article from a friend who posted it on facebook…and there is really no better time that I could have read this. I’m 21 and I’m slowly starting to realize all of the things you talked about. ‘the guy you’ll date for 2 years who will shatter you heart’ wow…too relevant for words (heart shattering happened today). Never settling and remembering it is my life, no one else’s is my new motto. I just applied for a study abroad program that I never thought I would have the guts to actually do. Thanks for writing this, it warmed my heart and I needed to read it. I hope many more people get to read this and hope it hits home just like me.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Dayna! *waves wildly* You are most welcome. I am so glad that you’re 21 & reading this now & that it hit home for you, truly I am. I’m sorry that your heart got shattered but happy that your new motto is that it’s your life & nobody else’s. Big congrats on applying for the study-abroad program. I really hope you’re able to go. I did that years ago & loved it. I hope you will, too. Cheers!

  25. It took me a long time to figure out some of these, especially #2. When we’re young we seem to have a naive tendency to be a little egocentric, I think, and believe that the people we encounter mirror most of our beliefs and ideas. Since I am open minded and kindhearted I thought everyone else must be, too. I passed out a lot of second and third and ninth chances back in the day. 😉

    I’ve also learned that the very, very best things can often be found on the other side of fear.

    Thanks for your list.

    1. Hi Trina! *waves* I love your comment because it’s so true and a great way to put it. When we’re young, we tend to believe that people “mirror most of our beliefs and ideas” and so we give them a pass when they behave badly. I used to do that, too, chalk it up to they’re having a bad day and gave lots of chances. I still give out second chances for certain things but not more than that usually. I especially love this: “the very, very best things can often be found on the other side of fear.” Amen to that. 🙂

  26. “Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
    -Ocsar Wilde

    I have recently started living by this wonderful quote from Wilde and only wish that I had this insight when I was 20.
    I feel that it is especially applicable to #6 & #9. After all, life is too long to be unhappy.

    1. Hi Jess! *waves* To be honest, I’ve never heard this quote & need to think about for a moment. Most people would say life is too short to be unhappy. Although, I could see how no matter how long we’re here, we shouldn’t waste it being unhappy.

      1. I know it is different: but the way I see it is you should never settle. Sometimes it seems easiest to just stay in the same place, or in the same relationship. But when you really think about it, getting married to someone when you are *25* means that you will (hopefully) be spending at least the next 50 years with that person. That is 2x as long as you have even been on this earth…
        When you think of it in those terms, it makes sense. Don’t settle for a job you don’t love, or a person that doesn’t adore you; because committing to something for a term longer than you have existed it quite daunting if you’re not into it 100%.
        So take the risk of moving across the country, changing jobs, going back to school, telling someone how you feel, because it is never to late- or early- to make a change.

        1. I had to think about it to understand what it was saying, yes about never settling & too, I think, about learning from your mistakes. I, too, wish I’d known that when I was 20 & so I am adding it to the list. And what you say is absolutely true about time, which I don’t think (at least I didn’t) most people consider when they’re 20 years old: picking a job or mate they adore because they’re going to be committed for a long time. And amen to this: “it’s never too late- or early- to make a change”; people (myself included) sometimes forget that, too. 🙂

  27. Martin Erskine

    Still reading but….No3, c’mon, easy to say when your drop dead gorgeous anyway!!

    Tongue firmly in cheek.


  28. Great post, I’m amazed you’ve realised all this stuff by 25! I think I was well into my 40’s before I became so self aware. Now that I’m about to hit the big 5 – 0, it’s time for me to look back over what I’ve learned over the last half century – should be interesting!

    1. Hi Mal! *waves* I’m much older than 25. I just celebrate 25 over and over again so I don’t have to tell people how old I really am. 🙂 Happy 50th to you! If you write a post about what you’ve learned, let me know. Cheers!

  29. I’m 20 years old, and I wish to sear these thoughts onto my heart. I’ve learned a few of these through trial and error, but this is a succinct list that I want to post on every door on my campus. Such good advice!

    Peace my dear.

    1. Hi Carly! *waves* You don’t know how happy it makes me that you’re 20 & hearing this now & wanting to sear it onto your heart. Makes me smile. 🙂 Cheers & peace to you, too.

  30. I’m 22 and this was a great read. I’m going through a lot right now and I’m glad I “stumbled” upon this. Will be bookmarking it for reminders.

    The one I most took away is the “you are responsible for your own happiness”. That sat very well. 🙂

  31. What wonderful insight! Soon I will celebrate my 22nd anniversary of turning 20. And what tidbit of wisdom I can add is, Life gets better when you let it….stop self sabotaging. Everyone deserves their moment of grace. Forgive yourself. And if ya can’t get over it, get help to get through it…love and peace to you!

    1. Hi Christine! *waves* Thanks so much for the fab compliment. I love your insight ~ Everyone deserves their moment of grace. Forgive yourself. ~ and will add it to the list. 🙂

  32. If I could speak to myself at twenty, I’d tell her to go ahead and buy that Greyhound ticket to LA and live your dream. Don’t listen to those doubters. The burning desire in our heart wont be satisfied until we do.

    1. Hi Desiree! *waves* What fabulous advice. It will be promptly added to the list. That’s so true that the burning desire doesn’t get satisfied until you do. 🙂

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  34. I am 20, and this list was very inspirational and will be taken into consideration when in doubt needs to be. Currently numbers 1 and 2 are two that I can strongly relate to, as much as I don’t like to admit it. But life is a learning experience. This list is great advice, I am happy I came across it before I went through life experiencing most if not all on the list. Thank you.

  35. Anhtuan Doventry

    Love, love, love it!!

    My wife sent it to me.

    On 9, I’d totally add, sometimes that hand is your own.

    I love, love, love it all though!!

    1. Hi Anhtuan! *waves* Thanks so much for the fab compliment & for the add “sometimes that hand is your own” because that’s so true. It’ll be added to the list. 🙂

  36. Hi
    I turned 21 few weeks back and since the day I joined stumbleupon and started stumbling self improvement , I’ve truly found many good things and I’ve become better. If I can go back and talk to my younger self I will say three things

    1. Hi Rick! *waves* Happy belated birthday to you! I’m so glad to hear that you’ve become better. Thanks so much for your additions; they will be added to the list. Cheers!

  37. Accept yourself for who you are today!
    I don’t mean anyone should stop building upon who they are already. Sure, go on a diet, go to school and get better education. Love yourself today for who you are.
    I would say if I looked like this or did that, then I could be happier with myself. In the meantime several decades have gone by and I was still saying the same thing and missing out on just how special I really am. And just by being me!
    I mean this in every way.

  38. I know I’m coming a bit late to the game, but I would tell my 20 year old self to keep being awesome and keep doing what he wants. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t do all the stuff I did (which being a family man with a real job and life I would never admit to or mention now). Have fun and live hard.

    1. Hi Ryno!

      Okay, I love your advice. How many people would tell their younger selves to keep being their awesome selves? Kudos to you for doing so. Ha, ha, yes you’re not the first who wouldn’t admit to all the stuff he did. 😀

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  40. I feel like number 5 and 8 contradict number 1. I am 21 years old and I love golf. My dream is to be a pro golfer, however I practice at least 6 hours a day 6 days a week but I don’t get any better. So what you’re saying is #1 don’t be insane stop doing the same thing and expect different results. But #5 and #8 say don’t settle and chase your dreams. So do I continue working on pursuing my dream job and the one thing that makes me happy or should I give it up?

    1. Hi Jack!

      Well, I’d start off by saying that I can’t tell you what to do with your life. The don’t settle and chase your dream parts I wish I’d known because you only get one life. The sum total of that life is the choices you make. What you choose to trade that life for is up to you. I know a lot of 20-year-olds don’t think about it that way; I know I didn’t when I was 20. I wish I had. I would’ve made different and better choices, more suited to making myself happy.

      And I’d also say to you: if that’s your dream, being a pro golfer, then you should follow it. If you’re not seeing results with the six hours that you’re practicing, then maybe consider taking lessons from a golf pro. And if you’re already taking lessons and not seeing improvement then look at what else you need to do (study the masters, read biographies of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, etc.). I can tell you, too, from having interviewed a billionaire a while back, that if you want to succeed, you have to have a singular focus on your goal.

      Mind you, I know nothing at all about golf. But I can tell you from my experience with writing that just simply writing and writing and writing without having some sort of guidance isn’t what made me a better writer. It helped, sure, but I needed to learn how to be better at my craft from others who had more experience than me.

      Hope that helps!

    2. Thank you for responding so quickly and with a great answer! I will certainly be saving your comment and I will try to apply it to my singular goal in life.
      Thanks again!

  41. I turned 25 recently and came across this. Thank you for posting this. Your posts have taught me not to be afraid, to explore, to do pottery and not fit into what my mother or father expect of me. It’s time to live for myself and my mental happiness. Thank you lots of love x

    1. Hi Ameerah! *waves*

      Happy birthday recently! I’m so glad that you found this post helpful & that you’re choosing to live life for yourself & your mental happiness. Makes me smile to hear that. 🙂

    1. Hi Teo! *waves*

      I’m so happy you’re in your 20s & getting this advice now. Makes me happy to hear that. 🙂 I am fantastic, thanks. Hope you are too. Cheers!

  42. Thank God I am doing fine too! I just published my second book on Amazon actually, it’s called The Pains of Rebirth 🙂 Have a nice w-end! Teo

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