Self Improvement

10 Things I Wish I Knew in My 20s

I don’t pine over the mistakes I made in my 20s, but looking back, there’s so much I would have done differently. It’s amazing to think about how much life has changed from my 20s to my early 30s and now, my mid-30s. Here are a few things I wish I knew back in my 20s.

Everything’s going to be ok

I spent most of my 20s worrying about the future. Where my career would go and when I’d get married and have kids. I wish I had worried less, embraced where I was, and that I knew everything was going to be better than ok.

Timelines are stupid

Learning to let go of timelines was a tough one. I struggled through this until my early 30s and had to be married by 28 and have my first baby by 30. I got married at 35 and will be having a baby a few months before my 36th birthday. It’s crazy to think that the way my life turned out is what I was afraid of. I moved from LA to Chicago, started and grew a business, and spent years living on my own. I did not want to get married and have a baby at 35 (my self-proclaimed “scary age”) but that’s exactly what was in the cards for me, and it’s not scary at all.

Relationships shouldn’t be so difficult

This goes for all kinds of relationships. If you have one of those really difficult friends you’re always fighting with, it’s time to reevaluate that friendship. I’ve talked about this before, but I spent most of my 20s in a rocky, up-and-down, verbally abusive relationship. We broke up and got back together too many times to count. Looking back, can’t believe I gave that guy more than 5 minutes. If you have to try really hard to get along or make things work before life gets really real, it’s time to call it quits.

Trust your gut

If you’re dating someone and don’t fully trust them or know it won’t go anywhere but just want to give the guy (or girl) a shot because they’re so “great” (except they’re not), walk away. Don’t waste your time on people who don’t deserve it.

Sleep in

I used to go out until 2AM and sleep in until 11. Then I entered my 30s and sleeping until 9 became really, really late. Enjoy sleeping in while you can.

Stick to a budget

At 28, my rent was about $300 more than it should have been. My graphic design business made enough to pay for the essentials, but I bought stupid outfits (there was a pink striped sequin shirt) and went out with friends. I never bought anything I couldn’t pay off at the end of the money but could have done a much better job at budgeting and putting even a little money away. Work toward your goals but don’t freak out if you’re not making as much as others around you.

Learn to spend time with yourself

Before moving to Chicago, I was always really bad at doing things on my own. I was never really the go out to lunch alone type simply because I’d rather share that experience with someone. Tried it, and it wasn’t for me. But spending 4/5 years living on my own taught me to learn to love days and nights to myself. Morning walks by the lake, cooking, hanging with buddy, and sole possession of the remote control.

Take care of yourself

Ok, so I did most of this but it’s such an important reminder that I’m going to say it anyway. You’re young and healthy, right? Great. Don’t skip your annual skin check with the dermatologist (I had a pre-cancerous mole removed in my 20s!), see your dentist twice a year, and don’t forget your annual physical. Splurging on your favorite treatis fine but follow a mostly healthy diet and don’t skip meals, but do skip all those soft drinks.

Slow down

It’s so easy to keep going out when you don’t feel up for it, to say yes to that extra project, and to keep pushing until you get shingles (those are still a thing, trust me). I wish I had been a regular CrossFitter and not an overzealous one who tracked every score and had to work out 5x a week.

Know that it’s never going to be perfect

I spent so much time wishing I had something that I thought was missing, but life is never perfect. Everyone’s lives look so ideal on instagram but trust me when I tell you that we all have our sh*t. Learn to be happy with what you have and with where you are. And remember that all the things you want might bring lots of happiness, but they will not complete you.

What else would you add to this list? And what’s something you did in your 20s that you’re glad you did? 

23 comments
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  • Thanks for this. I’m 22 and no one warns you how challenging it is just figuring everything out at this age.

    1. I’ll let you in on a little secret, Megan: You’ll never have everything figured out. I’m twice your age. It’s a constant journey. Where you are is where you need to be. xo

  • This is a great list. I’m 35 as well, and I’d add that I’m glad that I did things in my 20’s that scared me (in a good way) in that they pushed me outside my comfort zone, like moving away from my hometown and going to graduate school. And I’ll reconfirm that “Everything is going to be okay” advice, but “okay” doesn’t necessarily mean “and I’ll still have done everything I wanted, just maybe at a later age than expected.” You can still not have achieved everything you want personally and professionally, but that doesn’t mean that you and your life aren’t okay–because it’s still your own special life and worth loving and protecting.

  • Such a great list, Danielle. I struggle with trusting my gut versus doing what I think people will like/judge/care about. But, in the end, whatever I’m doing/producing will be significantly better/worse depending on the intent and meaning behind it. Thanks so much for writing this – much needed, and some great, great reminders!

  • Great list Danielle, and even though I’m still in my 20’s (I’m 28) I still look back to my early 20’s and wish I relaxed a little bit with the timelines. Now that I have seen that what I thought needed to happen at a certain time didn’t happen only because I was not prepared for it, and when the time came, I was so grateful that it happened at that moment.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  • This is such a great (and right on point!) list – it’s like we are 2 peas in a pod. I had the same plans/worries and now I will be turning 37 this year, and everything worked out. Life caught up 🙂 I wish I slept in more and relaxed more often.

  • Hi Danielle, thank you for the post! I’m 27 and so much of this I’ve learned along the way and/ or still struggle with. I think the fear of the unknown is what I struggle with most. My husband (married last May) is an officer in the military and I’m a scientist for the gov. We currently live apart bc of our jobs. In a few months we will be back together but he gets moved every 3 years so it’s a struggle for a type A planner like me to be “go with the flow” knowing I can’t have a 3 or 5 year plan. Also the pressure from his family to have baby is insane! And then wanting to space our kids out. And then knowing I can’t have it all- I didn’t get a PhD and masters for nothing! I think my biggest stressor moving towards 30 is the constant balancing act that is life.

    1. I can’t imagine how hard it is living apart but it’s so exciting you’ll be together again soon. In the defense of life, I’m not sure how many of us can REALLY have a 3-5 year. And you need to tell his family to (nicely) back off. Don’t stress! You have time!

  • I always tell the younger dolls in my life that your 20’s “don’t count”. By that I mean, it’s the time to be silly & make mistakes (while you can still bend that way! lol) & take risks. When you get older, you won’t even remember half of the things you did then. I was wild & danced on bars & was silly & free. I got it out of my system. I don’t miss it one bit. But I always DID take care of my health & teeth. That always matters!!

  • You wrote this at the perfect time! I’m currently struggling between 2 great job opportunities and no clue what I’m going to do or want to do! Gah! Why does this have to be so difficult?! I fear whatever I choose I will always wonder the what if or where would I be if i chose the other path. BUT as you said whatever I choose it probably won’t be perfect, but it will be OK (I hope) – and for that I thank you!

    1. I was in between Chicago and Nashville and was so torn since I could easily have gone to either one. In the end, Chicago just felt right. And no, nothing is perfect (or permanent), but it’s about choosing what feels right for you!

  • Danielle thank you so much for sharing! I’m (just) 28, and find myself worrying about timelines a lot. It’s great to get a reminder, that everyones’ journeys will look unique, and that it’s FAR more important to focus on the ‘how’ and ‘with whom’ than the ‘time by’.

    Monica x

  • Hi Danielle, this was such a great read! I’m 33 and my boyfriend of three years and I have just decided to part ways, which is good on many levels but also has me a little freaked out about my own timelines. This helps :-).

    1. I know how hard breakups are but a breakup is easier than marrying the wrong person and eventually having to deal with divorce, which happens all. the. time. And people get through that, too. You’re going to be better than ok 🙂

      1. Thank you so much for your kind words, I really appreciate it. I admit, I got pretty choked up when I read this, on the bus no less! Choked up in a good way :-). You are wonderful, Danielle!