Our twenties are a rocky and unpredictable time of life for most of us. We are out of college, just starting our careers, managing money, and trying to sort out our love life maturely (gulp!). Depending on what hits you, it’s easy to wallow in directionless despair or distract yourself by focusing on the wrong things.
But luckily, we can turn to older and wiser women for help.
Experience really is the best teacher, so I asked thirty different women over 30 the same question: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self? And they passed on loads of wisdom! They’ve lived through it all and are thriving now as mothers, entrepreneurs, life coaches, authors, lawyers, philanthropists, CEOs, and total wonder women.
Here’s what they had to say about having confidence and self-respect, finding a man, starting out your career, dealing with stress, managing money, looking your best, staying humble and healthy, protecting your heart, preserving your health, and bonding with your all-time girl squad.
Trust that you know what’s best for you.
“Experiences and people that make you feel awful and less aren’t meant for you. You don’t have to struggle to keep them. You aren’t required to stay there. You are allowed to pursue what feels good and true.” —Steph L.
“I would tell my twentysomething self to stand up for [herself]. I would firmly tell her she does not have to accept what makes her feel bad and she knows is wrong. She is right about how she feels and what she wants from life. Don’t ever defer to someone else about your feelings and wants.” —Andrea T.
“Ensure you’re passionate about what you’re doing above all else, and when you do end up in the workforce, always trust your gut instinct and never bend or change yourself to try and fit in with others. Sometimes the best thing you can do to honor your values and beliefs is to stand alone.” —Sarah J.
Learn how to love yourself before anyone else.
“If I could whisper in my ear when I was 20, the wisdom I’d share is to develop my relationship with myself first. That to have healthy relationships with others requires me to accept myself, to honor myself, and to love myself. I can only be a giving and loving person to others by first caring for my own mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.” —Patty B.
“There is no such thing as a perfect person, and expecting perfection of ourselves is unrealistic and adds to low self-esteem. Love your flaws, love your quirks, love every ounce of who you are. It’s those flaws and quirks that add to your value because they make you who you are.” —Sarah C.
“Self-confidence is ultimately only going to come from within. I spent most of my twenties making everyone around me happy and did not put myself first. I wasn’t able to really find a good balance until I finally felt comfortable in my own skin and to make myself a priority. At the end of the day, the only person that can truly empower [you] is yourself, and if you are good with who you are, self-esteem will naturally arise.” —Emily W.
Know your professional worth, and never settle.
“You don’t have to work in a field you don’t like for so long. You have far more choices than you think, far more talent than you give yourself credit [for], and you have or will find all the tools you need to succeed.” —Francesca M.
“I would tell my younger self every opportunity that comes your way isn’t an opportunity for you. Know your value. When I was starting out in my career, I was so eager to work. In one instance, I was so enamored by the client’s reputation that I reduced my rate. In retrospect, it wasn’t worth it. Because I failed to know my value, the client took advantage of me.” —Frowsa B.
“My advice would be to always negotiate. At my first real job, I did not negotiate my salary. Later on, I found out I was the least paid on the team even though I was the team lead and employee of the year out of three thousand national employees.” —Tina S.
“Look around as you interview: Are the people and their attitudes similar to you? Does the physical workspace and the manner in which people treat one another seem kindred to how you want to live your life? Asking yourself these questions will save you grief and allow you to make wiser decisions at the time when they are most important.” —Tyler B.
Spend less time worrying and more time relaxing.
“Worry less, a lot less. I wasted so much time and energy on worrying about things that either weren’t as bad as I made them out to be or never even happened at all. And this is coming from someone with two different diagnosed anxiety disorders.” —Casey P.
“I would tell my younger self to relax. I stressed about my career, I worried about someone . . . I was dating. (Was he the one? Does he like me?) The stress didn’t serve me well. It’s something I continue to work on but am tenfold better at relaxing now.” —Antonia T.
Start saving money for the future now.
“I would tell my 20-year-old self to start saving for retirement the moment I got my first job. When you are 20, retirement feels a long way away. But as you get older, it creeps up on you, and those early years, even $10 a week would have made a difference.” —Jennifer B.
“Pay your bills on time or before the due date. Interest will drown you. Have a nest egg, an emergency fund, and live with less. Who are you trying to impress?” —Ronnika W.
Invest in fewer but higher-quality fashion items.
“Please stop spending so much money on frivolous things! Your H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 clothes are going to fall apart, or you will give them away, so buy a few nice pieces every year, and you’ll have them forever.” —Phyllis L.
“You don’t need nearly as many clothes as you think you do.” —Jaclyn W.
Stay humble, and ask for help when you need it.
“Shut up and let people mentor you! If I hadn’t been so arrogant, and let people mentor me as they wanted to, I would have had a lot less pain in my life. Don’t worry about what you’re ‘supposed’ to do or be. Let yourself live. And when people try to help you, allow them to do so.” —Carlota Z.
“Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t get too big to answer. Never think that you will reach some place where you’ve ‘made it’ and suddenly you’ll have permission to do what it is that you want. You have to be that permission for yourself right from the beginning.” —Kerry G.
Protect your body and mind for lifelong health.
“If I were to go back and give my twentysomething self some advice, it would be that I should prioritize getting enough sleep. If I had been better-rested, I know I would have been functioning at full capacity and showing up as the best version of myself every day.” —Leslie F.
“You can seek help outside of yourself. Therapy is good for the soul. One way to break free from the trauma of the past is to find an unbiased ear to provide the emotional and mental support you need.” —Myesha T.
“Develop a relationship with a primary care doctor. I continued my ‘sick visits only’ policy well into my twenties, never learning how to develop an ongoing, trusting relationship with a medical professional. I wish I had invested in preventative health and medical relationships much sooner.” —Natasha W.
Find your ride-or-die girl squad.
“Make genuine woman friends. If you do not have a true female friend in your thirties, life will be very difficult. Sure, your mother or sister can help, but a non-blood-related aspect will always add more perspective.” —Charu B.
“When you are 30, you understand that your best friends are those you met before you’re 25. Later, it becomes more difficult to trust new people and open yourself to them.” —Lesley V.
“Let go of toxic friendships. Don’t tolerate anyone who tries to demean you. Good friends will build you up. Bad friends will cut you down. Sometimes you grow out of friendships, just like old clothes or shoes. And that’s OK.” —Meredith J.
“The people you surround yourself with and making friends any chance you can get will grow you so much more than ever trying to go it alone. Be a really good friend.” —Kerry G.
Stop overthinking. Take a risk and just try.
“Don’t be afraid to try. What’s the worst that could happen? The worst answer you could get is no, and that’s OK. At least that’s an answer, and it’s better than not ever knowing.” —Melissa K.
“You don’t always have to play it safe. The most interesting and exciting things you’ll experience in your personal and professional life will be a direct result of pushing through fear and taking risks. Forcing yourself to be brave, to work through the things that scare you will make you a better, more interesting person.” —Jaclyn W.
“Don’t wait for tomorrow. If there’s a challenge you want to tackle or a summit you want to climb, do it today.” —Krista C.
Wait for a man with a good heart.
“Stop looking for Mr. Right and start looking for Mr. Righteous. When you’re with someone who is committed to always doing the right thing and makes it a badge of honor to focus on the needs of his wife and family, it’s a formula for success that can’t be beat.” —Christine T.
“The dating advice I would have given my 20-year-old self is to set your standards and then not stray from them. To not be distracted by good looks and a nice car but instead be more focused on how well-mannered he is, how he treats me, how driven he is to be successful in life, and how respectful he is.” —Jessica C.