20 Things I Learned From My 20s

With 3 decades of life and experience under my belt now, it’s a time to look back and reflect, and to look ahead and hope.

I’ve gone through several large life changes, including moving across the country from Ohio to Colorado for a PhD program, leaving said PhD program after 2 years of soul searching and deciding it wasn’t for me, making a leap to a new and exciting career field, hiking 6 “fourteeners“,  moving across the country again to Connecticut for the hubs job, moving up from $14/hour to 50K+ per year in salary, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house from 1000 miles away, and moving YET AGAIN to my dream state of North Carolina.

Gosh, that’s a long list.

It’s weird to see it all put together like that. But honestly, that is sort of how I always imagined my life would play out. As a kid, I was known as “the gypsy” because I loved going new places. I loved visiting my grandparents, my aunt, and traveling. I loved sleep overs and flea markets and vacations. When I sat still, I sat the hell still and read books for 8 hours. But when I wanted to move, I was gone.

There are many things in my life that I definitely do not regret.

I’m glad I moved around so much, lived in over 30 different houses and apartments, met many many people, tried different courses and careers, and had tons of great experiences. I’m thankful my parents taught me a lot about money, to pay yourself first, and to be on guard against predatory credit card lending (I did get a few free t-shirts, for sure, but I never carried a balance).

At the same time, there are many things I regret too. Like not opening a Roth IRA the second I was legally allowed to, going on several expensive vacations that could have been put towards paying off loans faster, and not negotiating any of my salaries.

People love to give advice, but like Baz Luhrman said:“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth”.

So without further ado, here is some of my past, wiped off and ugly parts painted over, hopefully for your education and amusement:

  1. Life is all about progress, not perfection
  2. This too shall pass
  3. Change can be scary but it is so worth it
  4. You’ll regret the risks you don’t take more than the ones you do
  5. “Marry your best friend” isn’t trite, it’s true
  6. Relationships are everything
  7. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. (Unless we’re talking about fruit flies. They LOVE apple cider vinegar)
  8. Any # of dollars is more than zero dollars in investments
  9. Flattery will get you everywhere
  10. Balance in all things, including balance
  11. GET MOVING, start a regular exercise plan ASAP
  12. Your mom knows what’s up: eat your damn veggies
  13. That which isn’t tracked and measured cannot be improved
  14. Don’t fear failure, or feel the fear and do it anyway
  15. Make the world around you a better place than you found it
  16. Someone always has it better, someone always has it worse
  17. NEGOTIATE YOUR SALARY, BROS, and don’t be afraid to job hop
  18. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish
  19. If at first you don’t succeed… try, try again
  20. Life is a marathon, not a sprint

These may seem superficial, or useless to you. You will hear tons of advice, most of it well-meaning. Your job is to accept and put into practice those things which make sense and improve your life, while weeding out and filing away those things which do not serve you.

I do know that I wish someone had told me in my 20s that I was doing a lot of things right by cooking at home almost all the time, having a budget and meal planning, not giving a damn what others thought and not spending tons of money on beauty products, and avoiding going out partying to the bars (it is way cheaper to have a potluck or drink a bottle of wine at home with friends!).

I wish someone had shown me how easy it is to set up a retirement account and start putting money into it, even tiny amounts. I totally did force my younger sister to open a brokerage account, even though she can only put away $25/month right now. It’s more than zero! And she will have more than me saved by the time she is 30. And I wish I had actually bought a house sooner, so I could have rental properties in 3 different states! And perhaps have been a bit smarter about my daily commute…

I cannot tell you how to live your life, nor would I want to. I never listen to anyone who tries to tell me how to live mine. Adulting is hella hard, but the rewards are worth it. Every stage of life has its own challenges and its own beauty. All I can tell you is that this life we live is one crazy ride, hang on tight and regardless of how bad or how good it gets, each day is indeed a gift.


What have you learned so far in life? Anything you definitely do, or do not, regret from your younger years?

11 thoughts on “20 Things I Learned From My 20s”

  1. I think ‘fake it till you make it’ is basically how all of us are going through life, haha. Nobody else knows what the hell they’re doing, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that it’s okay to be in the same boat. It’s okay to not know. 🙂

    Definitely spot on about the risks you don’t take, though. It was a risk for me to take a job at a start-up. I got laid off after less than a year. By that measure, it didn’t pan out – it was a failure. But I’m so happy I took the risk.

    There are other things I wish I’d done, other risks I didn’t take, that I wish I had.

    1. YES sir, preach. We are all fakin it and sort of makin it haha 🙂

      Your layoff to best year ever story is super inspiring, I’m so happy your life turned around and is pretty sweet now. And you’ve learned a lot, which is what really matters in the long run.

  2. I agree with everything on your list except, “Marry your best friend”! I love my husband, but he doesn’t beat my BFF who’s known me since I was 14! But I recognize everyone will have a different experience.

    My one thing I wish I had done (like you) is buy a house. In my early 20s I was living in a great commuter town in Boston that was up and coming. I KNOW real estate there would have been a good buy. Sigh. You live and learn.

    Also, thank you so much for linking to my post! I’m so passionate about negotiating salaries and appreciate spreading the word.

    1. That’s a good point Luxe! I don’t have a life-long bestie person, and we knew each other and were super close friends for a year prior to dating, so that’s why it applies to me 🙂 I’m so happy you have that super close friend, AND a husband, that’s twice as cool.
      Live and learn indeed… I like to console myself with thinking how obnoxious it would be to have been an out-of-state investor with management companies, etc, and how ridiculously little of a down payment I could have come up with at the time.
      YES girl! Thanks for writing it!

  3. I was (and totally still am) that kid – nonstop moving until I sit down and spend countless hours reading a book. Though now that is for after the kiddo’s bedtime, so no more day long reading marathons where you finally look up and have to remind yourself what century and planet you’re on.

    And now I’m off to badger my 18YO brother about setting up a Roth.

    1. Thanks for stopping by April! I agree, isn’t it funny how we ignore and rage against the advice, and then when we get to the age of being able to dispense it we are like… huh, why didn’t I listen gosh darn it?!?

  4. In a few weeks I’ll officially have four years left in my 20s (I’m resisting the urge to insert a scared face emoji here haha). I’m happy to report I’m doing pretty well on most of these things. Especially since I’m in the middle of #17 for the first time ever and therefore #14 as well. Better late than never!

    #20 is something I need lots of work on though. I want things to happen now! But I have time. And almost 26 isn’t old.

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