Here’s What People Told Us They Wish They Knew In Their 20s

Life as a twenty-something is filled with immense change and growth. One moment you’re happily procrastinating in a share-house with five students and a rescue cat. The next, you’re setting countless expectations of yourself to get your dream job, find a life partner, or – dare we even say it – pop out kids.

This exciting but often uncertain time can get kind of stressful, so we sought the advice of people who have have been through it already. Whether their twenties were a year ago or twenty years ago, the power of hindsight is a wonderful thing. So let’s chill out for a moment and find comfort in their wisdom.

#1 Make your job work for you as much as you work for it

When applying for a job, being the right “fit” isn’t just about you having the right skills for the role. It’s also about you feeling comfortable with the organisation’s values and ways of working. Michelle, 41, wishes she had interrogated this more in the early stages of her career.

“Number one is understanding yourself, your values and your purpose,” she explains. “What’s this job going to do for me?”

Make an effort to find out more about the culture of the organisation you may be joining, whether that’s as part of the interview process or by asking people who you know that work there. Don’t like working overtime regularly? See what the hours and time-in-lieu arrangements are like. Want to work with a diverse group of people? Ask specific questions about the people who work there.

#2 Enjoy your good health, and look after it

There’s nothing wrong with having a good time, so enjoy your functioning metabolism while you’re young. As 30-year-old Robbie reflects, “I look back at my twenties and I literally did nothing to achieve that body. I ate so bad, and yet nothing would happen to it. Now I’m rocking a dad bod.”

“I wish I had known how important exercise is for improving my mental health.”

You can get away with more when you’re younger, but try to keep fit even if you’re not the athletic type. As Jessica, 31, explains, “I wish I had known how important exercise is for improving my mental health. I wasn’t motivated as a slim person who was really bad at sport.”

Looking after yourself when you’re younger will also help develop good habits and prevent health issues when you’re older.

#3 There’s no life plan

It’s easy to benchmark against the milestones reached by seemingly more successful and “together” friends. Thirty-year-old Chloe used to stress about buying a house, but has since shifted the way she thinks about money.

“It’s more about saving yourself a lot of stress in the day-to-day and having cash-flow,” she says. “It’s the basic stuff.”

With the multitude of dating apps and photos of cute couples photos clogging your Instagram feed, finding a romantic relationship can become an unhealthy preoccupation.

“It doesn’t mean anything about you if you haven’t found love at a certain point,” explains Chloe. Plus, if you do find love, there’s a whole lot more to life after that. What if the person you love gets sick? If you can’t have kids? Or your parents-in-law are a nightmare? Be proactive, but let things run their course too. There’s only so much you can control.


#4 Avoid placing limitations on yourself

With a protracted youth that extends well beyond the teenage years, you’re spending a lot of your twenties working out exactly who you are. Treat this an opportunity to challenge yourself. As Michelle explains, there’s a tendency to self-select out of certain tasks because it’s just not “you”.

“I’m the one who manages the bills and finances for the family and I had a misconception that that wasn’t me,” she explains. Becoming financially literate is an indispensable skill from which you’ll reap rewards in the long term.

You don’t have to limit your perception of a career either – not everybody has to go to uni, find a sturdy nine-to-five and climb the same ladder for several years. Allow yourself to be creative if you want to. Travel the world! Change university degrees five times!

As Yvette, 45, reflects, “I wish I had known that it didn’t have to be one or the other – artistic pursuit or travel – I could have opened my mind and pursued both.”

Jessica agrees. “I wish I had known that careers are flexible, they evolve. Be open to possibilities you may not have thought of.”

#5 You can choose who you let into your life

There are relationships we’re obliged to maintain; those frustrating but well-intentioned family members, or that professional colleague who you find difficult to deal with. Sometimes, though, we forget that we don’t have to maintain friendships if they’re unhealthy or just not meaningful anymore. Whether you’re keeping these relationships for nostalgia’s sake or because you’re hopeful you can make it work, your 50-year-old self is going to look back and wonder why you bothered.

As Yvette explains, “Some people are not worth your love, time or generosity. It’s better to give more to the people who really matter.” This becomes even more important as you get older, as Michelle explains; “time becomes really precious and your energy becomes really precious.”

#6 We’re all making this up

Part of growing up is learning to build confidence in yourself. Mike, 55, advises to trust your instincts.

“Do what you want to do, not what you are told you should do,” he says. “Wherever you end up will be through your own decisions. You’ll be able to look back and see why certain things happened, and not blame others if a situation didn’t work out for the best.”

At the same time, you don’t navigate this all on your own. Reach out when you need help whether it’s from a colleague, friend, or therapist.

It’s a nice idea to think that everything will suddenly become clear the moment you hit 30. But you never really become an expert, you just get better and more comfortable with making informed decisions.

“Nobody really knows what’s going on,” explains Chloe. “Everyone’s just trying to figure it out, as clichéd as that is.”

Chelsea McIver is a freelance writer and editor based in Melbourne. Her work appears in titles including VICE, Junkee, Broadsheet and The Big Issue. Tweet her @ChelseaMcIver