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5 Things I Wish I Knew at 22

04/22/2015 11:08 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015
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When you are 22, good advice is hard to come by. Why? Because in your 20s, everyone wants you to make decisions that serve their needs. Your parents want you to pursue a high paying career because they (understandably) are tired of supporting you. Your friends and family want you to marry someone that they like. If your friends are all having babies, they want you to do the same so you can have barbeques and talk about strollers together! As a result, you end up getting a lot of bad advice while you figure out your career, look for Mr. or Mrs. Right, and at the same time, attempt not to do anything too stupid.

Since I don't know you (and I'm old enough to be your mother), I'm going to give you some useful life advice that benefits only you. I'll probably be the only person to do this ... well, other than your commencement speaker, if you happen to be graduating from college. And let's face it, commencement speech advice typically isn't about you either, but about your obligation to serve others (which is a valid point, but again, is not really about you).

So here are 5 things I wish someone had told me when I was 22:

1. Don't Have Children in Your 20s. Your life, as you now know it, will end when you have children. Once you have a child, every decision you make begins with the following question: How will this affect my child? If the answer is "poorly," then you don't do it. It's just that simple. Your 20s are a time when life should be about YOU. You need to get your selfish ways out of your system before you have kids or get married, which leads me to my next bit of advice...

2. Don't Get Married in Your 20s. Before you get married, you need to be an adult. Being an adult doesn't happen simply because you turn 18. Being an adult occurs when you have a steady job, pay your own bills, keep a tidy apartment, do your own laundry, cook your own meals and live for at least a little while by yourself. It takes time to establish yourself both professionally and financially. It takes even longer to develop good personal habits that aren't solely the result of your mother yelling, "For heaven's sake, make your bed!" Until you can do these things on your own, you aren't ready to share a life or a bank account with another human being.

3. Find Work That You Love. The worst advice you will get is to pick a profession because they now are hiring in that field, or because it is lucrative. Do what you love because if you love your work, you'll be thinking about it all the time. You constantly will be trying to get better at it. That is the way you become the best at something. When you are the best, opportunities will come your way that you never would have dreamed of. Cesar Millan started out as a dog groomer because he loved working with dogs. He didn't go into dog grooming for the cash. But his love of dogs led to one amazing opportunity after another, and now he is known as an expert in dog psychology and is a household name. If you love what you do, you will rise to the top and naturally make money. If you do something that doesn't inspire you, you might be good at your job, but you'll never be great at it, and you'll be frustrated.

4. Your Happiness Is Your Responsibility. You are going to come across people who will tell you that it is your job to make them happy. Tell them to grow up. Or get lost. The same goes for you. Don't expect anyone else to make you happy. You need to figure out what makes you happy, and do it. Your responsibility to others is this: Don't be a problem. That means don't act like a jerk, create dramas, or otherwise get in the way of anyone else's pursuit of their own happiness.

5. Be a Good Person for No Reason At All. There is no paycheck for being a kind, decent, gentle person. You aren't going to get promoted for paying someone a compliment. We live in a world in which being good isn't overtly valued. Worse yet, we live in a world where critical people are perceived as clever, and rude people are considered to be powerful. Be good anyway. I cannot predict specifically how being good will work to your benefit, but I promise you that it will. You will be surprised. People remember kindness. And they never forget meanness. Being a good person will serve you in the long run, both professionally and personally. And being a jerk ultimately will come back to bite you in the ass.

Probably the most important thing I can tell you is that no one goes through their twenties without making some mistakes. Be easy on yourself. As long as you work hard and keep trying to make good decisions, life will work out well for you and in ways you couldn't possibly have dreamed of.