Life lessons I’ve learned from my former 20-something self

10/21/2016 07:59 am ET

Wouldn’t it be educational if we could dial back time and take a look back on our life when we were wild and free (a.k.a. our 20s)? Like a deep look; not a “remember session” limited to what our brains could actually recall.

For some, it would be a case study in the hot-mess-ness of our youth, but it would also be a chance to revisit our own personal roaring 20s and make a list of things to learn (and unlearn) from years already lived.

There are definitely times when I personally wish for a Back to the Future-type time machine that could propel me back to a period in my life when things were seemingly easier, but also a time when some of my greatest decisions were made. Many of those early-life decisions, good or bad, are what formed the fabric of where I am today in my middle-aged life. Looking back, I am sure there would be times I would lovingly hold the face of 20-Something Me in my hands and confirm that everything will work out fine. I am also sure there would be times I’d like to grab Young Me by the nose hairs and shriek, “What were you thinking!?”

Bottom line is, if hindsight were 20/20, this is what I would have liked to have told my Younger Self:

Feed Your Body Well: With diseases like breast cancer on the rise, studies have shown that 70% of cancer is influenced by diet and environment. For those of us who lived on diet soda in our 20s and yo-yo dieted like our life depended on it, it would have been nice to know that good health was better than a bikini-ready bod. Sure, money was tight back then and Ramen noodles for supper every night cost less than a call at the public pay phone, but how we feed our bodies directly influences our health outcomes later in life. Did your youthful self think healthy food was too expensive? I can promise you that bad health in your later years is even more spendy. No one should ever feel too busy or too broke to eat healthy and take care of their inner and outer shell.

Don’t Let Others Hold You Back: Whether it was well-meaning parents, or a controlling boyfriend, many of us can related to that “being held back” feeling we likely experienced in our twenties. If we could go back in time, our Older Selves would encourage our Younger Selves to acknowledge our passions, beliefs and desires and back down for no one.

Live by choice, not by chance. Make changes, not excuses. Be motivated, not manipulated. Work to excel, not compete. Choose to listen to your inner voice, not the jumbled opinions of everyone else.-author unknown.

It Won’t Matter in Ten Years: A steady audio loop of, “what ifs” or “what will other people think of me?” self-talk unfortunately dominated much of my thought process in my post-teen years. That life-limiting mindset, along with a controlling boyfriend, fueled a boatload of fear, self-doubt and a reluctance to try new things. The result was that I missed out on A LOT of cool experiences. If I could send a message back in time to my twenty-year-old self, there’s no doubt I would advise me to constantly ask myself the question, “In ten years, will this matter?” Will it matter that everyone thought I was crazy for trying a new business venture? Will it matter that I skipped sleep to experience once-in-a-lifetime experiences with friends? Now in my early fifties, I can look back on Young Me and see the many times I got my panties in a bunch over incredibly small and insignificant things; things that literally meant nothing in the Big Picture of Life. I would tell Younger Me to soak life up like a sponge, see the world and resist passing up new opportunities or experiences because of guilt or lack of confidence.

When One Door Closes: Getting laid off from the crappy job that I secretly hated seemed downright epic on the devastation scale back in my twenties, but as wise and sage mid-life entrepreneur I know that, when one door closes, another opens. Usually a better door as well. You simply need to believe and have faith.

Your Gut Never Lies: No matter what age, women should always listen to their gut. My Older Self would certainly want to reassure my Younger Self that no, you are not nuts. If your gut says he is wrong for you, he is. If your gut says the guy trying to sell you a car is a slick-talking dirt bag, he probably is. The gut rarely lies or leads us astray; that, unfortunately, was something that took me far past my 20s to acknowledge.

Things I’d Like to Unlearn from My 20s

Relationships Are Like the Movies: Anyone who enjoys and occasional "chick flick" back in our 20s or indulged in an occasional soap-opera-watching-fest may have noticed that there is seemingly some sort of game to be played or process to follow when it comes to relationships. Goofy beliefs like, “I need to wait two days to call so he doesn’t think I’m needy” or “If I don’t act interested, he’ll want me less” are perfect fodder for the big screen, but not very useful for long-term relationships in real life. The reality is that someone needed to tell Twenty-Year-Old Me that I needed to act like a human being when relating to another human being. No games, no agendas, just give each other the respect, honesty and authenticity you both deserve.

“Stuff” Makes You Happy: Awww yes, stuff. We liked our stuff when we were young. Our stuff defined who we were, made us feel good and helped us blend in with the Cool Kids. During a time when credit cards were the ticket (so we thought) to getting what we wanted instantly, our young twenty-something selves saw it as the green light to buy now and worry about paying later. In reality, not only is the monumental interest rate not worth it, stuff is just that: stuff. Stuff does not make us happy people or fill the empty hole of whatever-you-are-lacking. Stuff weighs you down and holds you hostage in the form of payment plans, late fees and too-much-month-at-the-end-of-the-money. Older Self would love to chastise Younger Self and say, if there’s an empty hole in your life or you are struggling with feelings of self-doubt or unworthiness, don’t run out and put a big screen TV on your VISA card to make it all go away. Opt to talk to someone and dig deep into why those feelings are there to begin with.

Whatever You do, Avoid Failure: Many of us are programmed to avoid failure at all cost as if it was some dreaded disease or brand on our forehead. Failure should never be avoided because it forms who were are, makes us wiser and tougher and is kind enough to provide us with some pretty profound teachable moments. The list of notable women who embraced failure and used the lessons of those failures as stepping stones is lengthy and impressive. Did you know Oprah was demoted from one of her first jobs and Vera Wang was a former figure skater who didn’t make the cut for the Olympics? Failure is not a blemish on our life resume, it’s proof that we tried.

“Failure is the key to success.”-Arianna Huffington

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