8 Things I Wish I Knew In My Early Twenties

I remember my 20th birthday. 20—it sounded so old at the time—no longer a teenager but only half an adult. A Shirley Temple that thinks it’s a brut Prosecco. That day I could have told you what my life would have looked like in 6 years with complete confidence.  And spoiler alert, I have been there and it is nothing like what I thought it would be.  Between the age 20 and 26, I graduated college, entered the workplace, almost got married, broke some hearts, got my heart broken, moved across the country, laughed, cried, fell in love, got promoted, got people fired, started a business, quit my job, went into debt, made friends, lost friends, the list goes on. 

While I like to think I have no regrets—that every mistake I have made, every roadblock I collided with, taught me something invaluable. However, there are things I would have done differently if I had to do it over again, and those things, I am here to share with you.

1. Seriously, Stop Saying “Like”

It was the first week at my first job out of college, I had been put in a client-facing role and my calendar was already filled with meetings that I was not qualified to be a part of. It was finally time for me to handle one of the client calls, completely by myself. Because this was the first time, my manager sat in, just in case something had gone completely awry. I fought to suppress the butterflies from fluttering in my stomach and resisted the urge to nervously run to the bathroom while waiting for the client to join the line. “Hello,” I hear on the other end of the phone. It was time. The rest of the call was a blur, by the end, the butterflies had died off and I was feeling as though maybe I could do this job I was hired to do. 

I hung up and my manager looked at me, “How do you think that went?” he asked. “Uh…” I stammered, “I think it went well.” I could tell by his expression that he felt differently. “I think you did well but you need to work on the filler words,” he remarked, “It makes you seem less credible.”

 I was taken aback by the comment because at this point I had no idea what he was talking about. Later that evening, I went back and nervously listened to the call recording. I cringed after the first few times I spoke, sure enough, it sounded as though almost every other word out of my mouth was a “like” or an “um.” I couldn’t even tell what I was trying to say for most of the conversation because those words were all I could hear, and they eventually morphed into a nails-on-the-chalkboard screech that I couldn’t rid my mind of. 

After that, I made a continuous effort to remove filler words from my vocabulary. And since becoming extremely conscious of my own use of “likes”, “ums”, and “you knows”, I started to notice every time other people would overuse them (which was all the time) and found them to be an extreme distraction to what they were actually trying to say. As I got into managerial roles where I would have to interview job candidates, I began to notice that my colleagues found the use of filler words discouraging as well—a perfectly qualified candidate would be deemed “too immature”, “inexperienced” or “ditzy” because of an abundance of filler words in her vocabulary. 

Download the free UmCounter app and start using it while you practice for a speech or take a work call. Become comfortable with pauses if you need them while speaking and work on eliminating “like” from your vocabulary (unless, of course, it is being used contextually).  

2. Take Risks Now

When I was 20 years old, I started an Instagram blog posting makeup tutorials. If I had a dime for every remark someone made to me at school, or every rude DM I got from a friend, a family member, or even a stranger…well let’s just say my life would look a little different. When I was starting the page, I had bought the camera equipment and beauty supplies on an Amazon store card (that offered 0% interest for 24 months) and promised myself I would not stop working on the account until I could pay it off.

In under a year, I had grown the account to over 100K followers, paid off the credit card, gotten a plethora of free products, and made a decent income. The account eventually inspired an unrelated YouTube channel that grew quite rapidly still generates me income passively.  After my impending split with my fiancé at the time, I decided to take a leap of faith and move across the country by myself, not knowing a soul and having never visited the city that would be my destination.  Still to this day, this was the best decision I have ever made—while scary, I learned a lot, saw the country, met great new friends and a sweet, handsome man that is now my partner.

In your twenties, you have more gain than you have to lose. You likely don’t have kids, a spouse, or a dog that you have to worry about when you decide to pursue your dream or do something crazy (If you do, that’s great it just may make things a little more difficult). Don’t be daunted by the unknown or the lacking life experience. If you have a burning idea or an opportunity overseas, don’t let it pass you by. Worst case scenario, you will have some great stories to tell and have gained a lot of experience that will serve you elsewhere. It’s better to know you tried something rather than wondering how your life would be different if you had.

orange van die cast model on pavement
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

3. Wear Sunscreen

Look, if there is anyone who loves to be tan and to lay out in the sun, it’s me. I used to go out and lay by the pool with not a drop of SPF anywhere on my body. The tanner I got, the better! I would even be excited to see a pink sunburn starting to develop because I knew that underneath it, would be a golden glow. I would even avoid products with SPF in them because I thought it would interfere with my ability to tan. Especially when you’re in your early twenties, your skin still looks great and you feel great when you have a nice bronzy glow to you.

You all already know about the cancerous and potentially life-threatening aspects of UV but what you may not know is that the sun also makes your skin age. In fact, 90% of visible skin aging comes from the sun!  Check out this truck driver, who spent his career exposing one side of his face to the sun. Look at all those wrinkles. To think that that’s preventable just by lathering some sunscreen on… 

Now that I am in the latter part of my twenties, I am starting to see wrinkles and spots pop up that aren’t very cute, and half of my friends have had to get chunks of their skin cut out from sun damage. It’s so easy to make sunscreen part of your everyday skincare routine, and those everlasting wrinkles or life-threatening developments certainly won’t be worth the sun-kissed glow.

5. Manage Your Damn Money

I could write an autobiography titled “What Not To Do With Your Money” because of all of the mistakes I made with it. My parents never really taught me much about money management when I was growing up. I spent money like it was growing on a tree in the back yard—at a fantastical rate.  When I started working in high school, I would take my paycheck and blow it all at Target the day after it cleared the bank. After college, when I got an actual job and started having a steady income, nothing changed. I didn’t even take advantage of the company match retirement fund for the first year!

I would follow this glamourized, make-believe l world that influencers lived in, I would see them flaunting their Gucci bags and driving their fancy cars. If I saved money it would be just enough to buy something ostentatious that I didn’t need (or really even want) and then I would be back to square one.

When I was 23, I drained my bank accounts and went into debt to move to North Carolina for my new job. Before my first paycheck at my new job, I couldn’t even afford a $5 lunch. There was nothing in my bank account, my credit card was maxed out and the worst part was that I couldn’t even tell you what I had spent it all on. Needless to say, it was a wake-up call. I immediately enrolled in my company’s 401K, investing 10% of my salary.

I downloaded several budgeting apps. I began investing in mutual funds with acorns. Two years later I was able to build my first home (If you don’t already know, down payments and closing costs will definitely set you back with your liquidity). The same year I had some medical problems arise that took a toll on my bank account as well. Even having saved for these things, the timing of everything put me back in a not-so-comfortable financial spot.  My biggest regret is not being smarter with my money out of the gate and having had even more saved and growing in an investment account.

white apple keyboard near white cup
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

6. Put “Me” Before “We”

When I was 19, I met an older boy. We went on one date that spearheaded into a serious relationship (although I never recalled him asking me to be his girlfriend). Almost immediately, my life began to revolve around him. He had lots of insecurities that were unclear to me at the time. These began to be reflected in his attitude toward things I decided to do, who I would hang out with or even what I would choose to wear.  As a result, would spend my Saturday nights staying in with him rather than going out with my friends. I decided not to study abroad (one of the things I was looking forward to most before starting at school) because he didn’t want to be away from me for that long. 

The relationship, to no one’s surprise, went up in flames after we got engaged and moved to a different state together after college. I am left with regret for missing out on some of the best years of my life all because I decided to appease someone else’s diffidence. Even if we had stayed together, a small part of me would always resent him for that. But at the end of the day, it was me who chose to stay and try to make him happy, and so I only have myself to blame. If you want to hear more about that experience, you can check out my Emotionally Abusive Relationship story.

It’s ok to love fiercely and have a serious relationship while you are young. But your early twenties lay the foundation for the person you will become, this is when you figure out who you are, who you want to be, who your friends are, the list goes on.  This is the time to focus on you—to learn, to grow, to experience the world, make friends, get hobbies, have fun.  Before you blink you will be settling down, your friends will move away and you will lose the opportunity to do these things. For this reason, have to put yourself first, and anyone who is not willing to support that is not the person for you

7. Invest In Your Wardrobe

This one sort of lends itself to the manage your money section. I used to think that I was being smart by buying all of my clothes from Forever 21. I could buy 20 items of clothes for under $200. What a steal! However, most of the clothes were trendy pieces that I would wear once or twice and then I would donate it. In the rare instance where I would wear it more than twice, the item would get holes in or start fringing at the seams and I would have to throw it away. I have even had a strap on a dress snap while I was in the middle of a work meeting! I ended up buying all new clothes every single year.

I have learned over the years that having a good style also means wearing quality clothes. You can tell a cheap dress from a good one just by looking at it and there are plenty of affordable brands that offer higher grade clothing that looks good and will last.  Especially if you are in a professional field, the way you dress speaks mounds to your colleagues—they know everything about your professionalism, knowledge, and credibility just by what you wear to the office (or Zoom call). Dressing well is of even more important when you are just trying to establish yourself or if you are young. 

Start investing in better clothes now. If you are the trendy gal that doesn’t like to be caught in the same thing twice, try a clothing rental service like Le Tote or Rent the Runway where you can wear designer clothes and send them back when you’re done (or purchase what you love).  Need a wardrobe refresh?  I personally, love Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, it’s their personal styling service delivered to your door. You can make notes of what you are looking for, upload inspo pics, set a budget, and review and swap the items before they ship. It comes extremely quickly (in less than a few days) and of course, you can return or exchange anything for free.

I have tried Stitch Fix and other personal styling services but Nordstrom’s definitely feels like more of a white-glove service. The clothes are high quality and I felt like everything I got could be mixed and matched for many different outfits (where Stitch Fix’s usually gave you just one). While the clothing is a bit more expensive than other services, they are of a much higher quality. They offer a monthly subscription but you can also just order one or two boxes to give your wardrobe a nice refresh. 

clothes hanged on clothes rack
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

8. Read (Or Listen)

“What are you reading right now?” This was an interview question I received during a job interview straight out of college. I almost thought it was a joke. Reading? People still did that…? I couldn’t even remember the last book I had read or even what people my age were supposed to read. My past time would be spent in season 2 of Game of Thrones or watching The Office re-runs. I thought back to my MLM days and recalled one of the personal development books I had heard of. “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” I responded. 

As it turns out, my interviewer had actually read the book and after getting excited that we shared this in common, was quick to catch on to the fact that I had not gotten past the summary on the back. Well, it turns out, reading is a valuable thing. There are certain things you can’t just learn from experience. 

The average CEO reads 1 book a week. We are talking about some of the smartest people in the world, the thought leaders and innovators of the world. You can learn a lot from a book. I actually went on to read the book “How To Win Friends and Influence People” and while I found it mostly underwhelming and a compilation of common sense, I found a few valuable insights from it.

I have also gone on to read many influential books that have helped me collaborate better with my team at work, inspired me to start this blog, given me more confidence putting myself outside of my comfort zone, etc.  Not only can a book help you lead a better life but it can also make you a more credible resource, interesting friend, a giver of good advice. It’s also a great way to unwind or relax. I like to hold a book in my hand from time but also enjoy the convenience of downloading a new one on my iPad or listening to audible as a walk my dog or run on the treadmill. Don’t know what to read? Just Google “books everyone should read” and that’s a good place to start. 

Disclaimer: While this post is not sponsored in any way (I chose and paid for any of the products or services featured), I do make a small commission on some of the affiliate links above. If you chose to purchase any of the items through the links, I appreciate your support in that way!

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