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Things My Almost 30-Year-Old Self Wishes My 20-Year-Old Self Knew.

Okay, so first I’d like to clear the air on one thing. I’m 29. I know that I’m still young and that I still have plenty to learn about life, but I like to think that I’m fairly wise already. I’ve also been through a lot of mental and internal struggle over the past 8 years. It’s forced me to grow and learn, perhaps faster and with more tears than I would have liked, but nevertheless, I’m a completely different person than I was at 20.

During one of my darkest times, I came across a quote that said “when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.” Those words have stuck with me ever since. Even typing it out right now brings tears to my eyes. It’s a simple sentiment, but it’s one that has given me strength in times where I never thought I’d feel “normal” (whatever that is) again. The major takeaway for me was that there is a reason we go through tough times – and that reason is to learn; to gain the knowledge and wisdom that we may have never gained otherwise; to force ourselves to change so that we can become better.

I know that I’m still a work in progress – I don’t think I’ll ever stop evolving – but I wanted to share some of the most significant things I’ve learned so far.

1. No is a complete sentence.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life going places that I didn’t want to go to. I would cringe and think “no” even as I said “yes”. When I did muster up the courage to decline unwanted invitations, I would spend way too much time mulling over my explanation. How could I properly explain WHY I couldn’t come? Would my reason be good enough? Would someone be mad at me?

I’ll be honest, I’m still working on this one, but one thing I’ve learned is that “no” is a complete sentence. If you don’t want to go somewhere, you’re allowed to say no. To add to that, an “I can’t make it, but thank you so much for the invite” is sufficient. You don’t have to explain that you have to do this or that or that you’re just so tired that you can’t imagine putting on real pants that night. Every time I catch myself following up a no with a drawn out explanation, I stop myself and replace it with a “but thank you anyway!”

2. You can (and should) be vulnerable.

I have a personality that wants to make sure everything is perfect. I want to be good at everything. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to be rejected. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I want to appear perfect, put together, and in control at all times. Well, let me tell you something: this has backfired BIG TIME. First of all, I know this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that “nobody is perfect” so I’m just going to leave this part of this life lesson at that and move on the next part.

Vulnerability shows that you’re human. People can relate to vulnerability. They can’t relate to perfectionism. As a teenager and an early 20-something, I adopted this “too cool for school” attitude. I pretended that I had no feelings. I didn’t open up to people, especially men. I casually dated (or I guess the more appropriate term would be “hooked up”) in between boyfriends and I acted like I did not give a single damn. I adopted the attitude of a stereotypical man because I thought that this would protect me from being hurt. The truth is, this façade hurt me more than I realized. I wasn’t a hard shell. I did have feelings – at times strong ones – and I didn’t share any of them.

At some point you’re going to have regrets. If you tell me that you don’t have any, I’ll tell you you’re lying. Sure, the regrets are extremely valuable because they help teach you a lesson, but heed this advice: when you look back on your life “what if” hurts a lot more than “okay, maybe I shouldn’t have said/done that.” If you like someone, TELL THEM. If you want to do something, DO IT. Don’t ever let the fear of being vulnerable stop you.

3. Don’t shut your gut down.

Oh boy, this one is a biggie. It should probably be first on the list, but I’ll leave it here for now. Your gut knows what it’s talking about and I can promise you one thing, it will not take “shut up” for an answer.

When your gut knows that a situation is wrong (or right, for that matter), it will quietly tell you in hopes that you will listen to this gentle whisper. If you ignore it, it will start to get louder. If you continue to ignore it, it will SCREAM at you by producing things like physical aches and pains, anxiety, and decreased self-esteem. I am not kidding you. Your gut wants to be heard and it will do whatever it takes.

The millisecond that your gut tells you that something is wrong – it doesn’t matter if it’s a brand new job, an awkward situation, or a bad relationship – GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE.

4. Stop trying to impress people.

How many times have you found yourself going out of your way to impress someone WHO YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE? Seriously, stop and think about that for a second, and then stop doing it! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve molded my look and my attitude to become someone else because I wanted someone to like me; and then when I really thought about it, I wasn’t sure if I even liked the people I was trying to impress!

Of course, this lesson doesn’t apply to your boss and any superiors that are a major deciding factor in your livelihood – you may have to put on a little show for them. I’m talking about the everyday people – friends of friends, family members, in-laws, coworkers. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay.

5. It’s okay to have your own opinion.

This one kind of piggybacks off number 4, but I thought it was important enough for its own section. I’ve spent a lot of time during conversations silently nodding my head in agreement when I really wanted to scream “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? THAT’S RIDICULOUS!” Keeping opinions like this inside don’t do you any good. Sure, you might not want to create any waves, and it’s not necessary to go on a name-calling rant, but if you have a differing opinion, share it! The wonderful thing about being a (mature) adult is that you can disagree with people and still be friends.

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