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Rather than lamenting about getting older, we should celebrate the fact that with age comes wisdom. The more time the brain has to collect information, the better a person can learn from past mistakes and avoid making new — or at least the same — ones. It’s all too easy to look back and say, “if I’d only known then what I know now,” but the experience is the best lesson. Nevertheless, here are seven messages I would share with my 20-year-old self to keep her motivated and more confident as she looks toward the future.
1. Maintaining physical health matters
For many, being in your 20s is a time filled with late nights, fast food and a lack of exercise. The prioritization toward good physical health isn’t as prevalent because you’re more naturally energetic and often have a quicker metabolism. However, as you age, this run of good luck starts to expire, and all of the bad habits catch up in your appearance and, more importantly, how you feel.
The first rule of self-care isn’t glamorous, but it’s the most important: take care of your physical health. Maintaining a routine of healthful eating, regular exercise and a good night’s sleep can do wonders for the body and mind. These basics keep people grounded when they experience high stress or anxiety and battle illness.
If we’ve learned anything from the past two years, how much our health matters and how we treat our bodies daily makes a difference. Rather than relying on quick fixes or trying every new health trend, maintaining a healthy diet, exercise regimen and sleep habits pay off in the long run and provide more energy to continue doing the things you enjoy.
2. Eliminate stressors (and restore good energy)
As a complement to maintaining physical health, eliminating stressors should also be a priority. Though not everything is automatically disposable, it’s wise to closely evaluate relationships and things in life causing stress. It could start as simply as becoming more organized. Someone just coming out of college isn’t yet used to all the monotony of paying bills on time, finding a work-life balance and knowing what is needed for a home refresh.
Decluttering gets rid of all the extraneous things that don’t matter. This could mean everything from old clothes that no longer fit to old friendships that no longer feel valuable. It clears space to invite new, positive relationships and experiences into the mix.
Once stressors have been eliminated, restoration of sound energy can be invited in. This could involve activities focusing on relaxation and preserving mental health, such as meditation practice, self-affirmations, yoga and therapy. Understanding where life is imbalanced can bring focus to what small things can be done to make a big difference eventually.
3. Learn to say no
The fear of missing out is intense as a 20-year-old. It’s a time for exploring and experiencing new things, so saying yes to all invitations seems right. However, this all-in mentality can quickly lead to burnout. Furthermore, time management can be challenging during your 20s as there’s more autonomy in your personal and professional life. There can be a lot of poor prioritization of fun and time spent on social media versus the responsibilities of adulting and interacting in real life.
I would tell my younger self that it’s ok to take a break now and then. It’s ok to say no if something isn’t your responsibility or doesn’t excite you. Too often, as young women, we take on the burden of blame even when things are not our fault. We’re quick to apologize for actions that don’t require one, and we carry that learned behavior as we age. Instead, it’s best to set clear boundaries of what is and is not acceptable and how you’ll manage your time to promote the life you want to live.
As someone younger, you’ll be in the beginning stages of your career with more to learn and experience, but it doesn’t mean automatically carrying the burden of other people’s problems or plans. Communicating expectations upfront can help you better manage time and say no to people and places that drain your energy.
4. Focus on building professional relationships
The internet has been a game changer for networking since my 20s. Connecting with people through online channels like LinkedIn, Twitter and email is much easier. However, whether building professional relationships in-person or online, authenticity is critical. Spamming your fellow college alums isn’t helpful, but becoming active in your alum group through volunteering or attending organized events can be an excellent place to connect.
On the other hand, you can proactively become a voice of authority, extend mentorship to others, and create networking events and opportunities. Like any other relationship, building a solid professional circle requires a balance of giving and taking to curate a space of support.
5. Believe in yourself
Doubt can seep in at any age, but insecurities are common in your 20s because you’re still figuring things out. In today’s media-driven age, it’s even easier to feel this set in because of the comparisons of success. It’s important to build strong self-confidence and believe in yourself.
Yes, there will be rejections and losses, mistakes and regrets. That’s all part of life and doesn’t change the fact that you are meant to do great things. Anytime insecurities creep up, focus on at least three things you like about yourself. Read professional development books that speak to you (and skip the ones that don’t!). Reach out to a person you admire for mentorship. The world is filled with enough naysayers; don’t be one to yourself.
6. Don’t listen to the negative noise
Learning how to filter the “noise” of the world takes practice. As interactions are multiplied and circles expand, it can be more difficult to hear your inner voice. Start with the most damaging influences. These people constantly complain and have a hard time saying nice things about others. Even if these comments aren’t directed at you, they’ll also affect your mindset and how you act toward others.
Also, limit time spent on social media. The negativity that can arise through online trolls, click-bait headlines and an overall false sense of self can become wearing. Practice tuning out the negative and tuning into gratitude and peace. However, be open to the bad days and know they won’t last rather than convincing yourself that every day must be 100% filled with positivity.
There’s never a time when life is fully figured out. It’s learning from the past to prepare for the future while at the same time always staying present.