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5 Lessons People Wish They Had Learned in Their 20s

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They say hindsight is 20/20, and many people often fantasize about going back in time to give themselves some life-changing advice. While we can’t magically transport ourselves to the past to make some tweaks here and there, we can learn a lot from people who have lived through their mistakes and figured out better solutions moving forward. 

When you’re in your 20s, optimism is mixed with uncertainty, and navigating those waters often means making one mistake after another. While it’s important to make some mistakes so you can learn and grow, it’s not exactly necessary. You can bypass a lot of grief by listening to those in their 30s, 40s and beyond, and understanding you don’t need to do what everyone else is doing  whatever that may be. 

Related: 3 Lessons on Launching From 3 Young, Early-Stage Founders

Here are five things many people wish they’d known in their 20s. 

1. It’s normal to outgrow relationships

If you had a large group of friends in your early to mid-20s and feel like you’re losing many of them, don’t fret. It’s perfectly normal for people to change their interests and priorities right now, and yours may not align with those of your college and party buddies. Younger people share a common bond of being in a gray area of their lives, and once that gray starts to fade a bit, many grow closer to just a few people rather than try to accommodate 50 sort-of friends. 

In the dating world, this is also very normal. We don’t really know who we are yet in our 20s and try the best we can to learn about ourselves and the people we love. There may not be any glaring problems you can pinpoint, but if it seems you’re growing apart, that’s okay. You’re young and should have the freedom to find the right person. This means allowing your soon-to-be ex-partner the chance to find his or her own person too. 

Whether it’s a friendship or a romantic partnership, you don’t need to drag things out to the point of extreme emotional pain. Time will heal those wounds, and you’ve got plenty of time right now. 

2. Give yourself permission to fail

Failure is a part of life, whether you like it or not. Even the most successful billionaires can sit down and rattle off several ways in which they failed, but the key is that they did not give up. Just like in school, you didn’t learn everything in a day, and you probably didn’t get it right on the first try every time. But you learned, and that’s what matters most. 

If your fear of trying something new or radically different is holding you back, give yourself permission to fail. But, hey, you might not! And if you do, that’s okay too. Life is about experiences, and fear of failure will hold you back from so many things that could change your life for the better. As I mentioned above, time will heal your wounds, but the growth you get out of it is worth the temporary grief. 

Related: 6 Proven Strategies to Rebound From Failure

3. Focus on making memories, not buying material things

When you look back on your childhood, do you remember every holiday or birthday gift? Or do you remember things like family vacations, trips with friends and going to concerts where you sang so hard you lost your voice? It’s likely the latter. 

Most of the stuff we buy will end up trashed at some point, so instead of working as hard as you can to buy expensive clothes or drive a luxury car, shift your focus to making memories that last. Believe me, you will remember a trip you took with your best friends a lot more clearly, and with much more fondness, than a new pair of shoes that broke down after a year and are now taking up space in some landfill. 

When you’re older, married and settled down with kids, going out partying or taking impromptu trips with friends becomes an antiquated notion. Now is the time to be a little silly and unpredictable. You should look back on those days and remember the fun you had rather than wish you’d done and seen more when you could. 

4. It’s never too late to make career changes

It baffles me that teenagers are told to select what they’re going to do “for the rest of their lives” in college and are supposed to accept that’s their path now. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it is not too late to change course. Some people change careers several times before they settle on what they want to do, and even then, they may change course again once they feel they’ve grown out of that career. 

You’re meeting new people and figuring out your wants, needs and goals right now. This will continue on for the rest of your life as you make decisions, make mistakes and gain more insight. The truth is it’s never too late to make career changes, even if you’re already in your 40s or 50s. We waste a lot of time trying to please others and do what is expected of us instead of doing what is ultimately best for us. 

Related: 7 Sure Signs Now Is the Time for a Career Change

5. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others

Maybe some guy you knew in college has already found his “perfect” career and bought a house or maybe a woman you’re close with seems to have a better grasp on her life than you do. You are a completely different person with different experiences, so why compare yourself to anyone else? It will drive you to complete insanity trying to keep up with someone else’s life path, and in the process, you’ll miss out on your own unique opportunities. 

Sometimes college or graduate school isn’t the right path for someone. Sometimes living at home well into their 20s is the best option for people right now. Everyone grows and learns at his or her own pace, and if we’re being honest here, social media is a performance no matter how you look at it. You may not see it in one Instagram post, but even the most pulled-together person has problems he or she faces daily, and that person may even be envious of you for what you’ve been able to do so far. 

There are so many amazing people out there, and you may look to them for inspiration. That’s great! But your path to success will look different, and your dreams will get accomplished on your own terms. So resist that urge to talk negatively to yourself when someone else “wins” at something and you do not. That just means your path is different; it’s your own unique path  no one else’s.

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