23 Life-Changing Lessons I Wish I Had Known at 23
Not that it’s a milestone by any means, but I just celebrated my 33rd birthday and I’ve gotta tell you: I’m feeling fine. Not that I feel much older, or wiser for that matter, but there’s something comforting about having reached my early 30s with heaps of self-respect and pride in my work and in my worth. I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving.
However, this balanced and serene mental state is definitely not something I have enjoyed for much of my adult life. Thrust out into the world on my own at a young age, I lived entirely by trial-and-error experience, and I’m here to tell you that even the most destructive and torrential storms eventually subside.
Nothing lasts forever.
This too shall pass.
All of those adages were helpful in getting me through some of the tougher spots of my adult life, like family strife, financial struggles, and devastating break-ups. At the age of 33, I’m here to dispense the knowledge I’ve gained and the things I wished I had known a decade ago when the whole world seemed impossible to figure out.
Photo: Courtesy of Tomasz Popek
Talk to and treat yourself like you’re your own best friend.
(Guess what, you are.)
Listen to the voice inside your head.
Women are naturally intuitive, but we have been taught to ignore those nagging little voices inside that tell us that something is amiss or that the next step you take might be the wrong one. Listen to that voice. Trust that voice. It’s called Instinct, and it’s rarely wrong.
You can't plan everything.
It’s totally 100% okay to not know what you should study in school, pick as a career, or anything else about the future. Take it from someone whose plan in life was to become a Professor of Philosophy, who has degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, and who ended up becoming a fashion critic and writer for the best online magazine in the world. Life doesn’t just throw curveballs, it throws dice, and you never know what’s going to happen (or not happen) next.
Fear is healthy, cowardice is not.
If you’re scared of something, that’s all the more reason to do it. I’m not talking about swimming with sharks, bungee jumping, or other things any reasonable human would be terrified of doing; I’m talking about things like asking for a promotion, not going to a really cool event because you’re alone, starting a high-level workout class when you’re not sure of your abilities, or going on a blind date. These are small, chance-worthy things that could absolutely change the course of your life, should you have the courage to engage in them.
Photo: Courtesy of Dan Grinwis
Learn how to be alone.
I firmly believe that this is the best thing any woman could ever do for herself. So many of us are frightened of the “A” word that we leap from relationship to relationship without pausing to have any time to discover our true selves. As an adult, I’ve learned that being alone is really cool, and really rewarding. I’ve never learned more about myself than when I traveled to India alone, or took time to heal after a bad break-up by meditating, doing yoga, and immersing myself in life-altering literature. Being alone has so many upsides, especially now that you can share all of your fun solo adventures on social media, which keeps you tethered to a community regardless of your relationship status. I love going to movies alone, going for long drives with music blasting, or simply walking through a beautiful area of town. Even though I am currently in a relationship, I make a point to carve alone time where I can do yoga, take luxurious baths, read, listen to music, draw, and other introspective and meditative practices. I wouldn’t trade my “me” time for anything.
Read everything you can all the time. As a child, I used to bruise myself on walls from walking around with my nose stuck to the pages of any book I could get my hands on. I’ve read thousands, no exaggeration, and I can say with confidence that literature has enhanced my life more than any other single factor on earth. By learning about other worlds, other cultures, and other perspectives, your own broaden in ways you could never imagine. An insatiable curiosity to learn and an endless lust for the written word have made me who I am today.
Pay it forward.
Remember those thousands of books I mentioned? Yeah, they’re sitting in a storage unit as we speak. Thousands of books take up so much space. I used to have great difficulty parting from my books (hence the storage unit), but as I’ve gotten older, I have found great joy in paying books forward. Not only does it perpetually keep space on my shelf for new works, but it also helps enrich the life of friends and family. I only keep a book if it’s so profound that I know I’ll read it again.
It’s okay that not everyone likes you.
Women are raised to be people-pleasers, which is why it can be especially stinging to find out that someone has spoken negatively about you. I know how it feels. Back when I was in college, there was an insufferable pedantic that I ended up taking several classes with out of sheer coincidence. He huffed and puffed his opinion every chance he got, even when the Professor was clearly annoyed and trying to move on. Outside of class one day, we crossed paths and he asked what I was writing in a notebook. I told him it was lyrics, and that I was anxious because I was playing a concert at a venue for the first time in a band and I didn’t anticipate it going well. He told me, “I’ll gladly give you my honest opinion of your music, because I don’t really like you.” I was aghast. Stupefied. Flabbergasted. How could this balloon-headed boaster dare not like me? And then I laughed, right in his face. Strangely, I felt relieved. I couldn’t stand this guy, and he couldn’t stand me. Fine. It was in that moment I learned that not everyone will like me, and that’s totally okay! (Especially if they’re a bit of a bore to begin with).
Don’t turn your nose up to new food experiences.
I’ve eaten some really weird things in my life: rattlesnake, antelope, prickly pear cactus. Not once did I regret the experience. Food is weird and wonderful and a gateway to learning about other cultures and human habits. Get to know it, even its bizarre side.
How to start a conversation.
This is for all you introverts out there: The easiest way to start a conversation is not to ask someone how they are doing, but what they did that day. Because the question is so specific and recalls events immediately prior to the conversation, it really gets people talking.
Failure is an option.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed in life, but the difference between me and most people is that I have never once feared failure. It’s a natural part of trying, and, in my perspective, at least an attempt was made. In every instance of failure, a valuable life lesson is to be found.
True goodness transcends the superficial.
As a young person, it’s easy to conflate beauty and success with goodness. However, I’ve learned that being truly good through and through has nothing to do with how you look or how much money you have in the bank.
When you start dating someone, do not neglect your female friends.
I am a ride-or-die friend, as loyal to the bone as any good Leo. In fact, my female friendships are the bedrock of my social group. It’s tempting, when you start dating someone and you’re in the gooey, gross, besotted stage of the relationship to enter your own world where you and your significant other are the only people that exist. I caution you to keep those lady friends close, and not to neglect them, no matter how right Mr. Right is. If they’re your real friends, they’ll outlast any dude, I promise.
Take days off!
Maybe this is a no-brainer for you, but as a consummate workaholic this was a lesson hard-learned. I once worked four jobs at the same time for two years, and I might have a little PTSD leftover from that period of my life. I am now extremely protective of my days off, and you should be too.
Saving your money is always better than spending it.
As a fashion editor, I am inundated with products and product research around the clock. As such, my wish list can get pretty long, and I have a hard time saying no to good sales. However, if I could go back and talk to my 23-year old self, I would snatch away every credit card and set her up with a savings account. It’s so rewarding to plan for the future, especially when your goals are big. I did myself a huge disservice by keeping my money where I could see it, hanging in my closet.
Dita von Teese once said, “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there will always be someone who hates peaches.” Truer words have never been spoken. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, try doing you and stop apologizing for your flaws.
When you’re starting out, don’t turn down offers and experiences.
For the longest time, I wrote for nothing. Sometimes my payment was simply getting to put my own name on an article. However, I was building a resume and building experience, and those turned out to be vital to later stages of my life. I said “Yes” to everything until I could afford to say no.
Photo: Courtesy of Kunj Parekh
Know your worth.
Speaking of learning to say “No”, if you happen to possess an exceptional, in-demand skill at a young age, first, congratulations, that’s rare. Second, learn the monetary value of your time, and charge accordingly.
Learn the art of the staycation.
Once a month, my significant other and I take off a few days together that are very carefully and strategically planned to include dozens of fun things around our city that we would never otherwise do. From indoor golf to watching the stars, these moments of respite are vital for keeping us connected and our relationship thriving. Plus, it means you always have something fun to look forward to even if you can’t afford to go on expensive vacations frequently.
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
I sometimes think that my younger self and my current self wouldn’t get along very well. I used to be such a studious, serious little nerd, and so outrageously hard on myself. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I exhibit every perfectionist tendency known to man. It took a long time, and a lot of messing up, to understand that perfection is impossible. Now I laugh, cry, and love freely without worrying about how to package every moment of my life in neat little boxes. It’s so liberating to be a goof.
Learn how to cook, even if it’s just one dish, really really well.
I’m an avid foodie and “home chef”, and I obsessively experiment with exotic ingredients and recipes. I find little more rewarding than making an amazing meal and then devouring it, but more than anything, feeding others is a great source of joy for me. Find a dish that only has a few solid ingredients and learn it inside and out, then build up your experience from there. YouTube is a bastion of amazing cooking channels and demonstration videos, so you’re only a few clicks away from getting professional help at any time. Learn the joys of cooking, and then learn the art of cooking. It’s so deliciously rewarding.
If someone tells you something that sounds too good to be true, do a little independent research before believing it.
We live in a world where the things we see on the Internet and in media have a much looser relationship to the truth than they used to. It’s good to look for evidence before committing to a belief, especially if it comes from the mouth of a pundit or the text of a meme. Plus, this will save you from looking foolhardy in front of friends who have already debunked the myth.
Always wear a good bra and good shoes.
This is, without a doubt, the best advice I’ve ever personally received, so I owe this one to my former Literature teacher, Mrs. Ayers.
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