16 Things I’d Tell My 20-Year-Old Self (Now That I’m 30)

What I'd tell my 20-year-old self

Pieces of advice I’d have given to myself (or would give to anyone who’s 20)

I blinked, and then it was over. As they are for many, my 20’s were an amazing, fun-filled, fast-paced ride through many of life’s ups and downs. Thankfully, I’ve emerged wiser and happier!

This post is inspired by a question I received right around my 30th birthday, “what 30 jewels of wisdom can you give now that you’re this age?” I couldn’t quite get to “30 jewels” here; however, these are sixteen things that I’d tell my 20-year-old self after looking back on the last ten years.

1. You don’t know what you don’t know, yet.

The older I get, the more I realize how little I know. The knowledge base of a given field is like an ocean – it’s typically very wide, and very deep. When we begin a new pursuit, we are floating down a gentle river. As we grow in our field, the river widens. Our growth is like the river: it never ends – it only ever meets the ocean.

2. You are your greatest opponent in life (but also your greatest ally).

It’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve finally succeeded in learning that the vast majority of reasons why something didn’t go “my way” come from “within me.” It’s now the first place I try and look to when I come up short in something.

What I’ve learned from working with great teams is that the more focused the group remains on its own development, the better the team will perform long term. Becoming excessively preoccupied with the competition or a particular opponent (which is inherently a factor in our success that is outside of our control), typically shifted the team out of its groove and away from peak performance.

3. Believing you can do something is the first step to getting it done.

Your beliefs govern your world. To succeed in accomplishing anything takes at least a shred of faith that it’s attainable.

A great case in point: in my early 20’s, I refused to believe I could learn to speak French. My French was horrendous and wasn’t getting any better. Fast-forward to the beginning of my 30’s and I can proudly call myself functionally bilingual.

4. You can consciously create your world. Wake up to it!

This point tacks on to the last one. If your limits are what hold you back, imagine the things that you can accomplish once you think beyond your mental walls.

Want to become wealthy? Don’t simply dream of wealth – dream about how you can create it!

5. Understand your ultimate freedom: the power to choose your response.

Jack Canfield is famous for this simple equation that describes our power to choose our response:

E + R = O

Where “E” stands for an event (and is out of our direct control), “O” stands for outcome (which is partially within our control), and “R” represents our response (and is 100% within our control). How an event turns out for us is a function how we respond to it.

Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl writes about the freedom to choose our response even in the darkest circumstances imaginable. I highly recommend his renowned book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

6. Life is largely unequal by design – don’t worry about the cards you’ve been dealt: focus on how you play them.

No two people are totally identical. No two people have the exact same set of strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has their own set of gifts, their own personal “set of cards” to play in life. Where does the field start to even out? In the time that we have to invest in ourselves, and the choices we can make in terms of how to play the hands we’ve been dealt.

7. Choose to see opportunities where others see challenges or problems.

This is a mindset shift that will dramatically change your life. Interpreting an event as a problem often leads you down an unproductive and frustrating path. Seeing something as a challenge is an upgrade in mentality – it’s frequently a motivating perspective. However, the best mindset of the three is that of opportunity.

Win or lose, pass or fail, there is always something to gain for someone takes on this perspective. Even when things don’t go well, this mindset keeps you open to learning something new and valuable from your experience.

8. “Falling down is part of life, getting up is living.”

I’ve fallen in love with this Jose N. Harris quote since it was put in front of me on my 30th birthday. The most rewarding experiences of our lives tend to be the ones mired in struggle, adversity and hardship. These are the times that teach us about ourselves – how mentally tough we are, how resourceful we can be, how creatively we can find solutions.

Savour these periods of your life as they will make you a much stronger person at the end of the day.

9. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

This African proverb is becoming more and more meaningful as I get older. In my early 20’s, I’d say that I overly relied on a few key friends for help getting by, while ignoring a lot of other people in my circle of friends and connections.

Over the last several years, I’ve strongly decreased my deep reliance on others, and am only just now learning how important it is to nurture some my “weaker ties” (a term I first heard from Michael Bungay Stanier on this interview with Rich Litvin). Keep in mind, weaker in this case doesn’t mean less important!

Building a community of supporters, with whom you can also share yourself in mutually beneficial ways, is one way to fast track your personal growth. We all need our 1000 raving fans!

10. Be patient when it comes to love. It’s worth the wait.

Oh the feelings of frustration that dominated my romantic life for much of my third decade! The main reason I struggled so hard to find a partner until the age of 28 was due to a lack of deep self-belief! When I finally started to get really comfortable with who I am, finding a partner and falling in love was relatively easy! Had I not put in the time to experience life and learn about myself, I’d have never made it this far.

11. The most attractive person you can be is yourself.

This is just the really articulate way of saying what I wrote in point number ten! 😉

12. Read some books, man!

The source of most of the new skills and knowledge I’ve acquired since leaving university is books. Although I consume videos and podcasts like any other millennial might, it’s the deep dives into great pieces of non-fiction which have inspired me and kept me growing.

When you read the book of a great contributor to a field of work, you are in a sort of conversation with them. Many of these conversations become unforgettable “aha” moments which help move you forward more quickly than you would have otherwise on your own.

13. Let go of what you can’t control, and focus on what you can.

Don’t focus on the “E:” focus on the “R!”

14. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

This quote comes from the late, great Stephen R. Covey, who wrote a whole chapter about this concept in his most famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When we listen to others with the intent to truly see things from their perspective, we greatly enhance our ability to connect, build trust, and work effectively with others.

We live in a world that is very preoccupied with talking, expressing and outwardly communicating. What isn’t taught in school is how to listen effectively. It’s a skill like any other, and it takes deliberate effort to improve.

15. “How we judge others is a reflection of how we judge ourselves.”

I’m not sure who said this, but it has given me so much insight into how others behave. A person who is non-judgmental toward others is largely non-judgmental to themselves. A person who beats up on others is doing the same thing to themselves somewhere in their lives too.

When a person really begins to feel that they are “enough,” they will indeed see that their friends, family and peers are also “enough,” and this is the root of acceptance of others.

16. “How we do anything is how we do everything.”

This last quote comes from my coach training program (again, I’m having a hard time determining its author). While it might be intuitively easy to understand on the surface, it’s tough to really “get” at a deep level.

We are the same person in all situations, contexts and rolls. Although we may lean on certain strengths or abilities in certain areas of our lives, we are one complete being that is always carrying around our strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and faults. As a result, our habits and beliefs show up in a similar way in different parts of our day-to-day life.

I’ll bet you can name someone in your life who struggles to organize their time. They may let certain distractions strip their attention away from important tasks, or double book themselves between two people at the same time. They poorly estimate how long certain tasks will take to complete. They probably aren’t deliberate in their disorganization – they simply do not value their own time all that much. Their messy world makes them hard to work or hang out with, which in turn complicates another area of their lives.

If I could have connected more of the dots in my life together when I was 20, I’d have been able to see much more clearly what was holding me back in a multitude of places. Live and learn!

In hindsight…

Looking back, it’s always nice to think about what our lives would have been like had we been armed in the past with the knowledge and wisdom that we have in the present. The truth is, that time is the price we pay to gain the knowledge and wisdom we seek to live with. Invest your time wisely – it is the one resource we can never recover! Grow your mind as you go – its capacity is limitless!

Question: which one of the sixteen points above resonated with you the most? Leave your pick in the comments below!

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