1) Travel now. I know you might not have a lot of money and your vacation days are probably limited (not to mention the guilt that you might get from your employer if you actually use them) but getting away will only get harder as you get older. Heck, take a year to travel. No one will notice a 12-month gap in your resume and the stories you’ll have will make any job interviews to come far more interesting. You’re at an age where it is totally acceptable to live off of pizza and beer and share a room with 4 other strangers. Take advantage of the world’s hostel systems. Just go!
2) You don’t have to know anything yet. You just have to be willing to take the time to figure it out. It’s OK if you don’t know what you want in a relationship or what your dream job is. The people who fell in love with their soul mate in 8th grade or have known that they wanted to be a doctor since they were five years old are freaks. Stories about people who try, fail, and have to start all over again are far more interesting than the ones about people who have it all figured out already.
3) Stop spending all of your money on clothes. Suddenly you have disposable income and you need a new work wardrobe, and clothes for going out, clothes for the gym, clothes for shopping, and clothes for hanging out…. If you don’t wear them in a year, you don’t need them. Stop shopping and save your money for important things… like flights to exotic places.
4) Why marriage is work. Before I got married, I always wondered about this. I think the idea is that when you get married, suddenly it’s not all about you anymore. You can’t spend $5,000 on a sofa just because you feel like it. You can’t quit your job and move across the country without consulting your significant other. You have to agree on things, especially the big things… where you want to live, what you want to spend money on, what you need to be happy, whether you want to have kids, how you feel about religion, and where you spend your time. You have to talk, even when you don’t feel like it and listen even when you really just want to watch TV. Relationships take effort, but they take more effort if you don’t have the same goals, values, interests, and preferences, or if you’re a super-independent person who doesn’t want to have to consult someone else before you make big changes.
5) Stop fighting your body. After years of stressing over labels, counting calories, and slaving away on the treadmill, I realized that I ended up in just about the same place on December 31stas I had on January 1st. When I stopped worrying about all of it, ate when I was hungry, worked out to be strong and sane instead of to lose weight, and stopped stressing when I ate ice cream and whoopie pies (which is daily), my weight got to a happy place. My pants fit, I feel good, and now I can focus my attention on far more important things than the number on the scale.
6) In the world of beauty, sometimes experience trumps youth. Sure, at 20 you probably have great skin, you can get away without wearing makeup, and throwing your hair in a ponytail still looks cute and not silly. That said, nothing beats experience for learning what works for you and you alone. The fact that something is trendy does not mean it will look good on you. Just because something is hanging on the rack at your favorite store does not mean that you should take it home with you. Time will help you know what will look good on you before you even try it on. You’ve learned how to apply makeup in 5 minutes or less, how to camouflage dark circles under your eyes, and how to make the most of whatever assets you have. In other words, stop stressing that these are your best years and you'll turn into a troll as soon as you hit 30. That's why they make wrinkle cream.
7) Things never "get easier", they just "get different." My very wise husband told me that once and it’s true. At 20 it might be that you have no money, you don’t have the work experience you need to get the job you want, you want to lose 5 pounds, you haven’t found “the one,” and you still live at home. At 30 you might have your dream job but realize that it comes with stresses or frustrations that you didn’t account for. You might have moved out, but realized that oil is expensive and when the toilet starts leaking it’s up to you to fix it. You may be in a great relationship, but he/she might live halfway across the country and neither of you really want to move. You may have had to deal with a significant loss or a health issue. You may have had your heart broken. The best we can do is deal with our circumstances now… not pine for the past or long for the future. Every situation has its positives and negatives... the positives can just be more difficult to see when you're right in the thick of things.
8) Where you go to college doesn’t really matter all that much. Neither does your first job, what sorority or fraternity you join, or what your parents do for a living. I remember thinking my entire life depended on where I went to college, and then later, which sorority gave me a bid. Sure you might make some good connections and it might look nice on a resume or sound good at a dinner party, but there are plenty of incredible entrepreneurs who didn’t go to Ivy League schools, have memberships into secret societies, or have extremely well-connected parents. That’s not a shot at the people who do--use any advantage that you can--just a reminder to the rest of us that just because something doesn’t go your way early on, that doesn’t mean your life is ruined.
9) Guys/Girls like girls/guys who make them work for it. “It” being anything… your number, a date, a kiss, or an I love you. Just watch the Bachelor. The guy inevitably goes for the girl who doesn’t gush about him from day one--the girl who is sweet and polite, but not easy or desperate. To clarify, this is not the same as playing hard to get... it's expecting someone to treat you with respect, to make an effort to "court" you, to spend time getting to know you, and it's cutting them loose when they don't. It also means they should get the same respect, effort, and time from you.
10) You alone are responsible for your health. Doctors are great, but they have tons of other patients and they will never care about you as much as you care about you. Read your medical records. Speak up about your symptoms. Ask questions. Follow up. Pay attention. Get second opinions. Don't just assume that your doctor will catch or notice everything. You are your best advocate.
11) Floss. The plaque in your mouth is the same plaque that can build up in your heart. Gross.
12) Wear sunscreen. Once you hear the doctor say, “I think this could be melanoma,” and start thinking about Izzie on Gray’s Anatomy you don’t care about being tan ever again. It’s not worth it.
13) Planning a wedding kind of stinks. Especially if you’re the kind of person who tries to make everyone happy. So if you’re getting married just to have a wedding, don’t, and if you think planning is going to be the thing that gets you through a tough time, it won’t.
14) You’ll probably have to rough it. Especially now, with a crummy job market. No one is going to offer you your dream job on a silver platter, complete with a 6-figure paycheck, 5 weeks’ vacation, health care, and total independence to do what you love. You have to pay your dues. Usually that means taking a lower salary, working longer hours, and doing the silly errands that no one else feels like doing. That's OK. Say "Yes" to any errand or task and you'll move up in a hurry.
15) Not everyone is going to like you. I’m still working on this one, but I know it’s true and you can let it drive you crazy or accept it. I’m still in the drive you crazy phase, but I’m trying.
16) No one has it all figured out. Even if they look totally put together all the time. Even if they seem to have the perfect spouse, house, car, career, and post lots of annoying vacation photos on Facebook. We all have issues, flaws, and things that scare us to death. Everyone has hang ups.
17) Negotiate. Before I worked in sales, I was mortified at the idea of asking anyone for a discount on anything ever. Now it just seems silly not to. I'm not saying I would go into The Gap and offer them $20 for a $25 t-shirt, but when you're trying to get the best deal on a cell phone, or a wedding band, or a hotel room, it never hurts to ask. Even just saying, "Is that the best rate you can offer me?" can be effective. As long as you're polite and realistic, it's totally appropriate.
18) They can't shoot you. This one came from my grandmother, when I was telling her how nervous I was for the first day of a new job. Her response to me was, "What are you so afraid of? They can't shoot you." It was totally the perspective I needed. No one ever died of embarrassment. If you want something (assuming it's legal, ethical, and moral) go after it. At worst you might fail--and OK if you do it's embarrassing. People will talk about you behind your back. You will feel like a big, giant loser. Oh well. Life is short and so are people's attention spans. They'll move on and so will you. The big losers are the people who sit in cubicles thinking of the great idea they had that they never followed through with.
19) Volunteer. Give back in any way that you can. Start yesterday. The world needs as much positive energy as it can get. You have time. You have skills. Every minute helps.
20) Stop procrastinating. Do what you love and start today. Don’t wait until your changes have to be big, dramatic, and scary. If you don’t know what you love, just do something. You can only find out what you like by trying things. Do the thing you don’t feel like doing. Maybe it’s homework, maybe it’s getting on the treadmill, maybe it’s calling a potential dream employer to find out what experience you need to get a job there. In the words of an underpaid, freelance copywriter, “Just do it.”