13 Things I Wish I’d Known In My 20s

There are always things you wish you’d known ahead of time. For example, I wish I knew when the market was about to crash or when Steve Jobs had the idea to make the iPhone. But that’s just wishful thinking. Often, when someone asks you what you wish you had known before, your mind naturally […]

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There are always things you wish you’d known ahead of time. For example, I wish I knew when the market was about to crash or when Steve Jobs had the idea to make the iPhone.

But that’s just wishful thinking. Often, when someone asks you what you wish you had known before, your mind naturally navigates toward something that would increase your material security.

How many times, though, do you stop and ponder about how your life would’ve been different if you had an insight about some issues you face today, or, at least, the consequences of those things?

That is the idea I’m exploring in this article — the things I wish I knew and how I believe my life could’ve been different had I known them ahead of time and done something about it.

The 13 Things I Wish I Knew Early On

1. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes and Fail

“Making mistakes is better than faking perfections.” — Anonymous

I grew up terrified of making mistakes. I don’t know if it’s a result of being a perfectionist or that I wasn’t too brilliant in school, which meant I had to compensate everywhere else.

Today I believe failure should never be a goal itself, but we all need to accept it as an integral part of reaching a goal. The more you fear failure, or fear rejection for that matter, the fewer opportunities you will embrace, and you will do anything in your power to shield yourself from risks.

The way I reframed my mind so many years later was to say out loud: “I don’t know everything.” To learn, I must try, experiment, and accept that the unknown will be met with failure every so often.

Key takeaways

  • Be okay with failure and mistakes.
  • Accept that failure is a natural part of your growth.
  • Learn from failures and apply those lessons in life.
  • Actively seek places where you might fail and go there wholeheartedly.

2. Express Your Feelings and Be Vulnerable

“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” — Brené Brown

This one’s a tough one for me. During my childhood, several people in my life seemed to have everything figured out. My grandfather, my dad, my grandmother, to name just a few. They always seemed like “rocks.”

They took care of business, and nothing stood in their way. So, that external appearance of an “iron man” was the image I thought I must project for people to take me seriously. To prove to the world that I am worthy, I cannot let them see any of my weaknesses.

In time, that mindset translated into equating vulnerability with weakness. The problem is that when you suppress vulnerability because you want to prevent people from seeing you as weak, you also bury other emotions with it as well.

Your brain cannot distinguish between them, and, all of a sudden, your range of emotions gets narrower and narrower up to the point where it seems like you don’t feel anything anymore.

Key takeaways

  • Vulnerability is not weakness.
  • When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you strengthen your relationships.
  • Through vulnerability and expression of emotions, you learn more about yourself and grow.

3. Don’t Worry About What Others Think

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” — Richard P. Feynman

Have you ever let out a blaring sneeze on the subway, and then, all of a sudden, it seems like everyone in the car is staring at you? Yeah, it turns out, nobody gives a damn, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

It’s natural to imagine that you are, somehow, at the center of the Universe, and everything else revolves around you, which means you must behave in a way that would appease the world — the whole world.

That’s a road that leads to losing your sense of self and becoming a marionette, ready to jump in whichever to make everyone happy.

It took me more than thirty years to realize that I simply don’t have to do that.

Key takeaways

  • Create a life plan and focus on that plan.
  • Don’t worry about what everybody else is thinking about you and your plans.
  • Seek and take feedback only from those you intimately trust.

4. Not Everyone Has to Like You

“Everybody is going to have an opinion on you; not everyone is going to like you. You can’t live your life based on other people’s opinions of you or let that change what you do or how you feel about yourself, because then you’re not living.” — Rumer Willis

This one is closely related to the one above, but it goes one step further in its insanity. Not only do you worry about what people think, but now you also make all efforts possible to make sure that everyone around you likes you.

Why would I think that? Am I so damn precious?

Well, the idea is that if everybody likes you, they must accept you. The more you are accepted, the less likely it is for people to judge you. The fewer people judge you, the less you will face conflict.

However, trying to be Mr. or Ms. Perfect all the time will drive people away over time. People will smell your fakeness. They might like you because you do what they need, but it won’t be genuine.

I now know that it’s okay if some people don’t like me. I’m at peace with that, and I’m looking at it as an opportunity to learn something about myself.

Key takeaways

  • It’s okay to have conflicts, even if that means some people might be upset with you.
  • Conflicts create ideas, and once the battle is over, bonds are stronger.
  • You are not perfect, and nobody expects you to be.
  • You must like yourself; for everybody else, it’s optional. Accept that.

5. You Can Take Calculated Risks

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

The reality is that no matter how much you try to manage your life to avoid uncertainty, you won’t be able to eliminate it. You’ll be hit by the relentless uncertainty when you less expect it, regardless of all the walls you build to protect yourself. So, instead of hiding away from uncertainty, embrace it.

Accept that it’s a part of life, and as you grow older, life only gets more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, or VUCA, as the US Army calls it. The best you can do is manage expectations and set goals that drive you forward through calculated risks.

That doesn’t mean being reckless but testing the waters and understanding that you can’t prevent everything no matter how many precautions you take. So, you might as well go for it.

Key takeaways

  • Uncertainty will never go away.
  • Things will only get more uncertain as life goes on.
  • It’s okay to embrace uncertainty and take calculated risks.
  • You can practice taking risks in areas that are not life-critical until you improve that skill.

6. Save Early for Financial Security

“Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.” — Warren Buffett

This one stings badly for me. That’s because I am a financial professional who’s been actively working in finance and banking for over twenty-five years. That means that concepts such as compound interest and dividends are evident to me.

So why is this on the list? Because knowing something theoretically and understanding its applicability to your own life are two different things. For the first fifteen years of my life, I never saved a dime. Why? I don’t know.

There was no vision back then. I had no goals, no ideas about the future. I was coasting life.

Today, looking back, I realize how much of a mistake that was. If I had a time machine, I’d rush back to me at twenty-two and slap myself.

Key takeaways

  • Start saving money as early as you can.
  • Put a part of your income into a diversified portfolio of investments.
  • Compound interest is your best financial friend.
  • Invest in passive income opportunities early on.
  • Maximize your pension contributions every year.

7. Nurture Your Relationships

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buechner

Paraphrasing Simon Sinek, we are our relationships. Our life is made rich by the people around us, much like we enrich their experiences with our presence; nobody lives in a vacuum.

Although I’ve always had good friends, and to this day, I am still very close to my colleagues from school, I’ve always kept people at arm’s length.

I never got to know my friends well enough, and I maintained most of my relationships at a relatively superficial level. Even with my family, I’ve never been the warm and fuzzy guy who reaches out and tries to understand the problems of those around me.

I lived most of my life inside my head, preoccupied with my own thoughts and ideas. As a result of that, I’ve lost touch with many people emotionally, and I haven’t shown my love and care in the way that I should.

This is one of the most critical things I wish I knew ahead of time; If I only had a magic wand to go back in time and rectify all that.

Key takeaways

  • Be the one who reaches out to friends.
  • Do little things that make someone’s day.
  • Say I love you.
  • Hug someone.
  • Call your mom.

8. It’s Okay to Say No

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” — Warren Buffett

When you are a people-pleaser, such as yours truly here, you will always aim to be the hero. That’s your way of shining and creating “love” for yourself. If you say yes to everything and everyone and then do it, people must appreciate you.

They have no choice, right? Wrong again. Yes, people will have beautiful things to say about you, but that doesn’t create a lasting bond. It only works so far as your abilities and performance.

What if you are asked to do something that you don’t know or can’t do? Or if too many people ask you too many things at the same time? Then what? You’re screwed.

You can’t please everyone. That’s a fact.

Instead, create standards for yourself. Create boundaries. Learn how to say no to people and only say yes when you want to.

Key takeaways

  • Have standards and live up to them.
  • Set your boundaries and make them loud and clear.
  • A No doesn’t break a relationship. If it does, there was none, to begin with.
  • Practice saying no more often and deal with the consequences. You’re a grown-up.

9. Be Authentic and Don’t Lie

“As I began to love myself, I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living my truth. Today I know this is authenticity.” — Charlie Chaplin

The more you try to manage your image in front of others because you care what they think and don’t want to upset them, the more you lose your identity.

You start to force yourself to become (or pretend to be) the person they want you to be. You lose your authenticity and your sense of self.

You do this by holding back your thoughts. If you believe something on your mind might bother a person, you’ll keep it to yourself. That’s the same as lying.

The more you try to manage the truth, the more you live inside your head. And the more you do that, the less sensitive you’ll be to other people’s feelings and emotions.

Soon enough, you’ll spend all your energy managing your image, and you’ll completely lose your connection to those who love you.

Key takeaways

  • Be authentic: admit to yourself and others who you are.
  • Own your flaws; embrace your imperfections.
  • Speak your mind, but do so with love and care.
  • You can be direct so long as you do so with empathy and understanding.
  • Don’t lie.

10. Seek Role Models, Not Competitors

“Find someone who has a life that you want and figure out how they got it. Read books, pick your role models wisely. Find out what they did and do it.” — Lana Del Rey

By deliberately looking for people who know more, have more, have done better, you have access to their nuggets of knowledge, and you can then apply them to your life.

One element that I now find especially critical is never to compare myself to others. Instead, I must look at those who’ve done better as a source of inspiration.

The only person you should compare yourself to is yourself from yesterday. If you have improved by 0.01%, you’ve done an excellent job. As for the rest, seek mentors and people you can learn from. Their experience and success should be nothing more than a catalyst and motivation.

Key takeaways

  • Be inspired, not jealous.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Compare yourself to you.
  • Look for role models and find mentors to guide you.

11. Invest in Yourself

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” — Henry David Thoreau

Once I finished college, I was ecstatic to put behind me that part of my life — formal education. After all, I now finally get to live life!

All I did was practice my existing skills on the job. There was no emotional training and no effort to understand my strengths and weaknesses.

That all started to change about six years ago when I first began my journey of reflection and self-discovery. Since then, lots have changed, but I can only imagine where I would’ve been if I had started this process early.

This process has spawned the idea that none of us should ever stop learning. The more you learn, the more chances you have to be successful.

Thinking that you know enough is arrogant and plain wrong. There are always places where you can invest in yourself and be better.

Key takeaways

  • Never stop learning.
  • You don’t know everything, and you never will. But you can always try.
  • Consistently push your body, mind, and heart out of the comfort zone.
  • Continue to invest in your growth (money, time, energy) for as long as you live.
  • As you grow and improve, remember to help those around you.

12. Keep Your Health in Check

“To keep the body in good health is a duty; otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” — Buddha

Did you ever feel immortal during your early twenties? Well, maybe not immortal-immortal, but you know what I mean.

That feeling that no matter what, tomorrow morning, you’ll be anew, and all the crap you’ve done the day before won’t matter anymore? Yep. The problem is that it does matter. Your health left unchecked decays slowly and silently, underneath the shiny armor you keep on the outside.

One day, soon enough, you’ll start to feel the effects. At first, you’ll deny them and double down on the crap you put your body through.

For most of us, it probably takes a visit to the doctor to snap you out of it, but by the time you get to that doctor, it might be too late. The damage is permanent or, at least, challenging to reverse.

Over the past five years, I’ve been aggressively working on my health, but think about it: I was forty years old when I started to care. Holy crap. That’s freaking late. It’s half my life, if I’m lucky.

Key takeaways

  • Keep your health in check. You are not immortal.
  • Exercise, eat healthy food, and see a doctor once a year for a wellness check.
  • Don’t let stuff add up; some of it be hard, if not impossible, to reverse.
  • Don’t poison your body or mind.

13. Learn to Listen

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” — Karl A. Menninger

I’m a problem solver. If you come to me with a question, my brain goes into crunch mode in 0.1 seconds. I immediately take your situation, dissect it, chart it, map it out, and attempt to figure out the best course to go from point A (your pain) to point B (no pain).

Simon Sinek gave a great speech a while back in which he explained why it is critical to be the last one to talk. On the other hand, I never had the patience to speak last, but I’ve also been that annoying person who finishes your sentences because he believes he knows precisely what you were about to say.

And, by the way, I also knew what you meant before you said it; I was 100% sure about how you were going to say it, and here’s what I think you should do about it. Problem solved. Thank you.

If somebody would’ve only told me when I was young about the power of empathic listening and that people sometimes simply want to be heard and understood.

Sometimes, people want to unload and look into somebody’s eyes and see that they get it; see that someone understands their pain at that moment.

And maybe they simply want to hear: “I heard you. I’m here for you.”

This is the one issue I still struggle with the most to this day.

Key takeaways

  • Empathic listening creates a connection.
  • Be humble and allow people to talk.
  • Don’t problem-solve.
  • Ask questions with genuine interest.

Identify Your Own I Wish I Knew List

This is my list. I’m sure there are other items that I could add, but these thirteen are the crème de la crème for me.

It took me years to put this list together because my lack of awareness buried all of these “I wish I knew” items deep down into the darkness of my obliviousness.

If you are blind, how can you see? And then, when you get sight, do you want to see?

Self-reflection is a painful process because it involves questioning your entire existence. Acceptance of what you uncover might take years and even more years until you do something about it.

Once you create a list like this for yourself and read it aloud, boy, will it sting — not only because you’ll hate what you see, but also because you’ll suddenly understand what you missed out on. What could’ve been?

The secret here is to let those things seep in, but don’t baste in them. Regret is a powerful feeling, but much like you shouldn’t allow any emotion to derail you from the path, you need to use grief as a tool, not a limitation.

Regret should not make you cringe and hide in shame. Instead, regret should be fuel. I can now get up and say, “I regret this, but now I know what I have to do, and I’m going to do it.”

I suggest you try this exercise for yourself. Sit down and look back into your life and try to identify those pain points from today, which could’ve been different if you knew the truth behind them in the past.

Trust me; it’s empowering.


Adapted from an original article published on iulianionescu.com under 13 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Turned 25.


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