10 Tough Life Lessons I Would Have Told 20-Year-Old Me (PART 1)

Do you have any advice or life lessons that you would have taught your 20-year-old self? I made a list of 10 life lessons that I know now at 44 that I would have loved for someone to tell me. The older you get, the wiser you get and hindsight is always 20-20. Read on to see some of the things I've learned over the years.

Last week was my 44th birthday and I've had a few months to get used to this idea but I have to say it's still weird. Do I feel 44? I don't know - what does 44 feel like? I guess it depends on the person. I've seen people my age who can't get off the couch. I've seen people my age running marathons and hiking the Inca Trail. I have to say one thing: I don't agree with the whole 'age is just a number' thing - because unfortunately my body sometimes disagrees and it needs more self-care, alone time, sleep, daily exercise better quality food, and mindfulness activities to stay healthy.

So am I old? No. Here's why..

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
Gabriel García Márquez

I wanted to put together some pieces of advice that I would have given my younger self today. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of wiser people giving good advice around me and I could have used it.

Who was I at 20 and what was I doing?

When I was 20, I left Rochester, Minnesota to move to Mexico by myself to study Spanish and take photography classes. I had saved up for about 1.5 years waiting tables and my plan at the time was study Spanish in Mexico to finally learn it for my grandmother (who was Mexican), to go to London, England, to do volunteer work with disabled students, and to go to China to teach English.

I didn't know what I was looking for leaving my state alone without speaking Spanish to move to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 1998. I was scared shitless, I arrived to the guest house and sat down on the bed and cried. 'I must be brave, crazy, or really, really stupid," I thought to myself. I never realized though that move would change the rest of my life.

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

So without further ado, here are 10 tough lessons I've learned that I wish I would have known at 20

1) Don't let those who abandon their dreams discourage yours  

My dad told me this quote when I was in high school and I have found that the bigger your dreams, not everyone will be on board. People have lots of warnings, advice, and things that they would do if they were you. Most of it is well-meaning but sometimes it can end up being what talks you out of going for what you want. If I had listened to everyone's warnings about Mexico, and this was in 1998, I would never have gone. Everyone told me how unsafe it was for a woman to go alone. I researched, enrolled in a Spanish school, the school arranged a guest house for me, and I had a driver pick me up at the airport.. That trip taught me more about myself, my independence, and strength than anything else in my life and it changed me for the better.

Every day you are one decision away from a totally different life," says Mark Batterson.

Photo: Brett Jordan

2) If you don't ask, the answer will always be no

Sometimes we assume that people will say no, or that we already know the answer and that it will not be what we want so we don't even bother asking. Do you want a raise? How can you build yourself up for that conversation and just 'ask' for it. Many times, we sabotage ourselves with the assumption that we know the answer but the reality is we aren't fortune-tellers! So many times in my past, I was afraid to speak up, to be assertive, or bother anyone. After many years in China where being assertive (especially of your personal space) is something that you HAVE to learn, I found my voice and my ability to ask for what I want and also believe that I deserve it. I think sometimes, especially as women, we get the idea that asking for what we want is demanding and we don't want to be too much trouble,

3) Love isn't enough to keep a relationship together

This is one of the hardest lessons I ever learned in my 20s. I thought love was enough and having things in common was the glue of relationships but as I learned, it's not. I really thought love conquered all and if two people love each other they can make it work. Fact is that you need a lot more than that. You need compatibility, shared values, shared time, sexual compatibility, and the ability to grow together. The reality is we all want different things and sometimes those differences are enough to destroy a relationship because sometimes that thing you compromise on is what builds resentment later on.

Do you want kids? If so, you need a partner who wants that too. Do you want to travel with your partner and explore the world? If your partner doesn't want that you could end up unhappy if you sacrifice that and stay home for your partner or if you do it alone but they resent you for going alone. Is your person a workaholic who puts you last? Do their values align with yours? Are they a positive or negative person? Does one person have a communication style that is unhealthy but isn't willing to change it?

“Love isn't always enough... Just because you love someone," she said, "that doesn't mean your lives will fit together” ― Rainbow Rowell, Landline

4) Unfortunately, the more you grow, you might have to leave people behind

Not everyone is going to understand what you're trying to accomplish in life and that's OK. While it's wonderful to feel supported, it's important to learn to validate your own successes even when others don't because sometimes if you wait for others to motivate you, you won't do much. Not everyone is meant to be in your life forever. Also, sometimes, the more you heal, the more self-aware you become, you won't always find that everyone is happy for your success. Over time, you might even realize as you grow that people might be in your life but they can't be as close to you because of their beliefs, values, or even unhealthy behaviors you might not feel comfortable being around. It's ok. Sometimes people are in your life for a reason, season, or lifetime. However, you don't always know who is who at the time.

Photo: Autumn Goodman

5) Only YOU can love yourself enough to feel comfortable in your body

This is something that took me years so learn and looking back, I realized how much I deprived myself of happiness by just deciding that I REALLY was OK the way I was. I spent a lot of years hating parts of my body when looking back, I was young and there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I avoided the pool. I avoided the beach. Anyone who knows me know that I am happiest by water whether it's a river, lake, pool, or the sea. And I deprived myself of that because I hated my thighs. I was just SURE everyone was staring at me, judging me. OF COURSE they were. But you know what? Most often, NO ONE cares. This sounds maybe cold but once I learned people are thinking about themselves more than me it made me feel better. I mean, what do I care what they think anyway?

At the end of the day, the lesson here is that it has to be your CHOICE - not based on what you look like but how you feel about yourself and certainy not by comparing yourself to others. At the end of the day, YOU are the only one who decides whether you feel attractive. Yes, compliments are very nice and it feels amazing when someone tells you that you look nice. Receive it with gratitude!

But, at the end of the day, you have to feel good about yourself, consider yourself attractive and feel it. Don't believe me? Look at how many famous, beautiful stars there are who have issues with self-esteem or depression or extremely destructive habits because they don't feel good about themselves. Also, being attractive isn't what makes you feel good about yourself. Once you appreciate who you are and your body, no one can take that away from you. Look at stars like Lizzo who don't care what anyone thinks about how they look because they feel beautiful. Remember, it's not about beauty, it's about perception.

6) Exercise because you love your body not because you hate it

I cannot emphasize this enough - having a body that's healthy and functional is something we take for granted and it's a gift to be able to have full mobility, all of your limbs, and the health and ability to be able to exercise. It's not a punishment if you look at it this way. We brush our teeth because we want to keep them not because we are punishing ourselves. Most of us WANT to have teeth when we're older. Plus, exercise makes you FEEL better from the inside out as it releases endorphins and you sleep better, are more awake and alert during the day, and you have way more energy. Plus, exercising and movement in general is ian important part of mental health. If you don't like the gym, you don't have to. Find ONE activity you enjoy doing, and do it often enough, so you can look forward to it. Perhaps for you, walking 10,000 steps every day is relaxing and a good source of cardio, or maybe you prefer salsa classes, or swimming, or yoga, etc.

I tore my ACL ligament in my knee and couldn't do much of anything for about 2 months. I felt horrible. I gained weight, I felt fat, sluggish, lazy, so tired, depressed, lifeless, couldn't sleep - it was terrible. I thought to myself, is this what being out of shape feels like? I can't take much more of this! However, even though I wasn't a fan of the gym, it was a controlled environment I could add on to my physiotherapy with exercise bikes and since then, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have full access of my knee again. There is nothing like a sports injury to make you suddenly appreciate how important your body is.

It's not about waiting until you're a certain size or weight to feel good about yourself. It's about doing something that's good for you because you love yourself. And its' a form of self care. Not a punishment.

"Having the ability to exercise is an amazing gift - we should appreciate and enjoy it," -- Julia Buckley fitness.

7) You'll regret the things you didn't do because you played it small

It's important to remember that people who have never failed have never tried anything new. Unfortunately, failure is a part of life and it means you're growing. Yes, we all know our comfort zones are comfy but nothing great ever happens there. The real risk is that we might wake up one day realizing we were really capable of more or maybe we stayed in jobs we didn't like or relationships that were unfulfilling because we feared making those changes.

If you deny yourself opportunities because you were afraid of failure then you never know what you're capable of.

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”― Marianne Williamson

Photo: Shaira Dela Peña

8) Learn your love languages in relationships

Truly understanding how you express and give and also how you perceive love is one of the most important things you can learn for yourself in your current or future relationships. As children, we learn from our caregivers how love is expressed and we can accept or reject it. For example, if you were not cuddled or told you were loved or appreciated, you could find yourself insisting on this in your relationships and not understand why. Similarly, you could be extremely physically and verbally expressive and expect your partner to do the same.

The problem arises when the other person has a different love language, such as gifts, or acts of service and no matter how many nice things they do for you, your need for verbal affirmations and physical touch mean that you will never feel as loved as with those expressions. There is a quiz on this, take it here. as it will save you a lot of trouble in your relationship (Gary Chapman - 5 love languages is the book).

Once you understand what you need, it's easier to communicate it to your partner and also understand their expressions of love as well.

9) Learn to create boundaries with yourself and others

This is a difficult for many people, especially if you grew up in a home where boundaries were not a thing. Remember, boundaries are not about telling other people what they need to do, it's letting them know what you are able to do. It doesn't depend on them to comply, you're letting them know what you're willing to tolerate, or you're communicating expectations with the clear understanding of what happens if they do something or don't do something. It's not a demand, it's setting the expectation and standard and communicating this in a clear yet respectful way.

On the other hand, when it comes to yourself, setting standards and boundaries with yourself in every area of your life is essential.

Setting boundaries with yourself is an essential part of self care, whether it's avoiding junk food at every meal, deciding you will read instead of spending 2 hours on your phone every night before bed, or avoiding the latest office gossip or not participating in someone's complaining about other people.

One article by Live Well with Sharon Martin had a fantastic list of how to easily start doing this:

Step 1: Identify different areas of your life that need structure or limits, such as finances, relationships, electronics usage, daily routine, physical health, nutrition, emotional health, and so forth.

Step 2: Create boundaries that reflect your goals and values.

Step 3: Don’t try to set too many boundaries all at once.

Step 4: Use compassionate accountability.

Step 5: Make incremental changes.

10) Practice mindfulness for your mental and emotional health

Do meditation, EFT tapping, yoga, and all those kinds of things to keep yourself mentally and emotionally healthy as it will keep you stronger, more confident, etc and be able to handle stressful situations and people much better. The sooner you get to know yourself and can learn your strengths as well as how to manage your emotions the more unstoppable you become and more resilient.

Not having control over your emotions, getting offended, angry, allowing others to ruin your day gives away all your power. Also, the older you get, life doesn't get any easeir, you just become more reslient and adapt at dealing with issues because you've learned from your past mistakes.

I'm a naturally energetic and anxious person and for me learning meditation and EFT tapping was one of the best things I ever did. It's a great way to stay calm or to de-stress when things pile up and regain control over your emotional state.

Last Words:

I hope you enjoyed these 10 Life Lessons. Stay tuned for part 2! Do any of these resonate with you? Let me know in the comments below! 


ANDREA HUNT - Online Transformational Life Coach & EFT Tapping Practitioner based in Munich, Germany

I'm an accredited transformational life coach from Animas Centre for Coaching UK  and a member of the International Coaching Federation. I'm also a Level 2 practitioner in EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) and a member of AEFTP (Association of Emotional Freedom Technique Professionals).

If you're not sure where to start transforming your life, you can download my free ebook on How to Start Your Personal Growth Journey.

Are you ready to change your life, let go of old beliefs, empower yourself for a mindset shift to move forward? Mark Batterson says: You're always one decision away from a totally different life.

If you're interested in booking a free 15 minute discovery call for transformational life coaching, EFT Tapping or checking out my services page click here.

Header photo: Ryan Graybill

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