What would you tell 20-year-old you?
November 13, 2005 1:55 PM   Subscribe

What did you wish you knew when you were 20?

I'm 20. There are a few things I've learnt in the last few years that could have been really valuable had I learnt them earlier. What have you learnt since you were 20 that would have been valuable then?

This isn't a specific problem that needs answering, but a more general question seeking 'life lesson' kind of things.

About me- 20, at university, will graduate in two years with majors in Geology (which I'm ok at and will get me a job) and English (which I love but wont get me a job). I'm two years into a long distance relationship, and there's no end in sight (to the distance or to the relationship). So: what should I know? What's something you come to learn only after more than two decades on this little planet? What would you tell yourself if you could speak to 20-year-old you?
posted by twirlypen to Religion & Philosophy (63 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Most of the things you're going to spend your money on won't be worth it.
posted by JanetLand at 2:00 PM on November 13, 2005 [6 favorites]

Dear Self,
Six months after you graduate, no one will care what your grades were. Have fun. Also, have more sex.
With love,

PS You should have completely switched wardrobes between high school and college.
posted by ColdChef at 2:07 PM on November 13, 2005 [3 favorites]

1. Pick a goal and shoot for it. Set deadlines. If the goal becomes unreachable, pick a new goal and repeat. Plan. Take the long view.

2. Save some money. You'll need it.

3. You need your "me time". But too much "me time" will fuck you over.

4. There's always another girl. Get back on the horse when it's over, and quickly.

5. Don't look back with regret. It's a waste of time and energy.

6. Getting past your fears is always rewarding in the long term.

7. Short term sacrifice for long term gain will pay dividends. If you have to take a shitty job to pay the rent, don't make it a career.

8. Pack a lunch -- don't buy a lunch. Avoid buying coffee from a coffee shop. Basically, don't waste money where you don't have to.

9. Travel whenever you can afford to do so. You will be better served by a week in Ireland than you will by owning a nice TV.

10. Pay your debts as quickly as you can. Don't run up your credit cards.

11. Keep in shape. You don't have to be buff, but it is worth the effort to hit the gym a few times a week and to walk instead of drive wherever possible.

12. Your employers will want to pay you as little as possible. You need to look out for #1. A misplaced sense of loyalty should not overshadow your need to pay the mortgage. If you get a better offer somewhere else, consider it.

13. Show your parents that you appreciate them before it's too late.

That's off the top of my head. I'm 36.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2005 [5 favorites]

I wish I knew that this question had been already discussed.
posted by adamrice at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2005

Learn to cook for large groups of people. Know how to dance. Take care of your back. Make friends with the brightest students in related disciplines (physics, chem, etc) and stay in touch with them, so that you can get help in areas outside of your speciality when you go to work. While you're at it, stay in touch with people from this time period, once you lose contact, you often lose them for good. Learn Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, or any other major language so that you can work across the world. Trust your instincts when it comes to love but not when it comes to alcohol. Don't ever be threatened by another person. Nobody is as good as being you as you are, so just focus on that. Then invite me over once you can really cook well.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:11 PM on November 13, 2005 [5 favorites]

Dear Self,

Don't blow off that cute, intelligent, Chem major who was interested in you in college! Really. SOCIAL SKILLS. Learn them!

You will thank me later.

Kisses, Self.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2005

(I'll be 40 next week)

-- I'm SO glad that I didn't get married in my early 20s. And I would have if certain things had worked out. They didn't, and I was devastated at the time. Now I realize I got really lucky. I wasn't mature enough to be married back then. I got married when I was almost 30, and it's been great.

-- I WISH I had taken better care of my body. In my early 20s, my metabolism was still in great shape. I could eat 10 bowls of cereal and not gain weight. Now I'm paying for it. I'm actually in better shape now than I was then, but I work out for an hour every day and count calories. And it took me SO long to get to where I am now, because I screwed up so much in the past.

-- 30 is not old. (Neither is 40.) It's stupid to get to 28 and start freaking out because you haven't accomplished x,y or z yet. You still have plenty of time.

-- I wish I had learned some more marketable skills so that I could have supported myself better while pursuing my passions.

-- My 20s were so much better than my teens; my 30s were so much better than my 20s. I'm pretty sure my 40s will be better than my 30s. So why is it so hard to get out of the mindset that the future will be worse than the past? This is bullshit. Try to avoid this mindset.

-- When you leave college, it's very easy to sink into a lifestyle where you are no longer challenged. Most jobs don't require you to learn new skills after you've reached a certain place in the organization's hierarchy.

I teach computer stuff for a living, and I constantly deal with anxious students who tell me they are hopeless at learning to do stuff on computers. After talking to them for a while, I realize that their problem has nothing to do with computers -- it has to do with learning new things. It just so happens that Photoshop (or whatever) is the first new thing they've been forced to learn since they left college. And their brains aren't used to it.

I have SO many friends who don't read any more (except maybe the newspaper). They go to work, come home, flip on the tv, and then go to bed.

Don't be like this if you can help it.

-- Most of us don't naturally know how to contribute to mind-blowing sex (even though we think we do). But the information is out there (books, videos, etc.) Study and learn. (And don't believe anything you see in porn.)

-- If there are any facets of your life which still rely on mom and dad, start strategising ways to become completely independent. You will have to be independent one day.
posted by grumblebee at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2005 [5 favorites]

That ex-girlfriend was bad, bad news. You should never call her off of that hill and introduce yourself to her like you did when you were 21. Just walk away the second time around.

Also, stop smoking so much dope and take college a bit more seriously, mister. You'll thank me when you are 33. Honest.
posted by punkrockrat at 2:28 PM on November 13, 2005

4. There's always another girl.

Wow. I disagree. The people I choose to spend time with are special. They are not interchangeable. My friendships and relationships with them took a long time to ripen and if they rot, I am deeply upset (and rightly so).

You can have sex with any girl, but that's just 10% of the equation.
posted by grumblebee at 2:30 PM on November 13, 2005 [4 favorites]

Don't worry about "What did you wish you knew when you were 20?". Have lots of experiences doing things you love/like to do. If you're not sure if you like it, try it anyway, then you'll know.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:34 PM on November 13, 2005

4. There's always another girl.

Wow. I disagree. The people I choose to spend time with are special. They are not interchangeable.

I think he's just saying, "when a relationship ends, buck up and move on," not "dump that bitch."
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:36 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

"Things I have learnt "
Don't worry, you seem to be doing ok.

Here's what I've learned in the last 5 years:

People you think you are smarter than, you are often not.
Even if you are, you can still learn from and enjoy them.
So please, metaculpa, don't try to be so goddamned clever.

And what I've learned to be the case for many people, including myself:
Work hard. Talent is not enough.

That said, play is another kind of work. And work should be another kind of play. Seek out the bits of what you're doing that you love, and become an expert in them.

And don't say learnt; it's pretentious.
posted by metaculpa at 2:42 PM on November 13, 2005

I think he's just saying, "when a relationship ends, buck up and move on," not "dump that bitch."

posted by solid-one-love at 2:44 PM on November 13, 2005

Oh, I didn't think he meant "dump that bitch." I assumed he meant, "Don't cry because she left you. You'll find someone else." Maybe this works for some people. But I don't really understand it. What attracts me to a person is so specifically unique to that person. When the relationship ends, I'm not upset because I'm lonely in some general way. I don't crave attention from some sort of generic girl. I mourn the loss of my relationship with that SPECIFIC girl. Another girl will never be her.

I'm not suggesting that after a relationship ends one should lie down and die. After time, things get better. Pain fades. But it just takes the time that it takes. I find all that "there are a lot of fish in the sea" stuff to be a useless platitude. It's like saying, "Hey, your dad died... Don't worry about it. There are lots of other dads out there."

No. My dad is my dad. My wife/girlfriend is my wife/girlfriend. She's not replaceable. If she leaves me and I one day have a new relationship, that's unrelated.
posted by grumblebee at 2:45 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


Or maybe I just misunderstood you.
posted by grumblebee at 2:45 PM on November 13, 2005

Or maybe I just misunderstood you.

Isn't the first time.

My wife/girlfriend is my wife/girlfriend. She's not replaceable.

There is, to me, a difference between "wife" and "girlfriend". And comparing the loss of a grilfriend to the loss of a parent is just plain asinine.

I consider your perspective to be extremely unhealthy when talking about girlfriends. As Johnny said: buck up and move on. You will not be served by pining for a lost girlfriend. There will be another. If you take the attitude that the relationship that ended is inevitably more special than the next one, you will regret it. Get back on the horse.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

What I would say to 20-year-old me:

You're nasty. Don't fight it.

Take your women's studies classes with a huge grain of salt. Burn your copy of Gyn/Ecology and read Nation of Rebels, Rules for Radicals, and Economics of the Madhouse.

Spend less time joining feel-good student organizations, more time learning to organize.

Dress better, now. Start by buying some grown-up shoes.

The age of consent in your state is 16. It may seem creepy now, but when you're older you'll wish you'd made the most of it before it got really creepy.

That messageboard you're going to start thinking of starting in a couple of years? For the love of god, don't.

This will require that you meet the girl of your dreams who is halfway around the world some other way, so just wait until July 2003 and call her, 011+44+208#######.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2005 [3 favorites]

There is, to me, a difference between "wife" and "girlfriend". And comparing the loss of a girlfriend to the loss of a parent is just plain asinine.

This is highly individual. Some people are closer with girlfriends/boyfriends than they are with their parents.

solid-for-one, I get what you're saying, and I genuinely think it's fine advice -- for some people. Some people are naturally gregarious and making/losing friends is all part of the ebb and flow of day-to-day life. Others are introverts. Healthy or not (it doesn't much matter, it's the way I am built), I probably make one new friend every 10 years. So the loss of one of them is a pretty big deal. Getting "back on the horse" for me means starting the sloooow process of bonding with a new person.

I'm not talking about a causal acquaintance or a casual date ("girlfriend" can mean someone you've been dating for seven years). I would agree that if someone is devastated when their casual date dumps them, they have some bigger issues they need to work on.

People like me may not be the majority. But we're also not a tiny minority.
posted by grumblebee at 3:07 PM on November 13, 2005

Your body will (probably) never look better than it does right now. Stop being so critical.
posted by jrossi4r at 3:07 PM on November 13, 2005

And don't say learnt; it's pretentious.
Or common English usage if you're in Australia.

posted by teem at 3:27 PM on November 13, 2005

I should probably contribute something that's actually useful. I'm only 20 myself, but someone once told me, "Learn to cook great food. It is an extremely valuable skill". So far it's working.
posted by teem at 3:35 PM on November 13, 2005

Avert your eyes if you are oversensitive...


*twenty year old self punches thirty-four year old self in the face*

*thirty-four year old self leans in taking the punch to the forehead while simultaneously jabbing his thumb in twenty year old self's solar-plexus causing him to crumple to the pavement, spits on the ground and stalks off to 2005*

p.s. This really happened. As you can see it didn't do any good.
posted by Mr T at 3:47 PM on November 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Cancel all your credit cards! :(
posted by coach_mcguirk at 3:53 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Do it. Apply for the loan. Go to school. Stop leeching off your parents you lazy shit!

(What I would have told myself at 20)
posted by Dean Keaton at 3:58 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Learn how to make and keep a budget. Start a savings account. Take out an IRA, even if you can only put a few hundred bucks in it for awhile.

Also: don't rack up credit card debt. (And especially do not get any damn department store credit cards!) Get one credit card with the best interest rate you can find; don't max it out, and always pay more than the minimum (if not the balance in full) every month. This is the number one thing I wish I'd learned at 20. I ruined my credit by the time I was about 25 or so, and it's taken most of the past decade to rebuild it.

Dare to follow through on your dreams, and be brave enough to face rejection (and perservere in spite of it). I wish I'd started sending out my stories and scripts at age 20 so that I wouldn't have spent much of the next 10 years fearing rejection letters.
posted by scody at 4:06 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I forgot one thing. Slow down. Wine tasters don't guzzle.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:32 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dear self, don't ditch that asshole boyfriend of yours because in five years he'll be a millionaire rockstar adored by the masses in five continents, by which time you can divorce him with a giant settlement.

Just kidding ;)
posted by funambulist at 4:40 PM on November 13, 2005

Follow current events carefully. You'll benefit in a thousand ways from a continuum of knowledge about what's happened in the world.

And "Work hard. Talent is not enough". I second that with emphasis.
posted by springload at 5:06 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dear 20-year-old me:

Remember to be the only one of your peers to move abroad and live on nothing doing something you love after graduating. Your grades are gonna stay the way they are, and your diploma's not gonna jump out of its frame - there's no rush to go to grad school/become an accountant/find The One.

Also, remember to finish your malaria medication so your mom doesn't freak out for a year after you get back from Africa.

22-year-old me
posted by mdonley at 5:07 PM on November 13, 2005

* Advice from others means absolutely nothing; fucking up is what teaches you something.
posted by cmonkey at 5:25 PM on November 13, 2005 [6 favorites]

I was going to attempt a decent non silly answer but then realised these two sum it all up for me nicely:

Don't worry about "What did you wish you knew when you were 20?". Have lots of experiences doing things you love/like to do. If you're not sure if you like it, try it anyway, then you'll know.

Don't look back with regret. It's a waste of time and energy.

Easier said than done though!

on preview - this, too: Advice from others means absolutely nothing; fucking up is what teaches you something.
posted by funambulist at 5:38 PM on November 13, 2005

Save money. Save money. Save money.

Think of it as time travel. You're giving your future self a gift; and believe me when I tell you that right now, you can't possibly imagine how much your future self will appreciate that gift.

Also...the things you take seriously, you shouldn't. And the stuff you blow off is actually kinda important. So reverse all that.
posted by cribcage at 5:50 PM on November 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Dear 20 year old me:

"Take out a loan. Buy stocks in the following companies and bet on the following games.

See you on your own private island.

Best, 34 year old me.

Now I'm off to kill 'me granddad so none of this will happen"

2) Remember: your neck in conjunction with a taut boundary rope is not an appropriate braking device for decelerating from 25mph to 0mph in 1.2 seconds while skiing.
posted by lalochezia at 5:55 PM on November 13, 2005

Don't get into a new car loan. Definitely don't run up credit card debt - these will take years to correct. (and that was back when CC companies weren't out for blood!). Those two could have saved me a lot of pain.
posted by bitmage at 6:07 PM on November 13, 2005

- All things in moderation
- The world can be cold, cruel, mechanical bitch of a place, but only if you let it. There is always a way out and there is always hope.
- Ambition is not a dirty word, but neither is fantasy. You need to have room for both in your in life.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:04 PM on November 13, 2005

Don't ever stop going to the dentist.
posted by runtina at 7:54 PM on November 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Buy MS stock NOW. Lots. Dump in 2K. Use the money to buy a house.

Now retire.

Actually, study searching technology. Work for the prof who says that the way to rank searches is by references.
posted by sien at 8:00 PM on November 13, 2005

You can learn something from every single person that you meet. Even if they seem stupid or crazy, they know something that you don't. Sometimes people will really amaze you with insight that you could never foresee. Owning this knowledge helps make you a little more humble.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:07 PM on November 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Do your taxes. Don't forget or it'll just get worse every year. There's still time this year.
posted by wilful at 8:22 PM on November 13, 2005

eventually the green bus will hit you.
posted by brandz at 8:26 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was much more of a snob at 20 than I am now at 30. There's a lot to learn from a lot of different kinds of people that you meet. And just because someone isn't "educated" as you doesn't mean that they aren't smarter than you. Humility is a hard thing to learn when you're young, but recognize it when you're learning it. It took me too long.

The people that say to save money are right. But you needn't beat yourself up if you can't do it--it's a lot harder to save when you're 20 than when you're 40, just 'cause you usually will be making more money when you're 40. At least try not to get in over your head.

Don't let old people tell you what course of study will or won't make you money--it doesn't matter. You should study what you like. It's quite possible that you won't be working in either field in a few years. I majored in Italian Literature and have never regretted it. My work now doesn't require Italian but I'm just as good at it as someone who studied "marketing" as if it was some kind of science. And I did something I liked and had a good time in college.
posted by lackutrol at 8:34 PM on November 13, 2005 [2 favorites]

Switch your major before your senior year. If you hate it so much that you dread class, it's just not worth going.

If she cheats, walk off and don't look back.

In matters regarding yourself, trust yourself first. If you say you need medical attention, do not let anyone blow you off.

Never live anywhere you don't have a stove. Hot plates and kettles just will not do.

It's one thing if the job involves crazy people, but make sure your employer is sane. Even if you live on ramen, rice, and mac+cheese, it's worth it. Public schools are not named after Satan, and anyone who thinks so falls under the run-away-from category.

This will probably be the best roommate you'll have, and he's gone next year. Stay the hell away from campus housing, it can and will get worse.

It will probably be the most horribly awkward date you will ever go on in your life, but go ahead and do it anyway. You'll remember it well after you've forgotten everything you learned in the class you had together.

Don't visit that second time. It won't be so bad, but everything was tied up the first time, and there's no new memories to make. Just let the past be.
posted by Saydur at 8:50 PM on November 13, 2005

Oh, also, on "learn to cook good food": this is extremely good advice. I can get my girlfriend to look past my various flaws when I make dinner.
posted by lackutrol at 8:55 PM on November 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

Take the long way home sometimes, and then a different long way.

Don't start smoking, you might like it.

Give when and what you can, it's the only thing that ever made me happy.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:25 PM on November 13, 2005

Don't try too hard to please a boss. Please yourself.
posted by jsteward at 10:41 PM on November 13, 2005

Everything about life is better when you get organized. No amount of vitamins, exercise, meditation, religion or anything else has ever made the same kind of difference to me. Actually, I wish I had known this when I was 12.
posted by teleskiving at 12:38 AM on November 14, 2005 [4 favorites]

it's important to make friends that are interested in different things to you - as it is to take an interest in what they are interested in whenever possible. just associating with one 'type' of people (which happened in my case with scientists, for example) doesn't give you very good perspective.
posted by tnai at 2:45 AM on November 14, 2005

the power of networks is more powerful than your talent. keep the names and contact information of the people you meet.

save your work. put it on a disc somewhere. surprising what you might find useful later. maybe none of it. maybe all of it.
posted by raaka at 5:34 AM on November 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

one thing i realise i've learnt, from reading the above, is that there are a lot of things i "should" do, but that it's no use getting cut up about (not doing) them, because you have to be the person you are.

that doesn't mean "bum around"; it means be true to yourself.

and i think i could see that in outline at twenty, but i probably didn't realise that worrying what others thought was colouring my perception so.

apart from that, crabintheocean had some valid points.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:29 AM on November 14, 2005

20 is not old. 30 is not old. Don't freak out when you hit these ages. Don't start thinking your life is over.

Do find a marketable skill that can get you a job. Do stay in school and get those degrees. Pick something, for instance, with writing that you never saw yourself doing but is feasible, like being a copy writer, and do it.

Create opportunities for yourself. The easiest way for you to do this is to get a writing job is to work for free, or as an intern, in a publishing house.

Don't shy away from crazy ideas. If you want to do it, you probably can. Make it work. Do what you need to do. Don't wait. Buy that house. Make it work.
posted by xammerboy at 7:18 AM on November 14, 2005

Hit rock bottom as soon as possible.

And then figure out how to get out of it.

No other challenge will ever seem unconquerable after that.
posted by Stynxno at 7:27 AM on November 14, 2005 [4 favorites]

Ever think about insurance?

Darn few 20-year-olds do. But it's utter fianancial stupidity not to.

Life insurance premiums for a healthy 20-year-old are unbelievably low, and the funny thing is, if you're buying whole life or universal life, they stay that way. At this point in your life, you're spending way more each month on beer than you would on a life-insurance premium.

Most 20-year-olds don't "need" life insurance -- yet. But you're 40, with a spouse and children, you'll actually want it (trust me!).

If you start now, you'll have been paying a fraction per month of what you'd have to pay if you wait to buy the policy when you actually have people around you who'd benefit from it. And you'll have been building up equity that you can borrow against later. That'll seem supremely important to a 40-year-old you as well.

I'll be 44 pretty soon. If I had bought $100,000 in insurance when I was 20, I think I would've been paying roughly $15 a month, and the policy's surrender value -- which I could borrow against -- would be somewhere up in the mid- five figures.
posted by alumshubby at 7:50 AM on November 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

Show a little more consideration to your old fart neighbor. One day it'll be you, and the young punk's 'music' will be even worse.

And get as much tail as you can, don't worry about the consequences -- the available girls will never be prettier.
posted by Rash at 8:57 AM on November 14, 2005

If you read through the "things I wish I'd known when I was 18" thread (and you should), Skylar elaborated upon that structure of seduction thing he alluded to there.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:35 AM on November 14, 2005

Surround yourself with interesting people.

Never stop reading.

Believe in yourself.

Live your life, not the life set for you by others.
posted by prairiepmb at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

Those girls in your circle of friends who talk about sex, liking sex, oral sex, casual sex all the time? Yeah, they want sex. With you. Hit on them. Don't wait to come to this realization until it's much too late.
I have few other regrets, myself.
Oh, and don't fool yourself into thinking your college major will necessarily have any bearing on your actual career.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 12:30 PM on November 14, 2005

What did you wish you knew when you were 20?

That I was going to live long enough to get old. I would have a better life now if I had not ignored the possibility then.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

All this advice will be worth exactly what you paid for it. You learn by doing, so get doing. And yes I realize the hypocrisy in telling you to put little stock in advice, while implying that my advice is worth taking, so there's no need to point that out.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 6:53 PM on November 14, 2005

Kindness matters a lot.

wilful and Big Lanky Snarky Bastard are correct, too.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 PM on November 14, 2005

Time is my only enemy. Even a long life only adds up to about 650,000 hours.

Life is managed - not cured.

Persistence: Nothing in the world can take place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; The world is filled with educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved, and will always solve the problems of the human race.
posted by Sagres at 6:28 PM on November 15, 2005 [4 favorites]

And get as much tail as you can, don't worry about the consequences

Dear Self,

Don't sleep with all those guys. You will regret it. The ones who end up to be worth sleeping with are the ones who really care for you, not the ones who just want another notch in their bedpost.

Don't stand for anyone treating you badly. If they treat you with contempt and hurtfulness, run away very quickly.

You will go through some seriously bad shit, but things will get better. You will turn a corner.

Try to find the good things in shitty situations - it helps you to feel less regret at how things turned out.

Don't push so hard in labor - go with what your body is telling you. Also: get a midwife and a big warm tub.

Don't imbibe a certain two things in close proximity to one another. Bad juju.

Stay away from hormonal birth control.

Finish college.

And never, ever sleep with someone you meet on metafilter.
posted by beth at 4:02 PM on November 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

You're all going to hate me for this, but this thread is made for the Sunscreen song (story here).
posted by funambulist at 5:38 AM on November 20, 2005

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