Youth is wasted on the young...
September 9, 2016 11:46 AM   Subscribe

How do I make peace with the fact that I will become old, and how do I make the most out of my twenties?

I recently graduated from college, and existential waves have been really shaking things up for me! (Typical overthinking millennial I know). But I really feel a bit weighed down by the thought of losing the vitality, health and quickness that comes with youth. And I'm scared that I will 'waste' my twenties, and have regrets when I'm in my thirties.

Since this problem is part of the human condition, do you guys have any advice on:
(i) how do I come to terms with the truth that I am mortal and will always be ageing?
(ii) help me put together my bucket list! What things do you regret not doing / really want to do / are really happy you did in your twenties?

Thank you! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Human Relations (55 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
What things do you regret not doing...

Exercising. I felt like I didn't "need" it and maybe I didn't, but now looking back at the amount of free time and excess energy I had, I sort of regret not being able to see how far I could push my body back when it was much closer to "invincible" than it is now.

That goes for everything: you're heading to the peak of your ability to do things to your brain and body that you can recover from with little effort and lasting damage. Take advantage of it while you can.
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on September 9, 2016 [20 favorites]

(This is all assuming you're relatively able-bodied and able-minded, of course.)
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on September 9, 2016

I really wouldn't worry about "losing your vitality". Speaking as a wizened lich, I can assure that 20-something people worry about this because they've never been 30 or 40. People with AARP memberships run ultramarathons. The athletic peak for pro cyclists, maybe the most punishing sport on earth, is widely regarded as above 30. If you ever want to know what a really old, decrepit person looks like, google "Alejandro Valverde".

The bigger thing is getting stuck into your big "responsibility" life choices. On the Hollywood-standard lifepath that's getting married and having kids (and REALLY the last one). I would say travel to the places you want to go to since that's really the one thing that becomes a huge pain in the ass after you have kids.

Other than that, work on yourself. Recognize that if you are young and just entering the working world, you likely have a lot to learn still about being an adult. Understand that you will be a better partner, potential parent and friend when you are thirty as the result of the work you have to do now.

If you think of 21 as your "peak", you risk accepting that you can't be awesomer, and I assure you that you can.

Have fun!
posted by selfnoise at 11:58 AM on September 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

Jesus dude, it's not like you'll become toothless, decrepit, and bed-ridden at the stroke of 30. There are plenty of vital, healthy, and quick 40-somethings out there. You still have more time than you've been alive to enjoy your youth.

In terms of bucket list, I highly recommend spending at least a couple days in a very remote area, with no electronic distractions, preferably alone. Get some time by yourself and distraction free. Spend that time in quiet reflection.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:58 AM on September 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

I wish I had enjoyed life more. Been less focused/obsessed with my career and financial ambitions. I wish I had spent more time outside and far away.

I wish I had never once EVER, worried about if I was enough of an adult.
posted by French Fry at 11:59 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Dear God! If it helps, I'm laughing heartily at the idea that you think you will be old in your thirties.

Know that, whatever age you're at, your perception of what counts as 'old' will move progressively forwards. I'm 42 and I now think 50 is still pretty young. I don't know if there's a point that old age comes rushing up to meet you, but I know someone in her mid 70s who can't quite believe she's 'old'.

Being older is awesome. None of the neuroses and anxieties of your 20s, usually more money, stability, some achievements under your belt, a generally greater air of tranquility and knowing who you are. I can't think of anything I miss about my 20s, except maybe the ability to eat whatever I wanted and not put on weight. Start a pension and get an exercise habit, to make your later years as smooth as possible. That's about it.

So - I don't know if this is comforting, but I think the whole premise of your question is totally flawed. Regardless of what you think in the blush of arrogant youth, you are not at your peak right now - it only gets better, not worse, from here on in.
posted by penguin pie at 12:05 PM on September 9, 2016 [25 favorites]

Interesting comment French Fry, I'm quite the opposite.

Head down bum up and get on with building up a significant asset base and career. Everything else is then easy later on. Having kids and enjoying everything life has to offer can wait until you can afford it without worry. Having a family when neither of you need to work is great fun.

I sometimes think I should regret that I didn't "do enough sex" in my twenties, at least compared with how my peers seemed to be getting on, but I don't really because it gets so much better in your 30s and 40s and beyond.
posted by tillsbury at 12:09 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Depends on your personality, I suppose, but one of the greatest things about turning thirty (only just!) is that I've stopped worrying about "wasting my twenties".

Honestly, as long as you get through them, you're doing well. If you get through them with all your teeth and no permanent STD's you are doing really well. If you manage a decent housing situation and a job that doesn't make you cry yourself to sleep, then you are doing a lot better than a lot of your cohort.
posted by threetwentytwo at 12:10 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

(i) create strong habits that are longevity and health-promoting now. Healthy eating, regular exercise, starting a meditation practice, don't smoke, and use sunscreen! Aging isn't bad, but aging poorly is. You can start lots of things now to age optimally. Start now.

(ii) I loved international travel for longer stretches. I was fortunate enough to be able to save money and go see a lot of the world at an age when less-than-luxurious accommodations were no big deal to me. Sleeping in train stations? Fine. Managing a shoe-string budget? No problem. Now, in my 40's, I neither have that kind of time nor do I have the same tolerance for travel that isn't comfortable. Make room for adventures and challenging yourself with things like solo travel and exploring. Plan it and make it happen, otherwise, it won't happen. I also loved living alone in my own very small apartment. After lots of roommates, living alone was heavenly and helped me to really learn that being alone didn't mean that I had to be lonely. Also, start finding older friends. When I was in my 20's, I had women friends who were in their 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60+'s. They helped me with sound advice, being amazing role models, and showing me that age didn't matter nearly as much as I thought it did.

Here's something that my Dad told me when I was still a teen: If you're living your life well, every year that you get older gets better. Don't get stuck living in the past and looking at a pile of regrets instead of looking forward.
posted by quince at 12:11 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm in my mid-thirties. The biggest change I went through was that sometime around 30 I just kinda lost the ability to give a fuck about most of the "quarterlife crisis" things that worried me in my twenties. It's great. I'm also mentally and physically healthier, in better financial shape, and generally a kinder and more even-keeled person than I was in my twenties. Think of your thirtieth birthday not as a deadline, but the metaphorical moment when you arrive home and get to change into sweatpants.

Other than that: floss, exercise, sleep, save your money, be a good friend, wear sunscreen, see your doctor regularly, all the usual self-maintenance stuff. It pays off, and the older you get, the more you'll appreciate it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:12 PM on September 9, 2016 [18 favorites]

There are a lot of awesome things about getting older. For one, you realize how little you knew when you were younger and you realize the things you used to worry about were often trivial.

Always remember you can get hit by a bus any time you cross a street, you can drop dead of some unknown thing in your body at any moment, or a meteorite could wipe out the whole planet at any time. It's not just us old folks that get to die!

Yeah, the aches and pains do kind of suck. I'm only 46 and have some serious neck issues going on.

My advice, for you in your twenties:

Keep exercising regularly and never stop. Eat some vegetables now and then but also enjoy the fuck out of whatever food you want to enjoy.

Play. Hike. Take some drugs now and then, if that's your thing, but not too much and only the good ones. Fuck people. Lots of people. Make life-long friends. Eliminate toxic people from your life ASAP. Fuck some more people. Fuck people while on drugs! Avoid having any kids unless you really want to have kids.

Stay out of debt. Save some money. This is not always possible, and often very difficult, but if you're able to do it, do it.

Allow people to help you if and when they offer. If you're in the position to help someone who could use your help, offer to help them.

Figure out what your fears are and get over them or at least never let them hold you back.

Learn to recognize when people are using you and learn to say "Fuck that noise!"

If there's something you want to do, find a way to do it.

Be kind to people. Everyone. Don't judge people.

Things I did in my twenties that were good:

I got out. I hiked. I climbed a bunch of mountains. I made some friends. I went to some concerts. I took some drugs, but only the safe ones. I mostly stayed out of debt. I got over my fear of flying by learning to fly an airplane. I dropped acid a couple of times. I met my wife.

Things I regret:

I regret not fucking more people but it's not like I had a choice in the matter.

I regret how angry I was. I regret how close minded I was. I regret judging people for the things they wore, the jobs they did, the tattoos they had, their sexual preference, the things in their nose, or anything they did that was different than how I might have done it.

I regret continuing a career that I would come to dislike and continuing it to the point where I feel I'm trapped in it.

I regret letting people use me the same way I did in my teens. I just wanted people to like me, but that's not what they were doing.

I regret worrying about things that, in the end, weren't worth worrying about.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on September 9, 2016 [21 favorites]

The secret amazing thing is that you really REALLY stop caring so much about this the older you get.

In your 20s it feels like an existential crisis - I know.

But by your 30s and 40s and beyond, you've seen a lot of your peers go through some really rough stuff, or you do yourself and....well. Your fucks to give about small stuff just completely disappear.

And unless you're a professional athlete or a model, you can pretty much be awesome at whatever you do until you keel over. You can be "young" a good long time.

I'm glad I started wearing daily moisturizer with sunscreen in my 20s though.

-- 45-year-old
posted by pantarei70 at 12:19 PM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I 'wasted' my twenties (on drink and depression) and don't even particularly regret it. I mean sure, I would prefer to have been less miserable, less overweight and less unhealthy, but it made me who I am, and I'm doing great now (at 39). My thirties, consequently, were way, WAY better than my twenties, and I've heard this said repeatedly even by people who weren't alcoholics for 8 years. So, relax. Don't overthink it. Make the same mistakes other 20es-somethings make, life only begins at 30!! (Seriously. I am friends with 25-year-olds and they are insufferable self-centred children. You just haven't grown up yet.)

The only thing I can think of is: do adventurous, uncomfortable, slightly crazy things. I no longer fancy sleeping on someone else's floor, staying up all night, driving 500 miles on a whim etc. So get those out of your system while you're young. Other than that... go forth and be immature and self-centred!

[On preview, it's amusing that many people say "build healthy habits" cuz MY advice would be not to worry about it too much. You can do that in your thirties and still lead a healthy life. I mean sure, if you want to be healthy, go ahead. But if you want to party some, go ahead and do that, too! You'll grow out of it soon enough.]
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:20 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, if you want to get extensively tattooed, do it sooner than later. The amount of pain your experience goes up as you age (this goes for everything, really.)
posted by griphus at 12:21 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I spent a year at death's door in my thirties. I am now 51 and supposed to be dead.

I suggest you a) not worry about this, b) just enjoy life in whatever the fuck way makes sense to you and c) be less shy about getting photos of yourself. Whatever self recriminations you may have now for being two pounds overweight or not being cute enough or something, someday you are going to look back on it and feel you were at your cutest back then.

Live as fully as you can, whatever that means to you. Do that now. Do it if you live long enough to be "old."

We are all just dust in the wind anyway. In a billion years, none of this will matter at all, whether you make the most of it or not.

I find that thought freeing and empowering.
posted by Michele in California at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really feel a bit weighed down by the thought of losing the vitality, health and quickness that comes with youth. And I'm scared that I will 'waste' my twenties, and have regrets when I'm in my thirties.

If your brain's got any stuff going on with anxiety, ruminating on negative things, etc. - take care of it now by looking into diagnosis/treatment. Don't wait until things get really bad.
posted by naju at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

Regret is a waste of time and energy. Do what you want. When you don't want to do it anymore, do something else. Repeat.
posted by trbrts at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'll be exiting my 40s real soon. There is an obvious dichotomy you see here about fun vs. career. I'm going to be "team career" here for a sec, because the main thing I did not see coming is how opportunities for career advancement seem so lock-stepped to age. There are opportunities at every stage of your career to advance, but it seems like the more things you miss in the early stages, the harder it becomes to remediate, and by the time you're my age you're either in "the rich get richer" mode or you're facing harder and harder obstacles to compete for jobs. Also, investing in education and longer hours on the job, just like investing money, simply has more time to "mature" when you're younger. By the grace of God I'm more in mode 1 than mode 2, but golly I wish I'd worked harder when I was younger.

Having said that, don't become a couch-potato-slob, either. Here's another thing that's easier when you're young - staying in a reasonable shape. Your youthful metabolism makes it a lot easier to keep weight off, if nothing else.

Biggest thing I've seen as I've gotten older is that while aging is biologically impossible to avoid on some levels, much of what we think of as "aging" is really the accumulation of bad habits. Eat, drink, and smoke too much and it doesn't tell on you as a 20-something; my friends who are my age and have continued in those habits and who are having strokes, having stints put in, etc. are dealing with the effects of 30 years of poisoning themselves*. When you go to a 30 year HS reunion you see a WIDE variety of health conditions - people who are running marathons and people who can barely walk.

*yes, I know you can eat right, exercise, and have all that happen anyway. Talking about the odds.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:24 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: LOL sorry for being so dramatic! I didn't realize how I sounded until after I posted it. I know 30 is not 'old' / 'decrepit' / 'toothless' / 'bedridden'. But being a grown ass adult is scary because it seems to require way more maturity than I can imagine myself having now.

@naju: thank you! I do have problems with anxiety, and do a decent job of managing it, but sometimes I deal a thought that I can't resolve with any amount of CBT, so I turn to askmefi for more ideas.
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Aging is such a gift. Not everyone gets the chance to do it. So try not to worry about regrets or what you should or shouldn't be doing. Live life, have fun, love others, give back, experience the world, and appreciate what you have when you have it.
posted by cecic at 12:41 PM on September 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

People have covered the physical exercise aspect enough, so I'll just say "ditto" to all that. I was fairly active, but I smoked, and I didn't have regular habits. You can drink and eat and sleep whatever/whenever you want now with little consequence. That won't be true when you're 40. So enjoy all that while you can.

I would have had safer sex and not done so many stupid things while I was drunk. I got very, very lucky that there were no lasting consequences from that.

I would have stayed in touch with my college friends because it's much harder to make new ones the older you get.

I would have started a retirement account, just because of the compound interest effect. I did mostly stay out of debt, but I was taught good habits. If you weren't, now's the time to learn.

I regret not transitioning to male in my 20s, although statistically speaking, that almost certainly doesn't apply to you. Still, if there's some aspect of yourself you're not fully realizing or expressing, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO IT. Don't live another five or ten or 50 years pretending to be what other people want you to be.

Honestly though? I pretty much started over when I was 40 (got divorced, transitioned to male) and I'm much happier than I was when I was 25. There's absolutely no reason life has to go downhill as you age.
posted by AFABulous at 12:41 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

But being a grown ass adult is scary because it seems to require way more maturity than I can imagine myself having now.

Being a grown-ass adult is fucking awesome.
posted by bondcliff at 12:42 PM on September 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

Being a grown-ass adult is fucking awesome.


They seem to rarely tell kids that responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. You are seeing RESPONSIBILITY. But the flip side to that coin is that you can kind of do any damn thing you want now, as long as you are willing to live with the consequences and do the work to make it happen.

Beats the hell out of being a legal minor.
posted by Michele in California at 12:44 PM on September 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

Depends on your personality, I suppose, but one of the greatest things about turning thirty (only just!) is that I've stopped worrying about "wasting my twenties".

This has been my experience too! There was just so much pressure to enjoy my 20s that I just flailed about, caring way too much about appearances rather than my own happiness. It's kind of like how people used to talk about how "high school is the best time of your life" and you're like, "pshh no, college was way better."

I'm only 31, but oh man.. the pressure is off and it feels great. I feel silly for ever caring so much about looking cool and busy and popular. So that's my advice for you: you've had twenty-something years to get to know yourself -- do what you like! It doesn't have to be stuff that makes an interesting post on facebook.

(On preview: don't worry about "maturity." I have the sinking suspicion that none of these adults actually know what they're doing. Having responsibility is scary, but awesome.)
posted by giraffe at 12:46 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Youth is sooooooo overrated, dude.

Things I miss:

-Really elastic skin

-Ability to not exercise and still be in shape

-Energy. Tons of energy, including ability to stay up late, party, and be spontaneous...

-"new relationship energy" and flirting - sort of. I don't want to say being single. Being single sucked and I would be lying and misremembering if I said differently. But that sense of everything being new and the sense of possibility was kind of okay sometimes. When I wasn't dreading dying alone. And collecting stories from new experiences to tell later in life is good.

- Free time. So much free time to do jack shit, like play video games or whatever.

Things I do not miss:


-Genuine lack of perspective/wisdom. A lot of the time I felt really smart, deep and profound but I was actually just navel-gazing and was none of those things. Experience is worth more than intelligence in many, many, many ways. Ways you do not realize until much later.

-Really low self-esteem/no sense of place or settlement in adult life. Seriously this is HUGE. HUGE. A sense of being established is hugely underrated and way better than being footloose IMO.

-Attention from older dudes who were hitting on me exclusively because I was naive. (And it's definitely not because I was sooooo gorgeous or whatever. I mean, yeah, youth is attractive but it's not like, THAT much more attractive at 20 than 30. Believe me 90% of this is about power and an easy, naive, young, often poor target.)

I totally disagree (I BUCK popular wisdom. I BUCK it so hard!) that travel is better in your early 20s when you're single. Maaaaaybe for single dudes. But I hated traveling alone or with female friends in my early 20s, really mostly everywhere, even "safe" places in Europe. I'm kind of a prude though, compared to many. I appreciate traveling SO MUCH MORE with a fiance/family. And I think even aside from safety issues, it's nice to travel when you have your own money to spend and someone to share it with and look back on with.
posted by stockpuppet at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

On re-reading this thread: don't feel that you HAVE to do all the idiotic things some kids do. Drugs and unsafe decisions and bad sex and uncomfortable situations aren't mandatory. If you're lucky you won't regret them; if you're unlucky you have a very long time for regretting STDs/babies with people you hate/embarrassing tattoos or whatever.

On, and ClarissaWAM (39): life begins at 40, not30 :-)
posted by tillsbury at 12:55 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

On, and ClarissaWAM (39): life begins at 40, not 30 :-)
Oh, thank GOD! *slightly worried about turning 40*
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:01 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seriously, at 50+ (with my fair share of aches, pains, and chronic conditions) I can tell you that the only thing that has gotten materially worse is that at age 35 (like, immediately, on that birthday), I lost the ability to stay the same size and blood-glucose-level while consuming infinite beer and fried rice. A small price to pay. Everything else gets better continuously.
posted by sheldman at 1:06 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing I wish I did more was rough/cheap travel to more places. I'm much less inclined to book a trip to a hostel or that requires hitchhiking or whatever (especially if you are partnered and/or have kids with you). My vacation days are much more valuable to me now and I don't want to spend half of them dealing with some seven-connecting-flights-on-Ryan-Air BS. When I was younger, saving the money was more important to me than the comfort factor (I couldn't have paid for the comfort even if I wanted it); now, things like sleep deprivation and dehydration can ruin my whole trip (so unless I can pay for the small comforts like a direct flight or a room with private bathroom, then I'm just not going to go).

I don't know that I wish I'd done more drugs -- I can afford much higher quality drugs now. ;)

Also, deadlifts and squats. Your back will thank you.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:13 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

(i) I'm 24 and grappling with these issues so I'm probably not the best person to dispense advice on how to cope with our mortality.

(ii) I will say that what I've noticed from lamenting that I'm not 21 anymore (I know some people are reading this and cackling) is that I regret not making an effort to connect with people who were nice to me. I was so bogged down by anxiety and self-consciousness when I was in college so I sabotaged a lot of potential friendships with good, kind people because I didn't think I was pretty/smart/cool/whatever enough. I was enough. You are enough.

Also, be careful with your choice of footwear. Wearing pointy-toe Doc Martens from the age of 17 to 22 gave me bunions.
posted by quadrant seasons at 1:23 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

This addresses only part of your question, but after working in pediatrics and psychiatry, I came across this notion of assessing whether a behavior or attribute is "developmentally appropriate" (i.e., is baby reaching milestones on time?). I realized that I would much, MUCH rather be developmentally appropriate than either "young for my age" or "mature for my age." (A 6 year-old who acts like a 13 year-old is a terrifying sight to behold, just as nobody wants to befriend a 52 year-old who behaves like a 22 year-old.) I found it very helpful in getting me to let go of any concern that somehow age 21 was my peak and that it was all downhill from there. I think every age has a special quality and perspective, and I think that it's best to just relish it and be very present in each moment-- partly because there's nothing else you can do about the passage of time, and partly because that's how you can not only live, but be alive.

You want to be child-like, not childish. You want to be insightful and introspective, not necessarily mature beyond your years.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 1:33 PM on September 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

* Major athletic accomplishments - It's a LOT easier to run a marathon or an ultra or do Kilimanjaro or Everest in your 20s. People do these things in their 30's and later all the time. I say do them while your body makes it easier and you have the time to put in the training.
* Partying - It's a lot harder with an 8-5 job, children and a partner who may or may not be into it or understanding of it. Again, people do this all the time, and increasingly, I think into middle age, but it's tremendously easier when you have more time, a quicker recovery and less responsibility.
* Major travel - You may have a job you can't leave for more than a week, let alone two three or four. Two kids doubles the cost of any vacation. Again, people do this all the time, but it's SO much easier when you don't have a job, mortgage, etc. in the way and you're not stuck in the middle of summer because of school schedules.
* Retirement - I AM YOUR NAGGING GRANDPA. $20 per month at 4% for 40 years (ages 20-60)is $23K. $20 per month at 4% for 30 years is $13K. This free advice just gave you $10,000 at age 60. You're welcome!
posted by cnc at 1:44 PM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am mid-70s.
Most of the advice here is just great. So I will comment on anxiety.

Anxiety (about yourself) generally increases until your mid-forties, then drops precipitously. I am pretty sure I won't live 20 more years, and likely less than 10 (family history, etc). That doesn't bother me a bit. I am not brave, just thinkng about other things, and just do not care to be bothered.

Having a family expands your anxiety profile. This is a good thing. I think creating your family is a good use of energy--but maybe much closer to 30 than 20.

About a quarter of my retirement income is from $10K (but note inflation) that I contributed to a retiirement account in the 1970s. I never believed I would collect on it, but I am.

Debt. To make your life miserable, accumulate debt. I have always preferred to do without rather than borrow (but yeah--got a house mortgage--see interest tax deduction). This is incredibly important, at least until all the bankers are hanging from lampposts. Most desirable stuff is crap anyway--you always end up playing more with the box it came in than the contents of the box.

As the investroids always say--future outcomes may not reflect past outcomes. But then--they may.
posted by hexatron at 1:45 PM on September 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

So here is my one big regret from my 20s:

When I was in my early 20s, I somewhat impulsively quit a job that I was having difficulty with. I had moved to a new city with said job, the job itself was something I wasn't really cut out for - I had bitten off more than I could chew. So, lonely and beset by anxiety, I quit the job.

I don't particularly regret quitting the job, although it was dumb thing to do. I regret spending the next several months frittering away my savings to pay rent in a strange city while I mostly just sat around and felt sorry for myself. Eventually, I packed up and moved home and got a new job and things worked out fine.

What I really regret is that I did not take that opportunity to travel. I had enough money saved up for probably several months of budget travel - I could have done this instead of wasting it on rent and take-out. The thought of traveling did actually occur to me at the time, but I didn't have a passport (and for some reason the application process seemed onerous to me), and I was dead-set on proving something to myself in some vague way.

I should have just said "fuck it" and hit the road (and gotten a damn passport, it's not that hard). But I couldn't, and although I did engage in some solo travel in my 20s and I treasure those memories, they were for periods of weeks, or even just days, not months. The opportunity to just spend months traveling is really not something that is likely to ever present itself in my life again.

So I regret that. And here is some other advice:

One thing I did right during my 20s was not take on debt. Note that in the situation above I frittered away savings, and savings alone. I did not take out loans in my 20s, I did not run up credit balances, I lived within my means. This is really, really important. If you have student loans, pay them down, don't take out any other debt. You should, month-to-month, have more money coming in that going out. The margin is likely to be small, but starting out ahead is way better than starting out behind, and it makes things much easier down the road.

If you can't already, lean to cook, even just a little. I don't particularly like cooking, and never did, but I'm glad I finally forced myself to learn how to make a proper (if very simple) meal in my mid-20s. It's really not that hard, and it's much cheaper and healthier than relying on take-out.

I didn't sleep with many people in my 20s, and I honestly don't regret it. I guess it would have been nice, but whatever. I think there's this sort of pop-cultural ideal of your 20s as this wild-and-crazy-finding-yourself time where you go to all these crazy parties and sleep around all this stuff. And, like, if that's your thing, do it! But if it's not, that's OK, too.

I bring this up because the really cool thing about your 20s, aside from youth and health and all that, is that you are responsible for you. You are (probably, at least for part of it) unattached and childless, but you (hopefully) have your own money and your own roof and your own wheels and all that. You make your plans. My big regret involves travel; maybe you're not that into travel. That's fine. Take your responsibilities to yourself seriously, but do the things you want to do. Your life is not an episode of Girls; nor is it an AskMeFi thread.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:48 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

The maturity sneaks up on you. On a day to day basis, I (who, in my head, am always 29-32, but am actually 44) sometimes barely manage to clothe or feed myself or remember to do the one thing I absolutely had to get done first thing this morning, and simultaneously manage a good-sized software implementation project.

But you do have a shitload more energy than you ever will again, so...if you have physical therapy you need to be doing, weight to lose, exercise habits to form, do it now. If you have anxiety or depression, treat it and learn how to manage it. Toxic family or friends, cut them off before you start creating your own family. And go to the dentist.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:48 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I regret the existential angst and terror of aging I expended energy on. It led to some regrettable life choices.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:49 PM on September 9, 2016

But being a grown ass adult is scary because it seems to require way more maturity than I can imagine myself having now.

I turn 34 this month, and you think I'm an adult and 40-year-olds think I'm young. I think the biggest and most surprising lesson I've learned is that how mature you feel right now is pretty much how you always feel. You can always look back and feel insightful about past-you but future-you seems like an enigma. But future-you is still you, and you NEVER feel like an adult. I'm in the middle of selling a house, moving to the place I've wanted to live since I was a teenager, and just landed a huge job, and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING. It's all a mystery and I just make the best decision I can and hope it all works out.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 1:50 PM on September 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

(i) worry about the timeless now. the future will come when it's ready.

(ii) stuff that kids and/or building a "career" will limit for a decade and a half: skydiving, long-distance merchant vessel adventures, writing, starting a business, getting a dissertation done. The things you have now you will not have later are energy, endurance and time.

Stuff you can do for later: stay on top of medical issues. quit smoking now. keep in some sort of shape. try to put something aside, and not just live pay-cheque to pay-cheque (hard but worth it if you can). wear sunscreen. It's all obvious and you've heard it many times before, but it all pays off later.
posted by bonehead at 1:54 PM on September 9, 2016

As soon as you possibly, possibly can, stop caring at all what Other People Will/Think. Not your beloved friends or your trusted family. Those people have your well being in their hearts (although they will not always be right). Stop caring about what anyone else thinks. Don't try to manage the impression you give people. Be your authentic self, with zero fucks about being cool.

Be nice. If you like someone's shoes or ideas, tell them. Always. It gives the stranger a little boost in their day and it will remind you how good authenticity is for you. If you don't like something and it has no consequences to you, don't hurt someone else by grousing about it. Just make a mental note that you do not like that.

Always go to the funeral. Even if you hate it, didn't know the family/won't know anyone there, are bored, whatever. Any time you knew the person or knew/know someone close to them. Put on nice clothes and go. (I think that's metafilter's wisdom, btw, not mine.)
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 1:55 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Me at 32 could beat the piss physically and mentally out of every previous incarnation of myself, maybe all at once! You're not exactly going to just fall down and break a hip at 30...

Anyway, to not have so many regrets (you will and should have some), be kind and ask yourself if you're doing something for pride or because you need to.

Stay in touch with people important to you too. This will flesh out your bucket list later on when you do things with them.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:43 PM on September 9, 2016

Yes to traveling and staying out of debt. But now is also the time to move to the city you've always thought about and try to get that job. You may fail and go broke, but it is not that painful in your 20's. You almost certainly will have a much harder time doing it later.
posted by bongo_x at 2:51 PM on September 9, 2016

There's a wonderful quote from Mary Renault's novel The Last Of The Wine: "Old age will come, not to you, but to another whom the gods will make ready."

In other words, you'll be someone else by then; someone more experienced at dealing with the traumas life throws at you, and the general feel of the passage of time. That person will be fine.

Meanwhile, as others have said: the only way not to regret the passage of time is to spend it doing as much as possible of the things you love. Or things that are difficult or terrible but teach you that you can survive. Or stupid things that go wildly wrong but leave you with good stories to tell.

Like breakin' the law said: don't hang around stagnating. Give everything and everyone a chance, but: When you know inwardly that a relationship is over, don't wait to end it. Don't waste years of life trying to rescue people who won't help themselves.

No knowledge is wasted and all skills are life skills. Every chance you get to learn something, take it, even if it's just one conversation's worth. Learn everything you can, because the most useless-seeming piece of information or skill could be the crucial one later on. Having many years of accumulated knowledge is the best thing about getting old. (I'm 43)

Relatedly: Your memory will inevitably decline as you age. My memory has always been good, but I'm noticing that it's neither as quick nor as retentive as it once was. So while you're in your 20s, memorise ALL the things. Whether that's words or guitar chords or recipes or mineral names or metric/imperial conversion ratios or whatever: the things you commit to memory now will likely stay with you into later life. The things you memorise in 10 or 15 years, less so.

Good luck.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:24 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think the answers to your second question depend very much on your personality quirks and which side of various things you tend to err on. For instance, if you’re prone to risky behavior, the answer might be to be a little more cautious, and if you tend to be overly cautious, the correct advice is to take a risk or two. But for my own younger self, the advice would be:

Don’t prematurely age yourself. I can remember turning 25 and feeling like that was a very solidly adult age and maybe I should stop going out dancing and things like that, which in retrospect is ridiculous. I got over it and still go dancing occasionally now, at 36. Though generally not at places that are full of 21-year-olds, of course. (On the flip side of that, though, don’t be a 25-year-old adolescent. Learn how to do essential grown-up tasks, if you haven’t already. New ones will keep popping up throughout your life, and you’ll tackle them as they come, but life is better when you know you can move through the world in a basically capable and confident way.)

Remember that you have room to change course in your twenties. You can change course later, too, but it gets harder over time. No one wants to feel directionless, but if you pursue something (a career, grad school, a social group, etc.) that really isn’t working for you, for heaven’s sake bail and try something new. Don’t get stuck into something you hate just because it seemed like a good idea when you were 22 and it was easier to just keep doing it.

And as others have noted, don’t be surprised if you don’t actually feel all that different ten or twenty years from now. You’ll still be you.
posted by Radish at 3:36 PM on September 9, 2016

Career advice: Learn "soft skills" as early as you can. It took a while for me to really, really accept that the skills that helped me do well in school weren't the same skills that I needed to do well in the workplace: social/communication skills, dealing with coworkers, doing the thing even though it's something I have a natural talent for/boring, etc. I wish I had dug into this stuff earlier in my career rather than stubbornly trying to just work around it and only focus on what I thought I was good at. I'm 10+ years into my career and, while I do have an okay job, I feel like I'm just now getting around to working on the hard things and feel like I'm way behind others my age. And people really do have a lot less patience for certain things when you're 30+ than when you're in your 20's, unfortunately.

Friends: I wish I had worked harder at holding up my end of certain friendships. In my 20's, I didn't really see friendships as something I should have to work at and I kind of just lost touch with some people and I really regret that. My best friend doesn't live that close to me anymore and we've always been pretty different personality-wise but we both really care about each other lives and keeping in touch, etc. I just wish I had a couple more close friends like her.
posted by eeek at 4:43 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have a lot of regrets about my 20s. I moved around a lot, which is something I needed to get out of my system. It did mean that I didn't develop a deep network until I stayed in one place in my 30s. It's a trade off.

What I do wish I had started sooner was unpacking my shit with a good therapist. Hindsight and all, but I think it would have shortened the effect of some of my more significant poor choices.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:52 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The thing I regret most about my 20's when I was starting with a really clean slate (not much of a support network) was getting sucked into the popular "truths" and group think. I know hind sight is 20-20, but it's one thing to make the best decision you can and have it turn out wrong, it's another to do a half-assed analysis and end up doing what everyone else is doing. You name it: budgeting, investments, social life, career, time management, goals, dealing with emotional challenges, health, fitness, money-trap house vs. quality home, etc. I was very even handed in following bad advice!

Many years later I saw the movie "Vision Quest" and realized this dialog summarized the mistake I had made:
Louden Swain: Can 800 million [people] be wrong?
Tanneran: Frequently. 
I would also advise you to keep a journal. A guy named Marcus Aurelius did in the 2nd Century, you may want to read it, it's called "The Meditations". I really wish I had!
posted by forthright at 7:18 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wish I had worried less about becoming fat, and I wish I had been less hung up on the idea that I was fat and that this made me intrinsically awful. It's nice to learn how to exercise for you, to do things that make your body feel good and bring experiences to you that you wouldn't have otherwise. But I spent my 20s so incredibly mired in bodily self-loathing and now I am way fatter than I ever could have imagined thanks to a kid who gave my belly a bazillion stretch marks and I feel really beautiful and I look through pictures of myself in my 20s, pictures where I used to think oh god, I'm hideous, I'm so fat and hideous, and I just want to SHAKE that kid. She was ridiculous and so, so mean to herself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:35 PM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Dude. Guess how old i was when I:
a) started my first martial art training
b) started coding professionally
c) started fencing
d) got hired as a software developer at one of the big 5
e) took first place at a national martial arts tournament

a) 40
b) 38
c) 48
d) 49
e) 41

Not too mention I'm still having fun sexy times with my hot spouse going on a quarter century now.

tldr; getting older was the best thing that ever happened to me. Forget the angst. Live.
posted by forforf at 7:50 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have a lot of sympathy for you. I remember how hard it was when I graduated college, trying to figure out "Now what?", with tons of media messages bombarding me that I Had! To! Make! The! Most! Of! Everything! I'm solidly GenX, so I don't think you're being a "typical Millenial" (whatever that means).

I'm 41 now, and 39-40-41 was so much easier than 29-30-31 for me. I'm more settled into who I am, and happy of who I am. I accept that not everyone will like me. People pleasing was a huge thing I did in my 20s and I'm glad to be done with it.

I do miss the energy I had in my 20s, and the physical resilience. It takes me longer to bounce back when I overdo things. That said, I'm wayyyyy more comfortable in my body now. I used to hate and loathe my body. Now I like it - I like how capable I am, how it works, even how it looks. I'm fatter than I was in my 20s, but instead of loathing my belly, I can appreciate that my 4 year old nephew loves to snuggle with me and nap because I'm "soft".

I miss the sense of immortality, of life being one grand adventure. However, I've gotten stability and comfort as a trade, and I'll take it.

Things I would tell my 20s self:
- go ahead and dye your hair weird colors. I started in my late 30s and shouldn't have waited so long. I was too worried about what other people would think of my purple hair. Don't. It makes me happy every day and that's what counts.
- do start "exercising" - moving your body in ways that make you happy. It will make you feel better and help with stress.
- accept your conscious decisions. I made the decision to prioritize family above career, and it's hard when I see people my age becoming officers of Fortune 500 companies. I have to remind myself that I made different choices, and am happy with the day to day result.
- don't be so judgemental. Other people make different choices and that's ok.
- Don't build yourself up at another's expense. I've always been on the heavier side and used to say things like, "Real women have curves." No. My best friend is willowy and slender with narrow hips and small breasts. I'll never forget the look on her face when she explained how hurtful that "real women" comment was. Always seek to build others up. You'll never regret it.
posted by RogueTech at 9:22 PM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't have much to add beyond enjoy your knees while they're still your friends.
posted by Jilder at 2:32 AM on September 10, 2016

If you smoke or are into drugs of any kind, now is the time to quit.

Your body will thank you 10 or 20 years from now.
posted by Kwadeng at 5:32 AM on September 10, 2016

I spent too much of my 20s trying to make a doomed relationship work. I guess we were stubborn, but it definitely dragged out longer than was healthy. So my advice would be to spend your energy on friends and relationships that are healthy and good, and be ruthless about cutting people out of your life who are bringing you down.

I regret almost nothing that I tried, and looking back wish I had taken more risks and tried more things, especially things that I thought of as "not my kind of thing."

The comments above about debt are right, I see a lot of people with very constrained options because of that. Situations may require taking some on, but less is better than more. I calculated a while back what would have happened if instead of having to take out student loans, I had been able to invest the same amount in a retirement account, and it turns out that even my very modest student loan amount would have turned into a very substantial retirement nest egg. Obviously that wasn't an option for me, but it was a sobering realization of how even very modest and "good" debt can have a lifetime impact.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:15 AM on September 10, 2016

How do I make peace with the fact that I will become old?

By cultivating a grateful frame of mind that will allow you to embrace "becoming old" as the gift that it is.

How do I make the most out of my twenties?

This is what I would tell my 20-year-old self:

*Develop self-awareness and master the art of being comfortable in your own skin.
*Be smart and prudent with money. Recognize it for what it truly is, "an excellent servant but a terrible master."
*Enrich your perspective on life's deepest questions by studying the philosophy of different religions and immersing yourself in great art and literature.
*Invest time and money in traveling. Have adventures. Accumulate interesting stories.
*Enjoy the ride, i.e. appreciate everything even the bad times. Dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We should think of our humanity as a privilege. (Marilynne Robinson)

Have fun! :)
posted by tackypink at 12:52 PM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi! I am turning 30 and definitely had the same post-graduation freakout (exacerbated by unemployment and moving ho!e to the suburbs). It was great to be a twenty something. I am psyched for my 30s and probably by the time you are my age you will be too!

The list of things I would have done differently over the last decade is VERY short:

Wear more sunscreen.

I have some sunspots that I am now trying to take care of, having never worried about exfoliators or vitamin C serums or any such nonsense before.

I am super glad I:
Went to grad school (with no debt)
Broke up with a long-term boyfriend who was awesome but didn't want the same things in life
Moved across the country and met a new cast of characters
Ran a marathon
Drank too much and ate too many burritos
Set up a mutual fund and emergency savings fund
Started a daily mediation and yoga practice

Which is to say, pretty much no matter what you do (responsible or irresponsible) the sharp edge of comparison and FOMO will soften over the coming years and you can start to define your accomplishments and failures in your own terms rather than pre-experiencing regrets that you will probably never have!
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:09 AM on September 13, 2016

Find and collect older role models. Listen to what they say. And trust me: when you are 50, you will look back at this question and have a twinge of regret that you allowed this stressor to take up space in your life. Go live without these parameters. Pretend there is no such thing as age.
posted by Vaike at 7:21 PM on September 13, 2016

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