Thought Catalog

5 Things I Wish I’d Known in My 20s

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Hindsight may not be better than foreplay but it is better than foresight. I’ve spent a good portion of my life since my twenties wishing I’d lived my twenties differently. I send this as a life raft to those of you still drifting in the twenties ocean. It is my hindsight as your foresight.

  1. Avoid the avoidable. So — here’s the problem. We’re not psychics, but we need to be. If only there were some way we could see those train wrecks coming far enough in advance to avoid them. Well, here’s the thing. The best way to avoid a train wreck when it does come is not to walk on the tracks. If you stay off the path disaster often takes, you don’t have to know the schedule. That is not to say don’t take risks. Just avoid taking risks that are 100% likely to crush you if you keep on doing it long enough. There are a lot of things that fall into that category. You know what yours are.
  2. Love is not the answer. Get your twenties out of your system. Travel. Take risks. Move around. Quit school. Go back to school. Change careers. Change religions. Change your name if you want to. Do everything you need or want to do that requires absolute freedom to act quickly and often. Travel often. Travel light. Let your dreams and aspirations be your destination, but let curiosity be your guide. Follow every side road that intrigues you. Explore. Exclaim. Don’t worry about finding your way back. The only constant is change. The only threat is baggage. The twenties are carry-on baggage days. Preferably tote bag and a toothbrush days. Love is checked baggage. Love is freight. If you fall in love too soon, and allow yourself to get in too deep, you have just tied yourself to a freight train track. This doesn’t mean love isn’t the best thing that will ever happen to you. Eventually it might be. But probably not in your twenties. Twenties love is what divorces and mid-life crises are made of. Here’s what this particular train wreck looks like: a spouse you once loved more than life, sucking the life out of you. Kids, if they’re unlucky enough to be born to this relationship, that you’ll never be able to love more than you love yourself. Kids deserve better. Spouses deserve better. You deserve better. So follow this next simple rule.
  3. Marry after 30; kids before forty. It usually happens around thirty, give or take a couple of years. You’ll know when it happens. The exploration impulse gives way to the nesting impulse. You start to worry about growing old alone. You start to wonder what your kids would look like. Now it’s time for love. So invest in serious mating. But one step at a time. First comes love, then comes marriage, but hold off on the baby carriage. Yes, even though you’re 30 something when you marry, you need to wait a while for kids. Ignore the biological clock. It isn’t a time bomb. Having kids right after marriage could be a suicide bomb. Those first few years are special. You won’t have anything like that in your marriage again. Just as you needed to take time to indulge yourself in your twenties, you need to take to indulge your relationship in your thirties. Women are having babies at forty with no issues these days. People live productive lives well into their eighties and beyond. The goal is to be solid in your relationship, solid in your identity and your life, and then bring kids into a solid world. You’ll enjoy it much more than if you rushed it. And your kids will thank you.
  4. Tradition is not a four-letter word. All the way through the last point I heard your protests. Why marry at all? Why marry first, have kids later? What about intentional single parenting? What if I’m gay? What about it? Follow your heart. Follow your gut. Never betray yourself. But realize that most people gravitate back toward the traditional after thirty. There’s a reason why traditions survive. Despite predictions in the 60’s to the contrary, marriage has survived. In fact, the marriage equality movement illustrates the strength of the tradition even in the non-traditional. Tradition is a tool, not an obstacle. Use it as much as it works. Find creative uses. Find work arounds when needed. But we all need a compass, an anchor, something against which we understand ourselves, our relationships, and our purpose in this world. Don’t be afraid of tradition. Find your tradition. Create your tradition. Honor your tradition.
  5. The only thing worse than quitting is waiting too long to quit. If you find yourself on one of those train tracks, you don’t get points for continuity. Every step you take, once you realize you are going nowhere good, is a step closer to disaster. Whoever said “Don’t be a quitter,” should have been one herself. If what you’re doing is right, you’ll know it. Don’t run away from destiny. Don’t be afraid of the dark. But if you know you’re in the wrong place, it doesn’t get less wrong the longer you stay there. TC Mark

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