What I Wish I Had Known In My Twenties
Advice for the Twenty-Something Girl
I'm only 31, so I haven't been out of my twenties for that long, but my life as a thirty-something is vastly different than my life as a twenty-something. I got married, had kids, got a mortgage, did all the stuff adults are supposed to do. I'm blissfully happy with the way my life has turned out, but in many ways I took a rocky road to get here. I would like to offer some advice to the twenty-something girls out there. Hopefully I can help you arrive at your thirties with some money in your pocket, a list of accomplishments and very few regrets. So here's my advice:
1. You're a hell of a lot prettier than you think you are. Time is on your side. Gravity hasn't worked you over like a rolling pin on bread dough and your metabolism still runs like a well-oiled machine. Your skin is still dewy and the parts of you that are supposed to be perky still are. Even if you have horrible self-confidence and you look in the mirror with disgust, I promise you, at some point in your life you will look back and realize you are taking for granted just how beautiful you are. Stop wasting your time being self-conscious and appreciate your youth. You can buy bigger breasts, smaller thighs, different colored hair, perfect nails, and a tan, but you can't buy youth. You can never get it back once it's gone. Appreciate it! With that said, let's move on to number two...
2. Learn how to do something other than be pretty. Pretty girls are a dime a dozen. I mean, geez, who's not pretty in their 20's? You can check "Be Pretty" off your to do list and move on to something else. Physical beauty will only take you so far. There are a certain number of jobs and relationships which you can enter into based solely on how you look. However, very quickly you will have to contribute something beyond your appearance to be taken seriously in any job or relationship. Develop some skills. Learn how to make conversation with anyone. Learn how to speak to and listen to people in a way that makes them feel valued. If you're friendly and engaging, both men and women will be drawn to you. You will find that people are attracted to you in a way that has nothing to do with how you look.
3. Aggressively check items off your 'Bucket List.' If you are single and unmarried in your twenties, then you have more time and money to devote to yourself than you will at any other point in your life. Even if you're so broke you can't pay attention, you still have only yourself to worry about feeding and clothing. When you get extra money, you can spend it on you. You can travel or learn to play guitar or take a job on a cattle ranch out west because it's just YOU; you're not responsible for feeding children or paying a mortgage and you don't have to haul a toddler everywhere you go. Enjoy your freedom. Do all the wild, spontaneous, adventurous things you possibly can because, let me tell you, a mortgage is a big buzz-kill and you'll have one before you know it!
4. Stop competing with other women. I could write a book on this one. Women's solidarity is something sadly lacking in our society. We enjoy picking other women's bodies apart and finding their flaws because it makes us feel better about our own shortcomings. Why else do tabloids fly off the shelves when they have close-up's of celebrity cellulite? I call it "pernicious voyeurism." We are fascinated by women we percieve as more perfect than us and giddy when we discover they aren't so perfect after all. We really should be more supportive of each other. Quit worrying about who is prettier or thinner and learn to be happy for other women's success. When you can watch another woman lose 20 lbs, land a great job and get a hot boyfriend and you can be genuinely happy for her, then you will have accomplished something far greater than having perfect thighs. When you realize that life is not a competition and that other women's happiness and success does not exclude your own, then you are free to enjoy positive, uplifting friendships with other women. Believe me, you will go through some hard things in your twenties and good girlfriends are priceless in those times. When Mr. Not So Perfect dumps you or cheats on you, you're gonna need a shoulder to cry on. If you've been a good friend, you'll have a good friend when you need one.
5. Don't sleep with married men. To clarify, this is not something I did in my twenties, but I saw plenty of my girlfriends get involved with married men. The number one reason you should not sleep with married men is because someday you will be married to one and you will hope and pray that he does not cheat on you. Karma is a ..., well, you know the saying. When a married man comes onto you, you may feel extremely flattered. You may assume that you are more attractive, sexier, more interesting than his wife. The truth is that when a married man flirts with you, it is not a reflection of his wife or of you, it is solely and absolutely a reflection of his lack of character. Have some respect for his wife and tell him to get lost. No married men would ever cheat if they could not find anyone to cheat with them!
5. Do not (except in the most dire of circumstances) get a credit card. If you can't pay cash for it, you don't need it. Credit cards seem like easy money. They swipe so easily and you feel like a high roller picking up your friends' bar tabs, buying those $90 jeans that make your ass look amaaaaazing, and filling up the tank for an all-girls road trip. The problem is compound interest. Simply explained, if you don't pay the entire balance on your credit card every month, you end up paying interest on interest. So your $90 jeans turn into $300 or $400 jeans if you let the balance keep sliding from month to month. You will end up with a credit card bill far higher than the amounts you originally spent. Don't get screwed by compound interest!
6. Get ready to retire. "Say what? I'm 23! I don't need to worry about retiring!" Yes, you absolutely do because if you start now, it will be much easier on you later. It's simple; you let compound interest work FOR you instead of against you. You do this by saving instead of spending. You should get an IRA retirement account as soon as possible because the longer the money sits in there, the more interest it earns. This time you're earning interest on interest instead of paying interest on interest. You can start saving a very small amount each month, say $25. By the time you turn 65 and you're ready to retire, that $25 will be worth hundreds of times its original amount. The key is to start early. The longer the money sits there, the more it's worth. If you wait until you're in your 30's or 40's to start saving for retirement, you will have to save much more aggressively because you've lost time. You need time to make your money grow, so start early! You won't regret it!
7. Weigh out your career choices very carefully. Do you love doing something that doesn't pay well? Are you only looking at career choices that pay well and ignoring what you love? Think very carefully about what will bring you happiness. Are you the kind of person who can live in a small house, drive a used car and not have much left over after the bills are paid in exchange for getting to do what you love? If you are truly in love with your work, then the financial sacrifice is worth it. For many people, the money follows the passion. You will naturally be better at a job you love and you may be successful because of your passion. On the other hand, are you the type of person who puts a lot of value on material things? Do you want to live in a big house in a gated community, drive a luxury car, take exotic vacations and pursue expensive hobbies like golf or equestrian events? If you want to live this sort of life, then it's best to pursue a high-earning career even if your passion lies elsewhere. You have to weigh that out for yourself. But think carefully, because it's hard to switch careers and start over with something new once you've got kids and a giant stack of bills.
So there it is, my advice for the twenty-something girl in the midst of major life decisions. I look back very fondly on those years of my life. I made some stupid decisions, but thanks to some good advice I received, I made some good ones too. To sum it up- have a lot of fun, make a lot of friends and don't spend all your money!