The Life Advice I Wish I Had in My 20s Now That I’m in My 30s

Sangeeta Kocharekar
Author Supplied

It’s strange to think that when I was in my 20s, I’d read articles just like this, wondering what I shouldn’t be taking for granted at this time in my life and what I should be doing differently. And now here I am, sharing with a fresh crop of 20-year-olds — or anyone else keen to read my musings, really — everything (well, a few things) I now wish I’d known back then.

For context: I’m 34 and have just moved out of a house share into my first solo apartment in North Bondi, Sydney (I’m loving living alone!). Career-wise, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, working as a lifestyle editor of the publication you’re reading right now. Love life-wise, I’m still not where I want to be, but I’m appreciative of all my experiences so far.

And while they say not to regret any of your decisions or actions in life as they’ve led you to where you are now, I have to admit… I do. There’s so much about my 20s I wish I’d done differently (stopped buying a new ‘going out’ outfit every week! Chased guys who weren’t interested! Drank to the point of not remembering! etc etc) and so much I wish I’d known about life in general back then.

In fact, there are probably enough lessons learnt for me to write an article a week sharing them all (hmm, that might just be a column idea right there). But to start, I thought I’d highlight a few — the life advice that popped up in my head first. And while you might already know them, my hope is that at least one you won’t and that this might convince you to try it.

Always Be Professional

This sounds so obvious, and I wish I could say I was always professional, but early in my career, I definitely wasn’t. In my first office job, I would show up in thongs, hungover and lacking any of the clear-headedness I needed to do my job properly. And sure, I worked in a marketing start-up, so it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds, but thinking back on it, I cringe.

To those in their 20s, I say that though it might not seem like it at the time, keep in mind your career will likely be long and that the best way to start it is by always being professional. You’ll be taken more seriously, get ahead quicker and, most importantly, won’t cringe so hard when you reflect on how you acted at work back then like I do now.

Remember That Hard Work Does Pay Off

Once I did decide to be more professional and try to get a job in what I loved — lifestyle journalism — I learnt that hard work does eventually pay off. I worked my butt off in an unpaid internship at age 25 and at a writing job with shifts that went from 5pm until 2am (seriously) to eventually get me to where I am now. The path was windy, and I veered off slightly several times, taking roles I wasn’t excited about but knew I needed to do to get me where I wanted to be and in the end, I got there.

Again, early in your career, you might not even be able to fathom waking up every day to do what you love, but keep reminding yourself: you won’t be in the job you’re in now forever.

And while I do say that as a person fortunate enough to be from a middle-class family who was able to afford to send me to uni, and I know that some people never end up doing the work they want to be doing, I still want to make this point: hard work — in any area of life, not just career — does eventually pay off.

Start Doing Therapy Early

Granted we’ve come a long way from ‘therapy’ being a taboo topic — when I was in my early 20s, I used to think of it as ‘woo woo’. Anyone who talked to me about it would be branded a ‘hippie’ in my head. I imagined people who went were deeply troubled and lay on couches moaning about their life while someone wearing tiny glasses scribbled about them on a notepad.

Then, when I was 29, I started seeing a therapist I immediately clicked with, and our sessions ended up changing my life — and I’m not being dramatic.

Without getting too technical, as I’m not a therapist myself, in the first few years of our lives, our brains are sponges, absorbing information about the world and then interpreting it. That faulty core belief system, with a common one being “I am worthless”, “I am inadequate” and “I am a failure”, then runs automatic, unconscious thoughts in our brains for the rest of our lives, leading us to behave in certain ways. Until we become conscious of these beliefs and stop believing our thoughts, we’ll keep getting in our own way.

And one of the best ways to do this is by doing talk therapy. Find a therapist you actually like, tell them what you think of the world and what you’re doing as a result of those beliefs, and the two of you can work out which of your behaviours may be holding you back from where you want to be.

Trust That Things Will Work Out

And finally, I’ll end on this vague, but so true life lesson. A lesson that if I’d heard said in my 20s, I 100% would’ve called lame. But these days, I say it again and again in my head anytime I feel anxious about my life not being where I thought it would be at 34.

But I’ve learnt, from how things eventually worked out in my career, things will work out in other areas of my life. I’ve learnt that as permanent as your life situation may feel at the time, it’s not. Everything in life changes and the best way to move through these changes is to give up any resistance and instead, trust that everything will eventually work out. And who knows, it may even be a better outcome than what you ever could’ve imagined.

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