Let’s face it: the word ‘mistake‘ goes hand in hand with your 20s. And to be honest, I’d be worried for you if it didn’t. Your 20s are, after all, the time for experimentation, for risk.
Mistakes are how we best grow, both professionally and personally, and how we learn everything from what we are most motivated by in the workplace, to what we want in a life partner.
So whatever you do, never look at this chapter of your life through an entirely negative lens, because it’s quite possible that, come your 30s, you’ll want to go back and shake your fearless, foolish and flighty 20-something self’s hand.
In the meantime, here are my Top 10 (secretly good) ‘mistakes’ from the decade I’ve left behind – read ‘em, weep, and then please, feel a whole lot better about yourself and where you are at.
1. Being too busy in the 2nd and 3rd year of Uni to proactively seek careers advice. Add to that not making better use of my free time and summers to gain invaluable work experience. I guess I thought two 9.15am seminars a week, a reading list and an addiction to watching Home & Away was terribly taxing.
Clearly, I had no idea about the lack of time that comes later to plan such things once you’re bogged down in work you don’t enjoy or childcare. Make use of that time now and plan ahead.
Why secretly good? I got to large it up and make some monster memories!
2. Not moving back in with Mum and Dad after Uni when they offered. I was in such a mammoth rush to steam ahead with full, adult independence. I took the first job I could and headed straight to the Big, Bad Smoke, thus living in penniless squalor and trapped doing work I hated for the next 3 years until I had enough experience to trade ‘up and out’ of it.
If, however, you don’t mind mice, gangsters for neighbours and living on Pot Noodles, then by all means, go forth to London with no game plan to shake a stick at. The streets really are paved with gold and nobody expects you to work for free. Not.
Why secretly good? I could arrive home late, no questions asked.
3. Office romances. This brought me some serious Bad Karma so please, take note and save yourself.
Unless you want to be gossiped about, not taken seriously, or have your love life become a factor in how and why you haven’t progressed career-wise in your company, then remember these three very helpful little words: ‘Don’t. Go. There’.
Why secretly good? The education and the illicit thrills.
4. Living on credit. Your post-Uni 20s is the time to hand back the plastic they gave you at the ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ School of Student Finances. Trust me, it does, so don’t keep spending on graduate loans, credit cards and overdrafts.
The reality is that most 20-somethings won’t earn enough, especially in the costly city, to cope with crippling repayments and interest rates. Try to economise and don’t get sucked in to a city lifestyle you can’t afford. The Wolf of Wall Street you are not. At least not yet.
Why secretly good? Procuring an absolutely kick-ass wardrobe.
5. Eating rubbish and not living healthy. I’d love to blame this entirely on being skint, but sadly, it was mostly because I was lazy. Too many late work nights out and a lack of planning/organisation meant that for most of my 20s I subsisted on cold takeaway pizza, McDonalds, cigarettes and wine.
Which was fine until I hit 30 and started noticing wrinkles, dull skin and a complete lack of energy. Coupled with a tiring city commute, long hours, and then eventually children, I started to feel older than my years.
Take care of yourself – work out, home cook, get some early nights and don’t burn your candle too quick because in a working week; it does catch you up.
Why secretly good? Oh dear, not a lot. Saved cooking time?
6. Not going travelling. Now, in fairness, I managed to make this happen when I was 28, but only because my firm were generous enough to give me a 6 month sabbatical based on my performance and loyalty. It was also before the downturn of 2008 when corporations could afford to be a bit more generous.
I used the time to trek around South America, visit Galapagos and do the Inca Trail, among other things. It was incredible; character building, inspiring and I’m eternally glad I did it. Don’t get tooth-and-claw into your career and then family life without having a few adventures first.
Why secretly good? Getting a head start on the career ladder.
7. Letting old friendships slide. It’s easier than ever now with social media to keep in contact. Back in the day we had Friends Reunited but nobody had a smartphone so after the initial buzz it was easily forgotten about.
Renting meant lots of moving around and very quickly I was also engrossed in new and dazzling city friendships, forgetting to make time to catch up with old school and Uni pals. As my 30s loomed I realised that I yearned to reconnect with people who reminded me of more carefree times, but by the time Facebook took off, too much water had often gone under the bridge.
Even with social media it can be easy to let regular contact drift. Keep in touch. You’ll miss those people – that bridge back to your youth – immeasurably one day.
Why secretly good? Living in the present and building your professional networks.
8. Putting parents on a back-burner. For some inexplicable reason, even in my 20s, I still assumed that my parents were immortal and unchanging. I spent most of my weekends hungover, with friends, or boyfriends, and then I upped sticks and transferred to Australia with my firm.
Now all of those things were a lot of fun and valuable experiences too (even the hangovers – how else does one learn not to mix beer and spirits?!), but I do regret not visiting home a little more often or making space for quality time with ‘The Olds’, especially as my Dad died suddenly when I was 31.
Fly the nest and have fun, but do schedule in a few return visits here and there… and not just to get your washing done, some cash, or to be fed!
Why secretly good? Not being lectured!
9. Not breaking up sooner with someone you don’t love. City life and working can be pretty lonely, insecure and choppy. It can feel like your career and finances are all over the place at times, which is why it’s also endlessly appealing to put an anchor down with someone ‘safe’ from the get-go, even if you don’t love them.
But if you can’t imagine walking down the aisle with them, living together or having children, be brave and strike out on your own. This is the time to try other relationships on for size and see what suits you. Who knows what’s around the corner?
Why secretly good? Always having someone to split the bill with/share a cab/go on holiday with.
10. Not settling down sooner. See what I did there? Threw in an evil curveball for you having just told you dump Mr/Mrs Not Quite Right (see above). Isn’t life annoyingly contradictory?! Increasingly, many graduates are so focused on pursuing careers, paying back debts, getting on the housing ladder and, let’s not forget, enjoying some of that hard earned dosh, that they put off serious relationships or having children.
In my case I was busy swanning around Australia and taking fabulous holidays every year to the likes of Fiji and Vanuatu (so it wasn’t all bad!). Cue mid 30s and the first baby, no problem. But 2nd baby = long story. Throw in two stays in hospital for serious pregnancy related illness, one operation and being referred to as a ‘mature’ mother by medical staff and you begin catch my drift.
Halle Berry of ‘popped-one-out-at-46-without-a-grey-hair-in-sight’ fame, I ain’t. I hear IVF isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs either. Part of the luxury of education is choice. Use yours wisely and if you want a family, remember that you (probably) aren’t Halle Berry either.
Why secretly good? Leading a fabulous and fun child-free lifestyle. Overseas holidays, not dining at Maccas once a week, being slim, financially in the black, having a sex life and a house that doesn’t smell of poo; so overrated, right?!
So there you have it, folks. Don’t panic. Trust me, you really can’t go wrong in your 20s. Life is for living, and living is learning. Dive in and enjoy!