Twenty life lessons from my 20s

I turn 30 this year.

The twenty-year old girl I once knew is a shadow of my soon-to-be 30 year old self.

In fact, Canberra based almost-30 year old me has more in common with the frizzy haired 16 year old girl from the small state of Tasmania, Australia, than her 20 something year old counterpart.

I used to joke that I peaked at age 16, but during my early twenties it wasn’t far from the truth. I was a focused, motivated, non-gossiper, confident teen. Of course I was pre-occupied by boys, namely Hanson, but I was not your normal adolescent. I had strong values, stood up for those who were vulnerable, and had an impenetrable reputation. I was hot – I had an enviable body and hair, and stella modelling career. I was academic and respected by my teachers. I did, however, suffer from a great deal of jealous-based bullying and extreme anxiety that presented psychosomatically, although at the time we didn’t recognise it. You see I hadn’t yet learnt how to manage my own emotions.

As a twenty-something, I let myself go ‘retired’  from modelling. I realised that I wasn’t intelligent, but that in fact I was actually quite dumb. I realised that I wasn’t as ‘special’ as my parents led me to believe (how dare they!). But with self-actualisation, I experienced a metamorphosis thus began the journey of self-improvement. I learnt how to actually treat others with respect rather than simply saying I was respectful but not being so. I learnt to stop worrying about what others thought of me, took risks, and strived to achieve the high standards set by myself not by others. My twenties was also filled with great achievements (as defined by me): I met my future husband, graduated from University three times, married, had a baby, and moved across the country.

I, however, spent most of my twenties unconsciously incompetent. I was ignorant of myself, others, and the world around me. But with learning comes realisation. In my late twenties I became consciously incompetent and in many ways unconsciously competent.

In my twenties I learnt a lot of life lessons. When I sat down to write this piece, the life lessons kept coming and coming… and coming. Before I knew it, I had over twenty. Therefore, without further ado, here are my twenty-something life lessons from my 20’s:



You are insignificant

My first oversease trip to Vietnam at age twenty-two helped me realise how fundamentally insignificant I actually was in the world. It was a shock, and not just a culture shock – it was an identity shock. Suddenly, I wasn’t ‘special’. Suddenly, my worries paled in comparison to poverty, disadvantage and vulnerability.

“It is one of the hardest things to do, challenging the mainstream, but it is the most liberating. You feel like you hold the secret to the meaning of life”

Challenge the mainstream

In my twenties I read three life changing books. In order they are, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter, The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, and The 4-Hour Body also by Tim Ferris. I must also add to this list, the Paleo movement by Pete Evans. These books/movements taught me the invaluable lesson of challenging the mainstream. Thanks to Robert and Sharon, I no longer want the white picket fence to pay off for the rest of my life. Why not have someone else pay it off? Thanks to Tim, I now have a greater understanding of why less is best: I now do the minimum amount necessary to achieve optimum outcomes. Thanks to Pete, I no longer feel like I my breakfast meal should be different from any other meal of the day, and I no longer feel ‘unhealthy’ for cutting out all grains and diary from my diet, even though I feel so much better without them. It is one of the hardest things to do, challenging the mainstream, but it is the most liberating. You feel like you hold the secret to the meaning of life.

You don’t understand the meaning of discipline

I never understood the meaning of discipline until I undertook a strict shredding diet (Four-Hour Body) and began lifting weights*. I never really pushed myself physically when I was younger, I always, always caved, or was able to achieve good results with little efforts. When I learnt how to be disciplined with my exercise and diet, it fed through to other parts of my life such as making healthy decisions for my daily routine, stronger relationships, and working smarter. With discipline, comes a strong mind. I never realised the importance of this until I started long distance running. In my mid twenties I decided that I wanted to run long distances so I had a good foundation of fitness before I had babies. I didn’t realise that your fitness level is only half the story when long distance running; your fitness ability will get you through your first 20km, the stregnth of your mind will bring you home. *I am not ignorant of the fact that in many ways I still don’t understand the meaning of discipline, when comparing myself to those in the forces or undertaking a martial arts (for example).

You won’t achieve it unless you immerse yourself in it

I was never a runner. In fact, I hated running. I utterly did not identify as being a runner, but I desperately wanted to be one, so I could have a runners body. Yes, hello shallow twenty year old!! I then moved in with a fitness trainer and started dating a super fit athlete, who I later married. Suddenly, being surrounded by like-minded people I loved running. If you want to be a certain someone in your twenties, surround yourself with like minded people. Join a running club, join a gym, make friends with runners. I also bought a heart rate monitor (a fancy watch that records your heart rate, calories, distance, and some even have a GPS – strongly recommend it) and became obsessed with measuring my achievements. Unless you absorb yourself in what you want to achieve, and measure it, you likely won’t achieve it.

“I realised then the importance of maturing privately so when young girls can go out in public, they can do so with decorum and dignity”

Stop being dramatic and airing your dirty laundry

Being the straight-laced teenager that I was, I wonder if I spent my early twenties making up for the lack of drama in my teenage years. I have at times had public spats, swearing matches, and thrown alcoholic beverages at ex-boyfriends. I have publicly cried god knows how many times, and had public arguments with family or friends. The turning point came for me at around twenty-three when I watched Pride and Prejudice (the mini-series). The two youngest Bennett sisters, Lydia and Kitty, were merely 14 and 15 years of age when they made public displays of exhibitionism that was highly frowned upon by society. I realised then the importance of maturing privately so when young girls can go out in public, they can do so with decorum and dignity. Yes, times have changed since the 1880’s, but the values, albeit less extreme, are still relevant today. Publicly airing of dirty laundry is never done so with decorum.

Not everything is about you

On this note of being dramatic, you need to realise that not everything is about you. I spent most of my early twenties being sensitive and taking offence to things people said. Don’t take things personally, they didn’t mean it like that. Get over yourself!

“If you think you don’t play games in relationships, chances are you do.”

Don’t play games and don’t be a dick tease

If you think you don’t play games in relationships, chances are you do. I always said “I don’t play games with boys”. But I always did. I learnt this lesson the hard way. In my early twenties I dated a boy with paranoid schizophrenia. I learnt VERY quickly how playing games with someone can impact their mental stability; for any high functioning person, they might think you’re game playing, for someone with a mental dysfunction, they think you are part of a world wide conspiracy out to get them. Don’t play games. Just don’t.

On this note, don’t be dick tease. I’m talking about misleading someone into thinking you like them for the simple reason of getting their attention or to make another feel pain (jealousy). Again, don’t do it. It’s undignified and plays with other people’s feelings. As Elizabeth Bennett said “I do assure you, Sir, that I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man” (Chapter 19).

You are ignorant

Well maybe not you, but definitely me. I spent most of twenties being ignorant of everyone around me, yet prided myself on thinking I had a higher than average insight and awareness. Ain’t that the true definition of ignorance! I was, and still am largely, ignorant of other cultures, countries, and religions. Although I have made a ‘conscious’ effort to be less so. I was ignorant of the value of money, the possessions which I thought I needed. I was ignorant of how to define success. All of these things I have recognised in myself, and endeavor to spend my thirties making amends.

You get your wants and needs confused

Along this train of thought is this point. In my twenties I met my husband (by far, one of the highlights of my twenties!) He has taught me so much, namely how not to be a princess. Pre-husband, I ignorantly embraced consumerism; I had plenty of shoes, bags, clothes, belongings in general. I thought I ‘needed’ them, I really didn’t. This philosophy triggered me to conduct research into living life minimalistically. I realised, I didn’t need stuff. I didn’t need any of it. I was going about thinking a new possession would make me happy. It didn’t. Instead, self-fulfillment through achieving my goals and living with the basic essentials was all I needed to be happy and contented.

“If you ever say you’re ‘busy’ when asked how you’re going, chances are you haven’t learnt this lesson”

You are not ‘busy’

I thought I was busy working and studying at the same time. Then I moved in with my friend from University who studied full time, ran a business, was a personal trainer, and participated in theatre productions. No, I wasn’t then and have never been busy in comparison. Everyone thinks they’re busy. How many times do you ask someone how they are and they respond with ‘busy’. ‘Busy’ is a relative term and we use it too liberally. You are not busy in your twenties, chances are you are not busy in your thirties. And if you ever say you’re ‘busy’ when asked how you’re going, chances are you haven’t learnt this lesson.

“I didn’t realise that learning and knowing was on an infinite spectrum.”

Be accomplished

My primary school motto was “Learners for Life”. When I was very young I thought that one day I would know everything, I didn’t realise that learning and knowing was on an infinite spectrum. What I learnt from my twenties? I don’t know everything. Instead, I simply aim to know. And I’m not just talking about learning through mainstream education, I am referring specifically to the knowledge and skills you learn through life and extra-curricular activities. For example, I learnt to sing, albeit poorly, at age 20; painted my first canvas at age 21; learnt to swim at age 22; complete my first triathlon at age 23; taught myself the countries of the world at 24; climbed a mountain at age 25; learnt to swing dance at 26; taught myself website design at 27; published my first book at 28; read my first English literature novel at age 29! What I learnt from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice when I read it in my twenties, strive to be accomplished.

Find a mentor/s

In addition to the previous point, it is imperative you identify someone, or many people, who you can learn from, have your best interests at heart, and who can guide you. I have a mentor in the workplace. She is someone who has a great depth of knowledge, experience, and can equip me with the skills in making sound career decisions. I have two mentors in my personal life; these women are mums (one is in her early thirties, the other late forties) who I admire as mothers and as women more broadly. All my mentors guide me. They are people who I look up to and hope one day to be half the women they are.

Networking is key to almost* all jobs

My husband and I moved to Canberra for his federal public service position. What did I learn from socialising with all these public servants? Networking – it will get you places! Make the most of your twenties to improve your interpersonal skills and get yourself out there. But be genuine about it, don’t be an opportunist. It really is not what you know, but who you know!

*I really think it is all jobs, but as I don’t know of every job in the whole wide world and someone will undoubtedly prove me wrong, I will say almost all jobs.

Ageism, sexism, in fact most discriminations, still exist

Believe it or not, this still exists, particularly the former. I learnt in my twenties to NEVER put my birth date on my CV. I also learnt through self-realisation, that I too was an ageist, a hypocrtical one at that: I thought in my twenties I could achieve anything, yet I look down upon those younger than me! I learnt from experience that excluding someone in the workforce, or outside of, is a form of bullying and this is not okay. I learnt that mothers who return to work after maternity leave yield a greater productivity than many full-time employees; it’s the guilt you see, they feel guilty for working part-time so work harder when they’re there. Trust me, I’m entering my thirties as a full time mum and a guilty, part-time employee!

You will not get recognised

I hate to say it, but there are very few people in this world who get recognised, and even less who get recognised for what they want to be recognised for! I can recall missing opportunities because I would sit around at events waiting for people to come to me. Arrogant much? You need to make opportunities to get recognised! Miranda Kerr was approached by a modelling scout when she attended her friends modelling pageant. She wasn’t there to be a model, she went there to support her friend. Next thing you know, she’s on the cover of Dolly and modelling for Victoria Secret. Because we hear about so many stories of people being in the right place at the right time, we think that this is the norm. It is not. Further, how many of these people started out wanting to be in their current line of work. Very few I imagine. Many were approached and decided to go along for the ride! If you want to be something or someone you need to work hard for it – you need to make your own opportunities to get recognised!

“Be a small fish in your twenties, so you can be a big fish in your thirties”

Be a small fish in a big pond

At 15 years of age, my parents offered to send me to a local private school to further my education and to escape the bullying of my public school. My excellent public school teacher at the time said to me, ‘Here you are a big fish in a small pond, there you will be a small fish in a big pond. You need to choose what you want to be‘. I choose wrong: I choose to be a big fish. Consequently, I developed an inaccurate sense of importance and ability. It wasn’t until I went to college and then University in my twenties did I actually realise I was dumb, unskilled and in many ways, lacking of common sense. I had been ignorant of the world because I had been led to believe that I could achieve anything with little effort, and up until that time, this was the case. During my early twenties, I lived in a share house with three other beautiful and highly-intelligent University students. It quickly became apparent how my former education had equipped me with a false-sense of achievement. I observed how with little ease my housemates were able to achieve top grades, while I slogged my arse off to achieve mere credits.

I believe that if I had moved schools at age 15, I would have realised earlier where I stood in the world, and overcome my misplaced arrogance. The lesson? Be a small fish in your twenties, so you can be a big fish in your thirties.

Gold Fish

“Get what you want. Don’t accept no for an answer. Find another way.”

Find a way to make it work for you

I gave up in my twenties. After realising I was dumb, untalented and had a very low chance of achieving my goals, it all just seemed way too hard and I accepted myself for what I was, or more specifically, what I was not.  I then moved to Canberra and met a lifelong friend of my husbands who gave me the confidence and motivation to continue to pursue my dreams of becoming a psychologist. Two years later, I applied for Honours, was accepted, and completed the degree with competitive grades. One of my important lessons from my twenties… Get what you want. Don’t accept no for an answer. Find another way. I now apply this in every aspect of my life (workplace, running, when shopping!), and the benefits have been remarkable! It really is this simple.

Be more tolerant

Wow, I was an intolerant twenty-year old. I was always nice, but if a friend or family member ‘annoyed’ me, then that was it. They were cut off! I learnt to be more tolerate when I realised that a) I didn’t have many friends, and b) I too was annoying! Learn to accept people’s flaws, because you definitely have them too!

“It highlighted to me the importance of embracing the culture of those who are important to me”

Embrace your partner’s culture

I went to a dozen weddings in my twenties. No exaggeration! One wedding stood out for me (okay, two including my own). This wedding was for a couple who married into another culture. It highlighted to me the importance of embracing the culture of those who are important to me. Our lovely, only-child, friend married an Italian man and she impressed upon me how with both ease and eagerness she embraced his large and passionate family. She has moved into and is renovating her husband’s grandfather’s house, they make hundreds of jars of pasta sauce each year as a family, and she has many family members dropping by unannounced. She brings with her warmth and elegance, and a kindness that I rarely see today.

Treat your friends and family much better than you do

By far one of the biggest epiphanies I experienced during my twenties was this. It occurred to me that many twenty year old’s would rather ‘put out’ partners or family members than colleagues or acquaintances. For example, you are getting a lift home from work, why is it acceptable to run late for your partner or family picking you up but not for a work colleague dropping you home. Another example, why do you speak nicer to a stranger than your loved one? You don’t dare snap at a work mate, so why is it acceptable for snap at a family member. You think that the family member won’t care, but they’re more important to you than your work colleague, so why not treat them so?

“I learnt in my twenties that there will never be a better time, nor would I have a better bod, than right now to wear that new cocktail dress to work!”

Wear your good clothes all the time

The amount of ‘good’clothes/jewellry/shoes I bought for special occasions only to have them hanging in the wardrobe with the tags still on is absurd. I learnt in my twenties that there will never be a better time, nor would I have a better bod, than right now to wear that new cocktail dress to work!

Your body will never look better

You may not look like the woman in the image above, but you certainly won’t look like her in your thirties either. So, wear your short-shorts, wear your low cut tops in your twenties girls, your body will never look better! But be warned, don’t sunbathe, and always wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. No amount of moisturizer can undo sun damage.

Make sacrifces for your family

I come from a relatively small family, and have married into another small family. We moved away from our respective families several years ago. With aging grandparents coupled with the birth of our baby, I have felt tremendous guilt for my self-imposed isolation from our family. It is a difficult to know what to do during times like this. My husband and I grew up in a state with a poor economy and with little career opportunities, but we were close to our families. On the other hand, Canberra offers greater career prospects for us and more opportunities for our children, but we see little of our families. It is a difficult decision. The lesson I learnt, and am still learning, is to make sacrifices for your family, even if the needs of different family members contradict, but whatever decision you make, always make an effort to maintain the familial bond.

“I am in awe of what these people can achieve, and how they have gone about achieving it.”

Set high standards for yourself and your children

I have had the eye opening experience of being surrounded by high achievers. I am in awe of what these people can achieve, and how they have gone about achieving it. I recently went to a wedding (yes, another one) where the mother of the bride spoke about how her daughter always achieved the high bar she set; her daughter is very accomplished and is a kind woman with great values. I have seen first hand how parents have set the bar high for their children and through love, support and gentle parenting, these children have grown into high achieving adults have had many opportunities in their life. I recently read in Alan Jones’ infamous autobiography, Jonestown by Chris Masters, about how his mother, a former teacher, had high standards for her children and encouraged them to put their hand up for every opportunity. This is what I would like to do for my children. By far my biggest achievement in my twenties was having a baby. This philosophy of achievement and opportunity is in some respects, part of the philosophy of why we don’t have a television at our house. Instead of dwindling away time in front of the box, my child and I read, or play stacking blocks, or play in the park.

This is what I realised in my twenties, every moment of every day can be an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, and don’t be afraid to better yourself.

This is how I intend to live my thirties.

What life lessons did you learn in your 20’s? Share by commenting below.

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About Lauren Jackman (160 Articles)
Lauren Jackman is the author of Canberra Mummy. A self-confessed perfectionist, Lauren writes about the truth about pregnancy and parenting for perfectionist mummies. Lauren is a mum, wife, author, runner and a not a bad cook

9 Comments on Twenty life lessons from my 20s

  1. Great post Lauren. very insightful, lots of REALLY great advice. Love how honest you’ve been here.

  2. BRILLIANT BLOG Lauren. I think this would make a great E-BOOK for how to live your best life in your 20’s. I have a few favourites there, in particular ‘challenge mainstream’. Thank you!

  3. I absolutely and positively love this post and agree with everything you have said! As a 30 something woman, I can’t even think of anything to add except maybe not to be too hard on yourself! Thanks for linking up at Mum-bo Monday. This post will be featured this week as my pick of the party

  4. Wonderful post, I love how honest you are but don’t feel bad I think we all need to learn a lesson about how we acted when we were younger and why we did it. I am very thankful that it seems the young folks of today are more respectful than I was as a youngster. Thanks for sharing your great story.

  5. What a great post Lauren, how insightful and honest. Thanks for linking it up so we could all read it!

  6. What a brilliant article! Gosh you’ve made me remember some of the hard, hard lessons I learnt in my twenties, thank goodness we come out of it a bit wiser!! Following your blog from now on!

    Thanks for contributing to The Sunday Brunch Magazine!

    All the best,

    Eliza & Bel.

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