When I think back on my life five years ago, there are a lot of things my mid-20s self wishes my early-20s self knew. I obviously can't go back and share them with myself, but at least I can share them with you. And maybe you'll see yourself in them, regardless of your age.
Your 20s are considered a time for self-discovery, which is probably why people are often very different from the time they graduate college to the time they hit 25. That's pretty exciting. It's impossible to predict who you'll be in a few years because so many unforeseen circumstances will change you. Those changes can be for better or for worse, but they're usually for the better, because any sort of experience can make you wiser and stronger. That's why I advocate having as many experiences as possible, as I'll get to.
Since I have seen and done a lot of new things since my early 20s, my approach to life has changed a lot over the years. Maybe I'll revise my stances on these same things again by my 30s. But so far, at age 26, here's some advice I'd give my younger self and anyone younger than me.
1You Don't Have To Do Things Just Because They're Conventional
This seems obvious, but once you think about it, it's amazing how many things we do just because most people do them. Why don't we, for example, eat salad for breakfast and eggs for dinner? Or leave the theater when we don't like the movie? Conventions I've broken because they make zero sense to me include wearing underwear, having a permanent home, identifying with a gender, and making small talk. Breaking rules like these doesn't harm anyone. As long as something's not prohibited by law, we're free to do it, and we should exercise that freedom.
2You Can Totally Find Love Without Settling
Back when I was dating, I felt a lot of pressure from my friends to settle. I got told I was being too picky for rejecting people who weren't feminist enough or weren't really doing it for me physically. That's absurd. When my gut told me I'd be happier single, it was never wrong. And I did eventually find someone who met my "picky" criteria. Sure, pickier people may take longer to find a good match, but that's OK because being single is awesome!
3Go Out On A Limb And Ask For Things That Seem Unrealistic
I often used to have the thought "that wouldn't work unless..." and stop there. Now, I follow that thought: Unless what? Unless a company that wants to hire me pays more? Unless a love interest is willing to travel to see me? Unless I can get an extension on a project? You may be surprised by how much people will help you make something work. I've gotten my best opportunities from going beyond "unless."
4It's OK Not To Be "Normal"
It took me a while to feel comfortable being the kind of person who has blue hair or believes in auras or tweets about sex toys. I was scared that being "weird" would make it hard to fit in. But being open about my "weird" qualities has been for the better. Yes, there will be a small subgroup of people who disapprove of your behavior if it's out of the ordinary. But you'll also find a community of people who appreciate you for your uniqueness.
5Say “Yes” As Much As Possible...
The amount of wisdom you gain is proportionate to the number of interesting experiences you have, so expose yourself to as many new things as possible, even — no, especially — if it doesn’t seem like something you would do. Sure, saying “yes” to a lot of things will also get you into situations that turn out to be a waste of time. But you can’t always predict which ones will be worthwhile, and the ones that are could be life-changing.
6...But Make Sure That “Yes” Is Coming From You
One major exception to the “yes” rule: never throw yourself into a situation purely because someone else thinks you should. Ask yourself, “If they didn’t want me to do this, would I still be doing it?” Whenever I’ve done things out of guilt, I’ve ended up enjoying it less than I would have if I’d decided independently. I’ve felt resentful and robbed of my free will.
7Don’t Let Other People Put Thoughts Into Your Head
Most people are conscious about what they put into their bodies, but we should have the same attitude toward what words we internalize. There have been many things I’ve thought were my beliefs that, upon further examination, were really just things I’d been taught were “right” my whole life. So ask yourself if you really believe the things you always assumed. It's OK to disagree with the majority.