How do you know if you’re taking full advantage of your 20s, making all the right decisions in your personal and professional lives?
Well, you don’t. Life is about taking chances and doing your best.
But those who’ve already been through this critical decade can certainly help point out the landmines. We turned to threads on Quora and Reddit, where users weighed in with their biggest regrets from their 20s.
Here are a few things you might want to avoid:
1. Not exercising
Quora user Carl Logan regrets never working out in his 20s.
“If I [had] hit the gym I probably would’ve been a lot happier and would’ve had more success with the opposite sex,” he writes.
Even beyond happiness and the ability to attract mates with your six-pack abs, regular exercise in your 20s can help prevent health issues down the line. One recent study found that your fitness level in your 20s may have a major impact on your risk of heart disease and death as you progress toward middle age.
2. Worrying about what other people think
“I wasted a lot of time worrying about what others think – I’ve learned it rarely matters,” Logan says.
In fact, research suggests that people generally overestimate the amount of attention others pay them. It’s called the spotlight effect, because people mistakenly believe that they are the center of attention in a room.
If you accept this idea in your 20s instead of later on, you’ll have more time to act freely, without fearing that you look like an idiot. Try one of these tips to stop obsessing over other people’s impressions of you.
3. Letting your parents’ opinions determine your life choices
Riina Rinkineva says she regrets “not standing my ground against my parents for what I wanted for myself in my life and what I didn’t want.”
It’s incredibly important to set some boundaries between you and your folks, so that you have space to figure out what you want personally and professionally.
At the same time, you shouldn’t cut yourself off completely from parental support. As psychologist Jeffrey Arnett told Business Insider, parents “often have life experience and wisdom that you haven’t acquired yet.”
- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
4. Racking up credit-card debt
Yash Mishra says he regrets getting a credit card and “charging like crazy” in his 20s.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, consider taking a tip from one former Business Insider reporter and going on a cash-only diet, during which you stop using credit and debit cards completely.
5. Getting married too quickly
Before getting married, Diane O’Neil says, “I should have first found out who I was and what I was capable of achieving as an individual; I became someone’s wife long before I found out what I wanted to do personally.”
Obviously, everyone is different and, for some people, getting hitched before 30 is the perfect choice. In fact, some research suggests that people who marry in their mid to late 20s have happier marriages than those who marry later.
But if you feel like you need more time to explore – by traveling, trying out different careers, and learning what you want in a romantic relationship – you may not want to rush to the altar.
6. Not taking dating and relationships seriously
Over on Reddit, zazzlekdazzle says, “I wish I had been more serious about dating and sex. In my 20s, I just felt like it was wisest to treat dating/sex as casual by default, not looking for love, if love was meant to be it will happen.”
Again, there’s no one approach to relationships that works for everyone. But it’s worth noting that psychologist Meg Jay, author of “The Defining Decade,” says she sees many 20-somethings making the same mistake.
As Jay said in her 2013 TED Talk, “Picking your family is about consciously choosing who and what you want rather than just making it work or killing time with whoever happens to be choosing you.” She told one 20-something client: “The time to start picking your family is now.”
7. Not investing
One of Ramya Sridharan’s biggest regrets from her 20s is that she didn’t invest in the stock market. As she notes, the earlier you start investing, the higher the returns.
Sridharan is right – the earlier you invest, the more time your money has to accrue interest. It’s a principle called “compound interest.” That’s why you should open a retirement account, such as a company-sponsored 401(k) or an individual retirement account (IRA), as soon as possible.
8. Not traveling the world
“The biggest regret I have about one decision I made in my 20s is not traveling enough when there were a lot of opportunities,” writes Vishnu Prabhu.
Inspired to globe-trot but overwhelmed with all the potential places to visit? We’ve narrowed it down to 40 trips you should take before you turn 30 – from swimming with jellyfish in Palau to camping out in Nevada for Burning Man.
9. Forgetting to floss
“I have cavities now because I didn’t floss daily,” says Eurycerus. “Kills me that I could’ve prevented it. Now I floss daily.”
Recently there’s been some controversy in the medical community over whether flossing has benefits. Apparently, as Business Insider’s Erin Brodwin reported, the effectiveness of flossing has never been studied.
Still, many experts say that not flossing lets plaque build up between teeth and become tartar, a hard deposit that can irritate gums, and can potentially lead to infection and gum disease. Gum disease is also linked to other problems, including diabetes and heart disease – but there’s no evidence that one directly causes the other.
10. Never living alone
“I always had a roommate or lived with my fiancé/wife,” writes an anonymous Redditor. “I strongly believe I missed out on discovering some level of self sufficiency. … It’s not the [worst] thing in the world, but I feel like it could have contributed to my growth.”
Living alone is getting more common. As of 2013, as many as 23% of Americans were doing it, partly thanks to the decline in marriage rates. But there’s still a relative paucity of advice for singletons.
Kate Bolick, author of “Spinster,” told Business Insider that, if you’re living alone, it’s important to accept that you’ll be lonely at times and there’s nothing shameful about it. You’ll also want to place special importance on your friendships, which can have a big impact on your health and happiness.
- Flickr / bigbirdz
11. Not mustering the courage to ask someone out
Redditor stardust7 says, “I regret not being more direct when I liked someone. I had no confidence back then.”
If you’re not quite bold enough to approach the object of your affection in person, be slightly less bold and take these tips from comedian Aziz Ansari on how to text them. Hint: “heyyy” probably won’t work.
12. Not relocating for better job opportunities
David McGuirl says he may have sabotaged his career by being afraid of taking a risk:
“In my 20s, I came in second place in a Warner Brothers comedy writing competition, and they encouraged me to move to LA and get an agent. It was encouragement, not a job offer. Taking such a risk scared me because of the uncertainty and the idea of moving to Los Angeles on my own, so I never pursued it.”
That said, moving across the country for a new job (or the opportunity to get a new job) is a big deal. If you’re thinking about relocating, make sure you can first answer these 15 questions – like whether your salary is adjusted to the cost of living in the new city.
13. Living the way you think a 20-something is supposed to live
Ultimately, the only person who truly knows what would make for a fulfilling decade is, well, you.
“My advice is don’t rush to cram stuff into your twenties because you think you should,” writes redditor michaelnoir. “Just do what you want, do what feels natural, and take your time with it if need be.”