25 Things I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

25 Things I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self

Perhaps a little rough around the edges, this is the ‘no frills, no fluff’ advice I would give to my 20-year-old self if I ever got the chance to travel back in time.

  1. Life is significantly easier when you’re honest with yourself and others.  This doesn’t mean you should be rude and inconsiderate, but it’s better to be upfront when you have to rather than concealing things and letting them fester.
  2. Stand up for yourself.  Some people will do anything for their own personal gain at the expense of others – cut in line, take money/property, bully/belittle, pass guilt, etc.  Do not accept this behavior.  Most of these people know they’re doing the wrong thing and will back down surprisingly quickly when confronted.  In a public setting people tend to keep quiet until one person speaks up, so SPEAK UP.  Read In Sheep’s Clothing.
  3. Drama is never worth putting up with.  If someone over age eighteen can’t be a reasonable, reliable adult on a regular basis, avoid this person.
  4. The biggest disappointments in life are the result of misplaced expectations.  Tempering unrealistic expectations of how something ‘should be’ will greatly reduce unnecessary frustration.
  5. If you can make a reasonable living doing what you love, DO WHAT YOU LOVE.  You may not get rich, but you’ll get to do what you love, and that’s priceless.  Of course, be smart, take the necessary steps, and ease into it.  Don’t quit your day job until doing what you love pays the bills.  In the same regard, don’t incur large debts getting a law degree or an MBA if you really want to be a graphic designer.  Read Quitter.
  6. In most corporate professions, there is no greater differentiating factor in income than a college degree.  I agree that it shouldn’t always be this way, but that is the unfortunate reality.  So if you’re planning to work in a corporate atmosphere – regardless of your profession – get your degree.  It’s never too late to start.  Just attending school looks good on your resume; and many companies offer tuition assistance, so it doesn’t have to be that expensive.
  7. Understand that at twenty years of age you are at your most energetic and most creative, but your labor is valued very little.  All the more reason to #1) stand up for yourself and look for the highest bidder and #2) get that degree.
  8. Buy fewer things.  When you feel the need to splurge, buy knowledge and EXPERIENCES instead.
  9. Little things that you want but don’t necessarily need cost money, and they add up.  This is why so many people in my age bracket don’t seem to have a cent to their name: that $90 a month iPhone plan (or whatever it costs), that cable TV, that 65 inch LCD TV, a new car every three years, etc.  Don’t get carried away.  Maintain a simple budget and do some basic accounting each month.  Read I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
  10. Set up a safety fund.  Yes, I know the savings account interest rates are insanely low right now, but having at least six months of expenses in readily accessible cash can save you a lot of hassle on a rainy day.
  11. Loan money to friends and family judiciously.  Nuff said.
  12. Your credit score will come in handy some day.  Don’t be careless with it.
  13. Everything in moderation.  Don’t be a slave to any substance, especially food.
  14. Avoid fatty, sugary foods.  Eat your vegetables.  Stick to a healthy balanced diet.
  15. Start exercising yesterday.
  16. Staying in shape is simpler than most people make it.  Body fat is dictated by what you eat and your activity.  Working out affects two things mainly: fat and muscle.  Aerobic exercise burns fat and builds a little muscle.  Weight training builds muscle and burns a little fat.  In most cases, if you’re overweight you’re eating too much and/or not exercising enough.  Period.
  17. Don’t merely exist… LIVE.  Experience as much as you can.  Do not fall into an endless routine.  Do not become overly comfortable with TV and YouTube as your primary sources of entertainment.  Go places.  Do things.  Try new things.  Follow your curiosities and passions.  Take chances.  Carpe diem.  No one ever achieved anything great through laziness.  Don’t let fear and complacency stop you from a truly rewarding life.  Read The 4-Hour Workweek.
  18. Always do what you feel in your heart is right.
  19. Love is a choice; it’s not magic.  There is no such thing as ‘the one.  You are not destined for any relationship other than the one you help create.  Spend enough time with another loving person, and biology eventually kicks in.  So use your head and find someone you really enjoy spending time with, who you don’t feel pressured to impress – someone who makes you feel loved, relaxed, and comfortable in your own skin.
  20. Read more.  And not just blogs.
  21. Invest time and energy in yourself every day.  When you invest in yourself, you can never lose, and over time you will change the trajectory of your life.  You are simply the product of what you know.  The more time and energy you spend acquiring pertinent knowledge, the more control you have over your life.
  22. Learn some basic, modern survivability skills – how to change a tire, jumpstart a car, safely bust a car window if you’re stuck, render first aid, etc.
  23. Help your fellow neighbor.  The whole “what goes around comes around” concept is the truth.  You may be on top of the world right now – feeling untouchable.  You may have all the tools at your disposal to do and say whatever you want.  But life is a circle that eventually comes back around.  So be polite, be courteous, and at least dream that civilization can be civil.  Either way, it starts with you; because a society is the sum of its parts.
  24. You actually die twice in this world.  Once when you stop breathing, and a second time several years later when somebody says your name for the last time.  So do things that matter; leave a legacy.  Time is running out.
  25. Try to picture us older folks as the twenty-somethings we used to be.  Talk to us.  We’re still pretty cool, we’ve just learned a thing or two over the years – things you will likely find interesting.

Photo by: Kevin Dooley


  1. says

    Honestly, this is wonderful advice. I just turned 55 yesterday, and every point is spot on in my book.

    I’d also add: Keep in mind that most people’s opinions of you don’t matter. The opinion of you that always matters is your own.

  2. Waylen Kals says

    When I come across a nice list like this I always wonder: why isn’t self-improvement and healthy living a standard part of the high school curriculums? It is such an important subject going forward into the world after high school – especially as we start to transition into true adulthood in our early 20s. My tip for the young would be to read volumes on life and living, in books, and oh yes, on blogs like M&A.

  3. Sherry says

    Marc all of these absolutely rock and make sense. Let me add, ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously’ and ‘What you worry about rarely happens’. Still life is about learning and us older folks would always say, ‘If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, ‘If I knew then what I know now’, I’d be a millionaire. Experience is the mother of all teachers, but young and older folks alike would be wise to take heed of this advice, and implement it.

  4. says

    Marc and Angel, you are so straight-to-the-point in such a way that some of the things you wrote hit me directly in the face. But the absolute beauty of it all is that you have a way of presenting it in a funnily nice way.

    My favorites from your post:
    “Buy fewer things. When you feel the need to splurge, buy knowledge and EXPERIENCES instead.” —- presently I feel the urge to splurge, but I’d take your advice.

    “Start exercising yesterday” —- I’ve been pretty lazy about this for some time.

    Thanks a lot! These tips helped me today.

  5. TJ says

    I really love this article :D. REAL inspiring, and thank you very much for the kind reminders Marc and Angel. I’m twenty now, and I’ll definitely make sure that I take advantage of the chances that come to my way.

  6. says

    Angel, its awesome. I like to share one thing about me that bothers me a lot… I am not consistent in my doings. I start one thing very positively and energetically, but in few days I become lazy and start thinking here and there… do suggest me something to overcome this. I’ll be really thankful.

  7. Ainur says

    I’m 20 years old this year. This is some great advice. Thanks a lot :D. I also read a book titled “What I Wish I Knew when I was 20″ and even though the book touches mostly on making a place in this world, there are quite points related to what you’ve written here. “Challenging preconceived notions” would be a good advice too.

  8. Maxi says

    Great Stuff as usual. “Start exercising yesterday” – haha good one and so true. Glad I am reading this as a 20 year old.
    If only more teens can get the opportunity to read this; definitely puts things into perspective and narrows it down.

    Great Work :)
    Keep it up!

  9. says

    I’m really connecting with the financial advice right now–haha and I’m definitely NOT 20!! I actually used to be a lot better with my money when I was twenty than I am now.
    Thanks for these. I need to show this to my young adult nieces. They are just this age. :-)

  10. Tanya says

    I love this list. To survival skills I would add “learn to cook”. That will help with the healthy eating and the budgeting. Thanks for your inspiring lists!

  11. says

    Great list! I would add, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Worrying brings more worry.” I’ve learned that worrying is a waste of time and doesn’t contribute to your life. It only causes angst and fear. It’s not worth it.

  12. Expiredzenya says

    I really love your advices. I’m just 21-years-old and I think it’s never too late to apply these tips. The finance tips are especially useful to me now, because I always spend like a king even while I cant earn enough. Thank so much, and hope to see more articles from you 😀

  13. Grace says

    Wish I had had you in my twenties…
    One request: can you please create a printer-friendly version? Having all the extra stuff on the sides and below takes up too much paper. Thanks.

  14. says

    Great list as usual – could we have a “25 Things I Would Tell My 40-Year-Old Self” – cos I wasn’t self aware enough 20 years ago – and also the internet was still in nappies (diapers for those in the US) :)

  15. says

    These are fantastic and so true. I turned 30 this year and it is amazing what you learn in 10 years and how different things are than what I expected at 20. Experience really is the best teacher and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I really appreciated your straight forward “No frills” approach with this post.

  16. Kris says

    I can say that these are all excellent pieces of knowledge. When I look back when I was 20, it seems like I knew all these things, but I somehow had the idea that “magic was around the corner” and I would not really have to live by the same rules as everyone else. I would like to emphasize that there never was any “magic.” Take it easy on yourself and follow the suggestions. Another thing-your situation probably is not THAT different-I used that excuse. It did not help one bit! I wish all you young people the best-I really do!!!

  17. Karina Kayser says

    Marc and Angel, #24 hit home like a brick! If that doesn’t sum it all up and get one moving to create meaning in their life, then you might as well toss in the towel. To have one speak your name for years to come after you’ve left this blue-green ball is an honor and speaks highly of a life lived deliberately. Thank you!

  18. says

    Great advice! I’d like to add 2 P.S.es on the diet and exercise points.
    1. Eating healthy doesn’t mean deprivation. I make delicious gluten-free and sugar free desserts. The many lovely products (flours, sugars, coconut oils) available today are a part of the privilege of living in the New Millenium.
    2. Find a form of exercise that is fun. Zumba, Cha-Cha dance classes fly by because I’m enjoying the music and positive vibes. Also, if one suffers withdrawal from iPhone detachment, download your favorite mp3s and blogs and go to town stair climbing at the gym whilst listening and reading.


  19. raya says

    I haven’t had a chance to read your whole list, and I want you to know I love your posts. But, I have to expand upon #3, 18-year-olds to probably mid-20’s are still developing people, learning, making mistakes, self absorbed, dramatic and often irresponsible. 18-year-olds shouldn’t be ruthless and rude, but we also have to remember that they are hardly a grown up, their brains aren’t even fully developed yet! trust me I have 3 kids under 30 (AND all their friends), they are still becoming the people they will eventually be.

  20. Santia says

    It’s funny how I am 20 years old and you’re writing about my age. Thank you for all the good advice… It will really help in the long run.

  21. says

    Fitness of the mind, body and soul is something missed in many peoples life. From what we consume to how we think of ourselves, they both have a profound impact on how our present and future state is molded.

    P.S. Love your posts

  22. sheeba streeter says

    I love your articles, especially this one in particular! I haven’t been on this website in so long, but every time I need to come and pay a visit it is always just what I needed to hear!

  23. Steven says


    I have been waiting for an article this. While I was away from school due to some financial and personal reasons, I had a third shift job. Most of my co-workers were 40 and older. I would always ask them questions if you were 20, what’s one piece of advice you would give to yourself then, knowing what you now know? I got answers like people never change, go to college, find a wife even if you divorce her. I was going through a really hard time and I found these answers extremely helpful. I always wanted to start something where people could write in and answer that question.. so i thank you for formulating that into a blog post.


  24. says

    Thank you for such an insightful list! I would like to add: Lives and careers have cycles. There’s no magic number or perfect career that gives peace of mind, because life isn’t about a number. It’s about following your heart, doing something you love, and expressing love every single day.
    Thank you Marc and Angel for always being a source of inspiration for me.
    Best wishes, Sandy

  25. nistha says

    I am 26 now, and you make me feel like I just turned 20. So much great knowledge to be absorbed here. Thanks for sharing. Love you guys.

  26. Wecprin says

    Luckily, I am only 18 years old now. Thanks for your share, what touched my heart directly is that I should do what I love and experience as much as I can.

  27. Elizabeth says

    Wow, this article really hit home. I’ve been struggling to figure out who I am with two recent relationship breakups. In the later one I just realized that I need to figure out who I am before I can please other people, and that comes from self-realization, but I did not know how to start doing that. This article basically came at the exactly right moment in my life, thank you so much.

  28. says

    These are a wonderful tribute to the wisdom one gains by age 40 and then some. I wrote a similar list for my son as he left for college. Many of these were incorporated in the list, but it was more like short bullet points for quick reference. (My son is not one for reading even paragraphs.) There were many more than 25, but I will certainly share these with him. Thank you for helping to honor our wisdom. :-)

  29. Anna says

    “You actually die twice in this world. Once when you stop breathing, and a second time several years later when somebody says your name for the last time.” As a 20 year old myself, that quote will stick with me for some time.

  30. Abby says

    I’m turning twenty in December – and I’m super excited! Thanks for the great tips – I’ll keep them in mind!


  1. Solid advice indeed. I need to pass that on to several people.

    #5 is a biggie. I incurred that large debt planning on medical school, but it didn’t work out. The massive pile of debt that was left makes everything else on the list a lot harder to do…and I was left with a degree that wasn’t able to find me a decent job.

  2. I’m new to your blog, in my 20s, and want you to know that your messages are uplifting and are helping me through a hard time in my life.

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