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  • Writer's pictureginaelisebradbury

5 Things I Learned in My 20s

Some things I've learned so far when navigating the pressures of young adulthood

1. The Dangers of Comparison

Remembering that we all have our own path and timeframe is one of the most essential keys to peace of mind and happiness. However, it's also only human to slip-up and compare your life to that of a celebrity, or see someone's Instagram post and think 'Why don't I have that too?'. The important thing is not getting lost in this negative frame of mind. Let go of any societal pressures regarding what you ought to have achieved and by when; they are small-minded and outdated. Remind yourself regularly that everyone's life is complex and unique. We all have different things to cherish and appreciate and different lessons to learn. Life is messy, it's likely it won't play out as you expect, and there is beauty in the mess. Also, gratitude is such a freeing feeling when you remember to count your blessings.

A comparison culture illustration.
Comparison is something that we all do, but don't get lost in it. (

2. It's the Little Things

I wish I could buy a beautiful, spacious house with a swimming pool and go on a trip to Hawaii. However, I also realise that life is made of moments and some things can't be bought. When I look back on the years of my life so far, the happy moments spent with the people and animals I love have a far deeper place in my heart than any scenic views I saw in Italy. Also, if you pass hours by wishing for big, exciting things that you don't have in your life, you might forget to appreciate (or even notice) the smaller things. I recently read the book Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. The central character, Emma Bovary, becomes so consumed with desire for wealth, opulence and excitement that she disregards and rejects the people who care about her. Madame Bovary is an extreme example, but it's also a reminder to see the beauty in the little joys that are right in front of you.

Illustration showing some of the small joys in life by @theself_carekit on Instagram.
Illustration showing some of the small joys in life by @theself_carekit on Instagram. (

3. Friendship is Complicated

Sometimes a friendship will run it's course and that's ok. Don't feel like a failure if a friendship that you thought would last forever doesn't. Friendship is complicated because life and people are complex too. People's interests and concerns may change with time and you might not be as compatible with another person as you once thought. In basic terms, I am saying that it is important for your well-being that you have acceptance.

In the 21st century, with the influence of the internet, friendship has become more complex than ever before. According to the Independent, "Around one in five of 18 to 34-year-olds say they have one or no close friends, triple the number of people who said the same in 2011 and 2012". (, 2021) People spend much less time nowadays communicating face-to-face, with it reported in 2022 that "the typical internet user now spends more than 40 percent of their waking life online" and "2 hours and 27 minutes per day" on social media. (, 2021) Also, on top of this, there is the issue of (often short and spontaneous) written messages, such as text and email, having the potential to be misinterpreted.

With the internet such an integral part of people's lives, I've found that a realistic way of getting to know new people is through the app Bumble. It isn't ideal and I would prefer it if people/social groups could feel more open when in public. However, it is a way of meeting people with similar interests who also want to widen their circle. I've used the app a few times, and as in any situation, you aren't going to become life-long pals with every person you meet. Nevertheless, if you approach it as something fun and as an experience you might make a new friend. It can be difficult to persevere in life and remain positive, but making new friends is another thing that requires a hopeful, positive outlook. Also, remember that if you feel isolated/insecure you aren't alone in these feelings as a lot of people feel the same way.

Good things lie ahead. Friendship quote from @emotions_therapy on Instagram.
Good things lie ahead. Friendship quote from @emotions_therapy on Instagram.

4. The Power of Your Inner Voice

Becoming aware of the power of self-criticism is important in order to be kind to yourself. For example, when I was younger I would do something wrong and think/say 'I'm so stupid' and not realise it was damaging to my self-esteem. A few words, thought in a half-joking way, might not seem significant. However, once I began making an effort to only think kind words about myself I realised how much lighter it feels. I emphasise the term 'making an effort', because quieting a negative inner monologue isn't easy and requires ongoing acknowledgement. Again, it's important to have an awareness of such habits even if you can't keep them 100% at bay.

A joke illustration by artist Gemma Correll
A joke illustration by artist Gemma Correll (@gemmacorrell on Instagram)

5. You Won't Have it all Figured Out

It takes time to know who you are and what you want from life. We are pressured as teenagers to decide what we want to do with our futures but most of us need more time. Just to illustrate this point, in 2020 The Mirror reported that in the UK, "Sixth form and college students feel 'pressured' to go to university and a massive 65 per cent of those already studying for a degree admit having regrets about their academic choice." (, 2020) My point isn't that you shouldn't take chances or fully commit to decisions. My point is that you should be aware that the high level of pressure being placed on you might not be for your own benefit. Sometimes taking a step back and allowing yourself more time is an option that you have the right to take.

Also, don't put pressure on yourself to know exactly what you want from life overnight. Sometimes trying experiences that aren't the right fit for you and/or making mistakes can give you a better insight into what would be right. Again, life is messy and many experiences are valuable lessons. As an example, according to Zippia, "The average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime, according to the latest available public survey data (2019)." (, 2023)

Another type of pressure I put on myself in my 20s was the idea that I should be having the time of my life. Although, looking back, the pressure definitely came from outside sources. I was told "make sure you enjoy yourself while you're young, life goes by fast" and "your 20s should be the time of your life". I was even told by a man (while at work in an office at the age of 22) that I was in my "prime". Whilst I think such messages come from a good place, I don't think it's necessarily a healthy message that a short period of your life, when you are just starting out, should be a crucial, carefree and exciting adventure. Not everyone's life is On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I didn't know if such pressure is widespread or something only I had felt. However, Rainsford Stauffer's 2021 article on the subject is clearly expressed, "This decade is supposed to simultaneously be a golden age of rootless freedom and fearless exploration and, somewhat contradictorily, the time when you’re meant to figure out your career, your relationships, and your life goals. That’s a lot of pressure." (Rainesford Stauffer,, 2021) Yes, you should appreciate your youth and enjoy it when you can but don't think of fun and excitement as having a deadline. Life has ups and downs, we are all unique and for all you know your 30s, 40s or beyond may be the 'time of your life'.

Quote about learning who you are by @emotions_therapy on Instagram.
Quote about learning who you are by @emotions_therapy on Instagram.

Positive quote from @fullspiritquotes on Instagram.
Just keep swimming. Positive quote from @fullspiritquotes on Instagram.

Whilst some of the points I have raised may seem cliché, I think it's healthy to be reminded of them. I often fall into the trap of negative thinking and have to remind myself of these truths. Let me know in the comments which ideas stand out to you the most and why. Also, let me know of any life lessons that you've learned and would like to add. Thank you for reading, Gina.

River illustration from 'Pocahontas'. 1995.
River illustration from 'Pocahontas'. 1995. (wallpapersafari)

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