Growing up is hard for everyone, but a woman in the 21st century faces a few extra hurdles on the road to adulthood. Real life often comes rushing at you in your twenties, and if you’re not prepared to handle it, you could spend a decade feeling lost and confused.
Here are 20 lessons your first 20 years on Earth can teach you that, if you take them to heart, will help you make the most of a crucial time in your life.
1. Search hard for what you love
The second you arrive on earth, your surroundings influence your beliefs and decisions constantly. Society puts a lot of pressure on women, especially, to fit into certain social norms. Make sure to rise above any restricting expectations in order to find what you truly want out of life (even if you’re still searching in your twenties).
2. Don’t let any of the boys tell you what to do
Ignore the boys at school, your pesky brothers and cousins and, eventually, a boyfriend or husband if they think they have power over your decisions. Train yourself to identify misogyny in your peers and fight back — always be your own advocate.
3. Tampons aren’t so bad
It’s hard to forget the first time you tried making the switch from the easy, comforting pad to the intimidating tampon. It was the talk among girl groups in middle school.
But, hey, it turned out to be even more comfortable and convenient than the pad once you gave it a shot! (Could this be a metaphor for life or something?)
4. Learn to defend yourself
Sometimes it feels like the world is out to get girls, with overtly sexist and oppressive leaders in power across the globe, not to mention an overwhelming sexual assault rate. It’s important to train yourself, physically and mentally, to be equipped to defend yourself against any indication of misogyny that surrounds you.
Some colleges or employers even offer free self-defense classes you can take advantage of. Always fight back!
5. Heels are overrated
I don’t have much to say about this, except that there’s a time and place for heels — of course — but are the blisters ever worth it? Know your height limits and always bring a sensible pair of flats!
6. Embrace your natural hair
Almost every girl I know has spent years upon years trying to tame their hair. Girls with naturally straight hair lusted after curls, while girls with curly hair dreamt of effortlessly straight hair.
By the time you enter your twenties, you’ll realize that the time you spend manipulating and complaining about your hair can be put to good use elsewhere. Embrace your unique locks!
7. Sometimes you have to push harder to get ahead
In classrooms, part-time jobs and careers, women constantly work harder to make their voices heard and get what they want. Hopefully, you’ll learn about this early on and fight any internal fear to demand better pay, promotions and platforms.
8. Diets don’t work, and diet culture sucks
I cringe every time I hear girls — young girls, especially — talk about denying themselves food they love or forcing themselves into miserable gym routines. Diet culture was created to sustain misogyny. It convinces women they have to look a certain way to please their partners and attain happiness.
Life’s too short for calorie counting, and there’s so much more to women than their figures. Enjoy your twenties — pizza, beer and all.
9. Makeup isn’t for everyone
Some people — me, for example — fall in love with makeup and can’t go a day without it. Then there are others who can’t be bothered with it or prefer not to wear it.
There’s nothing wrong with either choice! Women are all beautiful and deserve to express themselves in any way they want. So, you can ignore the “natural girls are better” tweets and go on with your day.
10. Traveling leads to growth
Traveling at any distance — alone, especially — presents one of the best opportunities for growth. Overcome any fear you have of the unknown and take any opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and absorb new life experiences. It’ll positively affect you in more ways than you’d think.
11. Feminism isn’t a bad word
I know I’ve experienced more than my fair share of people screaming “femininazi” or even using the word “feminist” itself in a derogatory manner. It took me awhile to realize what feminist actually means, apart from its negative (and false) connotations.
Don’t be afraid to label yourself as a feminist, regardless of what ignorant people around you might say about it. Fight the stigma and stick up for your kind — you’re a woman first, after all.
12. Strive for balance
Find balance everywhere — in your diet, in your exercise habits and in the people you spend time with. By your twenties, you’ll figure out that balance often leads to feeling healthy and at ease. Too much or too little of anything is never a good thing.
13. Stop comparing your life to others’
This comes from someone who’s living and (still) learning: Unfollow every Instagram model that makes you hate your body and stop basking in the FOMO of looking at profiles of people who portray themselves to be living better than you. Don’t ever forget that someone else’s beauty, happiness or success does not negate your own.
14. A significant other isn’t everything
It’s great to be in a happy and fulfilling relationship, but that’s not the only thing that can make you feel happy or fulfilled! Don’t stress about finding someone to date — a good relationship will come when it comes. Focus on yourself in your twenties, and the rest will arrive when it’s time.
15. Save, save, save
I know it can be tempting to immediately spend your entire paycheck on food and clothes and bath bombs — especially after a long work week — but save whatever you can.
Even putting a portion of your paycheck aside every month will make future you very grateful, especially when it comes time to start paying rent and student loans (woohoo).
16. Listening is important, but make sure to speak up
Don’t forget to make your voice heard in conversations. You should be vocal about what you want and what you stand for, even in a slightly intimidating group of men. Don’t let your voice be drowned out — it’s probably needed!
17. Stop apologizing!
Women constantly say sorry for things when they’re not even in the wrong. I know I always find myself apologizing to a barista if they made my order wrong, or to a customer at work when they made the mistake.
You can stop self-blame by being mindful of it and avoiding the word “sorry” when you don’t need to apologize.
18. Sisterhood is everything
It’s easy to forget that women go through a lot of the same things. A lot of them just get caught up in tearing each other down to make sure they come out on top. But the only way to fight the patriarchy is to rise above all this and fight for your fellow ladies in solidarity. This is how women prosper!
19. Learn to laugh at yourself
Everyone has bad days and makes mistakes. Once you reach your twenties, you’ll realize it’s not worth obsessing over everything you’ve done wrong. Glide past it and train yourself to laugh at the little things, learn and move on.
20. Be confident, inside and out
Two decades of battling insecurities will teach you that life’s too short to scrutinize every inch of yourself. Work hard to find those parts of you that you love and let them build up your confidence. Surround yourself with people and things that make you glow. Once you find that inner confidence, everything else in life seems like a breeze, and your twenties will be unstoppable.