What Would You Tell Your Twenty Year Old Self?

My brother Michael and me, 1982

What would I tell my 20 year old self? Oh my goodness, where to begin.

The problem would be getting her to listen to me, because she didn’t like to hear any advice or criticism. She was very sensitive, that girl. At 20, she was a confusing mix of arrogance and anxiety. Up until very recently she’d been a lot of fun, but something had been lost – though she’ll get it back.  She clung to her boyfriend for dear life, not sure how she would fare in the world without him. She had a very distorted view of things. *Maybe* it was because her parents were going through a divorce at the time – so cut her a little slack. She felt sad for her mother, angry at and yet needing her father.


So to start…


Break up with that boy! He’ll be your first husband and it won’t be pretty.

And listen – stop being so AFRAID of everything. You don’t have to follow the path forward – take a few detours. Take a few risks! Take a semester off of school and travel! I know money is tight, but if you ask the right people you might get some help with that. Or maybe not. So take out a student loan! DO something! Because I can tell you this from 30 years into the future, the only thing you’ll truly regret is not seeing more of the world while you were still young. THAT was a big mistake.

Next thing? Take better care of yourself. I know you hate exercising, but if you start now, at 20, it will become a part of your routine, and then when you’re 50, you’ll be healthier and you’ll feel better. You may not care about being 50 now, 20 year old self, but you should. This was one thing your father was right about.

Family, what would you tell your 20 year old self, advice to 20 year olds, who I was at 20, being 20 years old, remember being 20, daughter and parents, midlife, empty-nest, baby boomer

My parents and me, 1982

Pay attention in class. Better yet, GO to class. Don’t be so lazy. You were always capable of doing better in school. You never really tried very hard. Try harder. Do better.  Push yourself. Anyone can get B’s and C’s. You should be getting A’s. I know you don’t love school – you’ve always been more of an independent learner – but a little effort would go a long way. And trying hard in classes OTHER than your writing classes is important.

I know at 20 it was hard for you to look to the future – you had enough to deal with just getting through each semester. But think about what might happen – think about having choices and options. Maybe you’ll want to go to graduate school someday. Who knows? It’s not just about finding a man to love you (refer back to the boyfriend advice above). Eventually you’ll understand this, but sooner would be better than later.

Look at yourself with a positive eye. Don’t only see flaws. See what’s good about you, about your face and your body. Don’t let the critical voices of your childhood make you feel bad about yourself. Don’t get wrapped up in what’s wrong and miss what’s right.  I know this is difficult – not just for you, but for most 20 year old girls. Please, try to see yourself as I see you, 30 years later. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. You’ll be amazed. 

Finally, and most important, have patience. You are so impatient (some things never change). Don’t rush into things, worried nothing else will work out. Don’t assume that your life will forever be in upheaval, as it was sometimes when you were growing up. Slow down, enjoy being young, relax. It’s all going to be ok, in fact it’s going to be pretty great. Really.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

55 Responses to What Would You Tell Your Twenty Year Old Self?
  1. Jodi Okun
    November 5, 2012 | 9:20 am

    Sharon – Great advice !!

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 9:56 am

      Thanks Jodi – if only I’d listened – but I’m listening now!

  2. Ginger Kay
    November 5, 2012 | 9:32 am

    I would like to tell every young woman I know how beautiful they are (and often do), because they are. So few of them truly believe it.
    Ginger Kay recently posted..Routinized vs. WhimsicalMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 9:57 am

      I know. It’s such a waste. So many beautiful girls who think they don’t measure up.

  3. Helene Bludman
    November 5, 2012 | 9:37 am

    Loved this, Sharon! My 20 year-old self also missed the memo about regular exercise. And the one thing I regret most about my college years is not going abroad. if I could do it all over that is one thing I would change.
    Helene Bludman recently posted..A Heart-to-Heart with 20 Year-Old MeMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 10:03 am

      I’m so glad my daughter (and hopefully my son) had the experience of a semester abroad. Once adulthood begins, it’s nearly impossible to find the time and/or money to do something as exciting as that.

  4. LOL!!! “Break up with that boy!” How many times I wish I could have told myself that and I had actually listened!!! Funny and so true!!! – Laura Lee
    Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen recently posted..What would you like to say to your 20-year-old self?My Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 10:03 am

      I wonder how many boys would say “break up with that girl?” :)

  5. Melissa Lawler
    November 5, 2012 | 9:52 am

    I have always been envious of people who had a normal life.
    Melissa Lawler recently posted..Dear 20 Year Old Me…My Profile

  6. Haralee
    November 5, 2012 | 10:01 am

    Great advice to you and all 20 year olds. I wish we could have all listened to these suggestions!
    Haralee recently posted..WelcomeMy Profile

  7. Karen
    November 5, 2012 | 10:05 am

    Sharon, I feel like we would have been great friends if we’d known each other then. Both so self-critical, so timid about trying new things, so unable to see the good in ourselves, so, um, lazy…but with the seeds of some true excellence as well. Thanks for a lovely post!
    Karen recently posted..Looking backward: What we’d tell our 20-year-old selvesMy Profile

  8. [...] What Would You Tell your Twenty-Year-Old Self? (Empty House, Full Mind.com) [...]

  9. Karen Williams Taylor
    November 5, 2012 | 11:52 am

    Great advice. Nice letter.
    Karen Williams Taylor recently posted..If I Could Write A Letter To MyselfMy Profile

  10. Jenn
    November 5, 2012 | 12:10 pm

    I think the one thing I probably should have told my younger self was to not to just see flaws. Of course, looking back– I needed to straighten up quite a bit.

    Great post,
    Jenn recently posted..Dear 20 Year Old MeMy Profile

  11. Robin
    November 5, 2012 | 1:55 pm

    Sharon, could you go say all of these same things to MY 20yo self as well?
    That decision to travel. Totally agree. My husby and I went to Israel and Paris during our second year of marriage. We were so sure we’d go back “soon”. That was 27 years ago.
    Robin recently posted..10 Things I Would Tell 20-Year-old MeMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 3:15 pm

      Robin, I had never been to Europe until February of 2011 when I went to visit my daughter during her semester abroad. It felt like such a huge loss to me to have missed out on seeing the world as a young woman. When we left Paris I cried for hours.

  12. sue
    November 5, 2012 | 2:12 pm

    I just love, love seeing your younger self pictures – You are so very cute then and now. I think about the would ifs sometimes and wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self to do things differently – O the things I would say to my younger self who would not listen, but maybe, just maybe something would get through.
    sue recently posted..Adam Levine of “The Voice” and “Maroon 5″ Buys New HouseMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 3:15 pm

      Those things have gotten through – it just took years for it to happen for most of us!

  13. Lois Alter Mark
    November 5, 2012 | 2:40 pm

    “Don’t only see flaws.” That’s the best advice ever — even at 50 something! And I love the part about trying harder in classes other than just writing classes. I can so relate! Great piece, and awesome pictures!
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted..Why I’m Voting for President Obama by LoisMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 3:16 pm

      Thanks Lois! Yes, even at 50-something we need to remind ourselves of how beautiful we are.

  14. Melanie
    November 5, 2012 | 2:44 pm

    Loved the post, and the comments. When I look out at the girls in my community college classes, I sometimes wish I could tell them some of these very same things. They are so lovely, and they don’t know it, and wouldn’t believe me if I told them.
    I liked the comment about wondering what our 70 year old selves would say to us–now there’s additional food for thought. We’ll never be younger than we are right now.
    Melanie recently posted..Staging My Comeback, Maybe?My Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 3:16 pm

      Exactly! So we need to enjoy being our youngest selves today.

  15. Marci Rich
    November 5, 2012 | 4:05 pm

    Love your post, Sharon! So many of the things you would tell 20-year-old Sharon are things I would tell 20-year-old Marci. I could have written a book with this post…I also wish I would have traveled more when I was younger. And I hate exercising, too! Always have. What a beauty 20-year-old Sharon was! And what a beauty 50-hm-hm-hm-hm-year old Sharon is today. So glad we met at BlogHer; so glad to be getting to know you better through your blog.
    Marci Rich recently posted..To Marci, On Your 20th BirthdayMy Profile

  16. BigLittleWolf
    November 5, 2012 | 4:44 pm

    Go to class? (I was the opposite. Quintessential nerd. You couldn’t keep me away or my nose out of the books. I needed a bit more party animal!)

    I find it fascinating (and sad) how consistent certain themes arise. Body image is one of them. How many of us look back and see our bodies more clearly now – realizing they may not have been Twiggy-thin or whatever other shape we thought they should have – but they were healthy, strong, attractive – absolutely fine!!

    And young women, still, are suffering in this same way, only now they take to cosmetic surgery at terrible cost ($$ and what else?) – and it only seems to me to worsen, rather than improve.

    How do we change that?
    BigLittleWolf recently posted..Callow, Clueless, and Cruising ParisMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 7:08 pm

      I think it’s changing, to a degree – there is so much more variety in what is considered beautiful now – ethnicity, size, you name it. Hopefully this will spill over into young women’s self-acceptance.

  17. Walker Thornton
    November 5, 2012 | 4:53 pm

    It’s so clear as I meander through the blogs that we’re a group of strong women. We all faced so many adversities in our lives and faced so much self-doubt.. Sadlly, overwhelmingly so. And, yet.. Here we are.
    Enjoyed this as well as the photos!
    Walker Thornton recently posted..Day 20 Awaken, Embrace, Ignite-Sexual Desire and Your BrainMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 7:09 pm

      Certainly all of those adversities helped us become the strong women we are now!

  18. Janie Emaus
    November 5, 2012 | 4:59 pm

    Ok.. So we were all so boy crazy, thinking that a man would make all the difference in our lives.

  19. Lib Aubuchon
    November 5, 2012 | 6:08 pm

    Love it, Sharon. Not seeing the world when I was young is one of my regrets, too. Oh, well! Thanks for sharing.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 7:09 pm

      Oh well is right. I suppose you can’t have everything! But we’re still young (ish), right?

  20. Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs
    November 5, 2012 | 7:06 pm

    Being afraid of everything? Oh, yeah. My 20-year-old self was so that way, too. Your photos are beautiful! I love your comment on exercise. I too could have used that advice. *Still* should use that. Great post.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 5, 2012 | 7:10 pm

      I’m convinced my father’s constant harping when I was growing up about my weight and “working out” is why I resist it so much, even now.

  21. Carpool Goddess
    November 5, 2012 | 8:33 pm

    It’s amazing how many of us felt so insecure and remained in relationships that weren’t good for us. I can see a little of myself in every one of these posts.

  22. Lynn
    November 5, 2012 | 9:04 pm

    We would have totally connected back then! Certainly now. Perspective is what we didn’t have then, and we aren’t supposed to have perspective at 20. We had to walk through the fire to get to this fabulous place we are now. Hugs, hugs.

  23. mindy
    November 6, 2012 | 1:56 pm

    I totally understand why a girl that age would look to a boy/man for love, comfort, and validation when she wasn’t feeling very secure about things at home. I understand because I was that girl too. No matter how often my mom told me how “wonderful” and “strong” I was, I could care less about what she was saying. I am so envious that you were a photo-taking family. Even though my photos are in storage, the majority of the ones that are actually there are probably over-exposed or off-center or non-existent.
    mindy recently posted..ROCK OUT AND THEN GO VOTEMy Profile

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 6, 2012 | 3:25 pm

      We have an over-abundance of photos. I must have another 2000 to scan. It’s a lifelong job.

  24. [...] What Would You Tell your Twenty-Year-Old Self? (Empty House, Full Mind) [...]

  25. [...] some pearls of wisdom for our younger selves. That was the inspiration behind a recent bloghop by midlife blogger group on Facebook called #genfab. Bloggers answered the question “what advice would you give your 20-year-old [...]

  26. grownandflown
    November 7, 2012 | 11:08 am

    Love the pictures, Sharon, and love the writing. Your wisdom, while lost on your twenty year self, is coming in real handy for your YA kids, I bet! I agree with you on the advice to give your self to travel and to exercise – those are some of the same wishes I would send back in time to me, if I could.
    grownandflown recently posted..Stages of Grief: Storm EditionMy Profile

  27. Ann Dunnewold
    November 8, 2012 | 8:32 am

    Sharon, this is so heartfelt! I just feel the yearning for your young self to listen! Such an exercise in hindsight this blog hop was for all. Thanks for some great writing, laced with true emotion.
    Ann Dunnewold recently posted..To me, at twenty, with loveMy Profile

  28. Julie Danis
    November 8, 2012 | 11:58 am

    I was always afraid but masked that fear. I didn’t try as many things as I might have because of it, but no one thought I was afraid. Patience is something I’m still trying to learn. Thanks Sharon.

    • Sharon Greenthal
      November 8, 2012 | 2:02 pm

      Thanks Julie. I didn’t hide my fear, I just used other things to distract myself from it.

  29. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)
    November 8, 2012 | 7:08 pm

    Great advice! I needed the “break up with that boy” bit and to look at myself with positive eyes. Thanks for sharing this.
    Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) recently posted..Letter to Me, Age 20My Profile

  30. Lynette
    November 9, 2012 | 6:41 am

    Love this post! I’m 23 and so much of this relates to me.

  31. Patricia aka BoomerWiz
    November 9, 2012 | 2:32 pm

    Funny Sharon. Many of us were in such a hurry to get “it” right and yet we were unclear about what constituted “right”. This brought back memories.
    Patricia aka BoomerWiz recently posted..Prepping in the Calm Before the Arrival of Hurricane SandyMy Profile

  32. MaryPW
    November 17, 2012 | 2:39 am

    I could just copy&paste this to send to MY twenty year old self!
    You rock!
    MaryPW recently posted..DadMy Profile

  33. Stitcheh
    December 4, 2012 | 9:59 am

    I am about to be 27 years old and I am taking this advice. This is very insightful. Thank you.

  34. Genea Tennison
    December 10, 2012 | 4:13 pm

    I’m twenty and I am taking this advice so I don’t screw up my life thank you:)

  35. Carrie
    April 4, 2014 | 1:29 am

    Oh, Sharon. You should have talked to me, also. First boyfriend led to first husband, led to abuse, and all because I was too afraid to do it on my own!!! I should have traveled, I should have 1,000 things. Life turned out good, after all. I was single for six years after my divorce, did college, did a ton of therapy, and when I no longer cared about being with a man, I found the perfect one. I am proud of myself for leaving my abuser the first time, and for staying gone. And maybe I’ll get to travel the world after the kids are grown. But I just can’t help but think that it’s human nature to have to see, feel, touch, experience bad decisions for yourself, because I don’t see the next generation listening with any more interest than mine did!

  36. Claudia Schmidt
    September 6, 2014 | 10:25 am

    Knowing how accomplished you are today, I’m actually surprised that you weren’t a good student, Sharon. Seems to me that, while in retrospect you would do things differently, what you did led you to a pretty great life. My advice to my 20 year old self would be endless, but like you, I never would have listened. That old adage, Youth is wasted on the young is very true.
    Claudia Schmidt recently posted..The Top 5 Ways To Prepare For Dropping Your Child Off At CollegeMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

CommentLuv badge

Trackback URL http://www.emptyhousefullmind.com/what-would-you-tell-your-twenty-year-old-self/trackback/