10 Things I Would like to Tell my 20-Year-Old Self. ~ Jennifer Spesia


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“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” ~ Virginia Woolf

1.  Don’t settle. Period.

Don’t settle in love. Don’t settle in life. Don’t settle for lesser versions of your dreams. Don’t settle for anything less than exactly what you want. In one of my favorite cheesy movie scenes, the character says something along the lines of, “There are too many mediocre things in life and love shouldn’t be one of them. Anything less than spectacular is a waste of time.” I couldn’t agree more. Mediocrity is easy. Spectacular takes work and inspiration, but it’s worth it.

2.  Don’t lose yourself in love.

Don’t waste time in relationships with people who will never understand the beauty to be found in truly loving, trusting and living in partnership with another person. These people are at different places on their paths, or perhaps—let’s be honest—on totally different paths altogether. That’s okay. You should stop wasting the best years of your youth trying to help every wounded soul who stumbles across your path and latches onto you. Instead, be with someone who will hold your hand, and have your back, every step of the way. Be with someone who considers you an equal, not a crutch/mother/therapist/to blame for their unhappiness. You deserve to be with someone who appreciates you for who you are, and supports you in becoming what or whom you would like to become. Give yourself permission, when necessary, to move on and not look back. Learn from each experience, but don’t let anyone hold you back.

3.  Be entrepreneurial.

Don’t waste any more time floundering around in crappy corporate jobs while you “try and figure out what you want to do.” Figure out what makes you happy, and what you need to do to make a career out of doing it; then do it. If that involves formal education, training in a trade, or whatever, figure out what your passion is and make it happen. Now.

4.  Money does not define you. It does not determine your value or self-worth, and it certainly does not define success.

Money is a tool. It is a means to an end. It is a way of sustaining life and obtaining goods. Nothing more. Money will get you more stuff but still, that stuff does not define you. When people meet you, one of the first questions they will ask you is, “What do you do?” Don’t let your income define you or your perception of success. Western society has fooled us into believing we are successful if we make a lot of money (and buy huge houses, expensive cars and designer everything). Create your own destiny and define success for yourself.

5.  Don’t listen to the criticism/judgment of others.

People will not always understand or agree with the choices you make in your life. People will expect certain things of you and they will be disappointed if you do not live up to their expectations. Disappointment is challenging. Life is paradoxical. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to be truly happy yourself and live up to everyone else’s expectations at the same time. Compromises will need to be made at times, and at other times people will need to learn to work with their feelings of disappointment. What is truly important is, you live your life in an authentic way, true to your values and beliefs, and do not cause harm to others.

6.  Don’t pass up an opportunity to travel, or to extend your travel plans.

No one ever regretted staying in Paris or Amsterdam for a few more days. Your inbox will still be full when you get back and nothing in it will have the potential to be as fulfilling or inspiring as a few more days expanding your consciousness and deepening your awareness of the greater world around you. Although the world around us has expanded, our technologically saturated society feels like it is closing in on itself sometimes. When you look around, everyone has their eyes, hands and attention fixated on a phone, tablet or laptop. Take a vacation, or a staycation, and spend time exploring the world around you. Do it here. Do it abroad. Just do it often and do it like it’s your job.

7.  Invest more in your friendships.

One of the (few) drawbacks of being a vagabond by nature is, your friends are often of the vagabond variety as well. You will study in Europe, you will serve with the Peace Corps in Africa, you will have friends in every corner of the world, but maintain loose connections with many of them. You will meet many amazing people throughout your life who will teach you amazing things and share amazing experiences with you, but staying in touch in a meaningful way can be challenging (pre-facebook, at least).

Whether near or far, invest in all your relationships, not just the romantic ones. Investing in your friendships will provide you with a powerful support system, partners in crime, travel companions, and lifelong companionship. Your friends will look to you for support, and you them. If you have good friends, you have more than you’ll ever need.

8.  Make sure the work you do matters.

Figure out a way to make a career out of your passions, interests, hobbies, and/or talents, and do it in a way that you can provide your services/goods to others while financially securing your future. Making unknown executives wealthier will not be fulfilling, but doing something important to you and something which improves the lives of others will be. Your career and your life will be enriching and fulfilling if you do something of benefit in the world, or of benefit to others.

9.  Understand and embrace the powers of gratitude and compassion.

There are so many people in the world who suffer on a daily basis. There are people who do not have food, medicine, love or a roof over their head. There are people who are being physically, emotionally and verbally abused as we speak. There are people born into horrific circumstances through no fault of their own. Likewise, you did not do anything to deserve the circumstances you were born into. It could have just as easily been you born into a life of destitution, prostitution, addiction and/or sexual abuse.

Be grateful for the opportunities and blessings in your life and show compassion for those who struggle and suffer, through both your words and actions. Begin a gratitude practice and write down three things you are grateful for every single day. You’ll be amazed how much more beautiful life becomes when you are grateful for everything you already have.

10.  Cultivate strong spiritual and physical practices.

You will face challenges in life which will require you to dig deep within yourself for strength and guidance. You will need to be able to remain present and work with difficult emotions throughout your adult life. Having a rich relationship with meditation and yoga will help better prepare you to do so. The connection between your mind, body, spirituality, and overall wellness is paramount to your happiness in this life. Nurture growth in all areas of your life and maintain a disciplined spiritual practice. Taking care of your body, mind and spiritual foundation will provide you with the ground and strength you will need when the time comes.

Life is not always going to be easy, but if you embrace the advice you have been given here, it will make future challenges workable and any darkness permeable. You are equipped with the tools you need to have an amazing life. You have the passion, know-how and ability to achieve every goal you set for yourself. Your life has the potential to exceed your wildest dreams, all you need to do is be there and stay out of your own way. It’s all going to be worth it!


Jennifer Spesia is a yoga teacher, world traveler, psychotherapist, philosopher, seeker, practitioner of Eastern spiritual traditions, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa), human companion to three amazing dogs and eternal student. She will complete her PhD in Psychology in 2013 and is looking forward to having the time to read books for pleasure again soon. You can connect with Jennifer via her Bhadra Yoga Facebook page or her blog.


Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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45 Responses to “10 Things I Would like to Tell my 20-Year-Old Self. ~ Jennifer Spesia”

  1. Cheese says:

    Great advice! You emit superawesomeness. The world would be a much better place if people stopped, looked around, and then went on to be the kind of person they really want to be.

  2. JenniferS. says:

    Thank you so much Cheese! 🙂 It would be a much safer and happier world if we were all a little more aware of ourselves.

  3. Howard says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am actively seeking ways to cultivate these goals, qualities, and attitudes in my teenage children without being overbearing lol… mainly, of course, one does so by example.

    • JenniferS. says:

      Excellent point Howard, and I commend you for being interested in helping your children to become conscious adults. We need as many as we can get! 😉 In every situation, but especially with children/teenagers, living by example sends the strongest and most effective message. It's not fool proof, but it is certainly the best place to start. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

  4. Prema says:

    I would tell my 20-year-old self:
    Get carried away – by all the things that bring you joy.
    You CAN have it all. You don't have to choose between love and work. You can have both and have them abundantly.
    You are beautiful. Your body is perfect. Live in it.
    Follow your inclinations. If you love an audience, sing, dance, act, write. Do the things that call to you.
    Respect yourself and others. Be free, and remember that with freedom comes responsibility. Both are beautiful and awesomely satisfying.
    Make mistakes quickly. Build on your successes. Live!
    Serve others whenever the opportunity arises, and serve from your strengths, doing the things you love to do.

  5. lisa cohen says:

    at 47 yrs of age, i'd tell my 20 yr old self that the things on this list are terrific guidelines w/ great suggestions which can apply at ANY age. However, I'd add to this list the intention of not obsessing over mistakes and imperfections as they arise and that as long as she's willing to open up to awareness and learning from these things that everything has a way of working out. I'd remind her that she's human and that many things that may seem pretty f&*ked up at the time, actually end up being blessings in disguise.

  6. Dr. Rhonda Baughman says:

    This might be my favorite EJ entry of all time.

  7. kimsquips says:

    Nice article but seems much like the post on Marc & Angel Hack life blog. Perhaps everyone is thinking alike these days.
    I also like Peema and lisa cohens suggestions.

    • JenniferS. says:

      I think you're right, quips, it could be we're approaching that time when we prepare to close the door on this year and open the door to the next, when people become a little more reflective about the past and preparing for what's ahead. Very insightful. I'm guessing we will probably start to see a lot more of it soon, if that's the case.
      I may have to check out the other blog you mentioned. I've never heard of it, or read anything from it, so it is interesting how this time of year seems to bring that out in us.
      Thank you for your comment, and for reading my article.

  8. JenniferS. says:

    You make a very important point Lisa. I have probably learned more from the mistakes I've made than my successes. Some of the most unpleasant experiences in my life have taught me the most. That being said, if I could have avoided a few along the way, that would have been nice. You know? 😉
    Mistakes are fertile ground for growth and learning, and making mistakes is part of what makes us human. What is important, is we learn from our mistakes, take that knowledge with us into our next endeavor(s), and don't repeat them (at least, not more than once).
    Thank you for your comment and for sharing your sage advice, Lisa.

  9. lavendercotton says:

    Thank you for a wonderful reminder. I'm 24… am I still young? Or have I lost…wasted too much of my time being unhappy?

    • JenniferS. says:

      Oh my gosh cotton, no! The world is your oyster! You are definitely still young and have every opportunity and door open to you. The hard part at 24 is knowing which door to open, which ones to run like hell from, and sometimes just knowing how to open the door is a struggle. People will tell you life goes by so fast and it makes logical sense now, but when you wake up at 40 and think….what?! I was 24 just yesterday!….it will actually REALLY make sense how quickly it does indeed go. My best singular piece of advice would be, don't waste time. Don't waste time in jobs, relationships, or states of mind that don't best suit/nurture/feed you or your passions. Time is finite but the possibilities are infinite. Make every aspect of your life exactly what you want it to be! Good luck, and thank you for reading and commenting! 🙂

    • Cheese says:

      I refound myself at 32 and have had an amazing time since, been a much better person, and learned more than all my previous years combined. You are never too old to pursue happiness and find it.

      • JenniferS. says:

        Absolutely Cheese! We are a continual work in process but it's up to us to decide to do the work or not. I've done more personal growth work throughout my 30s than in the rest of my life combined, as well, and I am so grateful for those moments of awakening that brought me to where I am, within, today. We've come a long way and we only get better, my friend! 😉

  10. Brooke says:

    "Making unknown executives wealthier will not be fulfilling, but doing something important to you and something which improves the lives of others will be. Your career and your life will be enriching and fulfilling if you do something of benefit in the world, or of benefit to others." As a corporate attorney who is an active yogi and environmentalist I resent the idea that helping corporations makes my work unfulfilling. It may not occur to you that helping corporations act ethically and legally could be gratifying to some, but perhaps you should consider that telling others that their work does not matter because it would not be fulfilling to you is quite close minded.

    • JenniferS. says:

      I certainly did not mean to offend you and I apologize if you feel I did.
      To be clear, I did not "tell others their work does not matter", and I would never tell anyone their work is not meaningful to them. Everyone has to decide for themselves what fulfills them and what is right for them. You get no judgment from me, Brooke. I have numerous family and friends who are attorneys (corporate and otherwise) and I am not judging what you do or who you do it for.
      I want to be clear, I was not telling you or anyone else your work is not fulfilling. I told the younger version of myself—knowing myself, and what inspires me, and what I am passionate about—to not continue to spend time doing something that is not fulfilling to me, personally.
      I understand where you are coming from, and agree, if I had said that it would have been inappropriate. It can be challenging to not internalize something you read, I get that, but I assure you, this was not about your personal career choice or anyone elses. I hope this helped alleviate your concerns, and again, I apologize if I was not clear enough about any of this up front. Thank you for reading, and commenting. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

  11. Amanda says:

    Thanks so much for this. LOVE it all. I'm going to save it and give a copy to my two daughters… and actually my son too!

  12. Kate Southward says:

    Jennifer, your article is SO inspiring. As someone who has spent years locked away at a corporate desk job making money for unknown executives, I am now developing plans to open my own yoga studio in Auckland, New Zealand in 2013. EXCITING. Your article should be made in to a poster and distributed in universities all around the world. Feel free to read my article in 'deflecting negativity' and dealing with 'other peoples shit' while responding to your reviews here! Haha. Love Kate xx

    • JenniferS. says:

      Thank you so very much Kate for the support and encouragement, and I love the idea of sharing this advice with college students! I may have to look into that. Either way, I truly appreciate your kind words. Opening your own yoga studio in Auckland sounds absolutely AMAZING!!! Sounds like you've followed your passions and parlayed them into a career path too. Right on! I wish you all the best with your plans and hope everything works out for you. At least now if I make that trip to NZ I've always wanted to make, I know who to contact and where to go to drop in to some classes! Funny thing…I actually did read your article! I do editing for ej as well and actually just linked your article up to someone else's this week. Loved it! Small world!

  13. Andy says:

    When ever I read a thought like "What would I go back and tell myself" my mind starts to head down a path of regret (i'm 42) due to failed relationships and the loss of large sums of money etc.

    But this only makes me realise that I am still learning about impermanence, that the future is mine and that it is a great truth that I have all the tools to deal with any experience… SO just live, live every moment at the greatest depth possible and fly as high as you can becaue the moment is gone all too soon.

    I wish I could tell myself that at age 20! If i'd heard it from me then, maybe I would know it by now… Not still be learning to accept it.


  14. Dearbhla says:

    Beautiful piece.

  15. Mamita2222 says:

    I love this! I sent it to a co- worker in her early 20's who is struggling with those "waste of time" relationships. Oh how if I had only new better when I was younger! The 43 year old me needs a reminder from time to time as well!

  16. thatmelchick says:

    Curses. I did this in my 30s and 40s. Awesome advice, though. 🙂

  17. oz_ says:

    An excellent summation – hits all of the high points. Nicely done.

  18. Love it, Jennifer! Spot on, and just what I wish someone had told me when I was 20…! xo, Malin

  19. Lindsay says:

    amazing words thank you !!

  20. Jenna says:

    Well put! I add to my list getting physically active at young age and making that, plus healthy eating, a lifelong path – not a quick fix for weight gain later in life. Muscles have memory. They can be your best friend in old age!

  21. Love this, Jenn! This is quickly becoming a classic. xo

  22. Catherine says:

    Even though I am 60, this article speaks volumes to me. Sometimes we need the proverbial kick in the ass to realized we are on the wrong path (yet again, lol!) I love my new life, going back to school to get my massage therapy license, changing careers, planning on getting my yoga teacher training done next – must do more home practice, and travel, travel, TRAVEL!!
    Thank you for a wonderful article.

  23. Joe Sparks says:

    Adults are NOT more intelligent than young people. Good job!

  24. Angel says:

    Great post, I'm still in my 20's (barely) and I'm trying to implement all these things. Wish I could go back and change so much, but this advice is sound no matter what age! Thank you

  25. […] for many years can say the same thing. After 15 years of travel and study, I began to realize how much I still don’t know, but also to be confident in what I […]

  26. geetasonja says:

    Excellent read , Jennifer! Many thanks.

  27. Javier says:

    Certainly for those who are in this time of our lives.. Great advices..

  28. lulubean says:

    Good article, the only thing I wouldn't agree with 100% is #5. It's important to distinguish between those who criticize out of fear / doubt, and those who criticize out of love, and want you to improve. I am reminded of the Randy Pausch quote – “Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care. Worry when you do something badly and nobody bothers to tell you.”

  29. JoshMPlant says:

    Hands down, the best post on Ele. You are a delightful breath of freshair. I love Ele and I love this post!

  30. […] trouble is that a 20-something generally may not be very experienced. Having spent the better part of 20 years being educated, the only thing at the end of the day we […]

  31. […] Love yourself. Embrace your journey. And lean into the uncertainty instead of fighting against it. This is all part of your path so take advantage of the opportunity to focus on you and love you. […]

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