Like any other twenty-something, I make bad decisions. Often. It’s an unfortunate side effect of being human.
However, as my dad used to say, “it’s only a mistake if you didn’t learn anything from it.”
I try to learn something from every time I severely mess up. Some of these mistakes were painful lessons that still sting when I think about it and some of them years to recognize (and to be honest, I’m still working on a few of them).
That being said, these are some of the worst mistakes I made as a twenty-something:
Being afraid to say no
I want people to like me. I want to feel needed, cherished, and appreciated. Unfortunately, this need often pressures me into saying “yes” to things I don’t want to do.
Saying “no” makes me feel like a terrible person. I have this deep fear in the back of my mind that every time I said “no,” whoever I’m talking to will like me less. And eventually, I will say “no” too many times and the person will decide, “Hey, Grace is kind of a downer. I should be friends with someone more fun. More likely to say ‘yes’.”
Sadly, it took me until a really messy situation with a friend (well, ex-friend) who did not respect my right to say “no” as an answer until I realized the importance of saying “no.” And how learning to say “no” is one of the best ways you can take care of yourself.
Saying “no” is important. It helps you keep your boundaries and prevents you from being dragged into something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Avoiding rather than confronting
With has hard as it was (well, is) for me to say “no,” it can’t be a surprise that I also suck at confrontation.
I hate confrontation. I really do. I’d much rather ignore the person (or issue) indefinitely until they take the hint and leave me alone (or whatever issue is magically resolved).
Unfortunately, I can count on one hand the number of times this method of dealing with my problems has actually worked… and the number of times this has only exacerbated the situation is well into the double-digits.
Avoiding conflict doesn’t decrease the tension, though. It makes it worse.
Refusing to accept the blame
In college my boss told me that one of the best things someone can do to earn his trust is, when they make a mistake, to be upfront about it.
“Learning how to say, That is my fault. I made a mistake and I am sorry’ when you screw up,” he told me, “Goes a very long way and will get you far in life.”
Since then, I’ve noticed that some people will own up to their mistakes while others will blame everyone around them. I was to be the former (but often find myself learning towards the latter, in the heat of the moment).
It’s an ego thing. When you make an obvious mistake, your ego goes on the self-defense and won’t let you admit you did anything wrong. Do listen to your ego; it can do you more harm than good.
Choosing a job based only on money
The most notable example of this was when I worked for three days at a “sweat shop” in some lady’s basement with a bunch of other women, gluing fancy rocks onto (knockoff?) designer sunglasses that were later sold online for like $100 a piece. I made $2 – $4 an hour, depending on how fast I glued… until, of course, I ran over my boss’s sprinkler system with my parent’s car and she ran down the street screaming that I was fired and I needed to pay for the damages.
I never went back. And considering the fact that she was running an illegal sweat shop in her basement meant that she was hesitant to call the cops on me.
Yeah, I found that job on Craigslist. How did you know?
Basically, I have this obsession over money. I crave the security that money provides. So I picked part-time jobs based on how much they would pay instead of whether or not I would actually enjoy it.
Most of the part-time jobs in my high school, college, and adult years focused on making as much money as I could as quickly as possible, without having to do something I absolutely hate.
Staying at a job you don’t like (when you have other options)
My last job in Tokyo, before I quit to do this whole “blogging/freelance/YouTube/posting about my life on the internet for strangers to read” thing was teaching English at a small, locally run English school.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it either, but I didn’t feel passionate about the work I was doing or the students I was helping. My favorite part of the day was when I got my paycheck and could go home.
Six months in, I realized that wasn’t fair to me or to the students who paid to get quality English lessons. They deserved to have a teacher that felt passionate about the materials, a teacher that was actually called to teach.
And it wasn’t good for me to spend several days a week doing something I didn’t feel passionate about (and most days didn’t even enjoy). I was terrified I would wake up ten years down the road and realize that my entire career path was based on whatever was the easiest/paid the most money in my early twenties.
I knew I had other options. And had a bit of money saved up (I’m a notorious saver rather than spender).
So I quit.
And instead of running straight into the next paying job (whatever that might be), I took a little bit of time off (okay, two weeks) to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. It was a coin toss between this thing that I do now (writing about my life on the internet) and trying to get a job at a recruitment firm (because I’ve wanted a job like that since high school).
I figured now was the time to try this “thing” and if it didn’t work, I could try my hand at job hunting… and lucky for me, it did work.
That was… a year ago. And it was, hands-down, one of the best decisions I have made in my adult life.
Always going for the cheapest option
The other thing that stemmed from my obsession over money was the fact I never spent it. At all.
I never went out to eat in college. 90% of my clothes came from thrift shops, I didn’t buy technology, and I would rather walk two miles than take the bus.
I would spend money on trips (because traveling was my only real hobby), but even then, I saved.
I hit a breaking point mid-college, when I was at a conference. The hotel we were staying at didn’t have a breakfast, but the one across the street had a cheap, continental breakfast of runny oatmeal and bad sausage.
Every morning, I walked across the street with my head held high (pretending I wasn’t doing anything wrong) and jumped into line to get that free breakfast. When a friend at the conference found out, she was mortified.
“I’m just being thrifty,” I told her.
Except I wasn’t. I was being stupid. And now that I think about it, stealing.
Karma caught up to me on day three, as I spent most of the morning of the conference puking my guts up in the hotel bathroom. I missed one of the key speakers I had been looking forward to seeing/meeting all semester because I was too sick to attend.
All for a “free breakfast.”
Not exercising regularly
Exercise is so important, not just for the body but also for the mind.
Getting my blood pumping outdoors for fifteen minutes every day has improved my health, helped with my depression, and improved my work output. It can do wonders for you too.
Making “easy” friends instead of “great” friends
Bad friends are easier to find than good friends, especially in a new environment. I would know, I’ve had plenty of experience.
Bad friends, or “easy friends,” are the ones who jump right into your life. They have interesting drama and they make you feel alive because you’re the only one who will listen.
However, what you get isn’t an equal relationship.
With bad friends, it’s all about them. They will call you at 11pm, crying after a nasty fight with their boyfriend. Or at lunch-time, to rant and rave about their coworkers. But when you need a lift to the doctors, someone to help you move, or someone to talk to about your own problems… they’re nowhere to be found.
For a long time, I thought that putting up with poor behavior was how friendship worked. I purposefully sought out people who were messed up because I thought I was pretty messed up as well, and assumed that a “normal person” wouldn’t want to be friends with me.
Damaged people stick together, I thought.
And so every time one of these bad friends created drama or sent messages to my boyfriend asking him out for coffee “to talk” or turned their life into a living soap opera or sucked me dry for emotional support, I just rolled with it. Because I was a friend and that’s what friends do.
Eventually, by some miraculous turn of events, I made some great, non-emotional-vampire friends who taught me how to stand up for myself. They showed me what healthy, supportive, fun, adult relationships look like… and I couldn’t believe what I had been missing.
The easiest friends aren’t the best. And the most worthwhile friendships you can forge often require a little bit of courage in the beginning, walking across the room to introduce yourself or following up via email the day after. If someone is worth it, fight for them.
Thinking that friendships need to last forever
The problem is bad friends are easy to spot. We all have them.
But… it’s hard cutting people out. Even if we need to.
We all have that one person who doesn’t add value to our lives. You’re friends because of proximity, you happened to go to the same school or work in the same office or have some unique similarity… even though you don’t really like them. Or it’s more than that.
This person doesn’t add value to your life. They’re not supportive. They drain your emotionally. They’re negative and always play the victim and cause drama wherever you go and make you feel guilty for being happy.
Yet you stay. Because it’s easier to stay in that relationship than try to end it. Breakups (even friend breakups) are awful and messy.
However, friendships don’t need to last forever. I wish someone had told me that in college. Sometimes you grow out of friendships and that’s okay.
And if you’ve changed to the point that this person has become a stain in your friendship tapestry, that every time you think about them or get a message from them – and you tense up with an “ugh” feeling in your stomach… well, then it’s time to let them go.
Not allowing myself to be alone
I like being alone.
I like my friends (of course) and my husband (duh), but I don’t have to be social all the time. There’s nothing wrong with having a little bit of alone time every day, to gather your thoughts and to just be you.
What about you? What are some of the mistakes you made in your twenty-somethings?