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10 things I wish I’d known when I was 23

#HRLADYSHIP Travel Heather Gupta • March 9, 2017
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Exactly half my life ago, I was preparing to start my first ever “proper” job. Granted, I’d been working for 10 years already, since picking up my first job washing dishes in a hotel when I was 13, but this was the Big One. A prestigious Graduate Trainee marketing job with a large multinational company, working on a brand that everyone had heard of (and most had used). I really thought I’d arrived in life.

Fast forward 23 more years, and I realize that although I thought I knew it all back then, I actually knew very little.

Here are 10 things I’d love to tell my 23-year-old self:

1. It’s OK to fail

I’ve always been the competitive type, but I’ve definitely mellowed with age. Back then, I was much more aggressive and very hard on myself. That big fat graduate marketing job turned out to be a disaster, and that was an important early lesson. Thankfully I picked myself up and ended up in a role much better suited to me (in an advertising agency).

2. Enjoy being the youngest

I was promoted early on, and vividly remember the feeling of being the youngest in the team. It came with a heady mixture of pride and fear, but it gave me definition and marked me out as someone with a lot of potential. Now I’m the oldest person not just in my team but in my company, and though I’m fine with that, nothing beats the feeling of that youthful competitive advantage!

3. Men are rubbish until they turn 30

Enjoy dating and relationships in your 20’s, but remember that the vast majority of men are emotionally crippled until they’re in their 30’s. Don’t expect too much from them, use them for your own vicarious needs, and don’t stress about finding “The One”. You have plenty of time for that later on.

4. Don’t buy all those CDs!

When I was 23, CDs were the thing. By the time I was 33, they were completely redundant and I was left with a huge pile of plastic with scratched discs inside (the promise that the CD would be scratch free was a myth). If I’d known that music would become digitized and downloadable, I’d have stuck with the vinyl.

5. Don’t be in too much of a hurry

At 23 I wanted to move quickly past the learning stage, and at 25 I wanted a big promotion. At 27 I wanted to be on the board, and then at 29, I decided I’d rushed through everything far too quickly, and took the decision to take a year off, to travel, introspect, and get out of the rat run.  The point being that at 23, though it sounds terribly hackneyed, you really do have your life ahead of you. Don’t rush through it just to notch up points, but savour and enjoy every moment.

6. Get on the property ladder as early as you can

I’m not sure that this one is feasible now, given the cost of property prices today, but when I was 23 I’m sure I could have managed to put a deposit down on a tiny flat rather than throwing money away on rent. I hear stories of people who bought their first place at 23 and now own 17 properties, and I just think “what if?!”

7. Enjoy all that spare time

I never envisaged having children, so wasn’t trying to “fit everything in before motherhood” back when I was 23. Even so, I’d still encourage my half-life self to suck the marrow from every moment. The fact that your time is your own, and that you can do with it what you will, is a hugely luxurious position when viewed from the stance of wife and mother. Pick up and drop things at will, read like a maniac, see the world, or at the very least, explore every nook and cranny of your own country.

8. Avoid office romances

At 23 I had my first and last ever office romance. I got my fingers burned back then and never made the same mistake again. In my experience, office affairs only end in tears. Let’s face it, most relationships which start in your early 20’s aren’t going to end in Happy Ever After, so unless you’re prepared to face your former squeeze at the water cooler every day, give it a miss.

9. Remember that pimples are temporary. Wrinkles aren’t.

I had terrible skin throughout my teens and early twenties and spent a lot of time agonising (unnecessarily) over my appearance. If only I knew that eventually, the pimples would clear up, and I’d have a few awesome years with great skin, I would have been far more chilled. Besides, pimples always clear up eventually, whereas wrinkles just multiply.

10. Save everything!

By this, I don’t mean that you should hoard everything – what use are your ancient school reports and exam papers when you’re a fully functioning adult?! I know for sure though that I’d have avoided a lot of frustration and tears if I’d remembered to save my work and back up my phone. Now with the Cloud, it’s easier to do, but back then in the days of floppy discs, it was trickier. 

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