As I've grown up, women — from my aunts to friends' older sisters — have always told me that their 30s were so much better than their 20s. And always for the same reason: They were more sure of themselves and stable (both mentally and financially) in their 30s than they were in their 20s. They'd figured more of themselves out, didn't accept less than they deserved, and had more means to pursue whatever they wanted.
So, we spoke with millennial women of the BuzzFeed Community to find out what lessons they've learned that have helped them get through life (and womanhood!) — and particularly those that they wish they'd known sooner. So here they are:
And while these lessons may or may not apply to everyone, we hope you find some key pieces that stick with you.
1. "If you aren't going to accept most invites, you'll stop getting invited."
2. "There's nothing wrong with picking a boring job that pays your bills and allows you to have the time and money to do what you love. Don't settle for a job you hate or makes you miserable because it pays you more money, though. If you are passionate about something that will forever leave you stressed about money or about time, think long and hard if this is what you want to do for a living."
"Not everyone can do it and be happy, but if that's you, then go for it!"
3. "Don't be afraid to speak up for yourself. Respect comes with character, not age. Whoever it might be — that annoying aunt, a random man trying to mansplain, some old lady questioning why you're not married yet — ain't nobody got time for that energy."
4. "Don't be so afraid, and take more risks. Get out of your comfort zone more. Travel more while you're single. The sooner you learn to say 'no' without feeling bad about it, the better. Stop trying to constantly please everyone more than trying to please yourself. Be pickier about the people (especially significant others) you invite into your life. Chill the fuck out. Oh, and the right shade of red lipstick is a game changer."
"I'm actually closer to 50, and things get better. Your 40s will be your best decade yet...until you get into your 50s (or so I hear and hope)."
5. "Unapologetically put your career first. I've seen so many women throw away great opportunities, move to new cities, and take jobs that they aren't interested in for guys they're dating."
6. "I would argue against unapologetically putting your career first. I'm a single, 33-year-old girl making six figures at what was supposed to be my 'dream' job. I've sacrificed relationships and opportunities in the pursuit of finding meaning through work. The last year shattered all of that and made me realize how pointless it all is."
"Work has been my priority for the last decade, and I regret it immensely. Investing in family, friendships, and relationships, being there for the people you love, living life in accordance with your values, spending time and energy on the things that matter to you — that's what you need to be unapologetic about.
If it's work, that's great, but don't make it the be all end all in how you define a successful or meaningful life."
7. "Listen, here's one important thing I wish I'd mastered sooner: Stop giving a single fuck about what people think of your body. Be healthy, exercise in a way that brings you joy, eat enough veggies — but do it because you like it, not because you're trying to achieve an impossible body standard. And buy clothes in your actual size. Clothes are meant to fit us, not the other way around."
"Oftentimes, these body standards are only available to folks with privilege, good genes, and infinite time to make fitness their job. So wear the fucking shorts. Wear the goddamn dress. Wear the flippin' crop top. Wear it because YOU like it."
9. "After a lifetime of hearing about the importance of safe sex, I fully expected the men I slept with to be serious about condoms. I had no idea that I would have to advocate and fight for something so basic."
10. "Be open to new friendships. As you grow older, you realize you've outgrown the friends you grew up with. And the biggest misconception is you can't make friends past 25 (sans colleagues or situational friendships). But that's not true! It's actually wonderful to meet new people who are on the same wavelength as you."
"If you find yourself only talking about things that start with, 'Remember when...' you KNOW for a fact that the only thing that brings you two together is the past. And it's honestly not worth it."
11. "You don't have to 'stick it out' when something is mentally or physically unbearable."
"It's OK to walk away when you need to."
12. "Books and films have lied to us, throwing our expectations for love off kilter. The love we are told to expect — where your whole body reacts, and you can't live without them — is toxic. It is not healthy to depend on someone else for your entire existence. So when we find true love — the kind those people who've been married for 70+ years have, that's built on mutual respect, kindness, companionship, and friendship — we are predisposed to reject it."
13. "It's an acceptable option to take your time and play around before you find a career. Just be aware that there are trade-offs — like not being able to afford a house when you're ready to settle down, or having all of your superiors be younger than you."
"None of these things are bad, but some people struggle with them, so they should be considered."
14. "It's not selfish to prioritize yourself. Love yourself. Make decisions that benefit you and not anyone else. You only have to answer to yourself and no one else, so don't be apologetic about it."
15. "Just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean they are good for you. This was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. Disney movies teach us that if you truly love someone, everything else will work out."
"Although love is very important in a relationship, it isn’t the only thing that matters. You need respect, trust, communication, and understanding. Know that you are worth having a great relationship — never settle for anything less."
16. "Don't let anyone try to tell you that being married with kids isn't aspirational. I love my career and make great money, but my fiancé and our future kids will always be my priority over any job. That doesn't make me any less of a powerful, intelligent, or courageous woman."
17. "Don't over-pluck your eyebrows. They don't always grow back the same. You also are not obligated to shave any parts of your body unless you feel like it. You're a person, not a doll."
18. "Educate yourself on all financial aspects of your life — taxes, 401(k)s, investments, CDs. It'll set you up for a wonderful future."
"Yes, I've had to pause contributions to my savings and investments when things have gotten hard, but for the most part it's been manageable. For instance, if I continue at $25 a week until retirement (another 30 years), I'll have over $40K minimum.
Contribute in company-matched 401(k)s, as well. Who know what the future holds? But if you can do it now, then a little bit goes a long way later."
19. "People who speak positively about their friends when those friends aren't around are the people you want to be friends with."
"These are also the people you can trust with any information. These are the people who want to see you succeed. These are the people who won't put unnecessary negativity into your life.
I have a great group — it doesn't have to be a group; it can even just be you — of friends who are always rooting for me and I for them. It helps improve every aspect of my life."
20. "Have an awareness of the patriarchy. I only started to grasp that when I was about 21. It is such an important part of the process — seeing how society sets you up for failure as a woman; how much smaller the window for error is in comparison to men."
21. "Not everyone is going to like you, and that's 100% OK. I spent a whole lot of time trying to be nice to a lot of people who definitely didn't deserve it. I tried to be as friendly as possible in every situation — which also meant that people treated me like shit. Turns out, I don't even like 10% of the people I meet. So who cares?"
"Learn to do stuff for you, not for others. Being a people pleaser, I just wanted them to be happy. I wasted so much time, trying to make my parents proud; doing what I thought they wanted me to do.
Live the life you want, not the one you might think they want. Take care of yourself, as best as you can. Ask for help; there's nothing wrong with asking for help."
22. "ADHD is massively underdiagnosed in women."
"If you’re great in a crisis but can’t write a paper until the night before it’s due, ask for an ADHD test from your doctor or therapist."
23. "Do not compare where you are in life to where your friends are in theirs. Life is not a race."
24. "Don't disregard your physical health. It wasn't until my late 20s that I really internalized the concept that working out and eating healthy were the rewards, not the punishments."
"It's not about being a certain size or looking a certain way but about appreciating the impact physical health has on mental health and vice versa. I'm working hard now, but I know that my current journey toward health would have been a lot easier had I established solid healthy habits when I was younger.
So drink your water, get enough sleep, eat your veggies, and treat your body like the incredible thing that it is. :-)"
25. "As a queer woman, be very careful around straight men who treat you like 'one of the guys.'"
"Sooner or later, their true colors will bleed through, and you'll learn that the way they talk about women in front of you is the way they talk about you when you're not around."
26. "Always ask — for help, advice, a raise, whatever. The worst thing that can happen is to get a 'no,' and that is OK."
27. "There is sometimes a misogynistic undertone when you're with some doctors. Often women are taught and told to expect to experience pain and to put up with it."
"Don't put up with it — don't allow others to minimize your pain. You may have to fight for your treatment, but it's important to try. You deserve to be heard."
28. "There is no expiration date for learning new things, changing careers, making a big move, or getting married. People will try to compare you to others, but it’s not your job to prove yourself to anyone but yourself. You just have to do the best that YOU are capable of for YOU."
"Once you’re out of high school, start working on business skills and how to market them while you are young because you will be better off later on. Don’t worry about getting a degree until you are certain of what you want to do. Employers care more about previous experience and specific skills than they do about a diploma in the long run."
29. "Don't date below your standards because you feel pressured by societal timelines (or any reason really). I got into my first relationship at 24 with a guy who I knew — from the beginning — I could only be with for two years max because we were not on the same path. But he was nice, and I felt behind everyone else when it came to relationships."
30. "You shouldn’t use sex to just feel seen and cared for. Sex doesn’t necessarily mean they care."
31. "Don’t choose a major or career field just for practical and financial reasons. If you don’t yet know what makes you happy or what you’re passionate about, take time to figure it out before jumping into anything. There’s no hurry. You’re YOUNG."
"Say yes to adventures and things that scare you before you get tied down in life. Experiences enrich your life as much as education."
32. "It’s important to be strong and stand up for yourself, but you don’t always need to be blazing trails. Taking care of your mental health and leaving a toxic situation is OK, too."
34. "I would like to have properly known how my sexual organs worked. I was 23 when I learned how big the clitoris is and even older when I felt OK or even normal about discharge."
"Like, what the f*ck? That is ridiculous! I hope that stuff is more normalized for younger generations."
Did any of these really resonate with you? Do they speak to anything you're experiencing now? Share your thoughts and lessons of your own in the comments below.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.