12 Things To Do If You Feel Like You’ve Wasted Your 20s

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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you feel better about your 20s and to plan ways to improve your life now. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

Have you ever looked back on your life and wished that you’d done things differently?

Or maybe life circumstances have changed and you’re now able to do things that you wanted to do when you were younger, but you didn’t have the time/money/ability to do them.

Some people stop and take stock of where they are and don’t like what they see. As a result, they might feel like they’ve taken the wrong paths in the past, and that they “wasted” their youth.

If you’re going through this right now, we get it. We’ve all had those moments too. Below are 12 things you can do to work through these feelings and recalibrate yourself during moments of stormful doubt.

1. Listen to what your spirit is saying.

When we feel pain—in the body, mind, or spirit—it’s telling us that something in us needs attention. Discomfort in your belly might be a signal to eat something because you need nourishment. Similarly, if there’s a pain in your spirit telling you that it’s hungry for something, ask it what it’s lacking; what it needs.

A lot of the time, these feelings that we get aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be a sign or signal like a wake-up call, telling us that if we listen to them and act upon them, we’ll experience greater fulfillment and personal growth.

On a similar note, if we ignore these signals and just keep on keeping on, then the gnawing pangs won’t go away—they’ll often get worse. Furthermore, just like physical hunger, they might manifest in other symptoms like anxiety, depression, lack of concentration, and such. Some people believe that some forms of depression are caused by soul-deep desires left unmet.

2. Change direction if you don’t like the road you’re on.

Look at where you’re at in your life right now, and ask yourself whether you’re happy where you are, doing what you’re doing. Some people feel that they’ve wasted their 20s when they look around themselves in their 30s, 40s, or beyond and find that they aren’t where they want to be. As a result, they feel like they “took the wrong path.”

In reality, there is no “wrong” path. We can try out various routes, and if it turns out that we don’t like where one has led, we can choose a different one. In some cases, this might mean backtracking a little bit, but since we can’t actually turn back time, our only option is to change direction and keep moving forward.

That’s fine. You’re not locked into one particular path, and it’s never too late to choose a different route. Sure, this might cause some disruption—even pain—to those around you, such as those who have been walking this path with you and are happy with it, but if it’s not your route, then it’s likely best to part ways. It’s possible your paths will overlap and reconvene sometime in the future, or perhaps you’ll veer away from each other completely so you can go on different adventures entirely.

Point being, you didn’t waste time or make “mistakes” by choosing the path you’re currently walking. Every experience you’ve had on it thus far has been beneficial. You’ve met the people you needed to meet and gained skills and knowledge that you might not have attained otherwise.

Now you stand at a crossroads with several different options available to you. And there is time. Even if you’re 100 years old, you can choose to do something out of the ordinary today and move toward a different horizon.

Just take the time to listen to your higher self, to the spirit within you, and be honest about where it wants to take you. It’s likely that it’ll be on a rather spectacular adventure.

To quote “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin:

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow

Don’t be alarmed now

It’s just a spring clean for the May queen

Yes, there are two paths you can go by

But in the long run

There’s still time to change the road you’re on

3. Remind yourself of all the amazing things you did in your 20s.

Grab a pen and paper and write down as many things as you can remember that happened in your 20s. You can skip over the stressful or unpleasant parts, of course, and focus on the ones that were fun, exciting, educational, and inspiring.

Did you go to some cool festivals and make some great friends? Have intense love connections or nights out that were too bizarre to forget?

Even if your 20s were full of schoolwork, jobs, and/or family responsibilities, you undoubtedly experienced some great things in there as well. Both my partner and I experienced a lot of hardship in our 20s, but even the most awful periods were interspersed with joy and beauty.

Once you’ve written down everything you can remember, take a good look at the list you’ve created. It’s likely that you’ve rekindled memories that you might have forgotten, as you’ve been more focused on lack rather than abundance.

After you’ve taken some time to ruminate about all of these things, you might discover that the feeling of having wasted that decade lessens significantly.

You may not have done everything you wanted to (yet!), but that doesn’t mean you didn’t do some wonderful stuff too, right?

While you’re at it…

4. Consider all the great stuff that’s going on in your life right now.

Since you’re writing a list of all the great things you experienced in your 20s, grab another few pieces of paper and write out everything that’s great in your life right now.

What (and whom) do you love?
What’s making you happy? Fulfilled?
Write down everything that brings you joy and fulfillment.

Sum up with the greatest thing you have going for you at the moment: you’re still alive.

You have time.

You still have the opportunity to do a ton of wonderful things with whatever time you have left. Don’t waste it.

Take the time to truly enjoy what’s going on in your life instead of taking it for granted and feeling regret about that later. And don’t set aside for tomorrow or next year what you can do today.

5. Determine whether your feelings are due to comparisons you’re making with others.

Feeling like you “missed out” is usually synonymous with negative comparisons between yourself and others. This might be based on conversations you’ve had with peers or by pangs of longing you’ve experienced by scrolling through social media and seeing what other people’s lives look like.

It’s strange that so many people think they crave other people’s lives without knowing about the intrinsic issues and struggles that those others have been through.

When you see photos of other people’s accomplishments on Instagram or Facebook, you’re seeing a carefully curated snapshot: not the whole picture. If you haven’t had kids and you see the sweet pictures or videos that your friends have shared of their smiling, happy families, you’re just seeing one small part of that experience.

You’re not seeing the sleepless nights, panic attacks over midnight fevers, screaming matches with stubborn toddlers or rebellious teenagers, and endless piles of dirty diapers.

Similarly, if you see gorgeous photos of people’s travels through exotic locales, you’re seeing the best of the situation. Yeah, your friends took great photos of themselves cuddling sloths in Costa Rica. But they didn’t post pictures of the 10 million insect bites they got, nor images of themselves laid out with dengue fever.

You might feel that you didn’t get to try some beautiful experiences that others have, but you know what? You also likely avoided a world of discomfort, stress, and possibly even life-threatening illness depending on what it is you feel you missed out on.

6. Ask yourself why you feel that you missed out on various things.

We tend to idealize various experiences when we hear or read about them. Thus, when others talk about great things they’ve done, we might feel left out because we did things differently.

Do you feel like you had dreams when you were younger that you didn’t achieve? Maybe you feel like you’ve somehow “given up” on things that used to be important to you and that you set aside in favor of pursuits that were somehow more practical or more acceptable.

Furthermore, when you think about all the things you didn’t do when you were that age, did you actually want to do any of that?

I’ve talked with friends of mine who lament that they didn’t go to Burning Man when they were younger, fitter, and full of energy so they could dance for a week in the sunshine with thousands of fun strangers. But I remember them when we were in our 20s and they would have been absolutely miserable. As such, they might have romanticized notions of what those experiences could have been like, but in reality, they didn’t actually want to be there.

7. Determine whether these feelings are being inspired by other people’s judgement.

Is anyone in your social circle deliberately attempting to invoke these feelings in you? Many people make judgements about other people’s lives and then push those judgements onto them—either overtly or passive aggressively. More often than not, it’s because they feel unhappy in their own lives and want to either bring others down too, or try and force them to choose the same paths so as to validate their (unhappy) life choices.

As an example, I’ve seen this a lot in people who have chosen to have kids versus those who haven’t. The ones with children keep asking the childless/child-free ones when they’re going to start breeding, since they “won’t feel truly happy or fulfilled” until they do. And if they’re told that there will be no kids forthcoming, they turn the approach around and go on the attack.

Suddenly the child-free people are selfish and irresponsible. They won’t have anyone to look after them when they’re old. They’re depriving their parents of grandchildren.

Or vice versa. Those who chose not to have children and might be struggling with infertility in their 30s or 40s may put down those who started families early because they’re feeling envious. Comments about having “missed out” on all the great adventures, partying, college experiences, and fulfilling work they’ve done might make their choices seem like the better ones.

If you’ve been feeling like you’ve wasted your 20s because of what others have been telling you, take stock of what it is exactly that they’ve been saying. Then dissect that a little bit to determine their motivations in doing so. Why are they saying these things to you? And why now? What’s happening in their lives for them to need reassurance? And why are they attacking you about it all?

Once you can see through their intentions, you can glean a better understanding of them, and of yourself. What you chose to do in your 20s was perfectly valid, and likely best for you at the time. And the same goes for them.

8. Try the grass on the other side of the fence.

Are you familiar with “grass is always greener” syndrome? It implies that the choice we didn’t take, or the opportunities we have, always pale in comparison to what’s offered on the other side of the fence.

Whatever it was that you chose to do in your 20s, your current self will undoubtedly wish that you’d done something else. The person who dedicated themselves to academia will wish that they’d travelled instead. Meanwhile the person who travelled extensively might regret that, wishing they’d gotten married and had kids early. And the young parent with amazing kids will wish they had travelled or gone to school and pursued an exciting career.

Sure, you missed out on some things, but you also did amazing things too! And you know what? There’s likely little reason why you can’t try out the things you feel you missed out on then.

Depending on your current age, there may be different options and experiences available to you now than there were then, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt. If you’re interested in backpacking around the world or changing your career by going back to school, then go for it! You’ll likely have an amazing time, and there’s no time limit on either of these. If it’s the former situation, however, just make sure you have supplies you might need to help support your trip, especially if you’re dealing with health concerns.

It’s a different story if you feel like the thing you missed out on in your 20s was hooking up with as many people as possible in a single night. I mean, you could still try to go out and make that a reality, but the end results might be more uncomfortable than you’d bargained for.

More often than not, trying the thing you feel you missed out on will show you that it was an absolute mercy that you weren’t doing this in your 20s. Sleeping around is usually a total waste of time, for example. These “fast food” relationships are very hit and miss. If you want to quickly grab the nearest bite to eat, then how nourishing is it going to be? What are you and the others going to be getting out of it in the long term? 

It’s difficult to get anything meaningful from these brief escapades. That said, quietly slipping out early in the morning by climbing out a window does make for a good story. Use your best judgement here and try out the things that you think will fulfill your soul.

9. Don’t let perceived limitations hamper your goals or desires.

Many people feel that they were at their strongest and healthiest when they were in their 20s. Then, when they get older and various health issues start to manifest, they might feel like they “wasted their best years” by not doing all the things they could have done when they were in their “prime.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, some aspects of your health or physical fitness might have been better at 25 than they are now, but those don’t need to be a hindrance. You can adapt just about anything to suit your present fitness/wellness level rather than putting things off until you’re “better,” or abandoning them entirely because you can’t run a 4-minute mile anymore.

What is it you want to do? And why would you feel that you can’t do that kind of thing anymore because you’re X age?

Do you want to go trekking through Nepal, but you have joint issues or you need mobility assistance? Well, guess what? There are inclusive, wheelchair-accessible routes, plus personal assistants who can accompany you to help you along the way.

Or maybe you’ve always wanted to dress in a particular fashion, but now you think you’re “too old” to pull it off. Says who?! Dye your hair pink if you want to. Get those tattoos. Dress in full-on goth regalia. Do it. Anyone who’d put you down for living true to yourself isn’t worth having around, and certainly isn’t worth listening to.

Same thing goes for physical pursuits that you’re interested in now but think you won’t be able to do because of perceived age-related limitations. Nearly everything that younger people enjoy doing can also be enjoyed by people of most (if not all) ages. It doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest or strongest athlete in the world as long as you’re enjoying yourself!

I’ve seen retirees excel in martial arts classes, as well as fencing and dancing. Yes, being young, fast, and healthy is a boon in any physical activity, yet what beats the lot is the combination of skill and personal experience. Younger people are more likely to get injured because of negligence, lack of focus, and the perception that they’re invincible.

Meanwhile, older people might be a bit more cautious because they can anticipate potential injury, but that hones their perception. They’re likely to learn moves more quickly and adapt to various circumstances because they’re focused more on the big picture, not merely “winning” and getting on to the next thing.

10. Travel!

I used the travel example above for good reason: exploring different parts of the world is an incredible experience, and it isn’t limited to a particular age range.

Sure, there are some benefits to travelling when you’re younger, such as not caring whether you share a hostel room with 30 other people, and sleeping in a cot won’t make you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus. That said, people will take different things away from the travel experience at various ages. What you appreciate at 35 will likely be different from your explorations at 50, 70, or 90.

At whatever age you decide to go, it will always be a fresh experience: it’ll be beautiful, stressful, exciting, and new. You’ll be able to check out incredible architecture, and enjoy a whole range of different food flavors, scents, textures, and conversations with interesting people.

Regardless of your age, it’s a good idea to travel to a place where you have someone you know and trust as a tour guide. When you first start traveling, stick to places where you’re within easy reaching distance of infrastructure, or areas that are similar to your personal realm of experience.

For example, if you trained as an outdoor survivalist in Sweden, most of that knowledge will be useless if you’re travelling in the Gobi Desert. Have a guide or friend who’s solid with local knowledge, and you can adapt and learn with them on your travels at a steady rate.

Pick a location, learn some key phrases (“Where’s the toilet?” is vital for that list!) and get planning! There’s no time like the present.

11. Know that nothing you’ve done so far has been a “waste.”

Even if you led the most boring, mashed potato level existence in your 20s, know that the time you spent ironing your shoelaces and such wasn’t a waste at all. Do you know why that is? Because each moment you spent was one step further to knowing and understanding who you really are.

Recognize that you’re not the same person now that you were then. All of your life experiences to date have shaped you into the glorious creature who’s reading these words today. It’s unlikely that the past version of you had the same aspirations that present you has, and vice versa. What you thought was important then has changed, and you may well be poised to embark on the greatest adventure of your life.

Maybe you wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to leap into the unknown at 27. Or didn’t have either the financial means or the drive to start a challenging career path at 23.

Furthermore, we can’t “waste” time because it isn’t a commodity. It just is. We move through time, and it passes, but although it might seem like a limited resource, that’s just our perception. We’re all on journeys of learning and self-discovery, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to live a life.

Additionally, you’ll never know when some random thing you learned during those years will come in handy in the future. Both my partner and I have recently had to draw upon skills we learned randomly when we were younger to solve problems. Although we learned those skills during times that we considered difficult and stressful, we wouldn’t have had our current knowledge to draw upon if we hadn’t.

Believe it or not, some of the most trying things you’ve gone through may end up being blessings when you least expect them.

12. Remember that the best time to start a new path is RIGHT NOW.

I once heard a guy say, “You’re never going to be younger again than you are right now.” That goes along with the Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is today.”

The point being that the past is in the past and there’s nothing you can do to change it, but you do have the chance to take action today that changes your life in the ways you want it to change.

Don’t spend whatever time you have left bemoaning how you feel like you “wasted” your 20s. Every minute you spend moping about is another minute that you’re NOT spending on things that you want to do, achieve, or try out.

So what is it you truly want to do? Let go of whatever might be holding you back and get to it!

Still feel like you’ve wasted your 20s and can’t get over it? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

We really recommend you speak to a therapist rather than a friend or family member. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to see your 20s in a more positive light while guiding you toward a future that you will find fulfilling.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

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