27 Things I Wish I Had Known Sooner

How often have you looked back at an experience and wished you had learned lessons from it far earlier?

We’ve all done that, more times than we can count.

Fortunately, we can also share the wisdom we’ve gleaned so we can learn from one another’s errors and avoid the same missteps.

Below are some of the most important things I wish I had known sooner.

1. You won’t know what a partner is really like until hardships arise.

Do you think you have a solid, healthy relationship? Then go camping or on vacation together in another country. See how your partner reacts to lost luggage, wild animals, and injuries.

Similarly, see how they respond to difficulties like serious illness or a death in the family. If they run away and make excuses instead of stepping up or handling things with grace, then you’ll know what kind of person you’re really dealing with.

2. Whatever you’re not changing, you’re choosing.

This is a really sh*tty realization to come to, because it requires one to own up to the fact that they’re responsible for their own happiness and wellbeing.

If you’re miserable in your relationship but you haven’t ended it yet, then you’re choosing to suffer. Similarly, if your health is poor but could be improved with a few lifestyle adjustments, and you don’t implement those changes, then your poor health is your choice.

3. Do what must be done.

Many of us avoid doing things because we don’t want to deal with related unpleasantness. But discomfort is inevitable. Some ugly things just need to be taken care of, because they’ll get worse if we avoid them. Don’t shirk personal responsibility and simply wish that things will get better: take a deep breath, and get it done.

4. You need to fail in order to succeed.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to paint over canvases, recycle clay, or delete various files because I’ve fallen short of the mark. That’s more than okay, however, because each of these travesties has allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow.

5. You are not obligated to tolerate abuse from anyone, for any reason.

Many people tolerate horrible mistreatment from others for no good reason. They’ll let their parents abuse them verbally, emotionally, and even physically, because “family.” Similarly, they may not speak up when a colleague or employer is treating them unfairly out of fear that they’ll be let go. Don’t stand for this.

6. Saying “no” isn’t just okay: it’s recommended.

Think about all the times you’ve been downright miserable because you agreed to something you didn’t want. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” if you have no interest in something. If someone takes offense because you don’t want what they do, then that’s their issue—not yours.

7. Substance abuse will lead to regret.

When I worked at a ski resort years ago, a group of German tourists ended up hospitalized because they tried to ride a moose. Yes, copious amounts of alcohol were involved. While I haven’t personally tried to ride local wildlife, I’ve done my share of nonsense while under the influence of questionable substances.

Know that you aren’t as charming, brave, or invincible as you think you are when under the influence. It’s better to err on the side of sobriety than to damage yourself by making stupid choices.

8. You don’t have to “fit in.”

For many people, one of the worst things that could happen to them would be if they were called “weird” by their peers. Society tends to value conformity, and those who dance to their own tune are often mocked and ostracized. Yet, it’s far more interesting to be weird than to be a clone—and don’t you forget it.

9. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay.

You won’t like everyone else either. You’re going to meet a lot of people with whom you connect instantly, and you’ll also meet people you dislike. That’s okay. You’ll find members of your tribe as you go through life, as will everyone else.

10. Few people are thinking about you.

Some people are paralyzed by social anxiety because they’re so worried about what other people might think of them. You know what? They don’t think of you. Their eyes might glance over you before refocusing on some eggplants, but they don’t give a damn about your clothes, your root regrowth, or what you’re buying.

11. Just because something doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it was a failure.

Are you at the same job you got right out of college? Or in a relationship with the first person you dated? Perhaps. But probably not.

We all grow and evolve, and our lives change many times over the decades. As a result, we may not keep high school friends until we’re in our 80s, and relationships that suited us well at 20 might not be a good fit at 40.

That doesn’t mean that these relationships “failed,” but rather that they reached their natural conclusion. “Forever” isn’t the only definition of success, and just because something isn’t eternal doesn’t mean it was a failure.

On a similar note:

12. Not everyone will be in your life forever

And that’s okay. Friendships ebb and flow as people deal with things in their own lives. You may have an incredibly close bond with someone for a few years, but that fizzles out as each of you changes and moves in different directions.

Beaches don’t cry when the tide withdraws: another beautiful wave of water will rise up shortly.

13. Beware the friendly tyrant.

Louis XIV insisted on having members of noble ruling families move into his palace at Versailles. This appeared to be an act of grace and favouritism: they were considered beloved friends of the king, invited to live in the lap of luxury with him. In reality, he was so paranoid about powerful houses possibly supplanting him that he insisted on having everyone within easy reach so he could spy on them more easily.

Be wary of those who seem to be overly giving and friendly towards you too quickly, especially if they’re demanding or controlling. There’s usually a self-serving purpose that will not benefit you in the long run.

14. Live life on your own terms, rather than by other people’s wants.

Most of us have people in our lives who want to control us in some way. This may be a parent or friend who “just wants to help,” or a partner who’s intent on having your attention on demand. You’re nobody’s emotional support animal, and no one has the right to dictate your actions, choices, or anything else.

15. Think before you speak.

One of the best things that anyone can learn is to pause before speaking. We often regret that which we’ve blurted out in the heat of the moment, but we can never take those outbursts back.

Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is right, kind, or necessary, then express yourself calmly. Furthermore, it’s the mark of a keen, measured mind to pause between spoken thoughts. This will also keep you from using filler words such as “like” and “okay?”, which detract from whatever it is you’re saying (especially in a professional setting).

16. Take more risks.

I guarantee that when you look back on your life several years from now, you’ll be far more haunted by all the things you didn’t do, than the things you did. Furthermore, some of the best stories you tell, and the most intense experiences you’ve had (and grown from) will be the ones that involved some degree of risk. Even if you fail terribly, you’ll learn strong lessons and have some great adventures along the way.

17. You will always regret moments of cowardice.

All of us have memories that we look back upon with shame because we didn’t behave bravely in that moment. Maybe we didn’t stand up for a person or animal who was being mistreated, or we didn’t make a move with someone due to fear of rejection.

Even if walking away was the right decision, you’ll still look back and wonder how things might have turned out if you hadn’t chosen fear.

Similarly:

18. Stand your ground when you know you’re in the right.

We had a class on riddles when I was in third grade, and our teacher asked us to solve the “St Ives” rhyme. When asked how many had answered with “2800,” half the class raised their hands. Similarly, the other half raised theirs for “2802.” I was the only one who answered the riddle with “one.”

The class erupted into laughter until the teacher announced that I was the only one who’d gotten it right. She gave me a voucher for a free book at the Scholastic book fair (highlight of my life, let me tell you), and a unicorn bookmark for having had the courage to stand my ground despite my peers’ mockery.

Sure, I also got beaten up by Jason P. for “making him look stupid,” but that’s a story for another day. The point is that it’s always important to stand up for what you know is right, even if everyone else is against you. You may not agree with the majority, but that doesn’t make you wrong.

19. You don’t need to have everything figured out or achieved by X age.

There are a lot of listicles out there that say you should have achieved X by age 20, 30, 40, and so on. Ignore them. No two people are exactly the same, and thus have different priorities and abilities. There are no due dates for life experience. You can learn new skills at any time, and will learn many different lessons at different points in your life.

You get to design your own path, adjusting it to your personal capabilities. What other people think you “should” be doing, or have figured out by any specific age, doesn’t matter.

20. Not getting what you want might be the best blessing imaginable.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve gotten something (or someone) I thought I wanted, only to realize what a huge mistake it was to pursue that particular path.

Many situations (and people) look great from the outside, but the reality is different once you’re involved with them. That glamorous dream job might be stressful and packed with atrocious coworkers. Similarly, that hot lover you got with might be unbalanced or abusive.

If you’re haunted by “what if” thoughts about the one that got away, let that go. Chances are that you would have been miserable, and were spared difficulty—and even trauma—by not getting what you thought you wanted.

21. You’ll never be able to make everyone happy.

A lot of people tie themselves in knots trying to keep others around them happy. This might occur when trying to appease everyone else’s wants when planning a wedding, but it can also apply to the workplace or general social events.

No matter what you do or what choices you make, someone’s going to be upset, offended, or disappointed. And that’s their issue to deal with. If they choose to be mad at you for not indulging their whims, that’s on them. Be true to yourself, and don’t ever feel that you must bow to another’s demands at the expense of your own happiness.

22. Take care of your health.

Many people cruise through their teens and twenties eating whatever they like, sleeping on the floor, getting injured by risky activities, and not drinking enough water. If you’ve been doing this, know that you’ll regret it 20-30 years down the road.

If you want to avoid aching in places you didn’t know you had, make wiser, healthier choices starting immediately. Find an exercise that you enjoy. Drink plenty of water. STRETCH. Treat your body as a cherished vehicle that you want to keep in good working order for the next 50+ years.

23. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, humble life.

A lot of people feel immense pressure to hustle and achieve. They might get numerous degrees, work 100-hour weeks, and attempt to live the most fabulous life possible. Then they have nervous breakdowns trying to keep up with the lofty ambitions they’ve set for themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with you if this lifestyle isn’t your priority. Living a simple life is a great choice for many. If you want to move somewhere rural to raise alpacas and spin yarn, go for it. Same goes for travelling the world in a converted van, or doing a simple job that grants you plenty of time to pursue your hobbies and passion projects.

24. Drama is never worth engaging in.

Don’t get caught up in other people’s sh*t. The same goes for watching or listening to sensationalist media that’s geared toward riling up your emotions or tearing your attention away from subjects that are actually worthwhile.

Make “not my circus, not my monkeys” a personal mantra and you’ll spare yourself a lot of stress.

On that note:

25. Peace is often more important than love.

Have you ever loved someone who wasn’t good for you? Maybe they were deeply wounded and couldn’t give you the connection that you needed. Or they had narcissistic tendencies and were more in love with the idea of you than who you really were.

Regardless of the cause, know that whatever costs you your peace of mind is too expensive. That goes for friendships and family dynamics as well as romantic love.

26. Guard your alone time.

There’s a reason why so many scholars, writers, and spiritual leaders choose seclusion: it’s only when you’re alone with your own thoughts and emotions that you can start to understand yourself and properly observe the world around you.

Yes, alone time can make you feel lonely on occasion, but it’s also absolutely vital to really get to know yourself. Guard that alone time fiercely, and don’t let others infringe upon it because of their own selfish wants or needs.

27. This too shall pass.

No matter what it is you’re experiencing right now, it’s not going to last. That goes for the delicious triple chocolate brownie you’re devouring, or the pain from your sprained ankle. For good or ill, anything and everything you experience is temporary. The wheel turns, and change is right around the corner.

As a result, you can let go of a lot of the stress you’re holding onto right now. Things will get better, just like they always have. Try to trust the process and flow with it rather than thrashing around. Things will move forward much more easily when you relax and work with what you have available to you.

As mentioned earlier, these are some of the most important lessons I wish I had learned 30+ years ago. This list will undoubtedly keep evolving, but hopefully you’ll be able to learn from my missteps and have a smoother, more joy-filled life journey as a result.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.