What I’d tell my 20-year-old self

“There’s a new company that’s selling books on the Internet. It’s one to watch,” said the man who would become the Motley Fool.

The year was 1993, and I was sitting in his living room, having enjoyed a bountiful feast made by his wife, with whom I was working on a project on the Classics. Being in my twenties and not thinking I should actually invest any of the disposable income that I had (which was more than I realized, of course), I let the advice roll by. Yep, you can guess the name of that company.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self, if you’re in your forties or higher? I posed the question on my Facebook wall yesterday, and got a mixture of funny and poignant responses.

Stripes on top and on the bottom?

Stripes on top and on the bottom?


Chose your life partner carefully

One of my friends wrote, “Don’t marry that guy. God gave you good instincts for a reason” and my heart went out to her. In my twenties I was saved from such a union, which surely would have ended in divorce – as much as I would strive to avoid divorce. I knew deep down that things weren’t right with us, but it took strong advice from my parents and my work colleagues for me to end the engagement. It seems once a couple is engaged, they are swept along in a current of planning and living, perhaps, on a realm of unreality. Well-meaning acquaintances ask, “When’s the wedding?” The woman in particular looks into tulle, beads, canapés, and flowers. That’s why my husband and I, when we help couples who are preparing to marry, counsel them to do the hard work of marriage preparation before the engagement. Then ending the relationship, if it isn’t right, isn’t such a public announcement. And the couple isn’t distracted by wedding planning.

I remember so clearly the advice given to me by one of my colleagues when I was engaged to the wrong man. He held his hands out, palms facing each other and about six inches apart. “Two people are like this,” he said. “When they marry, just by the sheer force of becoming married, they become like this,” he said, moving his hands about 12 inches apart. I was beginning to see that marriage wasn’t going to solve the core issues that my fiancé and I had, but would only exacerbate them. It took me several more months, but finally I ended the engagement. And several years later (thank you God) met the right guy.


God will redeem your brokenness

Another friend wrote, “Sometimes the hardest adjustments you will have to make will be the ones that end up giving you the most compassion for others – so try not to resent them so much.
” Again, wonderful advice. I’ve seen this so often in my life, how the things that feel so hard and excruciating and painful can be used by God in surprising ways.

Kara's cabin. Epic.

Kara’s cabin. Epic.

Not to say that I welcomed, for instance, my close friend dying in a car crash when we were 19. But now I can see how all these years later, that core group of high-school friends has remained much closer than we probably would have had Sue not died. We go on trips together and those who live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota see each other regularly. Of course we’re not perfect and sometimes we have hurts to forgive and feelings to mend. But I would be a much poorer person without them in my life.

My parents just recounted how the day after their 50th wedding anniversary, they were called to comfort a grieving mother who had just lost her 20-year-old son to suicide. She said, “I wish I would have had parents like you growing up!” Their compassion has blossomed and multiplied over the years of challenges they faced (as I wrote in my blog). God redeems.


You are not fat!

One of my Facebook friends said this, and I totally agree. Ah, to have been able to love my body in my twenties and earlier, when I may not have been stick thin like some of my friends but wasn’t nearly the size I thought in my head. And to have that wonderful skin – now I would tell my 20-year-old self for sure to slather on the sunscreen and ban baby oil while tanning. Or better yet, stay out of the sun all together!

1984-85 Stephanie's Senior Year Frank B Kellogg HS_135

Yes, it’s Pac-Man, and yes, it was the 80s. See advice, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.”

The deeper issue is accepting how we’ve been made – our body shape, size, and features. I’m not sure if my positive reinforcement of my daughter’s beautiful body can speak over the din of society and her peers as she grows up (she’s six), but I’m going to try. We are beautifully and wonderfully made, something I think about when I read Melanie Reid’s moving Spinal Column, in which she tells about her life following breaking her neck and back when she fell from a horse. My thighs might be bigger than I would like, but they are strong and I can run and jump and walk. As Liz Curtis Higgs said when I heard her speak last week, we should wake up each morning and to the mirror say, “Ta-da!” For we are created in God’s image and are therefore gorgeous.


You can do it!

What else would I tell my younger self? A few random remarks:

  • Don’t take yourself so seriously.
  • Your worth is not allied to what you accomplish.
  • Write! You can do it!
  • Your sister will become one of your closest friends.
  • Would you please stop fretting over guys?
  • Lose the shoulder pads. It’s really not a good look for you.
  • Adventures await.

So what would you tell your 20-year-old self? Here’s a selection from my friends:

  • What are you so afraid of? Don’t be. What are you so proud of? Don’t be.
  • God wants you to rest, shrug off your mistakes, forgive yourself, and laugh a lot.
  • Don’t worry so much about the future or about what others think of you. Listen to God. The only thing certain is that things will not turn out how you expect!
  • You are not really busy until you have kids. So enjoy your adulthood pre-kids and do lots of late-night activities and fun travel.
  • Buy Apple stock.

And you? What would you add?

5 Responses

  1. Liz D'Aloia

    I am so sorry I didn’t get around to responding to the question – just seems I have 101 things to do at the moment.
    But reading the blog above has nailed all my thoughts of what I would say to my 20 year old self. Loved reading this during my lunch break and could relate to it all, brought a smile to my face whilst reading it.

  2. Chris

    I would tell my 20 year old self that there was no rush to get married – all 3 of my sisters married in their teens and all 3 married again before they were 30.
    Trust God, he knows what is best for you.

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