Ten life lessons I have learned in my 20s

Although I’m far from knowing all the answers to life’s biggest questions, despite my obsession with the American science documentary series Through the Wormhole (side note – it’s fantastic), I feel like my twenties have been such a learning curve.

I’ve lived in two countries, travelled, started my own business, transformed my body, purchased commercial and residential property in Auckland, dealt with heartbreak, met my future hubby, studied, renovated, overcame significant challenges, and it feels like I’ve become an entirely different person.

It often seems like life doesn’t change much and every day is the same as the last, however, when I look back at my life over the last decade it feels like I’ve travelled to a parallel universe.

So what are the life lessons I learned in my twenties?


A wise, green Jedi once said “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Luck doesn’t exist. It’s a combination of preparation, timing, opportunity and who you know. You can be great, or equally, you can be average. You choose.

My twenty-eight and a half years on this planet has shown me that we all have twenty-four hours in a day and how you spend it strongly correlates to your successes.

In fact, the first ten years of your career exponentially impacts on how much you’ll earn, so choose wisely and invest to add value to your portfolio.

There is no such thing as “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m not experienced enough” or “I don’t have time.” If it’s important to you, make it a priority. The only barrier to achieving greatness is you, so don’t stand in your way.

Also and very importantly don’t waste your energy on telling people how smart, ambitious or capable you are, show them. Fly under the radar and never let them see you coming.


Work-life balance is a fantasy. Stew Friedman says it beautifully in this piece for Harvard Business Review, “The idea that ‘work’ competes with ‘life’ ignores that ‘life’ is the intersection and interaction of four major domains: work, home, community, and the private self.

To make it easier to navigate, you can divide your world into four main quadrants—work, family, friends, and self—and try to find achievement and enjoyment in each quadrant. Over the duration of your life, things should balance out.

For me, achievement and enjoyment sometimes happen at the same time; sometimes they happen separately. It’s the movement that’s important — trying to balance all my daily efforts to avoid tipping.


Here is a fun fact. Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five. According to Psychologist Meg Jay, today’s twenty-somethings don’t take their twenties seriously enough. Imagine your life is represented by the act of building a house. In your imaginary home building project, your twenties represent finding a location and laying the foundation.

Although I agree with this concept, I don’t believe it’s as full on as it sounds. From my personal experience, I would say, your twenties are a good time to start thinking seriously about what you want. It’s a good idea for two reasons: one you probably have fewer obligations and two, the earlier you start thinking about what you want the more leverage you’ll have as you get older, especially career wise.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun or you won’t make any mistakes or that you won’t ever change your mind about anything. For me, I have taken it as an opportunity to invest in things that are going to add value to my life such as upskilling, forming meaningful relationships, investing in property and dabbling in my passion for starting businesses and diversifying my income streams.


One of the most valuable career lessons I have learned is the key to moving ahead is following through. Anyone who is assigned a project, has a creative passion or runs a business knows the struggle that is finishing what you’re working on. You know how easy it is to spend several long days followed by late nights on a project, and still not feel completely satisfied.

In the real world perfection is a luxury. Think about it. Today, change is the only constant. Perfecting everything you did, would achieve nothing because by the time you are finished, the market has changed and it’s too late.


What’s your measure of success? Is it a happy, well-lived life? Is it reaching the top of your profession? Is it a fix figure income? Is it a good partner, parent or sibling? Is it making the world a better place? Whatever it is, I’ve learned that winning means different things to different people and it’s not a race or a competition – it’s a mindset.

Winning for me is eating the elephant one bite at a time. Yes, I want to be a kick-ass executive one day, live a comfortable life, but I also want to nourish my relationships and be a good partner, daughter, friend, sister and more.

Winning is walking my dog in the morning. It’s going to the gym when my day is hectic. It’s answering all my emails. It’s adding value. It’s being engulfed in meaningful work. It’s spending quality time with my partner and family. It’s a glass of wine with a girlfriend and a yarn with my colleagues. My personal experience is if you take small steps in achieving your goals every day and balance your life, you are winning.


Because we live in such a small country, it is critically important not to burn bridges – no matter how tempted you might be! You aren’t going to like everyone, and everyone isn’t going to like you, but there’s no need to make enemies. Auckland is separated by only two degrees!

If you think of it from a marketing point of view, one unhappy customer generally tells ten people. The same can be applied to relationships. Your reputation is a valuable asset. Make sure you are protecting it.


Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

To survive the future, you need to constantly be curious, open to learn new things and give up familiar approaches that no longer work.

Lifelong learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with increasingly better opportunities and improve our quality of life. It boosts our confidence and self-esteem. It makes us less risk averse and more adaptable to change when it happens. It helps us achieve a more satisfying personal life. It challenges our ideas and beliefs. If you pick a subject relevant to you, it can be a lot of fun!


Research has over and over found a direct correlation between health, fitness and success. Exercise and healthy eating are an integral part of my own personal success. I honestly believe healthy habits pay off one hundred fold. It builds brain capacity, breaks bad habits whilst building self-esteem for a healthier you, inside and out.


In my early mid-twenties, I met someone I really liked. Spoiler alert – he did not share my feelings. Although painful and at a pivotal point in my life, I learned two valuable lessons.

The first lesson is that not everyone will like you, but you need to like you. At that time in my life, I felt that maybe I wasn’t pretty or fit enough and this guy was out of my league. Familiar? Well, social media is the measure for perfection nowadays. The truth is perfection is not real. Comparing yourself to others is destructive at any age. Be kind to yourself, move at your own pace and become the best version of you.

The second lesson I learned is that every relationship, personal or professional, is a two-way street. Know when to change direction. If the traffic is not going in your direction, then it’s time to pick a different road. No matter how much you liked that route and how long your new path may take, it’s your responsibility to put you first.


Have you ever heard a song that resonates with your life completely? “Stop This Train,” by John Mayer’s echo’s my feelings on life and I believe this to be true for many other late twenty to thirty somethings.

We’re starting to build new lives, leave old ones behind, lose people and become people. In the middle of that “train ride,” we feel like we’re moving too fast like we’re not ready for the challenges ahead. We want someone to stop the careening speed of this train ride that is life.

After speaking to many individuals, from family members to friends and colleagues who are much older and wiser than I, I conclude that there is no Adulthood 101 course you can take (otherwise IMNZ would offer it). However, the good news is that life has a funny way of working out and giving you what you need when you need it. The common thread of what’s important in life from all perspectives seems to be the people you love, the places you’ve seen and the memories you’ve made along the way.

To conclude “maybe life isn’t about avoiding the bruises, maybe it’s about collecting the scars, to prove we showed up for it.”

What lessons did you learn in your twenties?

written by Mela Hajderaj

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