16 Women Share the Biggest Regrets From Their 20s

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In a lot of ways, my 20s were amazing. I graduated from college and grad school. I got my first real job, in a field I love. I met and married my husband. But in the midst of all that great stuff, I made some pretty major mistakes. When I think about my 20s, I can see all the good, but I also have to admit to some major regrets.

There was the job I didn't take (and still wonder about). There was the credit card debt that I racked up at a shockingly fast rate and had to spend the second half of my 20s paying off. There were the risks I didn't take because I wasn't yet confident in myself -- confidence didn't come for me until after I turned 30. 

When I was in my 20s, I often thought that everyone else had things all figured out. But after talking to 16 other women who are firmly in their 30s and 40s, I see it turns out that all of us made some mistakes when we were younger. Read on to find out the oh-so-relatable things we wish we had known or done differently when we were younger. 

  • Big Spender

    1

    "I lived WAY above my means in my 20s. I bought a brand-new car as my college graduation gift to myself, I ate out almost every night, I shopped way too much. By the time I was 25, I had over $35,000 in credit card debt. Getting that paid off took over five years and set me back on being able to get a house until I was 32. I wasted so much money on interest on that debt." -- June R., Saint Paul, Minnesota 

  • Not About Me

    2

    "What do I regret about my 20s? This is hard for me to answer because I feel every choice I made then led to who I am now. Still, I wish I'd been a better sister to my younger sister when she went through her brain aneurysm. Her near-death experience sent me through a life crisis of sorts and I wish I hadn't made it about me." -- Kate H., Grand Haven, Michigan

  • The Trail

    3

    "I had the chance to spend a summer hiking on the Appalachian Trail and I panicked and pulled out at the last second. I didn't really trust myself to do it, even though I was well trained and had loads of outdoor experience. 

    "Now I'd love to do it, but I have young kids, so it is out of reach again for another decade." -- Angela D., Lexington, Kentucky

  • Grad School Regret

    4

    "My regret? Choosing a more expensive way through graduate school than was necessary. At the time, I don't think I knew better, but after the fact, I realize I made some misinformed decisions. I am happy with my degree and my career now, but my loan debt is overwhelming." -- Lindsay P., Saint Paul, Minnesota

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  • All the Regret

    5

    "I regret buying a house that I couldn't afford at the peak of the bubble. I regret spending most of my 20s in grad school. I regret not putting more effort into physical fitness and not seeking help for anxiety. So, pretty much I regret all of my 20s." -- Leslie B., Altoona, Iowa

  • Vocal Regrets

    6

    "I stopped singing (in groups) in my late 20s after my daughter was born, and I haven't started up again except for being an occasional church cantor and very rare church choir appearance. I used to sing with the Bach Society and a few other choirs, and I am not in the vocal shape (and I can't sight read well) to join up again." -- Jennifer N., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Quit Too Soon

    7

    "When I was 24, I got a job teaching in South Korea. I got there and got crazy homesick. I was supposed to stay a year. I quit without notice and came home after four months. Now I really regret that. I should have stuck it out. It ended up costing me a lot of money to come home early and I'm ashamed of myself for basically ditching my students. I'm 42 now, and I still wish I had stayed the whole year." -- Darcie S., Toronto, Canada

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  • Want More

    8

    "My biggest regret is not doing MORE. More travel. More exploring (literally and figuratively). More nights out. More friends. Just ... more. I met my husband when I was 22, fresh into grad school, and we hid our relationship (he was a professor, I was a student) until we got married two and a half years later -- it was kind of a lonely existence. I think I missed out on a lot of typical 20-something adventures. And now, in my 30s with two kids, I wish I had simply done more." -- Name withheld by request

  • More Travel

    9

    "I regret not doing an around-the-world trip for a year. We have always traveled a lot and still do, but now we just have more expensive expectations and standards. When you are young, your comparison is to college living standards." -- Jaclyn D., Ashville, North Carolina

  • Body Love

    10

    "I wasted a lot of time in my 20s not loving my fit, slim body -- only stressing about it. Thirty-five pounds and eight years later, I can't believe I wasted any time worrying about being 'fat.' I had an awesome body. What was I thinking?" -- Beth N., Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • Career Choices

    11

    "I regret letting other people's opinions influence and guide my career choices. I have a career that pays well and that I generally enjoy, but I envy people who find careers they are truly passionate about. I wish that I would have done something more creative." -- Suzanne J., Tucson, Arizona

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  • Get Help

    12

    "I regret not getting help for my anxiety and eating disorder. My 20s were basically wasted as I was filled with self-hatred and loathing of my body. I wish I had gotten into therapy much earlier. I missed out on some really important years because I couldn't get out of my own head." -- Name withheld by request

  • Too Much Partying

    13

    "I regret not focusing on my studies at the time. I got an average GPA in college but need my master's to get a job ... Drinking and partying, I learned, doesn't get you where you want to go." -- Bobbie J., Tulsa, Oklahoma

  • Once in a Lifetime

    14

    "I regret not leading a monthlong sea kayaking trip along the north shore of Lake Superior right after graduating from college. I had set a goal to lead two two-week-long trips in Georgian Bay in Lake Huron, which I'd achieved the previous summer. Being eligible to lead the monthlong trip never entered my consciousness. Between some misinformation and being panicked at needing to support myself financially (that stuff does NOT pay well!), I messed up a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is truly my biggest regret of my life.

    "I appreciate the experiences I've had that have led me to who I am now, but I'm curious about the version of me that would have led that trip and where I would have ended up." -- Ellen F., St. Louis, Missouri

  • Walk Away

    15

    "I wish I had not stuck around in some of my crazy drama-filled relationships. I should have walked away and realized that relationships didn't need to be so hard. I cried a lot of tears over some very stupid, immature boys." -- Christina R., San Diego, California

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  • Almost a Groupie

    16

    "I was almost a groupie! I was working for a radio station and met one of the guys in a very popular boy band. We totally flirted and he invited me back to their tour bus. I was dating someone, so I said no. I was *thisclose* to saying yes, but I walked away. 

    "We broke up a few weeks later and I've always regretted not having that fling. I wish I had been a little more open to adventure." -- Name withheld by request

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