Are you a 23 years old woman or turning 23? Here’s all the lessons I wish I knew before that oh-so awkward year of our 20’s. Enjoy!
Ah 23, your Jordan year.
The year when you’re just starting to have everything more or less ‘figured out’, where you’re too old to be grouped with the naivety of a fresh adult but too young to really feel like one yet.
I moved to London at 18 from the US, and within that time I’ve been in love, heartbroken, gone broke, traveled Europe, experienced grief, lost friendships, gained lifelong friends, gotten my degree, started a podcast, moved to Asia, launched a blog, moved back again, and oh, turned 23.
The time in your 20’s where let’s face it, you still don’t fully know what you want to do with your life (me included). But if you’re a 23 years old woman, like me, life has already taught you a couple of lessons. Looking back, here’s what I wish every 23 years old woman knew…before she turned 23.
1. Living abroad won’t get rid of your problems (even if you do it for 5 years )
I’ll admit when I first moved abroad I had this idea that moving abroad meant leaving my problems in the US.
Obviously, this was deliriously wrong. But there is this image of expat life or long term travel in the media that makes it seem like once you board that flight that all your problems and baggage are promptly left at your nearest gate (figurative baggage at least, otherwise… go get your luggage woman!).
But the truth is, no location or time abroad can exempt you from dealing with your issues, like any other adult.
2. But travel is the best investment you can give yourself
Obviously, I’m very biased here. But investing in travel has given me more insight and experience of the world than any education ever has — and I’ve been in school almost my whole life!
Learning about different cultures, getting through sticky situations abroad, solo traveling (especially as a black woman), and making it a priority to see the world was the best gift I could’ve ever give myself.
3. Learn to be independent
Growing up I never had a “group” of friends, and it made me pretty insecure.
I constantly wondered why I wasn’t the type to have big ‘girls nights’ and a ‘squad’ as we used to call it. But looking back as a 23 years old woman, especially as an expat, I can say with complete knowing I would’ve never moved abroad if I had a clique.
I would’ve cared too much (hello Enneagram 3), about where everyone in my group was going and what they were doing.
But instead, I had no group of people influencing my decisions to do, anything really. Which led to my move to London and make easily the best decision of my life. A decision that only came through being independent and embracing the thought of starting a new life abroad, even if it was alone.
4. Talk to yourself like you would a best friend
Because it’s so subconscious, many of us don’t even realize it. But boy are we mean to ourselves!
Self-talk is so important because how you talk to yourself directly impacts how you feel whether you realize it or not.
The crazy thing is we would never criticize, judge, or belittle our best friend the way we do ourselves — so, the solution? Talk to yourself like you would a best friend and watch your self-esteem transform.
5. Gratitude is everything
I always thought gratitude was only saved for Thanksgiving. But as a 23 years old woman I realize, it’s a daily practice.
After doing some research on the science of gratitude (because lockdowns quickly make Google your best friend), I realized what makes gratitude so important to our wellbeing is perspective. Gratitude is important because it’s very difficult (near impossible really) to be thankful and unhappy at the same time.
So, every morning I write down 3 things I’m grateful for, really specific things like “today I’m grateful for the talk I had with my mom” or even a good cup of coffee! I do love my coffee…
6. If you’ve been thinking about starting something for months…you should probably start it!
I don’t why, but I’ve always been an idea person.
Ideas for books, songs, tv shows, businesses, literally anything seems to come rushing to my brain at all hours of the day. Now, as a 23 years old woman, one would think this is a great thing, “you should be the next Mark Zuckerburg by now!” But the thing is, it doesn’t matter how many ideas you have….if you never act on them.
I had thought about starting Candace Abroad since 2016, but I didn’t start consistent blogging until 2020 (thanks to a pandemic no less). But when it came to the Abroad & Co. podcast, for some reason I told myself this wasn’t an idea I wasn’t allowed to sit on.
I had the idea in the summer of 2019 and released it that fall — thirty episodes in with thirty amazing guests and I can’t imagine what my life would look like if those relationships would’ve never been formed, the opportunities I would’ve missed and most importantly, the pit-in-your-stomach feeling I would’ve gotten everyday for not chasing my dreams.
A feeling bearable at 23 years old, but heartbreaking by the time you realize it’s too late. So if you’ve been thinking about starting something for months, start it now.
7. Fail as many times as possible, it just means you’re moving forward
Every 23 years old woman has failed at something.
From failed cupcake business to relationships, I’ve failed at more things in my lifetime than I can count, and I’m only 23!
But I’ve slowly come to realize all failure does is help you course-correct for the future.
In fact, there’s an acronym for it that goes “F-A-I-L = First-Attempt-In-Learning” and I think that’s pretty fitting. So fail often!
Full story in this IG caption for my biggest biggest failure!
8. And it’s okay to outgrow people
I always thought that “cutting off” people meant you were a snob and didn’t understand the concept of ending friendships simply because they didn’t “support your growth”.
But the older you get the more you realize not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever.
Because if you’re growing, starting to follow your passions, or trying to be the best version of yourself in any way, you’ll quickly realize it’s hard to relate to many of the people you know.
We all deserve to surround ourselves with people that bring out the best versions of ourselves, and if they don’t — remember it’s okay to outgrow people.
9. Figure out your own version of success
Especially in America, there’s a very cookie-cutter version of success we’re all raised with, and expected to follow in some way.
For many 23 years old women this heavily includes marrying (you know before you’re 30 and dried up according to societal female standards) and being the ideal version of a woman in every way possible.
But as cliché, as it sounds the only true route to happiness, is following your own bliss.
Taking the time to be still and think about what I wanted my life to look like outside of my parents, college, education, and even friends helped me get a clearer picture of what success means to me. And it’s on you to figure out your own version of success too.
10. There’s always something to learn from breakups
After my year long relationship in London ended, I told myself it was all a waste of time.
I regretted every minute I invested in getting to know someone who would ultimately become a stranger, what was the point? But there’s something about turning 23 that makes you look at relationships in a new light.
Because in truth, there’s always something to learn about breakups. So if you ever find yourself heartbroken over the course of your 20’s, remember love is always there to teach you something.
11. Action is more important than dreaming
I’ll be honest, this is one I don’t always wish was true.
Like any overthinking Capricorn, I’m constantly in my head, toying around with ‘what if’s’ and trying to rationalize every bit of life. But when it comes to your dreams there’s little you’ll get done without well, actually doing something!
Vision boards are great, but until you physically take action on something you say you’re going to do (writing it down helps) it’s all fiction — until you make it a reality.
12. Always check your privilege
There’s a weird intersectionality that comes with being a Black American, including living abroad and finally experiencing the privilege you don’t necessarily have back in the states.
Because if you’re a 23 years old woman from the US, you’ve won the geographic lottery, and coming from one of the richest and most developed countries puts you in a better position than over half the world, and without even trying.
Things like passport and American privilege didn’t really hit me until I started traveling, but I realize now it plays a huge part in all of our day to day lives and I always try to be mindful of all the privileges I have in life, even if they don’t seem like it at first.
13. Take everything as a lesson
Back to the whole “F-A-I-L” thing.
One of the best things you can do to navigate the rest of your 20’s as a 23 years old woman is to look at life through the lens of ‘lessons learned’.
Once seeing everything as a lesson becomes instinctive, your life will be forever changed.
Imagine never getting truly upset at something because you know it’s all a big lesson (to test your patience probably). Or never caring about missed opportunities because you already know something better is waiting out there for you?
I’ll admit, I’m not fully here yet. But at least trying to take everything as a lesson has changed my life (and how I react to things) dramatically.
14. You never know when your last interaction with someone will be — always make it the best one possible
Over the past 2 ½ years a I’ve lost a man I dated and my stepmother.
With both of them, our last interactions were positive, and that makes me happy. But I still wish I said I love you to them both at the end of our last conversations.
The truth is, you never know when your last interaction with someone will be. And if I’ve realized anything from these past couple of years it’s that life is truly short, and you never know when it’s your turn to go. So the least you can do is let people know you love them, as often as possible.
15. Grief takes time
I hope this isn’t relatable. But if you’ve lost someone too, realize that grief is a process, not a one fix solution.
Grief takes time and honestly, I’m not really sure it ever truly goes away. So embrace how you feel in the now, and remember, time won’t make you forget the person, but it does help you heal.
16. Choose experiences over materials…every time
Imagine you bought one new purse a month for the next five years. Now imagine you took that same money, but this time, you bought plane tickets. What do you think would make you happier looking back?
When I put it like this it seems simple, and many of us have heard “money doesn’t buy you happiness” enough times to semi-believe it.
But I still think most of us are still guilty of putting materials over experiences, at least from time to time. For the love of all memories, don’t be the woman to buy the purse — get the plane ticket!
17. Prioritize life off social media
Don’t get me wrong, I love social media.
It’s where I share my passions, connect with my audience, and of course, get new readers for my blog. But, do you know where all these splendid ideas for Instagram posts and blogs about 23 lessons I learned at 23 years old come from? Being off social media!
Walking, exercising, and having conversations are when I get most of my ideas, for literally anything. So put the phone down and experience the world, something every 23 years old woman could use a little more of in this day and age.
18. Learn as many digital skills as possible
Growing up a Gen-Z/Millennial — technology has always been a part of my life.
But when I started working in social media at 18, I realized knowing how to use these digital platforms was actually a monetizable skill (you mean you’ll pay me to take Instagram pictures? Say wha?!?!).
As a 23 years old with the titles “blogger”, “podcaster” and “social media influencer” under my belt (still feels odd to call myself that) I’ve realized digital skills can get you where a resume won’t. To date, I’ve used my blog and podcast as a highlight for every job I apply to, and it’s served me well.
Being 23 years old means you’ve got plenty of time to start learning some digital skills and make a pretty penny or two through being social media savvy.
19. Have a professional website for whatever you do
Back to the whole digital skills thing. In 2021 if you’re putting yourself online in any way, it needs to be professional.
Thanks to all the new tools and resources, the standard for websites has been raised to the max, and so for anything you do, you’ll need a professional website.
If it’s not a blog (i.e you don’t plan on doing anything with SEO) and just want a place to showcase your work, use Squarespace, otherwise it’s 1000% worth it to endure the learning curve and join WordPress (.org not .com) with a host like Siteground.
20. Focus on the now
One of my favorite books The Power of Now, explains it perfectly, “our reality is only in the now”.
But you don’t have to be Eckhart Tolle to realize all we truly have is the present day.
The future is unknown and the past already happened — so we can’t change it! But when you focus on the now, you’ll immediately find yourself less stressed about all the perils of 20’s life, and more able to enjoy what’s already in front of you.
21. Always make time for the people you care about
When you’re 23 years old, you don’t have that much time.
Between starting your first job, navigating grad school, or dealing with the general pressure of figuring out what the heck you’re going to do with your life — it’s a lot. But we should always have time for people we care about.
Studies prove that relationships are the only true key to wellbeing, but if you don’t know that, it can be all too easy to let other things take priority — especially things that aren’t truly important to you.
Whether it’s a quick phone call or even an “I’m thinking about you!” text, your friends and family will appreciate it more than you ever know.
22. Representation matters. If you don’t have it, be it
Growing up obsessed with London, I never saw someone that looked like me.
American travel films are known for their stories of young women (usually 23 years old) jetting off to European adventures, but if you notice, it’s never a black woman.
And as I got older, moved to London, and traveled around I still didn’t see myself in that narrative, even though I literally was that narrative.
Despite me moving abroad anyways, I realize now it’s really hard to be what you can’t see. And so if there’s any facet of life you don’t see yourself represented in — be the representation you wish you had!
23. Take it easy, we’re only 23
If you’re 23 years old it can be easy to get caught up in the mentality that you need to know your exact path, but rest assured you literally have a lifetime ahead of you.
Try a new hobby, make mistakes, work on your dreams and embrace all that being 23 will bring.
Well that’s all from 23 years old me. An age that in all honesty, I’m still trying to navigate, but hopefully these lessons can along the way (and coffee, lots of coffee). Until then…
P.S – If you liked this post be sure to let me know which lesson resonated with you the most on Instagram— I’d love to hear from you!