Life Lessons I Wish I'd Learned Earlier

As a kid, you want to get bigger. When you’re a teenager, you want to be an adult. By the time you’re an actual adult- you start realizing you basically wished away the easier years of your life. Well, if you had parents who did their job as parents so you didn’t have to grow up far too soon. I do realize there are people who didn’t have the best life, but for many, their younger years will end up being the time they’d like to go back to.

I remember all the adults making references to how things change when you “grow up.” I thought I understood what they meant, but I now realize that I understood nothing. I was “book smart,” but had no real life experience. Intelligence is great, but things are not always logical, reasonable, or calculated, so it’s only part of what is needed to navigate through life. It’s so random that you can never be fully prepared, but here are some things I seriously wish I’d understood when I was younger. Some of them didn’t even become clear to me until I was in my 30’s, so save yourself a bit of time and read on:

Be real AND realistic

I’m not saying don’t have dreams and all that. You need to have hopes, dreams, and fantasies, but, you also need to know the difference between what is reasonable (at the time,) and what isn’t. By realistic, I mean to look at situations, and people, for what they really are. Don’t be blinded by anything, in denial, or lie to yourself or others. You’ll only cause yourself more heartache and trouble in the long run.
Have realistic expectations for both society and the people close to you. You’re not perfect, so you can’t expect perfection from anyone else. You shouldn’t need to hide your quirks or fears from people who really care about you, and they shouldn’t need to hide anything from you. Those who care will accept and love the real you, flaws and all. Keep in mind, everyone goes through phases where they’re trying new things in order to know what they actually like, and find out what kind of person they are. That’s normal, healthy behavior. The key is to pay attention to that little voice inside your head that tells you if a certain thing is wrong, or that you really don’t enjoy whatever it is you’re doing. Don’t ignore it and just keep on going to make someone happy (or to upset them- yes it’s petty, but it happens.) Give the person or activity a fair chance, but if you know something isn’t right for you, move on. The purpose is to figure out what YOU are into, not someone else.

Learn some self-discipline (and self-defense)

This one is important in order to avoid those really bad times in life that can sometimes be avoided. It’s probably no secret to you that life is full of things that you can get obsessed with, addicted to, and consumed by. Full of them. The best way to prevent these things from causing you trouble is to learn early on to discipline yourself. There are many ways to do so, but these are just a few suggestions:

  • Take a self-defense or martial arts course. These teach you how to defend yourself while incorporating self-discipline and control in their teachings. Since the world can be a pretty crazy place, knowing how to defend yourself is a good idea for anyone, no matter your gender, race, age, or social status.
  • Start limiting yourself on things you really like. Say you love a certain food and usually eat it daily. Make yourself start going without sometimes. Start with little things first and work your way towards having good self-control.
  • Set goals to improve a skill. Make yourself put in the work and time it takes to reach your goal. This one works especially well for anyone who is competitive. It’s your responsibility to keep your own self in check. Don’t rely on others to do so– which leads to my next tip.

Accept Responsibility

Too often these days, people want to blame someone or something for their actions. Please just don’t. So many people have issues and setbacks in life. Everyone has made a horrible or stupid decision at one point. Some of those mistakes are more serious than others, but no matter the severity, you have to be willing to see where YOU went wrong. Accept your mistake, recognize where you can improve, and make whatever change is required. In most situations, more than one person is at fault. An important thing to remember is that you can’t control other people, or some outside influences, but blaming those things for your misfortune doesn’t help you in any way. What will help is figuring out what you can do differently the next time to avoid the problem.

Accept your mistakes, recognize where you can improve, and make whatever change is required

Take, as an example, the fairly common complaint from students that they have a hard time in class because the teacher doesn’t really teach. Should the teacher be doing their job? Absolutely, but can you really control that when it comes down to being realistic? Probably not. Complaints to the teacher, or administration, can result in things getting even worse, so the best thing to do is get a few people together who want to learn and form a study group. Use other resources to help each other learn the material and make it through the course. Try to avoid any more classes with that teacher/professor in the future. If you can’t- then create another study group and succeed, despite their lack of instruction. Should you have to do all that? No, but it will give way better results than just sitting around complaining and not learning anything.

This concept can be applied to pretty much all aspects of your life. If you find you have a flaw of some sort, accept and recognize when it may be affecting the situation. People often get angry when they should just be explaining what the problem is. Learn to accept your issues and be open about them (within reason,) instead of letting them eat you up inside, or cause problems in your life. Look at life like “What can I do,” rather than looking at what it, or other people, should be doing for you. It will always turn out better that way. I’m not trying to discourage you from getting all you can out of life- just don’t go into it believing life, or society, owes you.

Learn about the world, and the people that live in it

It takes all different types to make this crazy world work, and it works in many different ways. Be open to the different cultures, beliefs, and traditions. You don’t have to agree with their beliefs, or start following them, but knowing about them gives you a much better understanding of the person and their view of the world. Better understanding of a person means you can communicate better because you have an idea of what things mean to them. Knowing these things helps you understand the impact of major happenings around the world, like natural disasters or political unrest.

Getting out of your bubble of familiarity strengthens your mind. It’s just like how exposing a baby to normal germs strengthens their immune system.
Exposing your mind to different ways of thinking allows you to improve your ability to understand the world around you.

Make a plan, but learn to ADAPT

Learn to adapt

Figure out a goal (or a few small ones,) and make a plan to get there. Then make a few back up plans. Understand that things probably won’t go according to plan the first time….or the second, third, and even fourth. You should still have them, though. Really.

They give you a foundation from which to work on your life. Plans are great to have, but what will really matter is your ability to adapt when your best laid plans go wrong, because they will. Change is inevitable. If you’re only able to “hold it together” when everything is going right in your life, what happens when it starts to fall apart? If you don’t know how to adapt, you will fall apart. When doing your planning, think about all those “what if’s,” and imagine the worst case scenarios. Being prepared is better than being in denial about what could happen. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” has always been something I’ve tried to live by.

I try not to have a negative outlook on a daily basis, but I do take time to imagine what things could go wrong. It has served me well over the years, and is probably one of the most important pieces of information I can pass on. Your ability to adapt in a positive way to your environment, life’s curveballs, and society will play a huge role in whether you’ll have a life you are happy with, or not.

Figure out HEALTHY coping mechanisms

Keyword here is healthy. Life is full of things that make you angry, sad, happy, stressed, enraged, etc. Learn to deal with those things in healthy ways. There are plenty of things out there that will be easier to turn to, but have horrible consequences. Things like drugs, alcohol, and even bullying are ways people deal with stress, or bad things happening in their lives. Believe me when I say these things are not the way. They will only cause you an infinite amount of problems, eventually destroy your life, and hurt everyone that cares about you. Bullying will make you the person no one wants to be around. Find better ways to cope. Some suggestions:

  • Things like writing, reading, music, and my dog help me cope. Try something that helps you get your feelings out, or brings you comfort.
  • For athletic types, try working out, running, or some other type of physical activity. Even if you aren’t really that athletic, maybe it’s time to start exercising. It can be a great way to release pent up energy. Exercising releases chemicals in your body that make you feel good, so it’s great for when you’re feeling down.
  • Art, cooking, sculpting, crocheting, swimming, science projects, computer coding- there are so many healthy ways to cope with the bad parts of life. Utilize them instead of the destructive ones.
Using Distractions As Coping Mechanisms

I have an article that goes more in-depth about healthy coping mechanisms that you can read by clicking/tapping on the image next to this paragraph, if you need some more ideas. Bad coping techniques cloud your thinking. It’s kind of like in the winter when a house is drafty. Many people will cover their windows with a thick plastic material that makes everything blurry when you look through it. To really see the details clearly, you have to pull back the layer of plastic and look out.

When you’re stressed, or have a problem, clarity is needed to keep your thought process moving forward towards a solution. Healthy coping techniques help you achieve that clarity. Alcohol and drugs are like that plastic over the windows.

There are some people who have chemical imbalances that legitimately need medication in order for their thoughts to be able to process correctly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using that medication appropriately. I do, however, caution you to be conservative in your use of it, and only do so under the supervision of a doctor that you know also has a conservative approach to medication use. I say this because there has been a tendency to over prescribe in the past. Medicine is a useful tool when used properly, but can do more harm than good when abused or mistakenly given. If you need to use it, do your research and make sure you know what you’re taking, and how it affects you.

Don’t strive to be “popular,” or well-liked

Strive to be a decent person and to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. Even though it seems so extremely important when you’re young, please understand that it’s not about how many “friends” you have. It’s the quality of those friends that matters in the long run. You can have 1,000 people say they are your “friend,” but find yourself all alone the moment things get rough– and they WILL get rough.

” You can have 1,000 people say they are your “friend,” but find yourself all alone the moment things get rough– and they WILL get rough.

Fair weather friends are very easy to come by. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and popularity, thinking you’ll all be friends forever. Some of you may be lucky and have a group of friends that stay together, but the reality for many is that people change. Friendship is kind of easy whenever you’re all experiencing the same thing for at least 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. It gets much harder when everyone is off doing their own thing and your lives don’t have so many similarities. True friendships will be able to survive the changing that happens and the craziness of life.

A real friend accepts and understands you (or at least tries very hard,) supports your decisions (even if they may argue that you have better options,) and is real. They tell you when you’re messing up or being stupid. They won’t hate you for it, but they’ll let you know respectfully. They won’t agree with everything you say if they don’t feel that way, but they aren’t going to insist you change your way of thinking. They’ll be there to comfort you if you need it, and be on your side even while trying to get you to see the other side (if needed.) It’s not about who does stuff for you or buys you things. It’s not about who calls/texts who the most, or who “likes” all your posts. That stuff is easy. The real stuff isn’t always easy because life isn’t always easy.

Real friends help each other be better people.

Real friends help each other be better people. They can be totally opposite people, but their strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. As long as they understand how to respect each others differences, opposites can make some of the strongest friendships. Cherish the real friends you find and treat them right, because they are rare.

Be kind and compassionate, but NOT naive and gullible

This can be a bit tricky sometimes. Actually, it can be extremely tricky most of the time, but it’s an important thing to learn. What it really comes down to is this- if you are capable of helping someone without hurting yourself or someone else, you should absolutely do so, whether you get recognized or compensated for it, or not.

Every great once in awhile, you should help even if it does hurt you, or require sacrifices on your part. Some things really are that important and deserving. On the other hand, there are some people you’ll need to be wary of. It’s situational. Be open to recognizing BOTH of these situations. If you can tell that someone is clearly in need, don’t make them ask for help. Offer it. If whatever is needed is clear, you may even just go ahead and do it. Evaluate the situation and figure out what is best. It’s often humiliating enough for a person to be in a bad situation without adding having to ask for help on top of it. The possible rejection is just more stress.

Don’t sit by and watch someone struggle if there is something you can do. You can offer advice or motivation. Sometimes it’s a financial problem. If you have the means- help. Maybe they just need a ride to an appointment or interview. Whatever it is, evaluate your resources and DO SOMETHING. If everyone would live this way, and teach their children to, as well, it could only make things better.

Anticipate consequences

A consequence is “the result or effect of an action or condition.” Many people can recognize the immediate effects of their actions, but they sometimes have a hard time anticipating the long-term consequences. Since many actions you make have both immediate and long-term effects, that can be a bad thing. Some consequences are so minor, you don’t even realize they happen. Others can have a lasting impact on your life. Unfortunately, even decisions you make as a child and teenager can, and will, impact your life. Realizing this fact as early in life as possible helps you make better decisions.
In today’s internet driven world, everything you do can be posted on social media for everyone to see. Those things will follow you around the rest of your life. Think things through. Yeah, you’re okay with people knowing whatever about you now, but how will you feel when you have kids that can also see everything you’ve done? Many people will tell you that your teenage years and 20’s are for “living your life to the fullest,” and partying while you can. Yes, have fun. Live your life and enjoy things- but learn to BALANCE your fun with work. “Work hard, play hard,” “they” say. It’s true. If all you do is work, you’ll have regrets later, but if all you do is play, eventually reality will have to come crashing down. Balance is the key to living the best life you can.

Be financially intelligent

Consequence: the result or effect of an action or condition

Don’t worry about “keeping up appearances.” It used to be referred to as “Keeping up with the Jones’,” now it’s the Kardashians, I think, but either way, it is so unnecessary. At any given time, there are only a handful of people in your life who have a “right” to have any type of opinion on your life. People tend to feel like they need to have all the “right” stuff to impress someone. Unless someone directly affects your personal life or impacts your professional career, why care about what they think of you? Especially if they haven’t ever taken the time to know you at all.

In my world, the only people that really matter are my children, spouse, other immediate family, a couple of very, very close friends, my landlord, and my boss. Sometimes, if you know you’re doing what is right, no one else matters, but those times are very rare, and you should always be taking others’ feelings into account.

Live Your Life To Be A Good Person, Not To Look Good To Others

Live your life to be a good person, not to look good to other people. Don’t put yourself into major debt or waste all your savings just to keep up with the latest trends. Don’t run out and get the newest gadget when it’s released. Don’t be looking back in 20 years thinking “I could have travelled the world with all the money I wasted on new shoes.” If you have a fulfilling life, you’ll see that all that “stuff” and those appearances people kept up were pretty meaningless in the overall scheme of things. Your actions should reflect what you really think, feel, and believe. Instead of buying the latest model phone as soon as it comes out, keep with the next-to-latest model and take the money you would’ve spent and use it for something that adds to your stability. Put it towards a down-payment on a trip, car, or even a house. Apply that thinking to all aspects of your spending and you’ll have money saved for all the things you need to make a stable life, travel the world, or whatever it is that’s important to you.


This is probably one of the most important things to learn because it can affect everything you try to do. Bad communication creates misunderstandings and causes trouble. Learn to communicate with people. This doesn’t mean you have to be all chatty and talk 24/7. Not everyone is meant to be a bubbly, friendly person.

Communicating just means the successful conveying or sharing of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. That requires speaking AND listening when others do the same. You cannot expect people to know what you think or feel about something if you don’t tell them, but for some reason, this seems to happen often. Over-sharing isn’t necessary, but being open about your thoughts is if you want to avoid misunderstandings or build meaningful connections. When meeting new people, some people feel the need to censor themselves or act differently at first to impress someone. All this does is put them in the situation where they have to worry about that person finding out how they really are. Why go through all that instead of just being open about who you are and your likes and dislikes from the beginning?

Honesty is important for building a foundation for any friendship or relationship. Proper communication is a key element of a healthy relationship no matter how long it lasts. Listening to your significant other and expressing your own thoughts helps you each to know what the other needs. It also lets you better understand their actions and views. Communication doesn’t fix everything, but it’s definitely helpful to prevent the misunderstandings that can cause drama in your life.

FORGIVE and APOLOGIZE, but don’t forget

Everyone messes up. It’s very likely that you will hurt someone’s feelings and also get your own feelings hurt at some point in your life. Most people deal with it often. It seems to be human nature to think of yourself first. That kind of thinking can make you careless and inconsiderate to others. It happens. We all have bad days, some maybe bad years, but it is what it is. When it does happen, how you handle it matters whether you’re the one doing the wrong doing or you were the one hurt. If you know you’ve done wrong, swallow your pride and sincerely apologize. Learn that whatever you did is not okay. They may not be ready to hear your apology, depending on how big of a deal it was, but do it anyway. It at least shows you care enough to make the effort. Don’t just expect them to get over it either.

You can NOT control someone else's feelings, opinions, or actions.

Everyone is entitled to feel how they feel. If they aren’t ready, be humble and respect that. Be patient and understand it’s their choice to forgive you or not. You cannot control someone else’s feelings, opinions, or actions. Learn that now. You can only control your own and how you see the situation. If someone wrongs you, don’t hold a grudge. Grudges and feuds only cause much more harm without bringing any sort of satisfaction, or closure. If they apologize appropriately, or even if not, forgive them for yourself, so that you can move on with your life. Evaluate the relationship. Is it someone you can limit your interactions with or cut out of your life? These things will also be situational. An acquaintance who wrongs you can be avoided, but a spouse or someone close to you is different. You may need to discuss things with them and explain why it hurts you.

Ultimately, you cannot control them, so don’t let it consume you and make you treat people badly. It will only cause you more pain if you do. Learn whatever you can from the situation to keep you from repeating the mistakes that caused the problem. Forgiveness, and asking for it, are very important for maintaining meaningful relationships.

Understand, earn, and give respect

Respect: To show consideration for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of someone or something

One definition of respect is “to show consideration for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of someone or something.” It means so much more than just that definition, but in today’s society, it’s often forgotten.

  • Respect others’ rights. The same rights you want to have yourself, you have to remember other people are also entitled to.
  • Respect the differences in other people. As already discussed, everyone does not have to be the same.
  • Respect the people that love and care for you, like your family and friends. They’ve earned it by making sure you’re okay everyday.
  • Respect your elders because they deserve it. They’ve been through way more than you. No, it doesn’t entitle them to act selfish or foolish, but as long as they aren’t doing so, respect them.
  • Respect members of the military and law enforcement because they risk their lives for everyone in this country every single day.

Just about everything on this list are things I had to learn the hard way. I thought I had it all figured when I was a teenager because I was at the top of my class and an honor student. Teachers trusted me to do things for them, and I already had several college credits complete by the time I graduated high school. I was considered the “mature” one out of my friends. I had read all the books you are “supposed” to read, and thought of myself as more of an adult than a teenager. In many ways, I was, but, there was still soo much I “knew” but didn’t understand without even realizing it.

Even in my twenties, I was still thinking I had it all figured out. I didn’t. I still don’t- but I know a whole lot more now than I did then. This advice will hopefully help you to avoid all the really bad things I’ve experienced. School teaches you all the academics you need, but they forget the “life” side of it. Life can be a random, chaotic journey that is hard to navigate. Use this advice to help you stay on the path to whatever future you want and to do better than the ones who came before you. If everyone does this, it may just have a positive impact on society.

Pin this article:

life Lessons I Wish I'd Learned Earlier: Tips for Teens & Young Adults
Accept your mistakes, recognize where you can improve, and make whatever change is required
Live Your Life To Be A Good Person, Not To Look Good To Others
You can NOT control someone else's feelings, opinions, or actions.

Life Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Earlier

Life Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Earlier


I'm 40 years old, have two children-13 and 19, and I now write full time in hopes of helping someone out there get through life❤ Visit my website at for resources for chronic illness, addiction recovery, mental health, and several other topics, but mostly it comes down to: life. If you're struggling and want somewhere to go to find resources, articles, stories, etc., to help you feel not so alone and lost, visit my page!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Veronika

    Amazing! I agree on your point about Financial Intelligence, my generation seems to have misplaced this and are so concerned with impressions they lose all sight of what is important. Thank you for this insight Xx

    1. Candida Reece

      Thank you for your comment! I wrote this for my 16 year old originally, and it was sooooo much longer. I realized I pobably wouldn’t get any teenagers to read it that long, so I drastically shortened it. I will be releasing a page about Talking To Kids soon that will also have a more in-depth section for each age group. I have an 18 yr old and 12 yr old that are very different and it’s given me several ideas for what to include. There will be sections directed towards parents but also ones specifically for the kids with language and concepts appropriate for their age. Each section will have something about money, though, because I think people really forget to go over that with their kids in many families.

  2. Margaret

    Thank you so much for this post! I am well past 30, and wish I knew these things earlier in life. I especially love the section about Forgive and apologize but don’t forget.

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