Nobody’s ever said figuring life out is easy. And it can be more complicated when you’ve been socialized to behave or feel some type of way thanks to gender norms.
Recently, we asked millennial women of the BuzzFeed Community to share lessons they’ve learned that have helped them navigate the realities of womanhood and that they wish they’d known when they were younger.
And they sent us a lot of advice! While all of it may or may not apply to everyone, hopefully you find some key pieces that stick with you.
Here are some of the best gems they offered:
“Don’t over-pluck your eyebrows. They don’t always grow back the same. You also are not obligated to shave any parts of your body unless you feel like it.”
“You can wear shorts and tank tops, and if people see hair, they’ll get over it. You’re a person, not a doll.” —kngreyh
“Don’t waste your time on Life Plan Math. The whole ‘have a second kid at 35, have the first kid at 32, get married at 30, engaged at…’ It is all a big waste of time.”
“You do not have as much control over those things as you think you do, and your priorities may change anyway. You’re not failing at anything if you turn 30 without a ring on your finger.” —kngreyh
“Don’t beg for a guy. Don’t belittle yourself. If he wanted to be with you, you would know.”
“After a lifetime of hearing about the importance of safe sex, I fully expected the men I slept with to be serious about condoms. I had no idea that I would have to advocate and fight for something so basic.”
“I gave up the fight and got HPV my very first time. My advice would be to be prepared to have someone say no to condoms and be prepared to stand your ground, leave, and respect your body when someone else won’t. Wish I had.” —fisais218
“One thing I really wish I could tell myself is not to hold on to things and people that weren’t right for me. I fought so hard to hold on to terrible boyfriends and college majors that I hated. I wish I could’ve just understood that everything would be alright if I let those things go.”
“I’m so grateful for where I am in life right now. I’m so much more confident in myself and my choices than I ever hoped to be ten years ago.” —byrdknb
“Get rid of toxic friends. Don’t hold on to people just because you’ve known them since you were kids when you don’t really have anything in common with them anymore.”
“You don’t have to ‘stick it out’ when something is mentally or physically unbearable.”
“It’s okay to walk away when you need to.” —charlottehoogenboom
“People who speak positively about their friends when those friends aren’t around are the people you want to be friends with.”
“These are also the people you can trust with any information. These are the people who want to see you succeed. These are the people who won’t put unnecessary negativity into your life.
I have a great group — it doesn’t have to be a group, it can even just be you — of friends who are always rooting for me and I for them. It helps improve every aspect of my life.” —callitbreakfast
“Do not compare where you are in life to where your friends are in theirs. Life is not a race.”
“Learn to sit quietly with yourself.”
“Don’t date guys in their twenties (or older) no matter how nice they are when you’re a teen. You’ll realize when you get out of your teens that they were predatory even if they were ‘one of the nice guys.'”
“Men in their twenties and thirties who date teenagers are ALWAYS predatory even if they’re sweet.” —caralynzeltner
“Have an awareness of the patriarchy. I only started to grasp that when I was about 21. It is such an important part of the process — seeing how society sets you up for failure as a woman; how much smaller the window for error is in comparison to men.”
“ADHD is massively underdiagnosed in women.”
“If you’re great in a crisis but can’t write a paper until the night before it’s due, ask for an ADHD test from your doctor or therapist.” —emilyl26
“There are other narratives besides college, marriage, house, and kids. In fact, you get to write your own! There are options.”
“You can go to trade school instead of college. You can have more than one career. You can own your own home. You don’t have to get married. Your parents don’t always know what’s best. Kids do not make you whole. A partner does not make you whole.
Go to therapy (go to a lot of therapy). Your test scores do not define you. Get a dog — or don’t! Smoke weed — or don’t! Read a lot of books. Seek out other religions, cultures, experiences. So. Many. Options.” —mcook0610
“Always ask — for help, advice, a raise, whatever. The worst thing that can happen is to get a ‘no,’ and that is okay.”
“Don’t disregard your physical health. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I really internalized the concept that working out and eating healthy were the rewards, not the punishments.”
“It’s not about being a certain size or looking a certain way but about appreciating the impact physical health has on mental health and vice versa. I’m working hard now, but I know that my current journey towards health would have been a lot easier had I established solid healthy habits when I was younger.
So drink your water, get enough sleep, eat your veggies, and treat your body like the incredible thing that it is. :-)” —thunter
“Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s 100% okay. I spent a whole lotta time trying to be nice to a lot of people who definitely didn’t deserve it. I tried to be as friendly as possible in every situation — which also meant that people treated me like shit. Turns out, I don’t even like 10% of the people I meet. So who cares?”
“Learn to do stuff for you, not for others. Being a people pleaser, I just wanted them to be happy. I wasted so much time, trying to make my parents proud; doing what I thought they wanted me to do.
Live the life you want, not the one you might think they want. Take care of yourself, as best as you can. Ask for help, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.” —notdotcom
“Don’t date below your standards because you feel pressured by societal timelines (or any reason really). I got into my first relationship at 24 with a guy who I knew — from the beginning — I could only be with for two years max because we were not on the same path. But he was nice, and I felt behind everyone else when it came to relationships.”
“Real friends aren’t transactional, and they don’t forget you exist if you don’t constantly remind them. Branching out to new people is so scary, but it is so worth it to find friends who treat you how you deserve to be treated.”
“Some people are only your friends because you see them five days a week. I was always a diluted version of myself around my school friends. I wasn’t like them but didn’t want them to disown me because I didn’t have anyone else.” —hquinn31
“As a queer woman, be very careful around straight men who treat you like ‘one of the guys.'”
“Sooner or later, their true colors will bleed through, and you’ll learn that the way they talk about women in front of you is the way they talk about you when you’re not around.” —txl
“It is so important to have friends that will be there for you and listen to you. Being able to just listen without having to give input or a solution is so valuable in relationships.”
“A lot of societal norms are arbitrary and nonsensical, and too many are used to upholding unfair status quos. You are more than what men think about you.”
“Remember the ‘paradox of tolerance,’ people’s lives are worth more than a wounded ego or a theoretical ‘problem.’ You don’t have to be kind to bigots. If they’ve had the opportunity to educate themselves and still chosen a very odd hill to die on, that’s their issue, not yours.
I once had an argument with a man who said that ‘men were better than women because they were stronger,’ and I attempted to explain that physical strength didn’t make anyone ‘better.’ Honestly, I’d just walk away now. —songcat
“Stand up for yourself. I feel the journey was for me to stand up for myself was necessary to make me stronger, and I am grateful for the lessons.”
“I still wish I could have told a few people to fuck off a little sooner!” —somenortherner
“Unapologetically put your career first. I’ve seen so many women throw away great opportunities, move to new cities, and take jobs that they aren’t interested in for guys they’re dating.”
“There is sometimes a misogynistic undertone when you’re with some doctors. Often women are taught and told to expect to experience pain and to put up with it.”
“Don’t put up with it — don’t allow others to minimize your pain. You may have to fight for your treatment, but it’s important to try. You deserve to be heard.” —r40a70ca5e
“There is no expiration date for learning new things, changing careers, making a big move, or getting married. People will try and compare you to others, but it’s not your job to prove yourself to anyone but yourself. You just have to do the best that YOU are capable of for YOU.”
“Once you’re out of high school, start working on business skills and how to market them while you are young because you will be better off later on. Don’t worry about getting a degree until you are certain of what you want to do. Employers care more about previous experience and specific skills than they do about a diploma in the long run.” —panda_13
“Set yourself up for financial independence early. Take care of that student debt early, care about your credit score, and always pay yourself along with paying your bills. Find a mentor, read the books, listen to the podcasts! Being financially literate and confident is SO important, especially for women.”
“You shouldn’t use sex to just feel seen and cared for. Sex doesn’t necessarily mean they care.”
“Dating and romantic relationships are only as important as you make them. You don’t have to have a partner to validate you. Spend this time learning about yourself, creating your favorite version of yourself, and setting yourself up for independence and stability in the future.”
“You have the next forever to fall in love, over and over again if you want. But this time to spend with yourself as you are right now is short, and life happens before you even know what hit you.” —amandac4103107d2
“There’s no such thing as a healthy tan. NEVER use a tanning bed. Wear sunscreen. I got skin cancer at age 27 and wish I would’ve made better choices when I was younger.”
“Don’t choose a major or career field just for practical and financial reasons. If you don’t yet know what makes you happy or what you’re passionate about, take time to figure it out before jumping into anything. There’s no hurry. You’re YOUNG.”
“Say yes to adventures and things that scare you before you get tied down in life. Experiences enrich your life as much as education.” —allisons4f76e2141
“It’s okay to think differently than your parents.”
“It’s important to be strong and stand up for yourself, but you don’t always need to be blazing trails. Taking care of your mental health and leaving a toxic situation is okay, too.”
“You might date men, probably frat boys in college, who have incredibly large egos and need you to downplay your strength for them. Do not apologize for being smarter, hotter, or more successful.”
“It is a waste of your time, especially for someone who will never let you unapologetically shine.” —morganlucey3
“I would like to have properly known how my sexual organs worked. I was 23 when I learned how big the clitoris is and even older when I felt ok or even normal about discharge.”
“Like what the f*ck? That is ridiculous! I hope that stuff is more normalized for younger generations.” —olgan4800382c8
“When you’re speaking and someone tries to interrupt you, do NOT let them. Continue to speak while getting louder and stare them down.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you love doing for a living. If you love makeup, find a way to make a living doing makeup. If you love writing, if you love food, if you love being outside, if you love movies — you can find a way to make money doing it. Other passionate people will get it, and you will find like-minded people if you push past the haters.”
“People that have tried and failed love to tell others they can’t or aren’t qualified and will never make it. Ignore the naysayers and believe in yourself.
Your journey is not the same as theirs. If someone is doubting you, it more likely has something to do with their own self-doubt than it does with you. Keep looking ahead, the future is bright!” —tinkerbarbell
“Just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean they are good for you. This was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. Disney movies teach us that if you truly love someone, everything else will work out.”
“Although love is very important in a relationship, it isn’t the only thing that matters. You need respect, trust, communication, and understanding. Know that you are worth having a great relationship, never settle for anything less.” —jlynn636
“Find one person at your place of employment you admire and want to emulate.”
Did a few of these speak to you? Or do you have lessons you’ve learned and would like to help younger women avoid learning the hard way? Tell us in the comments below!
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.
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