#ThisIs20 – 20 Incredible Women On What They Wish They'd Known At 20

2020 marks 20 years of the Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards. To reflect the occasion, we have devised a whole season of birthday touchpoints, each designed to consider what 20 years of female Irish achievement means, and what the next 20 years could hold.

Here, we asked a number of notable women to tell us what they wish they'd known at 20. 

Replacing self-flagellation with kindness appears top of most lists – that, and wearing SPF – while believing in yourself remains a strong second. Hindsight, after all, is 20/20.

1. Finn Ní Fhaolain

Marine scientist, entrepreneur, chef and Forbes 30 Under 30 Nominee 

"Stop bleaching your hair. Wear suncream, but suncream that is good for the sea. Start investing now and look up the words 'compound interest'. Only do your masters in a country where it's free. 

"Also, some wonderful advice my dad gave me when I was 20 is to keep the faith in the in-between times, which is probably pretty relevant right now."

Image cred: @saltwaterstories.me

2. Molly Parsons 

Podcaster, creative and sustainability advocate

"I’m only 23 so I’m sure I have a lot still to learn. If anything, I’d tell my 20-year-old self that it’s okay to not have it all figured out, you still won’t in three years time!

"There’s so much external pressure to be so successful so early on in life these days, but measure your success in your relationships, the fact that you have genuine passions, and how you have already gotten through so much and you’ll realise you are already a success story. Live in the present and try to love yourself."

3. Linda Coogan-Byrne

Music consultant and Gender & Diversity Equality activist

"When I was 20, I was gigging most nights, travelling all around Europe and Ireland, meeting the wildest and kindest people on the road and in music. If I knew how little human connection in terms of human touch and live music we’d be deprived of now in this period of history, I’d have hugged more people and partied harder, if that would have been possible."

Image cred: @lindacooganbyrne

4. Lynn Ruane 

Independent Senator for Trinity College, Dublin

"You would think questions like these were easy to answer, but I personally find them difficult. There was so much more I could have been or could have said or could not have said at age twenty, but where does one even start. At twenty, I was making decisions based on the skills and resources I had at that point and, I think, regardless of mistakes I made, I resourced myself as best as I could at the time.

"I think I would advise twenty-year-old me to forgive myself more. The lack of forgiveness I gave myself stopped me being a little lighter in life, and in turn, meant I wasn’t kind enough to those I love. I spent so long hating myself for things that were often out of my control, that inward hate turned outward and affected others. So, I wish twenty-year-old-me would know that I was doing the best I could and I could forgive myself."

Image cred: @senlynnruane

5. Melissa Weston 

Marketing Lead UK & IE for Zalando

"I would suggest the importance of buying sustainably and being more conscious of our investments, in fashion and in life. I wish I had known the value of investing when I was younger and that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world!"

Image cred: @melissa_weston_

6. Louise O'Neill

Author

"The day I turned twenty, I sent an email to everyone on my contact list in which I listed, in great detail, all the reasons why I felt ill-prepared for this new decade. The first thing I would say to my twenty-year-old self is, girl, sit down. No one cares about your existential crisis.  

"The second thing I would say to her is that the fact no one cares is actually a good thing. For all the time you spend worrying about what other people think of you, whether they like you or not, if they think you’re cool or pretty or interesting, they’re utterly oblivious because they're too busy worrying about their own shit. This isn’t a bad realisation, I promise you. It’s freeing. Because who cares if some random person you barely know likes you? The real question is this – do you like yourself? If the answer is no, life is going to be a lot more difficult for you than it needs to be. That’s your work now, my friend. To find ways to be comfortable in your own body.

"To accept your human frailties and flaws while still trying to be the best, kindest version of yourself you can be. Take a deep breath. You can do this. "

Image cred: Clare Keogh / Louise's latest book, After the Silence, is available now.

7. Aoife Rafter

Cystic Fibrosis Patient Ambassador and Cervical Cancer Advocate

"Your girlfriends are more important than you ever realised, please try harder to have your own separate life to your romantic relationships. Incorporate more girl time! Go for counselling. It's okay to let relationships go if you've outgrown them. 

"Stop trying so hard. Be you. Protect YOURSELF. You can't control what others do. Drink less alcohol. You are so healthy. You are so beautiful. You are much too hard on yourself. You're just as wonderful as your peers. You are not less."

Image cred: @aoife.p.r

8. Easkey Britton 

 Professional surfer and marine scientist

"As a woman who is a professional sports competitor, an academic scientist and extreme sports pioneer, I’ve often felt the demand, pressure and expectation to push extra hard in male-dominated worlds to be seen and heard.

"I wish I’d known at 20 that my power lies in trusting the wisdom of my body. That menstrual cycle awareness will help me understand my own inner ebb and flow, the high cost of always being ‘on’ in a society that rewards ‘being busy’, and the equally important need for stillness and reflection. Keep opening up spaces that enable us to better trust and explore the wisdom of our bodies, and move with the tides honouring our inner ebb and flow."

Image cred: @victoriamayharrison

9. Brianna Parkins

TV reporter with Ireland AM

"You deserve to be here. At the university. At your first job. At the press conference. It doesn’t matter that your accent is different or you’ve never been in a place like this before. Take up space. Be noticed. No one is going to tap you on the shoulder and tell you to leave. And if they do tell them to bugger off.

"Tell more people to F off. The man who catcalls you on the street, the boyfriend telling you to give up on your degree, the woman who tells you your dress is too short to be professional. Find a polite way to do this. Sometimes the good work you do will say it for you. 

"DO NOT WASTE YOUR TWENTIES ON MEN. They’ll be there in your 30s. Don’t buy cheap shoes. Wear the dress that you think is too short. Wear plunging necklines and sequins. Glitter. Ridiculous shoes. Your body is fantastic and capable. Older people might give you the old up/down look but it’s just because they wish they could get away with it. Build a network of female friends, the kind who put you back together again over wine at their kitchen table and will text you at the end of the night to make sure you got home safe."

Image cred: @briannaparkinsreports

10. Saoirse McHugh

Environmentalist, democratic socialist and former Green Party candidate

"I know this sounds so clichéd, but I wish I knew that if you’re not happy with your body, there’s no amount of gym work or dieting that will truly change that. It’s a mental shift that has to be made from seeing your body as some sort of enemy you have to do battle with to seeing it as your primary and most permanent relationship.

"It’s something I still struggle with, but I'm now able to remind myself that I’m on the same team as my body and it can do amazing things. Also, I wish I had known that being in a relationship or being single says nothing about a person. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you are more valuable or more accomplished.... it just means you are in a relationship."

Image cred: @fyeg

11. Amanda Byram

Presenter, author and personality

"At age 20, I wish I had knowledge about food, nutrition, exercise, my body and more importantly, how to speak kindly to myself.

"I spent decades self-sabotaging – trying to be the best at everything, to people please, to be thin, to fit in and be what I perceived as perfect – in order to live up to the expectations of what I thought society expected of me. I would tell my 20-year-old self that 'perfect' doesn't exist, and that food is a gift to my miraculous body, to not deprive myself of anything (especially entire food groups) and to speak kindly to myself and respect myself as I would a little child."

Image cred: @amandabyram

12. Áine O'Hara

Artist and theatre maker

"I wish I knew to trust my own body and that I know it better than anyone. I wish I knew how to say no. I wish I knew that when it feels like a doctor isn’t listening, you can and should change doctors. I wish I knew that I am really strong and I was then too. Also, you can be fat and beautiful, these are not mutually exclusive!"

Image cred: @miscaine

13. Tara Marzuki 

Influencer and creative

"At 20, I would have been in my first year at university. Aside from wishing I had a bit more appreciation for a classic wardrobe and not looking like my closet vomited on me every morning with clashing everything  (classic art school right of passage I suppose) I do wish I had more of an open mind when it came to my career path trajectory so that I could have had a bit more fun and been more at peace with my future not unfolding in the traditional way I had imagined further down the line.

"I think there's a huge pressure at such a young age to decide who you're going to be professionally for the rest of your life and I'd grown up always wanting to do the same thing since I was ten – design clothes. It took me trying all tiers within the industry (in a desperate attempt to find my place) and moving to New York to realise it didn't align at all with the adult I'd become anymore and I didn't hold personal value in the industry like I once did. Coming to terms with the fact that I didn't like what I spent fifteen years working towards was a hard pill to swallow and it took about two years and a LOT of anxiety to accept that my path was no longer linear. 

"Surrendering to that unknown freed me from all the anxiety I had around it and I wish I could have known what I know now – that we are simply here to experience and we can have as many of those experiences as we want. You can change your mind or your career as many times as you want, and I think the biggest shame is feeling like you can never explore those options because of pride or expectation. Now I don't see anything I've done as a waste or a wrong-turn, because all the experiences you have will help you to better understand yourself and get you a little closer to what you do find fulfilling. You're 20 – you've got a few more years of not feeling the crippling weight of being a fully-fledged adult, have fun with it!"

Image cred: @tarmarz

14. Loah 

Musician 

"I wish I'd known at 20 that spending time with loves ones, especially older loved ones, is one of the most special, profound and inspiring and uplifting things you can do. And not to waste that time together."

Image cred: @musicbyloah

15. Tara Stewart

DJ and sustainability advocate

"So, I wish I knew firstly how to save – I still don't know how to do that – but I really wish that I did, and maybe took some advice from other people on how to save. I wish I didn't take life so seriously, I feel like I've gotten a lot more chilled out the older I've gotten and I really wish I knew to love myself and love my body and embrace who I was at the time.

"It might sound a bit cliché saying that but only as I got older did I feel I could wear whatever I wanted. When I was 20 and moved away from home I actually lost a bit of confidence because I was totally out of my comfort zone. And, in my defence, I'd just been badly dumped. I wish I knew I was so much better than that guy I was dating – he'd made comments about my weight and I really wish I didn't let that get to me so much. 

"I also wish I knew I learned how to sew. I did actually join a sewing class at 21 but couldn't afford to get a machine. So, I wish I stuck with that."

Image cred: @tarastewartdj

16. Andrea Horan

Podcaster and owner of Tropical Popical

"I don't wish I knew anything more than I already knew at 20, to be honest. Not that I was incredibly wise or anything, just for me, the whole joy of life is making silly mistakes because of the things you didn't know, learning from them and moving on.

"Skipping out on that step takes away all the adventures and stories and character-building that comes from that and the formative relationships that these mistakes bring you to and help you develop. And I also think people would be less inclined to take risks and chances on more daring ideas as they gather more life experience and knowledge and awareness of what could go wrong.

"The joy of youth is not having to grapple with knowing something doesn't make the most sense but you love doing it anyway.  So maybe my advice to myself would have been to go wilder?"

Image cred: @andreadhoran

17. Li-Ann Small

Model and psychology graduate

"Eat the cake! I wish I’d known that life is too short to be worrying about your measurements and not enjoying every little thing that comes your way. If you’re offered cake (and anything else delicious) eat it!

"I also wish I could tell myself not to spend all my money on shoes. You won’t wear half of them and you have taken the term “retail therapy” one step too far – put down the card and save! But also… don’t waste your life saving! If there’s something you want to do, just do it. You never know when something unexpected might happen… like a global pandemic hitting the world.

"Do the thing you’ve always wanted to do now while you can! Finally, try and gain some retrospect so that six years later when Irish Tatler ask you reminisce on your life you’ll have something better to say!"

18. Anna Caplice

Ireland International Rugby Player

"Something I wish I knew when I was 20 was how to have an open and honest conversation with someone and also to ask for feedback. Actually, it's a skill I still have to exercise at times, but I think it would have helped me understand myself and other people better when I was younger."

Image cred: @bananacaplice

19. Aoife Dooley

Author, illustrator and comedian

"I wish I’d known at 20 that being yourself is one of the most liberating things you can do. I tried so hard to blend in with others when I was younger, I was an expert in hiding my differences, but the only person I was hiding from was myself."

Image cred: @aoife_dooley

20. Jess Murphy

Award-winning chef

"One of the top few things is how to get a beach bod. Stop reading all the articles about how to get one and just take your bod to the beach. The avocado for breakfast phase will go on for another 20 years. Also, Spanx is not a legal requirement when wearing a dress – it's up to you entirely.

"Stop spending so much time on your Nokia playing Snake. And vanilla doesn't go on mashed potato – it doesn't matter how big 90's fusion is Jess, they don't go together." 

READ MORE: #ThisIs20 – 20 Books Everyone Should Read In Their Twenties

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