Legit Things I Wish I Had Known Sooner

I was going through some old things recently and it struck me how little I knew back then. (I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when I’m 40 about what I “think” I know now at 30. Ha!) But now that I have some distance from being 20, going through the stuff really was eye-opening and kind of horrifying. Part of me was wondering how I even survived and made it here in one piece and the other part of me was kind of thinking, “Oh, younger Carly what you will learn soon…”

Carly Heitlinger

So here are some legitimate things I wish I done, learned, or known sooner. 


I have moved a good bit since leaving for college when I was 18. I’ve been fortunate to be pretty healthy, which I think let me avoid finding doctors and since nowhere felt like my permanent home, I never had the pressing need to find various doctors.

Even now that I know where I’m going to be for the long haul (or at least long-ish haul, who knows where life will take me), I’ve been taking the time to get everything doctor-related set up. It’s a process but an important one. I love having yearly appointments checked off my list (and next year’s already penciled in) and having doctors I can rely on if, heaven forbid, an emergency popped up where I needed to see some ASAP.

Now that I have these things lined up, I’m realizing that I was holding onto a little bit of tension. Nothing huge, but definitely a small pebble in my pocket so to speak, of worrying about skipping yearly check ups or wondering “what if” there was an emergency and what I’d do.


While this could seem like a generic piece of advice, I mean it!!! In Florida, I was really great about wearing sunscreen daily because it was a necessity being on the rowing team. I constantly slathered sunscreen on and still ended up as tan as I’d ever been. (And probably ever will be.) Without the Florida sun threatening me every day though, I slacked for years. On vacations, yes, I wore sunscreen, but not on a daily basis.

I think it goes without saying why this is important. The one thing I keep thinking about is that quote about how the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.


This is a huge one. I started my fitness journey in my mid/late twenties and I’m a different person because of it. For years I had carried this story that I was not athletic and that I hated to work out. I was so, so wrong. I actually LOVE to work out. My body and mind feel so much healthier and stronger.

I wish I had started this journey sooner. What I would tell myself is that it’s NOT about killing yourself at the gym or forcing yourself to run even though you hate running. There are so many ways to work out and it’s better to do something than to avoid doing anything. Try classes, meet with a trainer, experiment until you find what works for YOU.


So this is something I technically did a number of times, though I never “clicked” with one. Instead of feeling discouraged, I wish I had treated it more like dating and known that it was okay if it didn’t work out. I wish I had interviewed more and met with different ones. Thankfully, I’ve made some good decisions on my own, but there’s only so much knowledge I can possess. I’m no expert!!!

Now that I have a financial planner, I can’t help but think, how much better off would I be if I had met with one sooner. I think I was largely intimidated by the whole idea since I wasn’t an expert and didn’t fully understand how it works. Instead of realizing that maybe I should connect with an expert since I wasn’t one… I just avoided it and let failed meetings further dictate my fear.


I’m really glad I tried living in the city. It was a dream of mine throughout my senior year of college and I had this huge vision of how I thought it would go. (Not going to lie, I think I was HEAVILY influenced by watching Felicity…)  After a year of it, I knew it wasn’t going to be my forever home, but I continued to try to make it work because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do!!! I was supposed to be young and living it up in NYC! But it never felt like “me” and I shouldn’t have worried so much that I would be giving up something or missing out greatly by moving out.

The truth is that… you can make a life for yourself anywhere! The city is just one place where you can live a fulfilled life and career.


This was a realization that I had slowly over time. I don’t even think I was fully aware that I was doing it at the time. (Probably because I was suffering from a pretty intense social anxiety and was just trying to keep my head afloat.) Even though I thought I was trying to be myself, there was always an undercurrent I was battling to try to fit in… and then feeling out of place when, inevitably, I didn’t fit in.

The realization I had was around this one friend of mine from high school, let’s call him John. If John had been cast in a movie, he would have absolutely been typecasted as an outsider and/or nerd. But in reality, people LOVED John. He was kooky and zany but fully, wholeheartedly himself and fully, wholeheartedly accepted by everyone. No one cared that he wasn’t Hollywood-movie-“cool.” Did he make homecoming court? No idea! (And I can’t remember who even did…. but I do remember John!!!)

This was such an eye-opening realization. Being myself wouldn’t be to my detriment, like I assumed it would, if I had just fully felt comfortable being myself from the beginning. Beyond just being accepted… it is a RELIEF to not feel so worried about trying to fit in. A huge weight off of my shoulders for sure.


I say this, but I’m not sure I actually would have dated more even my 20 year old self had gotten a message from the future. I was doing my best. But still I look back and know I was so hung up on the concept of dating. I was either not putting myself out there or totally hung up on the wrong guys.

I was so nervous to try to date out of fear that it wouldn’t work out. My focus should have been on learning from it not from letting the fear of a “perfect” relationship preventing any from happening in the first place. I learned the MOST about myself and what I wanted/needed from a partner from every failed relationship. I think I could have learned more, and learned more faster, from seeing more people and putting myself out there.


Ugh. This is still a struggle for me though I’ve gotten significantly better at it. I think I have an idealized version of wants in my head, though they’re not really aligned with what I actually want. Sometimes it’s a trial and error to figure that out, but a lot of times I know who I am and I just ignore it thinking that this idealized version is better. And though it may be on paper, if it’s not actually what I want…. it’s a waste.

I should have definitely given myself permission to be okay to do things my way even if they aren’t what society deems “ideal” or trendy or what I think I’m supposed to do. (Which I guess this is in the same vein as moving out of the city sooner!)


And the biggest one. I saved this for the end because it’s the one that has led me to make the worst decisions that led to the most suffering. I have a very strong intuition. I hear it LOUD AND CLEAR. It’s so strong that sometimes I think I must be psychic or something. My intuition kicks in all the time and for whatever reason… I IGNORE IT.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known or felt something to be essentially true and then just…. completely done the opposite. And fully regretted it. Sometimes it’s okay because it’s inconsequential and other times it’s a big deal that really can’t be corrected easily. Despite my intuition’s track record (nearly 100%), I still think I was trying to be idealistic and optimistic. And I wouldn’t even consider myself an optimistic person!! But here I am hoping for the best instead of listening to my gut.

Again, I’ve gotten better at not just hearing my intuition, but following it. But man… when I look back, I just want to scream at my younger self, “DON’T IGNORE YOUR GUT!!!!!!”

(Or PLOT TWIST… maybe my current self HAS been yelling at my younger self all along and that’s what I’ve been hearing…. 😂)

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Becca Barnes

I lived in D.C. with my husband for a year when we got married and I totally hated it. I was thinking about it today and, I wanted to love it then and, 7ish years later I still want to have loved it because there were things I did love. I think there must be certain people made for it. I went for a run with my dog on the beach at sunset today and so much happier not being in the city! I can def. relate! I also recently thought about Georgetown cupcakes! Things like that make city life much better.


Loved this!! I’m around your age and you had me laughing (fitness is not about forcing yourself to run if you hate running!!) and grimacing in different parts. I would love to see deep-dive posts into a few of these — particularly more exploring the difference between what you want vs what you think you want. I think this is something so many people struggle with in their late 20s – suddenly realising we’ve been running down a path we were told we’d be great at at school/college without properly considering if it’s what we WANT. Thanks for the great post! X


I am a long-time reader but never-commenter, and I felt compelled to tell you THIS is why I’ve been a follower. I so appreciate your honesty and your ability to self-reflect, and it’s very on par with where I stand as a 28-year-old. Thanks for a thoughtful and insightful post to start my day.

Shannon Mahaney

Great post, Carly! I love what you said about living in the city. After college, I knew I wanted to work for an ad agency. I managed it for 4 years but was completely miserable. It took my husband getting a new job out of state for me to finally leave. I wish I would’ve gotten out sooner.


I kick myself when I don’t listen to my intuition. The tricky part I find is your intuition about other peoples relationships. Such a fine line to walk. Maybe when I get older I’ll find to just go with my intuition no matter what…not worth the internal dilemma it’s caused so far!


Hi Carly! I’m 21 and about to graduate college in May and I’d love to see a post about where you (and maybe people you know, since we’re sort of familiar with your career path, lol :)) were at graduation and where you were five or ten years out. Personally, my first year post-grad is looking a lot less exciting than I had imagined and I’d really like to hear about what I could look forward to… when a sense of financial security came, when you felt like you were satisfied with your career, etc. Love the post!


The one about listening to your intuition is so so so important. I’m going to be entering my twenties soon and think that this is something I seriously need to start doing. In the moment I think it’s the right thing to do, then later I’m like geez, I should’ve just listening to my gut in the first place!

Arthur Koulianos

I listened to a podcast (sam harris) about intuition and how real it is and isn’t. The intellectuals don’t consider it any better than guessing. Not so sure and I think most listeners of the podcast felt the same.