You are currently viewing My Early-Mid 20s: Lessons & Reflections

My Early-Mid 20s: Lessons & Reflections

Raise your hand if, as a teenager, you thought that by the time you reach your 20s, you’ll be a huge success, living your dream with amazing cars, a mansion, a fabulous career, and maybe even married to the love of your life, with kids, whatever you hoped the future had in store for you. I’ll be honest, I daydreamed about my 20s a lot as a teenager, and adulthood in general. I was so looking forward to being independent, and the freedom that came with that, but what I didn’t know was that it came with so many responsibilities, and the constant, nagging feeling that I am not doing enough, is it just me?

This week I want to share with you some of the lessons I learnt; some, unfortunately, learnt the hard way. I also want to reflect on the dreams and aspirations I had for myself, see how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go to ensure that I live a wholesome, fulfilling life that I will look back at in my old age, and be proud. I was skeptical about sharing my lessons, mainly because I am not really interested in people’s opinions on how I should’ve done this or that differently in my life, and putting things out on the internet tends to give people the impression that they can form an opinion, and offer unsolicited advice, some of which comes from a good place, however, I am not shy when it comes to asking for help or advice, so I tend to cringe when I am offered advice, specifically on how to live, without asking for it. 

Then why put this out there, you may ask? Well, because I am hoping that my experiences will help someone avoid some of the mistakes I made. Also, this is Everything Refiloe, so… kinda self explanatory. But I digress, let’s get straight into the lessons, shall we?


Like most people, I joined the workforce a clueless & hopeful young woman. I was excited and nervous at the same time, I didn’t know what to expect. I soon realised that the work environment can make or break your career. I was fortunate enough to start in an environment that invested in my growth, but some of my peers weren’t so lucky. Of course it wasn’t always great, no workplace is, there were those people I dreaded being on projects with, but for the most part, it was good. Here’s the lessons I have learnt so far:

  • A good work environment is key. At the very least, I spend 40 hours a week at work, that’s a minimum of 8 hours a day for 5 of the 7 days in a week. If the environment you spend that much time in is not good, it will definitely affect your health, be it mental, emotional or physical.
  • Money is NOT everything. Look, I am not going to lie to you and say money isn’t important, because it is, but, it is NOT everything. I know so many people who left good paying jobs for either less paying jobs, or to even be jobless, because they were so miserable. The goal is to find a good balance between a great work environment and being fairly and justly compensated for the work you put in.
  • No one is responsible for you. Your colleagues & your managers may play a small role in your career, but ultimately, you have to put in the bulk of the work. It is your responsibility to ensure that your career is going how you envisioned it, and make changes and adjust as you go. You have to figure out whether you like the culture of the company you work for, does it match your values and ethics? Do you even enjoy what you do? If not, what are you going to do about it? If you do enjoy it, how do you ensure that you keep learning and remain agile and able to adapt and change with your industry? How do you ensure you get that promotion? No one will figure that out for you, it is solely your responsibility. Take ownership of your career.
  • Growth does NOT happen overnight. Try telling an overachiever like me this important fact 🤦‍♀️. What? You mean to tell me I can’t go from junior to manager within the first year of working? The horror! I often found myself agitated by the lack of immediate recognition. Promotions seemed delayed, compliments were fewer than I am used to, but I quickly realised that this isn’t high school or varsity (although, sometimes the drama can lead you to believe it is), your boss won’t grade you and let you advance after each semester. I realised I had to patiently pave my own path.

“The path to whatever your notion of success is will likely not be linear. Don’t take continuous personal growth for granted. Just because you’re older doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wiser. Your 20s will be full of failures — let them happen and learn as you go.”

Holden Desalles


Whew chile 😅 relationships are a whole other blog-post altogether, but I will try and summarise my lessons for you. Relationships can be very tricky, and I am not just referring to romantic relationships, I am talking about relationships in general. The reason I say this is because dealing with other humans is generally tricky because of our differences, but it can also be very fulfilling, with the right people. Here’s what I learnt:

  • It is absolutely okay to outgrow a relationship. Just because I am no longer your friend or romantic partner, doesn’t necessarily mean I am now your enemy. As we evolve and grow, it is possible that a friendship/romantic relationship you once had, no longer has a place in your life, and that’s fine, that doesn’t mean there’s bad blood or beef, it’s just the natural progression of life.
  • You are not always the victim. At some point in my life, I had to confront the fact that I am probably a villain in someone else’s story. In any type of relationship, successful or not, it’s important to introspect and ask yourself what YOU should do better or could have done better. We cannot control how the others act or react, but we are definitely responsible for our own actions and reactions.
  • You are not asking for too much. I spent a lot of years feeling like I had to lower my standards or that I was being impossible, just because people couldn’t live up to them. It took a lot of learning and unlearning, but I am finally at a place where I know my “non-negotiables”. There are things any relationship I am involved in has to possess and they are not up for negotiation, and I now know that if someone cannot respect that, then we cannot be in any kind of relationship. The thing is, I know what I bring to the party, so I am perfectly okay dancing alone than settling for less than what I deserve.
  • Communication is useless without comprehension. You can communicate all you want, but if comprehension has left the chat, then all that communication is a waste of time. I have seen this with my parents, my friends and ex-friends, colleagues, and romantic partners. It is important to understand what the other person is communicating to you and vice versa, that is the only way to have effective communication in any relationship.
  • Boundaries are key to fruitful relationships. Any relationship without boundaries will not survive. Friends, siblings, colleagues, parents, partner have to know and respect your boundaries. This is important especially with family because in your 20s, you are still trying to navigate adulting and your family probably still see you as that clueless teen. For me, it was very tricky because my parents wanted to still treat me like a child when it came to certain things, but when it came to other things (money), they remembered that I was now a contributing adult with a salary. I had to set boundaries on that because my thing is, keep the same energy; I’m either a child still, or an adult, you cannot have it both ways. It wasn’t easy, and it’s still not because parents will be parents, but now that I brought up the conversation, it’s getting better.

 “I think your 20s are the hardest part of life. I mean, everyone goes on about how hard it is to be a teenager, but actually I think it’s tougher to be in your 20s because you’re expected to be a grownup and expected to earn your own living and be successful and I think you feel like a kid still.”

Nigel Col


My relationship with money is a complicated one. Growing up, my family wasn’t well off, we didn’t have a lot of money for new clothes, electronics, and cars – stuff that some families had. Once I started working, I wanted to prove that I could afford the things I have always wanted. Other triggers included boredom & retail therapy, lying to myself like “I had a bad day, this pair of shoes will make me feel better”. Essentially, I’d use shopping as way to feel better. But then, as soon as I realised this behaviour, I started over-correcting, I became so strict that it was impossible to keep up, and it also created a very negative attitude towards money. I’d feel bad for spoiling myself every once in a while.

I am still trying to navigate emotional spending, but I am better now that I have confronted it. By recognising that behaviour and realising that I am only buying something just to make myself feel better, not because I need it, I have found a way to resist the urge, or distract myself by doing something else. It also helps to unsubscribe from the mailing lists of shops if you know you have no self-discipline. Let’s get into the lessons:

  • You will mess up, probably more than once. It could be something as small as opening a clothing account you don’t need, or something as big as defaulting on your credit card. The important thing to remember is to always learn from your mistakes, and it’s never too late to turn things around. In many cases, getting back on track is as simple and drawing up a budget and being disciplined enough to stick to it. (I said simple, not easy.)
  • Understand your emotional connection to money. If you really want to do away with poor spending habits, then you need to understand the reasons behind your spending attitude and triggers. Once you understand this, it becomes easier to form healthier spending habits.
  • Set clear and precise financial goals. Even if you decide today that you want to start being financially responsible, without a clear goal and plan in place, you are basically flying blind. Planning for your future makes budgeting and saving a whole lot easier. Just to give you an idea, some of my personal financial goals include having an emergency fund (this is very important, trust me.), home ownership, paying off my car loan, saving for retirement, etc.
  • Budget realistically. Setting unrealistic and overly restrictive limits isn’t going to be sustainable in the long run. It is really impossible to stick to an overly restrictive budget. Instead of limiting my spending, an unrealistic budget would result in the complete opposite; I’d end up going over in each every category of my spending and simply decide that since I have already blown my grocery budget, I might as well keep spending (I know, terrible mentality, don’t judge me). Here a basic guide to budgeting to get you start:
    • Take all your bills, receipts and financial statements from the past month divide them into 2 categories; fixed (rent/home loan, car loan, gym, etc.) and variable (groceries, eating out, clothes, etc.)
    • Create a simple spreadsheet, input your monthly gross income, and subtract your expenses. Pretty sure you can also find budget templates online.
    • Evaluate your expenses & make changes for the next month. Do you really have to buy takeaways 5 days a week? Did you really need those shoes, or did you buy them because they were on special? Uh huh, I am talking to you Mr D and Uber Eats addict, I am also shading you Superbalist & Takealot permanent resident.
    • Decide what to do with the surplus. Make sure each cent is allocated to something; emergency fund, short, medium, long term goals, retirement funds, etc.
    • Trial run & adjust. Try living your budget for one month, then revisit it and adjust accordingly. Be realistic and remember, the only person you’ll be sabotaging with dishonestly, is yourself.
  • Avoid unnecessary debt. While it is important to start building your credit as early as possible, it is also of equal importance to avoid unnecessary debt. Building a good credit is useful for things like getting a loan, buying a car, buying a house, etc. Ask yourself, do you really need a second credit card just because the bank is offering? Do you really need that dress so bad that you simply must get it on credit and incur interest? That dress you bought for R500, you are actually paying R605 when you include the interest. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it.


Certain things I learnt are about life in general. Some may bleed into the other categories I have outlined above, but it is what it is.

  • Parents are people too. Growing up, my parents were the law. Everything they said was the gospel and they could do no wrong in my eyes, but as I got older, and started to form my own opinions, I’d get so frustrated when my parents were wrong in their way of thinking, or did something that disappointed me. I had to learn that they are not the all-knowing oracles I made them out to be in my mind, they are human, and humans make mistakes.
  • You will have to parent your parents at some point. If you are fortunate enough to still have your parents in your 20s like I do, you might find yourself parenting them once in a while. Recently I find myself scolding my parents on bad financial decisions they made, or falling for quick money making scams (I am talking about MMM & Feeder).
  • It’s perfectly okay to say NO. 20s are filled with endless party or “hang” invitations, concerts, dinner parties, braais (before coco v, of course), and while that’s all fun and it’s great to have a social life, saying yes to everything can be emotionally, physically and financially draining. It’s okay if you say no to that lunch date to sit home and watch Netflix. Remember, having no plans is a plan. It’s also important to learn to say no to family. Sometimes we stretch ourselves so thin trying to please our families, honestly that’s also very detrimental. Your family needs to know that you won’t agree to everything they say or do. 
  • You are your own best advocate. No one will work as hard as you will for something you want. Personally or professionally, how you advocate for yourself and the impression you leave, can make or break the outcome. Tone is important, body language also plays a role, learning the difference between being direct and being rude/disrespectful. No one got you like you got you.
  • Not everyone is going to like you. Do you like every single person you have ever met? If you cannot confidently answer “yes” to that question, why do you expect everyone who has met you to like you? How other people perceive you is really none of your business, and remember, you cannot please everyone.
  • Admit when you are wrong & apologise. I hate to admit it but I used to be those girls who bought into the hype that I would rather die than apologise to a guy. We joke about it, but there are actually people out there who would do anything but admit they are wrong and apologise. You are not weak for admitting you are wrong, if anything, it’s a sign of strength to confront yourself and own up to your crap.
  • Fail early and fail often. When you are young, your greatest asset is time. Chances are, you don’t have the financial responsibilities that come with later adulthood like a home loan, children, school fees, etc. yet. This is the time when you have the least amount to lose, so take big, calculated risks. It’s these failures that will set you up for your success down the line. They are the best lessons of your life.
  • No one has it all figured out. There’s so much pressure to want to know exactly where your life is headed, what’s next for your life, to have a plan on how to get there. And I am not saying you should wing your life, but I am saying, it’s okay if you just finished varsity and you are not exactly sure what you want to do with your life. You will figure it out as you go, heck, even I am still figuring it out as I go.

At 27, I can talk to my parents and see that while they’ve done a lot of amazing things with their lives, there are still doubts and insecurities that they’re holding on to and trying to make sense of. Answers don’t come with age. Age provides perspective, but life wasn’t designed with a point at which it definitively gets easier.”

Jana Eleanor

That’s all from me folks. I am excited to see what new things I learn in the remaining 3 and half years of my 20s. Until next time.

xoxo, Refiloe 💕

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Wendy

    This was very fruitful for me. Thank you!! I look forward to the next one 🙂

    1. Refiloe

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading. ❤️

  2. Lindo

    Thanks for sharing these lessons learned and the good read!
    I can relate to some of them, and others I’m yet to.
    I cannot wait to see/read what the remaining years of your 20s has in store for you 😀

    1. Refiloe

      I’m happy you enjoyed it, hopefully you don’t experience the ones you haven’t and you learn from my mistakes. Thanks for reading. ❤️

  3. Phuthi

    That was really a great read,

    1. Refiloe

      Glad you enjoy it. Thank you for reading. ❤️

  4. Tutu

    Yooh ha.a 20s are the pits especially when it comes to romantic relationships.

    I’m carrying a child who the baby daddy’s side knows nothing about; reason being i found out hore moguy o nyetse the moment i told him I’m preggies, mind you this was after a couple of years into the relationship (N.B. This is a no judgement area right!?)
    So now I’m stuck with the thought that there are grandparents, aunts and uncles who MIGHT never know about this but at the same time feel like it is a blessing in disguise, who knows, maybe my child would never be accepted by the family. It is hectic out here and how i’m still standing surprises me 🤞🏼.

    😂😂😂 I envisioned a cinderella love story while i was still young 🤣🤣🤣

    Hopefully we’ll have a better and different story to share of our 30s.

    I love your writing ❤️

    1. Refiloe

      Absolutely a no judgement zone here sis. Congratulations on your pregnancy, I hope everything works out well for you. I am so happy you are still standing, remember, you can only control your actions and reactions, you don’t have to carry the burden of feeling guilty just because your partner was dishonest. I really hope life bring you something better than a Cinderella story, and YES, our 30s have to bring us something better, we’ve been through the most in our 20s,ngeke.

      I’m so glad you enjoy my writing. Thank you so much for reading. ❤️

  5. Zesuliwe

    This is such an informative yet interesting read. I love how you write about your personal experiences it makes easier for me to relate. I am going to be coming back alot to this post. Especially the work and finances part

    1. Refiloe

      I find it easier to write from my own experiences, that way I know exactly what I’m talking about. I am so happy you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading. 😘

Leave a Reply