‘You have space to make mistakes and learn from them’ – Realising no decision in your twenties is the be all or end all

It’s okay if ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out; there’s another 25 letters in the alphabet for a reason! Entering our twenties comes with a new wave of growing pains; having to make decision after decision after decision with potentially life-alerting repercussions. Do I accept this job? Is this the right path for me? What if that one thing I did two years ago comes back to haunt me? 

But in the grand scheme of things, those “what if?” aren’t as daunting as they first may seem. Encountering a detour doesn’t mean it’s game over, and someone who understands that better than most is Claire Bartlet. 

After leaving home at 19 and moving in with a friend, Claire hadn’t quite figured out her plan for adulthood just yet. “I didn’t go to university, but still lived that uni lifestyle,” she explains. “But I hadn’t had a very strong financial education before moving out, and that led to me to almost believe money wasn’t real.”

Claire worked three jobs simultaneously to support herself, but still couldn’t sustain her misinformed financial decisions. She would use store cards to spend without concern for price tags, saying: “It didn’t seem real to me that I would actually have to clear these debts. 

Claire winning an award for her business

“I’d go whenever I wanted and get whatever I wanted, without having the available funds.”

After an unexpected knock at the door at 24, Claire was forced to face the music. “The bailiffs were there,” she recalls. “They made a list of every possession I owned and said if I didn’t pay my debts, they were going to take it all. 

“It hit me in that moment – what the hell was I doing?”

Claire had accumulated £20,000 of debt and faced the unprecedented decision of changing her ways, or risk continuing down a road to self-destruction.

But, Claire didn’t let this one mistake she made in her early twenties set the course for her future. “I had to drastically change my lifestyle,” she admits. “It was hard, and there were quite a few low points, but if I hadn’t put myself through that, in what is actually a short period of my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

It took three years of grafting for Claire to clear her debts, but along the way, she found a paradoxical passion, founding her own bookkeeping and accountancy business.

“I took a temping position and discovered I had a good eye for numbers. So, although highly ironic, this was the path I ended up on.

“It’s rewarding that I can now help other people manage their finances.”

Now 39, Claire also advocates for better financial education for younger people, saying: “I go into local schools, talk to the students to help them understand the money side of life, so other people don’t get in the same situation that I did.”

Financial hurdles are a minefield many of us encounter in our twenties. For 22 year-old Hope Lovina, they also played a role in her unforeseen decision. Hope initially embarked on a degree in media studies at Middlesex University with the goal of a future in TV and broadcasting, but part way through, she realised uni was not what she envisioned.

“A lot of people go to uni thinking they’re going to have this amazing life,” says Hope. “But in reality, most people at uni are quite lonely.

“I was also broke. I was caring more about working to earn than my degree, just thinking ‘what am I going to eat tonight?’”

Spiralling mentally and failing to submit coursework, Hope was at a crossroads, admitting: “I was very scared to not be in university, because that meant being in the real world.”

Two years in, Hope decided to bite the bullet, drop out, and start searching for another path. After her leap of faith, through hardwork and determination, her career flourished outside of the lecture theatre.

Hope behind the mic at a radio presenting internship

“I had already dropped out of uni,” she says. “I wasn’t going to give up on my dream career as well.”

Hope turned her attention to social media, aiming to build an organic brand and gain recognition through content creation. After months of posting videos online and growing her audience, she was scouted by BBC 3’s Go Hard or Go Home, a reality TV show about pushing your limits. 

“It didn’t feel real. I was going to be on an actual TV show,” Hope says. “The show was about believing in yourself and knowing your self-worth, and I pushed a lot of boundaries I never thought I could.

“It made me realise I was a lot stronger than I thought, and I kept that mindset after the show.”

Since then, Hope’s career blossomed. She found management under Pence Talent, was invited to be part of the new online reality show Badders UK, and is also in talks to feature in the upcoming season of PLT’s Pink Courtroom

“This is the year I’m going to be able to earn my full income doing what I love,” Hope says, as she currently still has a part-time job on the side to support herself. “If my university self could see me now, she would literally cry. 

“This is only the beginning. I knew I would get here. The route was just very unexpected, but I am very happy.

“We are young. Remember, you have the space to make mistakes and learn from them.”

It can feel incredibly disheartening in the moment, but the truth is things rarely pan out exactly how we pictured they would. Someone else who can resonate with this is Millie Stephenson, who attended Durham university which, looking back, she realises she never truly wanted to do. 

“I’d always been a massive extrovert, but I just couldn’t get myself into uni.” Millie says. “I guess, because I was adulting for the first time and was always thinking about my then-boyfriend at home

“I ended up thinking about how much I hated my life and went into a massive downward spiral.”

However, Millie had the unique experience of Lockdown in her final year. After moving home and beginning to heal from the negative mindset she had fallen into, Millie graduated with a first and landed an impressive consulting job. But, she was not the same Millie she was pre-pandemic.

After finding a new sense of self, Millie ended her six-year relationship. “I just had this realisation that now I was so independent, I didn’t want to be in this relationship,” she admits. “He’s amazing, but I didn’t romantically love him anymore.

Similarly to Hope, although with no initial intentions of turning it into a career, Millie also turned to content creation throughout Lockdown, but as a release. You might recognise her better as @Wholesome.Mils on social media. 

She continued posting wholesome lifestyle videos after graduation, and fell in love with the work and opportunities the world of social media offered her, so much so that after three months in the corporate world, she quit her job.

“I asked myself why the hell was I in this dreary, awful job, when I was at the point where I could live out my passion?” she says “But it still took a lot of bravery.”

Millie practicing her yoga on a mountain top in Cape Town, South Africa

Millie is certainly reaping the rewards of her bravery. She has now amassed over 300,000 followers and earns a living, doing something she never anticipated, but something she loves.

“It’s been beautiful,” she said, about growing her online community. “It’s been up and down, because engagement comes and goes, but that’s just part of it.

“It’s a weird thing to navigate in your 20s, when you’re so prone to judgement. But remember, no one really cares!”

Now filled with hunger for new experiences rather than dread, Millie’s experience with change doesn’t end here, and probably won’t end anytime soon. 

After both her romantic and corporate breakups, she bought a one way ticket to South Africa and embarked on a yoga teacher training course, thrilled at the thought of no end date being in sight.

“I was reading this book called ‘The Universe has your Back’ (which any 20-something should read by the way) and ended up thinking ‘yeah – the universe does have my f*cking back,” she says “I’m going to go.”

“That’s what can be so beautiful about being in your early 20s. It was my most fearless and courageous age.”

A testament to her triumphs since her uni days, Durham University invited Millie back to deliver a guest lecture, something she never imagined would happen. “It was a real full circle moment,” she recalls. “I stood up there just thinking ‘Wow. I actually cannot believe I’m doing this’.

You might be sat there thinking ‘oh sh*t’, as Claire, Hope and Millie were for at at least one moment. They all ended up in places they never anticipated finding themselves, but their stories aren’t cautionary tales. They all ended up finding happiness and fulfilment. 

So, in the wholesome words of Wholesome Mills, “Give yourself more credit than you do, because it’s such a hard age to navigate and you’re normally doing so much better than you think.

“Everything eventually works itself out.”

If you are in need of any financial assistance, you can access resources at citizensadvice.org or you can check out what a financial advisor who spoke to Messy says, here. If you are struggling with your mental health, we urge you to speak to someone and reach out for help. You can access support at samaritans.org.

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