Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but…
Your twenties are like a second puberty.
Don’t worry—there aren’t nearly as many embarrassing body changes this time around. But for many folks, the third decade is when you go through the big change from teen to young adult.
And take it from someone who’s a bit removed from their twenties: This decade will fly by.
Since I’m 36, most of my friends are in their 30s. And every single one of them will reminisce with me about our twenties…
How young and alive we felt…
How confused and anxious we felt…
How broke we were…
How lucky we were…
If that sounds like a bit of a rollercoaster, it’s because it was. My twenties were simultaneously some of the happiest years of my life and some of the most challenging.
But I made it out the other side and into my 30s (this decade is a whole different story, so we’ll save that for another article).
For now, I’ll lend you some advice from someone who’s been there, done that with the decade in question.
Here are 7 things I highly recommend you do to make the most of your twenties. This advice is raw and covers everything from your career to your relationships.
Throughout, I’ll share resources and guides to help you with the areas you want to focus on most.
1. Think about what you want to do in life (but don’t let it consume you)
Life is linear, like a path. And in your twenties, you get to make a lot of tough decisions about where that path will go. You’ll face many forks and twists in your journey—more than you likely did in childhood when you had family, teachers, and other adults to guide you.
This can be both exciting and intimidating, making many of the choices you make in this stage of your life feel momentous.
To be honest, many of them will be momentous—but that’s not a bad thing. Your twenties are the time for you to experiment. Try new things. Take a few (measured) risks.
You have a delicate balancing act to walk. You should be thinking about what you want to do in life without letting it overwhelm you and send you into a quarter-life crisis.
For some guidance on making big decisions and keeping your anxiety levels low as you do, check out these resources:
2. Focus on the little steps you take (and tie them back to the big picture)
As you begin thinking about what you want in life, you’ll soon start to conjure up some big-picture dreams for your future. These might look something like this:
I want to move abroad…
I want a career that gives me a comfortable wage…
I want to start a family of my own…
I want to become well-known for my skills…
It’s wise to have your heart and mind set on long-term goals. But in your twenties, you’re just starting out and building the path to take you where you want to go. As a result, these dreams can feel very far off and even completely unattainable.
And what’s more, as you grow through this decade of life, you may find that some of your dreams morph into something else or vanish altogether.
You can avoid feeling despair and frustration about how far-off or nebulous your goals feel in your twenties. And it all boils down to three words: progress, not perfection.
This little mantra will help you focus on the small but important moments of success that lead you toward your dreams, instead of despairing over how slowly things are taking you. These words can also keep you from giving up when the going gets tough.
And the going will get tough—no one gets out of their twenties without a few hiccups and unexpected events. The key is learning how to be easygoing and roll with the punches (without being a pushover), so you can brush yourself off and keep pushing.
Here’s some further reading to help with all that:
3. Work on loving yourself first (because it will take a long time)
If you asked me which of the items on this list I wish I’d started sooner, it would be this one. The words “love yourself” sound a bit cheesy, no matter how you say them. And when I was in my twenties, I certainly didn’t take them very seriously.
I figured I knew what I liked and didn’t like about myself, and that was that. But I wasn’t paying attention to the pervasive little voice that lived in my subconscious, the one that was undercutting so much of what I did with thoughts like…
“You’re not good enough…”
“Everyone else is doing better than you…”
“People think you’re weird…”
“You’re not good-looking enough…”
Eesh. Eventually, I learned that even if I wasn’t really focused on that voice, it was still holding me back. It was preventing me from really loving and accepting myself.
And that had significant knock-on effects. It landed me in bad relationships with people who didn’t value me. It held me back from getting raises and promotions that I deserved. It caused relationship anxiety that stopped me from forming deeper relationships with people that I loved or people I hadn’t met yet.
Learning how to listen to, accept, and soothe this inner voice took me a long time. In my twenties, a big part of my strategy with self-acceptance was “fake it till you make it” kind of stuff.
Eventually, I learned the power of self-care strategies that worked for me. I began practicing mindfulness to get through to that inner critic and convince him that he, too, was worthy of being loved first.
It’s still a work in progress. I often wonder how I’d be doing on this mission if I’d started earlier in my twenties rather than waiting until I was nearly through the decade.
Don’t make the same mistake. I recommend you start working on loving yourself, beginning with these resources:
4. Jump out of the nest (even if you don’t have to yet)
If your parents are anything like mine, then they’re probably feeling conflicted about you entering your twenties. Hopefully, they’re cheering for you and want to see you flourish—but they may also be anxious about losing their “baby,” so to speak.
The older adults in your life will want to help you get set up with your own life, and accepting their support can help ease the transition into adulthood.
But at some point, you’ll need to cut the cord, spread your wings, and leap out of the nest—even if your folks are still pushing their support on you. The sooner you find out what it’s like to live on your own and begin adulting all by yourself, the sooner you’ll develop the skills and confidence you’ll need to thrive without anyone else’s support.
Your twenties are also a good time to gather insights and advice from people who haven’t known you since you were a kid and who have different life experiences to share with you. You’ll need to learn how to make friends as an adult, for starters.
Finding the right mentor in your twenties can change the game, especially if you know how to be a good mentee in return.
If you think it’s high time you jumped out of your nest, here’s some recommended reading:
5. Carve your own path (and forget what others say)
I know I just told you to seek out mentors who can give you new perspectives on life, but remember that their opinions are just that—opinions.
It’s important to consider what others think and say, but even more important is learning to trust yourself and figuring out what you really want to achieve before you’re 30, external influences aside.
Maybe this means pursuing an alternative to college, learning new skills, charting a creative career path, or even becoming a digital nomad.
Carving your own path goes beyond choosing an ideal career. During your twenties, you have the chance to rebuild yourself into the person you want to be. This means shedding some of your old notions that may be left over from high school about what it means to be cool and exploring who you are as a person.
If that sounds like hard work, these resources will help:
6. Get cozy with your bank account (before it’s too late)
Unless you’re one of the very lucky ones, chances are you’re going to face some money troubles during your twenties.
You’ll work low-paying jobs. Your rent and bills will be shockingly high. And you’ll soon find out that having fun is expensive —dinners with friends, weekend trips, new clothes… all of it adds up.
When you’re not doing well financially, it can be very tempting to just not think about it. You avoid looking at your bank account, and the idea of saving for retirement seems like a far-off dream.
But this is the paradox: The less you think about your money, the bigger your money problems will become. Instead, if you can face your fears and start thinking proactively about your income (as small as it may be), you’ll reach a much healthier financial place earlier in this decade.
This means setting up a budget sooner rather than later and planning ahead for those “feast or famine” moments that may be in your future. It may also mean choosing a college major that aligns with your desired income or getting a job while you’re in college to make ends meet.
Ready to face down your financial fears and own your economic situation? Here are the tools you need:
7. Be ready for bad bosses (and learn how to manage them ASAP)
While we’re on the subject of money and careers, here’s a guarantee I can make you:
You’re going to come across some toxic people. And many of them will show up in your workplace—a space where you have little control over whom you interact with.
In some cases, you’ll have to grin and bear it or change jobs as soon as possible. But sometimes, it’s a matter of learning how to manage your managers and improve your working relationship.
Beyond this, your twenties are a good time to develop your negotiation skills and persuasion techniques—sharpen these abilities now, and you’ll be able to move up the career ladder much faster, even if you’re one of the youngest people at your job.
Here are the resources that can help you navigate the tricky waters of working in your twenties:
Final thoughts: Twenty going on thirty
Your twenties will be a mixed bag of excitement, strife, curiosity, frustration, and growth. There will be ups and downs, but by being proactive and frequently checking in with yourself, you’ll be way ahead of your peers.
Do your best to enjoy this decade; there’s lots of fun to be had, and before you know it, you’ll be thinking: “How do I make the most of my thirties?” Until then, I hope these resources help make your third decade on Earth enjoyable and successful.