I consider the 20s a decade in your life where you first have some autonomy over who you turn into as an adult, where you start to go professionally, how your relationships develop or change over time. I recently turned 30 years old over a week ago and it’s the first birthday I’ve had where you could feel that it was different than others. Being 30 signifies you are now heading into middle age, full- steam ahead, and while you are still young, you now have added responsibilities and commitments that you must maintain as an adult. You’re no longer a young adult but a full adult in my view.
As someone who turned 20 over ten years ago now, I wish I was able to receive the list below to see what lies ahead of me and what I should be aware of heading into the first decade of adulthood. Being in your 20s has a lot of the advantages that one could ever hope for, but it also comes with several pitfalls that can be very difficult to avoid. I have compiled the list below of ‘twenty things I learned from my 20s’ not as a ‘how to’ guide but to give the advice that I feel has come out of my past decade of life experiences, both good and bad, and what I would share with people reading this right now who are looking to make the most of this important decade in one’s life.
Many of these points I share below are not just for your 20s below. They are pieces of advice that I would give to most people throughout adulthood, and which should form the backbone of who you are as both a mature and responsible individual. Using a popular baseball analogy, your 20s like your life in general are going to throw a lot of curveballs, some more difficult to hit than others, but my article should serve to help you put the bat on the ball as much as possible, so you have more home runs than strikeouts.
Do not feel obligated to follow these twenty lessons I laid out below but try to keep them each in mind as what I have learned myself on how to be a better person and how to make it through a decade full of new opportunities but also filled with potential mishaps that could derail you beyond your 20s. I wish you good luck in your 20s and I hope you will find this list below pertinent into navigating your own life from 20 to 30 and beyond as I have done recently.
- Be Grateful for What You Have
It’s easy to look at other people with envy and even jealousy especially in the age of social media and instant communication to see what they may have, and you don’t have. I find it’s best to try to cloud that out as much as possible to maintain not only your sanity but your overall happiness. Life isn’t a competition especially around material or financial success. If you have the basics taken care of with a roof over your head, food in your belly, and a few people who you can rely, you are richer than most in this world. Every day, you should be counting your blessings, whatever they are, because gratitude will make you feel better. People, especially in their 20s, like to compare themselves to others, but as you get older, you should be more content with what you have rather than what you don’t have by continually taking stock of what you are grateful for having in your life.
2. Find A Healthy Work / Life Balance
That drive to work, succeed, advance, get to a higher level of comfort is ever present in one’s 20s as you chart out your career goals. However, the seductive pull to work long hours and get that promotion should not come at the expense of time spent with family, friends or even just by yourself. I think a key part of one’s life, even in your 20s, is finding a good work-life balance, which is difficult when we are often tied to the hip to our cell phones, laptops to keep us plugged into our jobs even after hours. Having a job, you like and enjoy working at is a big goal for someone in their 20s, but it should not come at the expense of your health and wellness. For example, working 60-70 hours a week may bring in more money, but if it’s causing you severe stress, worsening your diet, and shortening time with loved ones, is it worth it to continue like that? By the end of your 20s, you should be able to understand what your own work-life balance looks like and what kind of jobs may be best in line for you to achieve this goal.
3. Having a Routine is Not a Liability
When I was a child, the concept of a routine was anathema to me. Why would I do the same thing day in and day out when I could play all day? However, starting in your teens before you reach adulthood and even more in your 20s, routines are not bad for you. It’s part of creating a schedule that doesn’t burn you out or leave you lopsided in doing too little or too much at once. In your 20s, you need to decide which day(s) you’ll go grocery shopping or which day(s) to go to the gym or to Yoga. It’s part of realizing you can’t do everything at once and you need to make time each day for activities or hobbies when you are not at work or working on higher education. In this decade, you realize time is truly a valuable commodity and it means creating a set time for taking care of your hygiene, doing the dishes, seeing friends or family, cooking meals on a regular basis. Instead of doing these things on a whim, the struggle in your 20s is creating a weekly routine that allows you to stay on top of things from exercising to eating well to being sociable. This item is probably one of the hardest to do consistently but establishing a set routine, at least during the week, doing things that are important to be a successful adult, you’ll have been the better for doing it.
4. Stay in Touch with Family and Friends
Aging parents, friends who move away, nieces and nephews you must meet; these are some of the people you should do your best to keep in touch with in your 20s. It does get hard as your new adult responsibilities will get in your way. Sometimes, you’ll have to take the initiative to call (don’t text) the people in your life you truly care about. It does not have to be every day but every week, call your parents (sometimes twice or more) and let them know how you’re doing. If your parents are not around, call an aunt, uncle, or even a cousin just to check-in.
Families can grow apart when not everybody is living in the same household. Don’t let your family life or your friendships atrophy for the sake of your career or business. Make sure to meet new people and be open to new friendships or relationships but always tend to the people you’ve known the longest who you enjoy spending time with who’ve known you since before your 20s. Life will move increasingly fast as you move through this decade so make sure you call and see family and friends as much as you can. You won’t regret it and it will really lift your spirits up when you most need it.
5. Continue to Learn and Read New Things
Learning does not cease when you get your Associates, Bachelors, or master’s degree. A great way to solidify your career or your work is to keep learning new things or to improve at skills that you have a basic understanding of. Instead of vegging out on social media or watching television, make that effort to learn a new skill or pick up a new language. Even if it is just an hour a week, it’s good to keep learning those skills and abilities that will propel you forward. Whether its coding, carpentry, painting, sculpting, or web development, find those books or courses that can exercise your brain power outside of work at least an hour per week. Doing something that you’re interested in that’s not related to work will also help your own identity and make you a bit more versatile in terms of your abilities. You could work as a marketer during the day and still be a writer at night. If you enjoy doing something, keep learning and reading about it.
Lastly, reading books does not have to end in college. You can still read books at night before bed, which is better than looking at a screen. Strive to read at least 10 books a year and read about subjects you really enjoy or are curious to learn more about. In addition to picking up a new skill, reading a new book is a great way to spark your synapses and get you to invest in something separate from your day job or business.
6. Always Be Kind and Polite to Others
If you’re reading this article, I really hope you still remember the Golden Rule that was likely first taught to you when you were five years old, and the teacher shunned you for putting glue in a classmate’s hair. If you don’t, here’s a quick refresher: “Treat others the way you like to be treated.” You’re in your 20s now and you should act like it. Some people never stop being that person putting glue in someone’s hair or making jokes when they shouldn’t. No one likes a bully especially when you are no longer a child or a teenager. Grow up and treat people kindly each day.
If you are rude to someone because you were having a bad day, apologize and say that you’ll try to do better. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘sorry’ to someone and you should always think about how your behavior impacts other people. You never know what someone is going through in life so as the saying goes, ‘be kind.’ Whether you are talking to a customer, a boss, a bus driver, or the person next to you, be kind and polite. I truly believe that what goes around, comes around, so if you are rude to others, don’t be surprised if your own life starts to go off the tracks. Karma is real and it will get you back so in your 20s and beyond, strive to be a kind person who cares about other people. Always.
7. Make Time for Exercise and Self-Care
Today, it can be too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle. You can go from your apartment or house to your car to a building and back home. You often will have to force yourself in your 20s to take care of yourself physically. It starts with making choices on how to spend your time. Exercising isn’t meant to be fun. It can be enjoyable especially with other people but make no mistake, it’s not easy to do especially consistently.
However, your life will be better off for having made the effort at least 2-3x a week or more to take care of your body’s needs. Exercise looks different to everybody but find some type of it that you enjoy and stay with it. If you need to mix it up, do so and incorporate different activities in each week. For example, on Monday, you could do a Yoga class. On Wednesday, you could go for a couple mile run, and on Friday and during the weekend, you go to lift weights or hike / walk around a park. I’m not an exercise expert but it’s good to combine aerobic and anaerobic exercise together if possible. The key thing with making time is you must set times during the week and even on the weekend strictly for exercising and make it into part of your routine.
Also, self-care is a big topic these days but find time to relax and just be present. Whether that is meditation, taking a nap, sitting out on your patio or porch. Spend time away from doing anything and just catch up on personal relaxation time. You should not be doing something 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so take the time to just be present, do nothing for a bit, and even watch a sunset or the stars lit up at night. I promise you won’t regret it.
8. The Earlier You Start Saving, The Better
One thing you can know for sure as you enter your 20s is you will likely not know what to hell ‘personal finance’ means and how it applies to you. Sadly, it is a subjected neglected by most high schools and even colleges nowadays. No one tells you what a ‘low interest rate’ indicates, how a ‘401k’ is vital for retirement, or what an ‘index fund’ means. It’s a societal issue and while there is more education out there, you often will have to seek it out for yourself. Getting out of debt as soon as possible is priority #1 but then your next priority should be to save money for your future even if it is 5-10 years down the line. Basically, don’t spend everything you earn and if you ask someone for advice, make sure they’re an expert or at least have their own savings fund to talk about. I won’t touch investing since that’s not my area of expertise, but I would say in your 20s, you should try to save money whether it’s for personal emergencies or needs that could come up or for long-term goals that will go beyond your 20s. If you can save money and earn interest, that’s even better, but make sure you can be consistent about saving and to know how much out of your budget can go towards savings each month or so.
9. Educate Yourself on Your Finances
My advice to you, reader, as someone who was a novice at anything ‘personal finances’ related for most of my 20s is to start saving money and the earlier, the better. If you can ask your parents, please do so, but also try to ask out someone who works in personal finance for a coffee or even send them an email. Do your own research, check your sources, but make sure to start thinking of your financial goals especially if you are taking either student loan debt or credit card debt or both.
There are several great online tools out there for people in their 20s and 30s to get started with financial goals. I would recommend reading at least one book about finances in your 20s whether it is about saving or investing or both. In this area of life, unfortunately, it’s for people in this decade of life to figure out on our own. No one is going to hold your hand when it comes to finances. At the end of the day, it’s your money and you need to decide what you want to do with it. I would just be sure to research a lot, act wisely, and make sure to manage your risk as best as possible. Again, I’m not a financial advisor but in your 20s, my main tip would be to educate yourself as best as possible and to be aware that it’s important to think about your financial future.
10. Avoid Dependency on Anything or Anyone
Dependency on someone or something is not a good way to go through your 20s. You should always be able to cut a dependency loose from your life especially if it is sidetracking you from making the most of your 3rd decade. Know also when to cut out something you can get addicted to like smoking, gambling, drinking, etc. If you are an addict, don’t feel ashamed about it but seek help if you can and try to wean yourself off that dependency. Any kind of addiction can really hamper your life and set your 20s in the wrong direction. Be sure to live a life of moderation in most areas and even abstain if you think that is best for your overall health and wellness. If others encourage you to lean into your dependency rather than to minimize or avoid it, you might need to cut them out of the picture as well. Be increasingly careful of whom or what you let into your life especially if you have an addictive personality or a lifestyle that encourages it. To make the most of your 20s, addiction or dependency can derail you and make you worse off.
11. Travel If You Can, As Much as You Can
Traveling to different countries and even around my country has done wonders for my own development as a person. You broaden your horizons in several ways including being able to challenge yourself to do what you once thought was unfeasible. You also become more self-confident and self-reliant especially if you travel alone. Your own personality will also develop as you learn a 2nd or a 3rd language during your time overseas and you should be able to start a conversation with another person without feeling a strong sense of anxiety. Better than any book on history or culture, traveling to the city, town, or country where it exists, and you can see it with your own eyes is worth the ticket price alone. Often, you will know much less about the world when you thought and will be humbled by its complexities.
You’ll also be aware of your biases, your own shortcomings, and your lack of perspective having grown up in one part of the world, which has a culture all its own. Being exposed to different peoples, cultures, and languages in your 20s, especially if you can do so for school or for work is worth it 100% of the time. If you can’t afford to travel a lot, try to find opportunities to volunteer or teach and it should be more financially possible. My last bit of advice here is to not let your 20s go by without traveling for some time. It’s the best decade of your life to get out there and do it.
12. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Some Risks
Simply put, you won’t be able to go through life or even your 20s without taking a risk of some sort. Risk is part of our nature whether it’s driving a car, operating machinery, or cleaning the roof of a house. We take risks every day whether we know it or not. The difference is that during your 20s, it is the best decade with less responsibilities than after 30 and beyond hits you. Especially if you are not married and don’t have children, you have more time to be a bit selfish and decide what you want to do with your life without it affecting others directly.
Some folks want to move to a new country, others want to try out different career options, and there are always those people who want to start a business and strike it out on their own. Whatever kind of drastic change you make, there is risk involved but even if you fail, I promise that you’ll feel better for having given it a shot, learning a lot in the process, rather than to not have tried at all. Whatever risk you do take though, make sure you have a backup plan and/or exit strategy in case things don’t work out. Risk management in your 20s is just as important if not more so.
13. Cut Out Toxic People from Your Life
If someone is negatively impacting you whether an acquaintance, a friend, or even a family member, maybe it’s best to cut ties with them especially if they rely upon you too much in an unhealthy manner. Toxic people will drag you down to their level and if they can’t be relied upon or won’t meet your half-way, then they are not worth the time or the effort. Like a negative addiction, being in an unhealthy relationship or friendship with someone else can cause a lot of harm and leave you wary of giving others a chance afterwards. If someone is adding to your own stress, anxiety, or causing you to be upset, then you need to cut them out. If they are a family member or a co-worker who you can’t avoid entirely, do your best to limit the amount of time you spend with them each day. As you get older, you are going to want to have more peace of mind and dealing with scammers, dunces, nincompoops, liars, and cheats is no way to go through your 20s and beyond.
14. Your Path in Life Can Change, That’s Not Bad
As the saying goes, “life is not a straight line.” You may quit your job, get fired from another one (through no fault of your own most likely), find a hobby or a side business that takes precedence, break up with someone, fall in love again, etc. Don’t try to set everything in your 20s like clockwork. Often, plans will fail or change so be adaptable and while some people may want to plant roots somewhere and some place right away, I recommend being open to new opportunities or a new lifestyle if your path doesn’t look right to you. There’s really no shame to changing one’s path during the 20’s especially when it comes to career or relationships. You are in that decade of life where you are still figuring out for yourself who you are, where you want to go, who you want to be, and with whom you want to be with. Take your time to examine your options, think your decisions through, and be flexible with where things go. If your path zig zags, don’t be upset about it. In my view, that’s part of life itself.
15. Learn How to Cook for Yourself and Others
Gone are the days of microwaved mac and cheese, hot pockets, and 3 AM McDonald’s runs, at least hopefully, that’s the case. Your 20s is the best decade for learning how to cook and more importantly, learning how to cook well. Start out with simple recipes, ask friends and family for help and advice, and make sure you use YouTube videos and other online resources to assist you. Cooking for yourself is crucial to being an adult and no one is going to hold your hand here really. While you may think it is more convenient to order food in or eat out at a restaurant, it is simply unsustainable, lazy, and expensive.
While there’s nothing wrong with ordering in once a week or eating out on a weekend, make sure you’re not relying on other people to cook your food all the time. That idea is a recipe for disaster and won’t serve you well in your 20s. During this decade, you should be able to cook at least 3-4 times a week and get good at grocery shopping. Your diet and your wallet will be thanking you for being more self-reliant. Also, once you can cook well for yourself, you can move on to the bigger challenge of cooking for your girlfriend or boyfriend and then make your way up to family members and good friends. Don’t let UberEats or the Local Italian restaurant be your full-time cooks. Do it yourself and reap the rewards.
16. Pick up New Hobbies and Interests
Nothing keeps you as fresh or as versatile as picking up a new hobby or interest. If you are not doing anything at night or on the weekends, why not take a few hours to do something new? I think it’s an excellent way to diversify your own identity outside of your job or business. It is also a great means of meeting new people who could become friends after a while. It breaks up your routine a bit or adds some fun to it. You will have to find what is most appealing to you but in your 20s, you should experiment with different hobbies, interests and keep the two or three interests that you find most interesting. It also doesn’t hurt to drop a hobby or an interest if it outlives its usefulness. You can get a lot out of switching hobbies for new ones to keep both your mind and body sharp.
17. Be Emotionally Self-Aware
Emotional intelligence has become quite the popular buzz word in the professional world in the past decade. It has become increasingly taught at colleges and universities and is widely thought of as one of the most important things to have in life to be successful. However, I think what this broad term boils down for someone in their 20s is to be aware of their own actions and feelings and how those affect other people. Knowing when you acted improperly or upset someone is key to having that emotional self-awareness and indicating some emotional intelligence. Being able to apologize sincerely, think about how you were wrong or could have handled a situation better, and being able to analyze your own feelings are all great traits to develop in your 20s. Not only will it make you a better person but you’re likely to gain respect from colleagues and supervisors alike when you are honest of your shortcomings and aware of when you were in the wrong. If you can look inwardly and think about it affects others outwardly, you will be considered emotionally self-aware.
18. Find The Right Kind of Higher Education for You
There is no one way to being considered a success. I think for a lot of people in their 20s and especially when I was going through them, the messaging to me and others was solely about a four-year college degree. However, the world is not static, and many good paying jobs don’t require a degree, or you can get by with a set of skills that you can develop outside of a university. The growing awareness of how trade skills are needed such as being a welder, an electrician, or a plumber or the current shortage of them is a great reason why trade schools or apprenticeship programs are great options in this decade.
If you can’t afford a private university or even a public university, look at community colleges in your area or state to figure out if that two-year or four-year program would be a good fit for you. You can always transfer to a good college or university as well if you have a good year or so at a community college first. I believe it’s more important to not rush into college if it’s not the right fit or if it is financially untenable. Make sure you exercise your options and be aware of what skills you want to learn about and use to find a career.
19. Sleep, Sleep and More Sleep
I need at least six to seven hours of sleep each day and while you don’t think getting a good amount of sleep is important in your 20s, your sleep amount or lack thereof in your 20s will affect you in your 30s and beyond. I never thought it was healthy to pull all-nights when I was in college, and I encourage those of you reading this who are in a higher education program to think wisely about working or studying without sleep. Sleep rejuvenates us, affects our mood, and even has positive or negative effects on the body. Don’t let your job or education affect the amount of sleep you get. Make sure to have a set time in mind when you should start to get ready for sleep and try to abide by it.
Be wary also of those people around you who disturb your sleep schedule or make you feel guilty for going to bed earlier than them. Try to prioritize getting as much sleep as possible and if you can get a nap in to make up for lost sleep, you should be doing so. Don’t let that term paper or final exam keep you from sleeping the normal number of hours that the average person needs to function. You are not a robot so don’t be up 24 hours trying to be one. Sleep is your friend especially as you get older and need more of it to have enough energy to make it through your busy day.
20. Don’t Forget to Take Your Vitamins
Lastly, not only is sleep a good friend of yours during your 20s but it’s also the time in your life where you should be consistent on taking vitamins. Remember when you were a kid, and your mom gave you chewable vitamins that looked like characters from the Flintstones? If you do, then you had a great mom like I did. Your parents were right though about vitamins and just because you’re not a kid anymore does not mean you should stop taking your vitamins. You should be supplementing your meals with the basic Vitamin B, C, and D and especially Vitamin D for those of us who are deficient in it. When it gets cold, dark, and the sun is absent, Vitamin D will be your best friend.
I also would recommend taking some Zinc, Fish Oil, and Magnesium as well and there are several positive effects from using those supplements I mentioned above. Now, these are just the vitamins and supplements I use on a daily or weekly basis. You should as always do your research, talk to your doctor, and see what vitamins or supplements would be good for your health. I just believe that vitamins have a lot of positives and can make you a healthier person overall, which is a key part of the foundation of your 20s and beyond.