20 Things I Learned in My 20s
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The monk in this picture taught me most of the lessons you are about to read. This post is for him.
When I was 22, I sat down and wrote down a list of goals I wanted to accomplish by my 30th birthday. The goals were ambitious and I took this list very seriously. Today, I’ve accomplished about 1/3 of those goals. I’ve made significant progress on another 1/3. And I’ve basically done nothing about the last 1/3.
Seven years later, I realize that it’s only when we stop years or decades later and look back that we can notice all of the dramatic changes that have taken place. My 20s certainly were dramatic. And whether or not I was able to achieve everything I was dreaming of at that time is irrelevant now. What matters are the lessons I learned.
Here are 20 things I learned in my 20s:
1. Stop caring about what other people think.
There are going to be people who tell you you’re not good enough. Not smart enough. Not talented enough. Not beautiful enough. Let the pain they cause thicken your skin, but don’t carry them with you; they don’t deserve your attention. You have much more important things to focus on.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness has become a hot topic in psychology and management in recent years. Practicing mindfulness means practicing awareness in all your actions. Whether you’re washing dishes or tying your shoes, your mind is focused on whatever you’re doing. You are not thinking about the bills you have to pay, or the phone call you need to make when you get to the office. You don’t worry about the future or think about the past. You are simply living the moment.
3. Take risks.
Do things you’re afraid of.If you’re scared of heights, skydive. If you’re scared of failure, do something you weren’t prepared to do. Facing small fears will make you a bolder and braver person in all other aspects of your life, and the big, scary decisions (i.e. moving to another country, quitting your job, starting your own company, etc.) won’t seem so scary.
As someone who started in computer systems analysis, then went to public relations, and who is now in media, I can tell you that you never know where life will lead you. So step out of your comfort zone and do the unimaginable!
4. Remove toxic people from your life.
One of the biggest lessons I learned in my 20s was to look around at the people I was hanging out with. Are they using their time and talent wisely? Have they decided what and who they want to be in life? Your circle of influence defines who you are and removing negative people will help you get ahead in your life.
5. Work hard.
No more snoozing the alarm, no more skipping class, and no more procrastination. Welcome to the real world. By the time you reach your early 20s, you’ll learn that you can’t just get by in the corporate world by resting on your laurels and putting the minimum effort in. In fact, there will always be someone else equally as qualified as you. So if you are slacking, someone else will take your job.
6. Be grateful.
I learned to make the most of my 20s by being honest with myself, honest with my family, honest with my employers, and honest in all my relations. This alone has created an unequivocal sense of freedom. Be grateful and kind to others and expect nothing in return. Because that is part of what being a good person means. Be thankful that you are lucky and blessed to be alive at all, and that despite the circumstances, injustices, obstacles, and fears, you have been blessed with the power to try to live a good, worthy life.
7. Find your passion.
The years you spend in your 20s are the most crucial to your development since this is the time you start to mold your future. The person you were in college does not have to be who you are now. You are independent and free and surrounded by new people, so take advantage of this and find what you’re truly passionate about!
8. Be your own person.
Your (late) 20s will teach you how to fall madly in love with yourself. You’ll relish in the fine art of taking yourself out for a movie on a Wednesday afternoon or for some pizza and shopping on a Friday evening. And you won’t be spending the time worrying that everyone around you is whispering about your solo status. In fact, this will cease to be hard, and you’ll start enjoying your own company and appreciating the strong, amazing person you have become.
You’ve probably heard that exercise can reduce stress, improve your mood, and increase your mental focus. Well, guess what? It’s true. Physical activity does help your body pump out more of those feel-good neurotransmitters, known as endorphins. Yet with today’s busy schedule, getting to the gym often gets pushed further down the to-do list. No matter how hectic your life gets, always make time for your favorite kind of exercise just like you would an important meeting for work. Schedule it into your day and stay committed.
10. Have a purpose.
Your 20s are typically when you have your first real job and chances are you probably will hate it. You picked a major in college that you thought would prepare you for the job you thought you wanted, but may come to the realization that this isn’t what you wanted. Your 20s are the best time to reflect on what you want to do. Reflecting will allow you to see the signs that the universe is giving you about your purpose. Once you find that purpose, jump at every opportunity to live for your purpose!
11. Your mom was right about everything.
No matter how impossible it may seem, your mom may actually known what she’s talking about. What might seem like nagging, naïveté or plain ridiculousness to your young ears probably contains nuggets of incredible wisdom that you just aren’t ready to recognize. Because how would your mother know what it feels like to have a broken heart, or understand that the person you like is actually a shmuck? The fact is, she knows exactly what’s good or bad for you. Luckily, part of growing up is coming to appreciate the advice your parents have to offer, and recognizing that, for the most part, getting older truly does mean getting wiser.
12. Your job is not everything.
In your 20s, it’s easy to rush through life to get as much as you can and as quickly as possible. We like to push ourselves to the limit, multitask, throw ourselves in the fire, and think we’re never going to get burnt-out. But we do. Now just learn to relax, and put that smartphone down. Think about what makes you happy. Slow down, smile, breathe, and take the time to see all the beauty around you!
13. Being single is OK.
So many people in their 20s are in a hurry to get to where they want to be: graduated, established, promoted, in love, engaged, married, pregnant. Your 20s are a time where it is OK to be single and make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Don’t be in a rush to be who you are going to be. Just enjoy being who you are.
14. Your happiness depends on you.
Nobody but you is responsible for your happiness. You are ultimately responsible for your own well-being and success. If there is something you see wrong in the world and you can do something about it, then do it!
15. You’ll fail a couple of times. But you’ll see better days.
The number one thing I learned about how to make the most of my 20s was to accept failure and welcome it as the stepping stone to success. Fortunately, I had many opportunities in my 20s to learn this lesson. My later successes in life, including my Master’s degree and career, would not have been possible without failing at first and learning from these early failures. You can pick yourself up even after the biggest failures and the most painful disappointments. You just have to believe in yourself.
Find a job that you’re excited to wake up and go to every morning. And if you can, save a little money! Having a little financial freedom will allow you more room to pursue your passions and hobbies more freely.
17. Be the change you want to see in the world.
Don’t be afraid to be radical in thought or action. This is your time to be in that state of mind. Speak up on issues that are getting to you. Throughout history, progress has been led by young people who pushed the boundaries of the acceptable.
18. Watch your eating habits.
By the time you’re 25, your metabolism will have slowed down significantly. The days of carefree living will be long gone. This is the time where most people experience a change with their metabolisms. Your 20s are thus the best time to eat less and to work out more. So get into a healthy diet now before you become complacent!
19. Learn to relax.
I think the best way to make the most of your 20s is to not waste time being anxious. I had so many experiences in my 20s, both good and bad. I was able to enjoy myself the most when I didn’t let nerves or emotions get in the way. Want to de-stress, feel more relaxed and have a clearer mind? Take up a meditation course. You will always feel better after a meditation class. Trust me on this one.
20. Let go.
“Not every battle is worth winning, and some are not even worth fighting for.”
When you are young, your greatest asset is not your talent, not your ideas, not your experience, but your time. Time grants you the opportunity to take big risks and make big mistakes. So make use of this time, and never – ever – let anything or anyone bring you down.