Do you have fond memories of your 20s, or are you currently in your 20s? It’s a crazy decade. You’re suddenly free, paying your own bills, going to college, traveling, making questionable decisions, and experimenting.
My 20s were defined by all-night dance parties, knee-deep-powder days, writing (and the fear of writing), a bunch of different jobs, and being broke all the time. As someone who moved out of the house before I was finished highschool, I think I started my 20s earlier than a lot of people, and I spent a lot of my 20s really trying to figure out who I was. I learned to fend for myself early on, and while it was a struggle, it made me stronger, albeit constantly worried about cash from so many years not knowing if I could afford groceries that week.
I often ask my fellow 30-year-olds what they wish they’d known or done when they were in their 20s. Everyone will, and should, follow their own journey, but here are some things I think will would have made my 20s a little easier.
Free yourself from the need for stuff. Seriously. You should be able to move easily, whether it’s for work or the need to see the world. Ideally, everything you own will fit in your car (or neatly stowed in your parent’s garage)
I remember the first time I made a big move, my dad had to help me with a truck and trailer. Why did I have so much stuff, and why couldn’t I just get rid of it all when I moved? After that big move, I slowly got rid of everything, except what fit in my little white pickup truck. I lived on a surprisingly comfortable blow-up bed for a while that could pack up into the size of a suitcase.
The more you accumulate, the harder it’s going to be for you. You’ll have decades to buy stuff later, and there are more than enough second-hand sofas and dressers to go around.
Build Good Money Habits
Oh, I wish I’d known more about money in my 20s. I had this crazy thought that I, a person who flitted from job to job, place to place, would be earning a lot more than I was. I always overestimated what my paycheques would be, and while I certainly never lived extravagantly, I never shied away from expensive cocktails.
One of my biggest regrets is blowing an inheritance fund I received on living expenses. If I had invested that money or used it to fund my business, things would look a lot different. This is also why I cringe when people tell me they want to go shopping or traveling once they’ve received their student loan.
I love what this member of the OUGU Facebook community said:
“I’d have to go back and tell myself that the student loan was not REAL money and it wasn’t mine. That one day I would have to pay it ALL Back. I know I spent it with a different mindset and ended up using it all up because I had it… not because I needed to. Now I’m paying for it.”
Don’t blow your paycheques on big nights out (I know it’s tempting, but a glass of house red will cost you way less than that double martini). Pay your savings account a bit from every cheque you get. And if you’re given money, seek advice from a financial advisor as soon as possible.
You don’t think about retirement when you’re in your 20s, but you really should. I know it’s a long ways away, but wouldn’t it be amazing if you didn’t have to work until you’re 65?
The first time I heard about compound interest was in Tony Robbins’ book, MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom. It was published in 2014, and I didn’t read it until early 2016, the year I turned 30! Compound interest is essentially free money you earn when you invest. I could have saved up thousands by now if I’d started doing this in my 20s, thousands that I’d be using to fund a more comfortable, or possibly early, retirement.
To learn how much you need to put aside for retirement, check out CNN Money’s retirement calculator.
Commit to Personal Development and Lifelong Learning
I think high school is such a bad experience for so many of us black sheep that our willingness to learn forever dies too early. As a teenager, I was always interested in personal development and creative expression, but I had a hard time finding outlets for this that would support and challenge me. I had trouble concentrating in class, found it impossible to remember dates, numbers, and other seemingly useless facts, and I would actually skip school if I had to do a presentation because I would get so nervous about presenting. Luckily, I discovered my outlet was writing. Whether journaling or writing a newspaper article, writing helps me sort through the jumble in my brain.
Surround yourself with people who challenge or get you to explore your thoughts and ideas. College is great for this. So are books. There are so many different ways to learn now that there’s no excuse for stopping. If you want to reach a state of self-actualization, or evolved being, treat life like a journey. The younger you instill this the better.
Allow People to Come in and Out of Your Life
Don’t worry about who your friends are or aren’t. You’re going to meet awesome and not-so-awesome people, and some will stick around and some will move on. Some will even come back later. While I admire groups of friends who do everything together forever, you need to make sure your needs are met. There have been a few periods in my life when I realized that the way I was living wasn’t making me happy, and the choice to change that meant I needed to distance myself from people in my life. It’s meant that I have friends from all over the place, from so many different backgrounds and lifestyles that I stay in touch with, but we’re not attached to one another. It’s very freeing.
When I started my business, I quickly realized I needed to adjust my lifestyle, and I needed to surround myself with people who were on the same path in order to stay motivated. If you’re finding that you want to break out and do something, whether it be changing your career, going back to university, or exploring a new belief system or lifestyle, don’t worry about the people who don’t get it, and seek out people who do.
Be Grateful and Work Hard
You’re not entitled to anything, no matter how shiny your degree is. There are thousands of other people out there with the same degree you have. What differentiates you is your work ethic, drive, and ability to learn quickly. When I read Sophia Amoruso’s GIRLBOSS, I thought she was writing about me! Like Amoruso, I had a lot of jobs in my teens and 20s, and I grew bored of most of them really quickly. However, I always worked hard and learned as much as I could at each job, and I learned more about myself at each place.
Without two years spent cooking in a bakery/cafe, I would never have learned how much I love cooking or how much I need to be doing my own thing in a structured and fairly solitary way.
Without my years spent working at fronts desks of various hotels, I would never have learned how important it is to make a great first impression, and also that I don’t thrive in super social situations where I’m stuck in one space for too long.
Without the many red marks I’ve received on my writing work over the years, I would have never learned how to structure a story, back up my claims, or comb through a brief for details.
You have to be grateful for the experiences you receive, because they are going to inform so much as you get older. You will probably try a bunch of different jobs, and you will probably get asked why you change jobs so often as you get older and your resume gets longer, but know that that’s totally okay as long as you’re getting something out of, and contributing something, to each situation.
Pursue Your Passion, But Don’t Worry if You Haven’t Figured That Out Yet
There is so much rhetoric out there about finding your passion, and yes, it’s great to pursue what you love and what you’re good at, but don’t get obsessed with finding that one thing you want to do with the rest of your life. Likely, it will find you. Your job is to be open to it. By that, I mean don’t get stuck thinking you have to follow this or that career path because it’s where you started out.
Be adventurous. Try lots of different things, whether you’re doing them as a volunteer, as an employee, or as a hobbyist. The more you try, the better the odds are that you’ll find a thing, or a combination of things, that you’ll never grow bored of. And, don’t give up. Sometimes people fall in love with work by becoming an expert at it, the famed 10,000 hours.
I discovered my passion in my early 20s, and I feel very grateful for that, but I did the work to find it. Here are a few suggestions to help you find yours:
- Look at what you loved doing as a kid, things you did without being asked to, things that you craved doing. For me, I savoured time spent buried in a book or writing. I even loved the feeling of typing, and did typing tests for fun as a kid. Whatever you’re nerdy about could be what you’d love to spend your life exploring.
- Don’t make potential earning the focus of finding your passion. We’re living in an age where creative possibilities are seemingly endless. If you can find a way to make what you love better, through technology or whatever, that could be your ticket. Focus on what you love doing first, money second.
- Read. I learned a lot about finding what you love to do by reading about how others figured it out. I borrowed books from the library, and read blogs and magazines. A good biography is a valuable mentor. If you really hate reading, dig into podcasts or Youtube videos that feature longer interviews.
One more note on finding your passion, and being okay if you haven’t found it yet: beware of the entrepreneurial frenzy. Over the past year, I’ve met a lot of people who want to become an entrepreneur because they heard they could work from home in their pyjamas and make $100,000 selling info. products. It’s not that simple, and entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And, expect to work 60 hours a week and be flat-broke for a while before you hit $100,000. It’s hard work. It’s very rewarding hard work, but do your research before giving your 9-5 the middle finger.
Learn to become self-sufficient
It’s possible to outsource nearly everything in your life, but outsourcing costs you money and robs you of essential skills. Like cooking. Learn to cook! It will save you money, impress potential partners (and your mom), and provide you with a creative outlet.
Learn how to look after yourself. Figure out how to do your taxes. Ask your banker to explain what an RRSP is and how to setup automatic savings and a budget. Use Youtube to learn basic repairs and DIY skills, like how to change your own bike tires or how to run regular maintenance on your laptop. Learn about nutrition and home remedies, so you’re not running to the walk-in clinic for antibiotics prescriptions every time you have the flu. I’ll admit that I still don’t know how to change a flat tire properly on my car, but it’s on my list of things to figure out.
Don’t Fear Failure
The 20s is your best time to fail, because you have less at stake. Getting fired from a job or launching a failed business can be great learning experiences, and you still have time to bounce back. As you get older, failure becomes much scarier.
I’m not saying go out in the world expecting to fail, but it’s a reality. You’re going to have failed relationships, you’re going to suck at some jobs, you’re going to try things you’re just not that good at. And that’s great, because along the way you’re going to learn a TON. You’ll be able to slowly tick of the list of “things I don’t want in my life”. That list is valuable, because it helps you filter future decisions. Get perfectionism out of your system.
Set Life Goals, But Be OK if They Change
I’ve asked a lot of people about setting life goals, and most people tend to have one of two opinions: either they believe you should allow everything in life to be spontaneous, because otherwise your life will be boring and rigid; or they believe you should set short-and long-term life goals to ensure you get what you want out of life.
I’m of the second school, and here’s why: setting goals gives you purpose. And it’s worked for me. You won’t know all the steps to reaching your goals, but you’ll have an ideal outcome that helps you filter decisions. The key is being patient with yourself and with time. There is still absolutely room for tons of spontaneity in your life, but when you need to make big decisions, like moving across the country for a job, you can ask yourself, will this help me achieve that goal? If it doesn’t, then you say no and you open yourself up for the right opportunity.
Setting life goals can include things like becoming financially free by a certain age, or starting your own business, or moving to another country. It can be settling down and starting a family. Whatever your goals are, start thinking about them and writing them down in your 20s. No matter what you choose, your life will still be a crazy journey with all kinds of unexpected turns and connections.
There you have it. For more things to do in your 20s, check out what others have recommended on Quora.