Coming from someone just shy of 30, I want to share the ultimate list of lessons I wish I knew approaching the age of 20.
Like many people in their 20s, I know you’re probably feeling uncertain, overwhelmed, and “behind in life”.
If a windy mountain road and an upside-down funhouse had a child, it would be the life of a “twenty-something” in today’s world.
I’ll be honest. While there’s no magic formula to living in your 20s, the following 7 life lessons will work a little magic on your mindset going forward.
I can say this: It’s entirely worth it to fall in love with this time of your life.
You’re only a “twenty-something” once. Here are the lessons to take with you to live these years to the fullest.
1. On rushing timelines
A huge fear in your twenties is that you don’t have enough time, or you’re “behind” in life.
I know this was a fear I felt for many years. I compared myself to people on social media that were knocking out goals left and right. I thought I was behind on finding the love of my life, figuring out a career path, and organizing the fiery chaos that felt like my life.
Looking back…I want to assure you: You’re right on track.
I will say this: It’s key to set goals that you can tackle in the next few months or the next few years. Ideally, you’ll want a timeline laid out that helps map out the path to achieving your dreams in the years ahead.
However, if you’re smashing your foot on the gas when it comes to your goals, ease up.
There’s no rush. While the saying “tomorrow isn’t promised” tends to nudge us forward, there’s a point where putting your foot on the brake can be just as helpful.
I don’t recall who first coined the phrase that’s lived in my head rent-free for the last few years, but here it is:
“An arrow only flies from a bow pulled back.”
You can’t go further without allowing yourself to pause, say no, or allow yourself some space to breathe and figure out what you want.
There’s time for all things. If you rush into completing goals and milestones, you burn yourself out.
Related: Which of the 5 Stages of Burnout Are You In?
Not only that, but you risk missing out on enjoying the journey of working toward your goals. You also miss out on noticing the key signs and lessons that might actually point you toward revising your plan or picking a different goal to achieve.
2. On approval
Up to this point, a lot of your existence has involved learning the rules of life. That might be at home, school, work, church, or within your local community.
You’ve learned what “sticking to the status quo” looks like, and how you might need to talk, dress, show up, and act to check the expected boxes.
You might have learned to follow a certain path to get heads nodding around you. In that process, you might feel confined and weighed down.
In my experience, seeking approval meant working toward a career and goals that were “smart and reasonable”, working harder than I needed to, bending over backward for others, and not being fully myself.
I learned a key lesson:
The people that I worked hardest to please, were often not the people that I wanted or needed to approve of me.
So, I want you to ask yourself: Who do you need approval from? Why? What would getting approval from a particular person mean for you?
Are people that you’re seeking approval from robbing you of expressing yourself and making the choices that best serve you?
In life, people are always going to judge you for any decision you make and any idea you have.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself, act on your ideas, and make decisions that are in alignment with who you want to become.
If you need help in defining your path and the person you want to become, the Project OTY platform is your trusted guide. Plus, you can sign up for free.
3. On strengths
I’ve seen several LinkedIn polls that ask the following question:
Should you focus on improving your weaknesses or your strengths?
My twenties have taught me that the best thing I could do for myself is to focus on improving my strengths. Doing this has helped me achieve some big goals in life.
In my early twenties, I was so worried about my shortcomings. I stressed over trying to inch forward in bettering myself in the areas I struggled with. What I encountered was a lot of personal stress and friction. I fell into the trap of comparing myself to people who were better than me – even though it didn’t make sense.
Your time is limited. Don’t spend it stressing over gaining an inch in improving your weaknesses, when you could gain a mile focusing on your strengths.
When you cultivate what you’re good at, your ability to grow and harness your competitive edge is exponential.
Developing your strengths is easier. It’s also more enjoyable from the perspective of doing something you’re naturally good at.
It’s easier to work on sharpening your skills every day – without it feeling like a task or job requirement.
Not sure what your strengths are? Our Project OTY home page includes an easy and unique exercise that helps you figure out your Unique Strengths using the help of those you know. Experience the exercise by clicking here and scrolling down to the bottom of the page!
4. On being healthy
Being healthy isn’t just for the aesthetic or a good TikTok video. It’s about incorporating habits that make you feel good and put your mind in a good place.
The healthy habits you practice now, like eating right, exercising, getting a therapist, and working on personal development… all link back to your mental health.
And…what you do for your health today, informs what a lifetime of habits looks like.
When I started working out more, I did it for the aesthetic (“I want to look good.”). Over time my thinking around exercising routinely evolved into “I want to feel stronger”. I eventually got to the point of “I want to feel connected to myself.” That led me to feel more focused, self-aware, and the most confident that I’ve ever felt in my life.
When I focused on my health and how it made me feel beyond a physical or emotional perspective, I was able to make progress and enjoy my habits and routines even more.
I found they “stuck” better.
So, what healthy habits do you practice?
On a deeper level, why do you do them? How do they make you feel on a physical, emotional, AND mental level?
5. On “the plot”
In my early 20s, I traveled to Thailand for a month to study abroad. I lived in a hotel, ate the best food of my life, studied Buddhism, and had the life-changing experience that only comes from a 50-year-old elephant staring into your soul.
Before the trip though, I was cramming for a ton of college classes as I tried to schedule 15+ college credits into every available semester, including summer. (I changed majors halfway through my college education, so I needed to catch up.)
Studying abroad felt like an impossible dream. I knew I always wanted to do it, but it felt too expensive and impractical, and I felt like I didn’t have the time to do it.
I knew deep down this was the right path for me. It was the adventure I felt called to make. I signed up, paid up, and flew out. I think back to those days with the biggest smile on my face. It was the best decision I could have made.
If my life were a book, that would be one of my favorite chapters.
I tell this story to encourage you to do more things “for the plot.” If you were to write a book about your life, what adventures would you fill the chapters with?
In the case of being faced with a key decision or ultimatum:
If you were to write a chapter about the experience of making one decision or another, which chapter would you rather write?
Which would you rather live and look back on?
This is the time of your life to say “yes” to new, exciting, and potentially scary opportunities. It’s the time to meet new people, try something for the first time, make a change, take a chance, and explore the world.
The world is waiting. It’s time for a good plot twist…
6. On your loved ones & friends
Your social circles will change. Undeniably, you will change as a person and surround yourself with people that reflect your evolution. That’s a very natural part of life.
This decade of life is about finding your people, spending time with friends, removing toxic friends from your life, and connecting with amazing people.
I speak to this point more in the article here about the eight lessons I learned about life after graduating college.
Related: Does Life Get Better After College?
Second, for those that you care about, dedicate time for them. Text them unexpectedly. Let them know you are grateful for them and you love them. Make time for them, even when life gets busy.
In the early part of my career, I remember feeling frustrated at seeing call notifications pop up from friends and family while I was trying to hustle and meet my work deadlines.
Didn’t they know I was busy?
I feel so bad thinking back to those moments when dedicating my time to the people I cared about, came in second place to work.
Your loved ones aren’t around forever. This is always an important reminder, especially in your 20s as you reinvent relationships with your family as an adult, your family members grow older and you form new relationships (platonic or romantic).
7. On happiness
I remember in the early part of my twenties telling myself…
“I’ll be happy when I land a job with a $100,000+ salary.”
“I’ll be happy once I move and get settled in a new and better place.”
“I’ll be happy once I graduate and get my diploma.”
“I’ll be happy once I’m in a solid relationship.”
I made happiness conditional on achieving my long-term goals in life. My happiness was tied to checking goal-focused boxes.
Subconsciously, I was writing off my ability to experience true happiness in the present moment and not recognizing good things when they came my way.
Don’t make happiness a far-off destination.
Make it an aspect of your daily life. Achieving your goals isn’t a means to being happy. Your journey to achieving your goals should involve experiencing happiness along the way.
Navigate Your 20s with Confidence
If the thought of navigating your 20s has you feeling overwhelmed, Project OTY is your guide. Our platform walks you through a step-by-step process to go from feeling confused or anxious to confidently achieving your dreams with a fully organized plan of action. You can sign up here to get access to four, interactive lessons for free.
No more wondering about your next steps or sacrificing what you want from life. Design the life you want to be living…and go make it happen.