We’ve been called pre-adults, emerging adults, millennials, the defining decade and the lost decade. We graduated during the worst economy in recent memory and pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps to recover what was lost. We’ve been told 80% of life’s most significant events take place by age 35, but listened to other 20-somethings daydream about “taking some time off,” presumably to spend more time gaming. We have an intuitive sense that the foundation we lay now will continue to carry us throughout life. We’ve seen lists on “20 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make” go viral and helped make it happen. One thing is clear: we’re searching for answers on how to make sense of this messy life we’re leading. I know, because this is my generation.
A few months ago, I spent an embarrassing number of days subsisting on ramen and canned beans. Working from a “home office” translated to “homebound,” because who has money for a $14 cocktail from the nearby dive bar? My cupboard resembled Old Mother Hubbard’s — read: bare — and going to a thrift shop transitioned from a hobby to a verb: “thrift-shopping.” I could feel the judgment vibes from everyone who wrote me “We believe in you!” cards for graduation.
The truth is, my 20-something experience isn’t so unusual. So, I turned to some established success stories and carefully curated their secrets. If you spend sleepless nights wondering whether you’re on the brink of the next big thing or teetering dangerously close to spending the rest of your life in your parents’ basement, read on. Here’s what those who have gone before (and lived to tell the tale) have to say about 20 tips to make the most of your 20s.
1. Don’t be afraid to jump at an opportunity. “In your 20s, you’re still early in your career and life, so you not only have less serious obligations (mortgage, family), but you also aren’t entrenched in your work networks and what you’ve built as your career story. That’s not to say to jump willy-nilly, but when an opportunity presents itself that seems really unique or interesting, go for it! As someone who started in accounting, then went to investing, and am now in media, you never know where your experiences will lead you.” – Kara Eschbach, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Verily Magazine
2. Don’t waste your time in a job you hate. “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 freely.” – Chelsea Brownridge, Co-Director and COO, Ignite Good
3. Stop complaining. “You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness and success. If there is something you see wrong in the world, you can do something about it!” – Maurya Couvares, Founder, ScriptEd
4. Pick up the phone and make a cold call. “Don’t buy into what others may prescribe for you; go after your passions. Don’t be afraid to make that cold call, speak up in a meeting, or try something that scares you every now and then. Ask for what you want and you will get there a lot sooner than you think! There are no limits to what you can accomplish.” – Danielle Deabler, NPR, creator of “Generation Listen”
5. Write down your non-negotiables. “Your 20s are a time to be selfish and to figure yourself out, what you like and more importantly what you are not willing to tolerate. Figuring out your non-negotiables is a must to happiness in the personal and professional areas of your life.” – Rhoda Tamakloe, Senior Program Coordinator, Kaplan Educational Foundation
7. Be revolutionary. “Don’t be afraid to be radical in thought or action. This is your time be in that state of mind. Throughout history, progress has been led by young folks who pushed the boundaries of the acceptable (just check out how old the Founding Fathers were). Promise, you can do that while still taking full advantage of Netflix unlimited instant streaming.” – Taylor Jo Isenberg, National Director, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network
8. Do that thing you’re afraid of. “If you’re scared of heights, skydive. If you’re scared of public speaking, join the Toastmasters Club. If you’re scared of failure, do something you know you aren’t good at, in front of people, if at all possible. Facing small fears will make you a bolder and braver person in all other aspects of your life and the big scary decisions – moving across the country, quitting your job, starting your own company – won’t seem so scary.” – Rachel Hurley, Independent Consultant
9. Be willing to embarrass yourself. “The possibility for greatness and embarrassment both exist in the same space. If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re not willing to be great. The biggest risk of our twenties would be never taking any risks at all.” – Paul Angone, author of 101 Secrets for your Twenties, founder of AllGroanUp.com
10. Accept failure. “The number one thing I learned about how to make the most of your 20s was to accept failure and welcome it as the stepping stone success. Fortunately, I had many opportunities in my 20s to learn this lesson. My later success would not have been possible without learning from these early failures. At the time I wouldn’t have minded fewer failures, but they’re not only part of life, they’re a valuable part of life.” – Arianna Huffington, author, Chair, President and Editor-in-Chief of Huffington Post
11. Stop talking and start listening. “Our default during this time can sometimes to be to assume we know most of the answers. Even if you do, the outlook, perspective, vantage point (right or wrong) of another will expand your horizon and context. Go into everything with a humble assumption that you can learn something from every single person in the room, then listen first and ask questions after.” – Azita Ardakani, Founder, LoveSocial
12. Look ahead. “Being behind isn’t about comparing yourself to other people. You’re behind in your 20s if you can’t get the life you want for yourself by your 30s or 40s. Dare to be intentional with your life, and to be real with yourself about what you think you may want in 10 years. If that’s too scary, ask this question: If I keep living my life exactly as I am now, do I like where I’ll be in five years? If not, then something needs to change because that’s where you’re on track to wind up.” – Meg Jay, clinical psychologist and author of The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now
13. Make time to stop and reflect. “Reflecting will allow you to see the signs that the world is giving you about your purpose. Once you find that purpose, jump at every opportunity to live for your purpose. And hold on tight because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” – Rey Faustino, CEO and Founder, One Degree
14. Don’t take yourself too seriously. “I think the best way to make the most of your 20s is to not waste time being anxious. I had so many new experiences in my 20s, both personally and professionally. I was able to enjoy myself the most when I didn’t let nerves get in the way. Most of the stuff I was worried about never happened anyway!” – Anya Wallach, Producer, The Random Farms Kids’ Theater
15. Discover your purpose and origin. “If you believe in a Creator, then know your Creator in order to discover your Created Purpose. If you don’t believe in a Creator, then believe there’s a legitimate reason why you were put on the planet. That gives you genuine purpose. And purpose is a fuel that’s non-toxic to yourself and others.” – Alice Rhee, two-time Emmy winning TV producer, Senior Producer, PostTV
16. Choose your friends wisely. “The biggest lesson I learned in my twenties was to look around at the people I was hanging out with. Are they using their time and talents wisely? Have they decided what and who they want to be in life? Your circle of influence defines who you are.” – Amy Palmer, multiple Emmy-nominated TV host, Founder & CEO of PowerwomenTV
17. Know that you’re more than your job. “In your 20s, it’s easy to rush through life to get as much as you can as quickly as possible. We like to push themselves to the limit, throw ourselves in the fire and never think we are never going to get burnt. But we do. Instead, think about what makes you happy. You are more than your job. You are a multi-faceted person. Slow down, breathe, and take the time to realize you can create your own happiness in your life, and that doesn’t just mean in your job.” – Amanda Slavin, CEO & Founder, Catalyst Creativ
18. Be honest. “I learned to make the most of my 20s by being honest with myself, honest with my relationships, and honest with how I see myself in society. This alone has created an unequivocal sense of freedom.” – Tinia Pina, Founder and CEO, Re-Nuble
19. Realize that your 20s are going to fly by. “No joke. The time is going to pass anyway. You’ll be 30 before you know it. And when you wake up 30, the only question will be whether you gave it your all. Just go for it! You might fail, but at least you had the guts to try. If there’s something you want to do, then just go do it! Don’t wait.” – Gene Gurkoff, Founder, Charity Miles
20. Don’t rush. “So many people in their 20s are in a hurry to get to where they want to be: graduated, established, promoted, in love. Your 20s are a time where it is ok to 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.” – Alicia Quarles, New York Correspondent, E! News
Ashley Crouch is a Contributing Editor and PR Manager at Verily Magazine. She is a national speaker and freelance journalist for online journals and blogs on the topics of relationships, beauty, fashion, culture, and business. This article was first publish at the Huffington Post Women blog and is reproduced here with permission.