Over the past couple of months I’ve been very fortunate that a number of my friends have made significant strides in their personal and professional lives. Some are getting engaged, others are getting some serious and well-deserved promotions, and others still are moving to new cities (or countries!) and pursuing new careers. The underlying theme though…is we’re all growing up.
There have been a number of great posts out there passing advice on to our 20-somethings based on past experience (ThoughtCatalog has some really solid ones) but personally I’m as big of a fan of introspection as I am of retrospection. Don’t just learn from what you did but learn from what you’re doing right now. In the spirit of this I’ve compiled my list of 21 things I’m glad I know while I’m still in my 20s…
- You don’t have to love your job but you’re not supposed to hate it. Personally, I’m extremely fortunate that I’ve found a job that I can grow on a personal and professional level every day I come into the office. On the other hand, too often will I talk to friends of mine that absolutely hate their jobs and they cannot think of one good reason to stay. I’ve learned that a job is like a cable provider: for many people the biggest reason they stay is the inconvenience of leaving. You spend 40-50 hours if not more at your workplace and you deserve to at least avoid being unhappy while you’re there.
- The time to work hard (like, real hard) is now. Most of us don’t have kids and many of us aren’t even married or considering marriage. If we have to stay at work until 10pm to finish that killer presentation for the boss, it requires much less of a sacrifice than it will in 10 years. Use this time to bust ass and prove yourself, not only to your boss but also to yourself. Test your limits to know what you’re good at, what you suck at, and what you’ll need to do to reach your goals. Your 20s are a tremendous time for self-discovery and the return on this investment directly improves your quality of life.
- Impatience is a virtue. Nobody wants to give you what you deserve in your 20s so sitting around and waiting for what you think you’re ‘due’ is a surefire way to build frustration and derail your goals. If you want something, go out and fucking get it! Work hard (see #2), make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Fail early and fail often but never lose that hustle. Don’t be blowing out the candles on your 30th birthday and look back with regrets. The time is, and always has been, now!
- Experience is far less valuable than accomplishment. When I interviewed at Nebo I was asked about my position in the team at my previous job. I started off with “In terms of tenure I’m…” and was immediately cut off because years on your resume isn’t what’s important anymore. Regardless of the situation, people are much more interested in what you’ve done than how long it took you to do it. Fill your life with accomplishments and you’ll be a happier (and more marketable) person.
- You still don’t need half the shit you want. When I was visiting my buddy Johnny in Pensacola, I was pretty surprised at how many Corvette’s there were parked around the base. The first stipend that many of these officers get is more money than they’re used to and quite frankly they don’t know what to do with it. I’ve noticed the same to be true with people in their 20s almost unanimously across the board. Just because you finally have the money and want a new car or a trip to Europe doesn’t mean you need it right now. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in rewarding yourself for getting a job with a steady paycheck (I personally bought a new car when I turned 21 and spent 3 years eating spaghetti to pay it off). However, understand that these purchases are still luxuries and you will quickly exhaust your available resources if you don’t learn to say no to yourself.
- The friends you still stay in touch with are truly special. Everyone says they’re going to stay in touch with after graduation and thanks to Facebook that has become a lot easier. But I’m not talking about the friends you trade wall posts with or even the ones who invite you to their weddings. I’m talking about the friends you still call, email, text message or IM with. The friends you plan vacations with and the ones who help you plan that wedding. These friends have remained steadfast through one of the most transformative periods of your life and you should consider yourself lucky to have these people and the experiences you share.
- A lot of people are “doing it wrong.” And by “doing it wrong” I mean doing it differently than you. There is no right way to live your life (though arguably there are a handful of wrong ways) and you’ll be much happier in the long run if you don’t allow others perceived mistakes affect your happiness. Yeah, some people are going to take trips they can’t afford and you’ll be jealous. Some of your friends are going to date girls that are so obviously toxic to them. Some people are going to take jobs or leave jobs that make you want to shake them and say “What the Hell man!?!” But recognize that these people aren’t wrong any more than you are in your life trajectory and part of their journey is making the mistake and learning from it.
- You’ve got a lot of free time. Everyone loves being busy almost as much as they love telling you they’re busy. But when you’re in your 20s you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands. Take advantage of this time and learn something new, whether practical or just for fun. Go on a day trip or call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Look through old pictures and make something out of your favorites. Or even just sit around doing absolutely nothing but recognize that this is your time and embrace whatever you choose to do to fill that time.
- Shit is expensive. In college we took our baby steps. We know what food costs, what gas costs, and we really know what beer and dating costs. After college in your 20s you still have all these expenses but we pile on car payments, car insurance, renters insurance, IRA plans and rent. We’re drowning in cable bills, water bills, garbage removal and electricity bills. We have to cover travel expenses and replace broken things. And on top of all that the $40,000 a year salary you were sure “would cover everything I could ever need” gets shrunk to near $30k once Uncle Sam takes his cut. Shit is expensive, so money management is imperative. Learn it now or pay for it (pun intended) in the future.
- Exercise is important. Admittedly, saying “exercise is important” is like saying “cigarettes are bad for you”…everyone knows this and would never argue the objective fact. Regardless, us 20-somethings will eventually come to realize that exercise time doesn’t come as easily as it once did. Instead of the leisurely 1pm jog or 3:30pm basketball game we have to make an effort to fit in time to exercise. This time is extremely important and we need to make it a priority because the longer you go without exercising the harder it is to get back into a rhythm. Join an athletic league in the sport of your choice (I play ultimate frisbee a couple times a week myself) and make sure you’re giving your body the chance to build up a sweat and blow off some steam.
- It’s time to learn to cook. McDonald’s will never taste as good as it did at 3am after that massive bar crawl. The convenience of frozen dinners isn’t enough to keep you from cringing every time you resign yourself to a Hungry Man “feast.” Learning to cook is an essential survival trait and one that can seriously curb expenses if planned accordingly. Alternative tip: If you can’t learn to cook shack up with someone who can
- Your parents did the best they knew how. Every teenager hates their parents just like they know that every teacher is “out to get you.” News flash folks…you were not an easy kid! In your 20s your parents will start to see you as the adult you’ve become and not the child they needed to raise and that is a blessing we should all embrace. Get to know your parents on a personal level, ask their advice, tell them your stories. I promise you your Dad probably peed in just as many closets as you did when he was in college.
- There is always a reason not to do something. Ignore the impulse! Even things you enjoy doing, like going to Quizzo with friends or staying out until last call, may seem like a struggle but fight the urge to be lame! Make a real effort to proactively seek out these experiences to make the most of this time. Like we said before, you’ve got a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in your 20s…don’t waste it.
- 9am is not early. Remember that time you complained about getting up for your 12:30 class? Yeah, those days are over. 9am is the new 12:30.
- Hangovers are gonna get a whole helluva lot worse. For me, I had an uncanny knack of waking up still drunk from the night before. ”I never get hangovers!” I would say as I popped open a Sunny Delight and grabbed a bag of Doritos. The door is closing on the “Honeymoon Hangover” and while you’ll still bounce back it won’t be nearly as high or as fast as it used it. And it’s all downhill from here.
- “Drinking” means something much different. Along the same lines as #15, the definition of “drinking” will evolve in your 20s. You have professional drinking (with your bosses and coworkers), social drinking (with your new friends and acquaintances), and then you have what can most easily be described as “the way it used to be.” There is still a time and a place for drinking “the way it used to be” but recognize when and where this is or else you’re reputation may be in serious jeopardy.
- First impressions matter. A lot. You never know where your relationships will begin so it’s important to always make a good first impression. This means not being the drunk asshole as the company happy hour (see #16) and giving people the benefit of the doubt if they seem to have offended you. In your 20s you’re very likely to see people in multiple contexts, both personal and professional, and how someone perceives you upon introduction is extremely formative in how they will remember you. My advice? Err on the side of caution and always be kind and courteous until you’re given a real legitimate reason to behave otherwise.
- Shit happens but people understand. Sooner or later, you’re going to oversleep. You’re going to miss a client meeting or (and yes this happened to me) miss the train to a meeting in another state because you didn’t prepare the night before. It happens and it happens to everyone. The important thing is to never let this type of behavior turn into habit. Assuming these situations are the exception to the rule, people will understand and you’ll move past it quickly and without incident.
- Say “sorry” even if it’s not your fault. How often does the final solution result from arguing over whose to blame? Hint: almost never. More often than not assuming blame will be seen as an opportunity to surpass the “blame game” and move forward toward the eventual solution. Offer suggestions, consider all perspectives, and most importantly have a short memory when it comes to what you’ll find are inevitable and pointless arguments.
- Say “Yes!” Want to sit in on this client meeting? Want to learn more about linkbuilding in competitive industries? Want to go to this networking event this weekend? YES! I’ve said it before but your 20s are a fantastic time to figure out what you like, what you’re good at, andwhere your passion lies. This may be something you’ve prepared for your whole life or (more often than not) it’s something you discovered along the way. But this discovery can only happen if you’re constantly and enthusiastically saying “yes yes YES!”
- Your future is up to you. Figure out what you want to do with your life and get after it. You may not know exactly what you want to do but that’s OK; at least make sure you’re always open to discovery and you’re not letting your mind atrophy. Try new things, embrace the unknown, and never stop in your pursuit of happiness.
Have any advice for my fellow 20-somethings? Drop it in the comments and get the conversation rolling!
Welcome! My name is Brett Snyder and I am the Director of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at an interactive marketing agency based in West Midtown Atlanta.
When I'm not studying and practicing SEO, you can find me hanging out with Braveheart, catching up with new and old friends, or finding a new way to stay busy.
All thoughts and opinions posted on this site are my own.