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12 Crucial Things That Everyone in their 20s Need to Do in Order to Be Successful In Their 40s

Listen up.

I’m 27 years old. I can’t say that I’ve figured it all out or that I’ve somehow mastered my 20s, but I’m in a job that challenges me, earning more money that I reasonably need and have minimal student loans after seven years of post-secondary education. It all hasn’t just been trial and error — I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes and successes of those who’ve come before me. I’ve compiled all of these lessons into the following 12 things that anyone in their 20s can implement.

[*] Implement smart financial habits. This involves all the usual things: keep your expenses low, create a budget, pay off debt as quickly as possible, maintain an emergency fund, don’t spend too much money on ephemeral pleasures, try to repair items before replacing them, etc. Your income will most likely fluctuate in your 20s. This is normal and, in most cases, relatively outside of your control. However, you can control your financial choices. Continue living like a student until your situation becomes more stable.

[*] Ascertain your core three values. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to undertake mindful evaluation to figure out who you are and what you stand for. Narrow down three non-negotiables — things that you will absolutely refuse to give up for money. My three core values are authenticity, creativity and service to others. I will turn down a high six-figure salary if that means selling my soul.

[*] Learn how to cook. You may be able to get away with eating mac & cheese for five days straight, but that will catch up to you sooner than you think.

[*] Invest in yourself. I’ve always told myself that I will never refuse myself a book. Yes, I borrow books from the library but if there’s a book that I love I won’t hesitate to fork out the cash to buy a physical copy. Books are an investment that provide a 100% ROI. But in order to receive that return, you must read every single day. If you ask me, that’s a small price to pay for those odds.

[*] Stop comparing your situation to others. They’re probably just as lost as you. Comparison is the thief of joy. Who cares if your friend earns more money than you? They probably won’t hold that job forever or, perhaps, in six months you’ll be earning double her salary. Of course money is not the pinnacle of success but what I’m trying to argue is that your situation is always always changing and evolving. Especially in your 20s.

[*] Start reaching out to people who are working in the profession that you want to pursue. If you want to be a writer, start going to writer meetups in your city. If you want to be a lawyer, cold email a lawyer that practices the area of law that interests you. This is the fastest way to double-check that you’re willing to do the dirty work that whatever profession you’re interested in pursuing involves. Not only is this a great way to meet people in the industry who may be able to help you out in the future, but it minimizes the chance that you’ll wind up in a job that you hate.

[*] Start investing in low-fee index funds. You don’t need to understand in’s and out’s of the stock market. But you do need to start automating your investing. It can be as little as $50/month. The amount doesn’t matter, so much as starting the habit of prioritizing your financial future. The magic of compound interest will do the rest.

[*] Develop your soft skills. The most important one is becoming a self-starter. Bosses don’t like having to tell an employee what to do in painstaking detail. They just want the task done. Learn how to take initiative and figure out what you don’t know on your own. The second most important soft skill is being an excellent communicator. If you don’t know how to convey your thoughts in a simple and succinct way, you’re in for a rough time in the labour market.

[*] Figure out when your ‘golden hours’ are. Your golden hours are essentially what time in the day that you’re most productive. For me, it’s in the morning from 8:00 am to 11:00 am. Understanding when your energy levels dip and rise throughout the day will help you organize when and what tasks you’ll be working on throughout the day.

[*] Explore. In your 20s, you can’t reasonably expect to know exactly who you are or who you want to be. The best way to start figuring this out is to seek as many unique experiences as possible. Travel! Take an art class! Join a meetup group for a common interest! It’s only when you find yourself in new situations can you see understand in what circumstances do you thrive (or the exact opposite).

[*] Find your tribe. I don’t mean friends who you can go out with on Friday night but people who support your aspirations or, even better, also have similar aspirations. It’s important to surround yourself with people who have similar priorities and lifestyles. Why? Because you’ll push one another to work. There’s less chance of slacking because both of you are hungry for achievement.

[*] Don’t be so hard on yourself. You will make a lot of mistakes. You will say something stupid to someone important, find a grammatical error in your cover letter after your application has already been submitted or have slacked off too much and missed some deadline at work. It’s okay. Breathe. Everyone has done this at one point or another (and if they tell you they haven’t they’re lying). While it may seem like the end of the world as it happens, it won’t matter in a year from now. Keep these moments in perspective.

If you treat your 20s as a decade of experimentation, sprinkled with the development of smart financial habits and a strong work ethic, you’ll be ahead of most people in the decades to come.

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