I’ve read a rash of articles with the above title (or similar) over the last year or so. Some from people I know, others from various lifestyle columnists and random bloggers.
I haven’t liked any of them. However, I am probably more unconventional than most. But here’s the thing: I absolutely loved my 20s and have no regrets. I’ve also watched others my age proceed with listening to the advice of generic “tips for 20-somethings” and be miserable.
Now that I am in my 30’s, I feel like I have a legitimate age qualifier to be able to share my own perspective and not be given comments like “oh, you’ll think differently when you’re older” (which I find extremely demeaning).
This is slightly offtopic from our normal posts but I wanted to contribute to this ongoing meme. Before you get out your pitchforks, realize that obviously this advice is not for everyone. But it has worked for my own happiness, success and ability to give back to my industry.
1. Wait on marriage — there is no point yet
You are too young. There is so much time: the average life expectancy continues to increase particularly in developed nations. The divorce rate is absurdly high (about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the US divorce and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher). Really the only pressures are ones you put on yourself and political ones such as from family and friends. But you are a fool to give in to the whims of other humans. Rushing into such important decisions at this juncture in your development simply to follow (antiquated) norms is silly.
2. Do not even think about having kids
You are far too young and just establishing yourself. But of course, I am childfree and don’t plan to ever have children. So you’re free to discount my opinion, however my observation of our society is that being a parent in your 20’s is too soon in the current economic and cultural landscape. Don’t take my word for it, as Psychology Today says:
Despite common fears of the “older parent stigma,” or having less of their total lifetime to spend with their children, waiting until one’s late 30s or 40s to have a baby often means having an established career, financial security, a committed relationship with a co-parent, and a stronger sense of emotional readiness. For older parents, there was a distinct “No regrets” mentality, as well as cited attributes of “maturity,” “patience” and “self-awareness.” One man in the study put it this way: “I know that I’m way more self-aware than I was 20 years ago. I feel like I’m in a better position to communicate better with my child.” One mom feels she is a much calmer parent than her younger self would have been, saying she doesn’t “sweat the small stuff,” as younger parents might be more prone to do.
3. Spend (at least) 1 weekend / month away from others, working on a form of art (with no expectation of economic gain)
I’ve already written a post on this. In case you missed it, here are 21 reasons why you should make art. And if you don’t have a craft yet, develop one. In my 20’s I composed 4 albums of original music and countless mixes on my weekends. I regret not a second of it. If I could take it back, I’d actually spend less time out with friends socializing and more time on this. I cannot accurately put into words the personal fulfillment of creating art without a timeline or agenda or even expectation of audience (I stopped trying to market my art ages ago). You have the bandwidth to do this, the cost is $0, simply time and dedication. I know not a single artist who regret spending time here.
4. Sell your TV (and cut your cable)
Compared with 20-year old me, 30-year old me is actually lazy (and I still do a lot!). I still don’t own cable TV but I now watch the occasional show on Netflix, Google Play, Amazon Instant, etc. In my 20s not only did I not own TV, watch streaming movies or have cable I actively used this time to make new friends, mentor other young people and embrace my social side. There is plenty of time for TV. You are not missing a thing and can catch up later. Use your 20s and high energy to live life and be present. You will regret doing it any other way.
5. Spend an hour each day contributing to your industry
Do you care about your industry? A lot? No? Then stop reading this post and go find a new industry to work in. For the rest of you, if you do care, spend an hour each day contributing: write a guest column. Create a blog. Speak at a conference. Volunteer your skills for a non-profit. Do something to give back. The returns are 10-fold but don’t do it for that. You should choose something that you’re passionate about and want to make better. If not you’ve chosen wrong, and that’s sad but not un-fixable: you get one life, don’t spend it doing something you don’t love. Choose to make a change (or don’t).
6. Develop a taste in music with substance
If you spent your teens listening to the radio or pop music, you do not qualify as having a taste in music. Sure, musical taste is subjective but you haven’t actually explored even a fraction of the forms of music that exist. If you still listen to whatever is on the radio you have not developed any aesthetic sense for the form of art. Which is fine. But I personally would not wish to live in that reality.
7. Read at least one book a month, preferably non-fiction
Now that you’re not watching TV, you will have plenty of time for this. Broaden yourself. Learn about new fields you have no exposure to. Fiction is okay too but this is such a huge (and fulfilling) opportunity to learn: the entire sum of human knowledge is available at your fingertips. How can you not be curious about it?
8. Learn to invest — beyond your 401K
Of course you should have already started a 401K (ideally one that’s investing in index funds — can’t go wrong there). But you’re young and the stock market is not some mystery beyond human comprehension. Learn the market, conduct research and buy some individual stocks. Don’t put more in than you can afford to lose but put enough in your money will work for you if your picks pan out. If you’re in your 20s you have enough time to speculate and potentially see it pay off. Flex your risk muscle.
9. Grow up: accept not everything you were told or taught is true
Your teachers and parents certainly were not right about everything. In fact they were probably wrong about a lot: science and research have progressed since you were a kid. Don’t cling to falsehoods or fairy tales, look at data, research and reality and come to your own conclusions about things.
10. Never pray or quietly hope for something to happen, make it happen
Of course, be thoughtful about your actions prior to implementing them but prayers and hope are for children. They accomplish nothing. If you personally do not take action your life will never change. Fact.
11. Write a blog (public or private)
Clearly I am biased here, and this is another I’ve already written up. But I’ll say it again: the metacognitive exercise of blogging is powerful. A bit like going to the gym for your brain. The chance to connect with other like-minded people is too important to ignore and can lead to such great things. If you disagree, you should work to change that.
12. Be remarkable at work, dress however you want
“Dressing for success” is bullshit. If you’re an A-lister and putting in meaningful work your clothes are irrelevant. Be comfortable. Do the work. Report success. Results are far more important than how you look (if your company isn’t run by pretentious jerks).
13. Learn to use data to prove your point
Here’s a quick presentation on how. Make your points with data and solid evidence. Save your gut for bacon. You’ll get your way far more often.
14. Eat whatever you want, but be active
Many doctors would agree that exercise is the secret of eternal youth. I’m on board with this, with the caveat that I’m also a foodie. So I balance that with exercise. Everything in moderation is fine, and in your 20’s your metabolism is still in good shape. Don’t sweat diet so much (and you also of course shouldn’t be eating fast food anymore) but also don’t sit on the couch all day.
15. Sell your car, move to a city that’s not your hometown
I’ve already written multiple posts on why you should go car-free. Research agrees, your commute is the cause of your unhappiness. Plus, you’re young, suburbia is isolated and in many parts of America it can even be xenophobic. Experiencing a city by foot, public transit and bike is a more social, richer experience on so many levels. Additionally the demographics show cities skew young — why not be among your peers? You also need to get out of your hometown. If you move to a new city, you’ll learn / experience / be exposed to more in the next 6 months than you likely have been in the last 3 years. No science to that, it’s just been my experience having lived in 3 different cities in my 20s. Don’t be content with the same, explore new things. The only regret you will have in your 30s is not taking that next adventure.
16. Seek out a mentor (and be one)
Find someone in your industry willing to share their experiences with (you would be surprised how open most professionals passionate about their industry are). This type of relationships is invaluable and fulfilling in a different way than the relationships with your peers are. At the same time, you should be at a place you’re pretty comfortable in your career. Mentor someone up-and-coming and help inspire them to make change.
17. Speaking of change …love it, live it, embrace it
Most people are afraid of change. Yet, change is the one constant in our world. Fearing something that’s constant is illogical, you’ll literally never be happy. Instead, love it, embrace it and help us move things forward to a better society.
18. Make peace with your mortality
In your 20’s you are officially an adult. Congrats on making it this far, not too long ago living this long would have been considered success. With modern medicine you’ll likely live much longer, but nothing is certain. I’ve lost friends who were in their 20’s and you likely have to. But you’re more than 1/5th of the way through life so a good time to come to terms with the fact that as a biological creature you have a sell-by date. This ensures you do not wake up one day depressed you have “wasted your life” (aka midlife crisis). Here’s the thing: you do not need mythical creatures or irrelevant, dying institutions to comfort you. What you need to do is live a good and virtuous life, being true to your nature and helping others around you. That is enough.
19. Make moves career-wise
Your parents may have had the same job for 20 years, but you won’t. Don’t even try. Certainly do not burn bridges, and be sure you’ve made impact at any company you’ve been at, but leave when a new opportunity presents itself that offers chance for personal growth and education beyond the current. You can’t bring emotions to the table here unless you are actually vested in your employer. If you don’t have shares, remember you’re a line item on that company’s expenses. If you are learning a ton where you are, valuable to the team and feel underpaid let them know. You have to be assertive if you want monetary upgrades (or title upgrades but never worry about that). Your 20’s present a unique opportunity to experience many different types of organizations and discover the types of teams you work best with.
I know what you’re thinking: “hey, this was only 19 pieces of advice!” That’s on purpose. The 20th is open to you, feel free to leave it as a comment — I’m curious to hear what you would add.
The following was originally published on my personal blog, The Future Buzz.