Your 20s are such an important decade in your life. Many in their twenties don’t realize this, but the foundations you lay at this stage pay up for the rest of your life.
Your twenties is the time you get to play the field before you pick a line and stick with it. A few of us were lucky enough to know what they wanted to do with their life early enough, but a good number didn’t know yet.
While you try to figure out and gain clarity of the path your future you will take, spend this time wisely.
Here are 20 things you need to do with your twenties to lay the foundation for a good life in the future decades.
I wish I can equate the value that books have to my life. Books have brought tremendous changes to my life. I have been entertained, comforted, educated and consoled by books and some have completely changed the way I think.
I read all kinds of books; from fiction to biographies to self-development books. In my early twenties, there was a time I slacked from reading. This partly had to do with the fact that books are so damn expensive and I didn’t have much money at that age.
It may also have to do with the fact that I was buried in school work. There is also a chance that I was busy trying to fit in and spent a lot of time socializing and partying and all the other things I thought were cool at the time.
When I look back, I wish I spent more time reading than I spent being miserable over boys or social awkwardness. All the same, somewhere in my mid-twenties, I rekindled my love for reading and I haven’t dropped the ball since then.
I recommend that if you can, reach as much as you can. Read for entertainment, read when you’re bored. If you’re an introvert like me, choose reading over social interactions, trust me, you’ll be more fulfilled.
One of my worries in life is that there may be a time that I will be too busy to read or lose my interest in reading. I can’t picture it. Thinking about it terrifies me.
I know reading is not for everyone, that’s why we have alternatives. We have audiobooks where you can listen to awesome books. We have podcasts and videos where people discuss important topics found in books. We have Blinkist, which summarizes some of the best non-fiction books in as little as 15 minutes.
Whatever you do, ensure that you find a way to extract information found in books. If you are not a reader, here are some tips to help you develop a reading culture.
I know what you are thinking as you read this. Traveling requires money, which you may not have. True. But not really. I traveled when I was younger at every opportunity I got.
Traveling does not mean you have to go to Europe or Asia for a month. No, there are so many beautiful places in your country then you can visit. A lot of other wonderful sites and cultures are just a bus ride away. Think about it.
How much money do you spend partying? If you deny yourself some nights out or eating out, you can enjoy a trip to someplace within the country and experience a different culture.
Traveling in groups also makes travel cheaper. One time when I was around 23, I joined a group and we traveled to Zanzibar. We traveled by bus to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar by ship.
That trip cost less than $200 and its one of my most memorable experiences. We ate seafood by the ocean in an open food market, we danced with the locals in the streets at midnight. We didn’t have much money and stayed in a hostel.
In your early twenties, your body is so adaptable you’d sleep on the floor and wake up feeling just fine. After 30, all you can picture is a soft bed and the thought of a 14-hour bus ride is torturous. Further, these days with Airbnb you can manage affordable accommodations as opposed to staying in hotels.
Traveling will open your eyes and put you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes, you don’t realize how strong you are until you travel to a new environment.
Engage in different hobbies
There are so many ways to have fun and in your 20s since you have the time and the body for it. Engage in different activities. If there’s a group organizing a hike, join them.
A camping trip, take it. Some community work, engage in it. Take time to do different things and it’s through these activities that you’ll learn what you like and what you don’t. You will cultivate healthy hobbies that you can solidify in the future.
Create good relationships
Of my best friends in the world, one I met when I was 15, the other when I was 20 and others somewhere in my mid-twenties. I have learned to create and cultivate relationships with people with similar interests, principles and values, and similar mindsets.
First, not all the people you’ll meet will make great friends. With time, some will drop off and others will stay. This not only applies to personal relationships but professionally as well. When you meet people through work, cultivate good relationships and be sure not to burn your bridges.
Some of the job recommendations I receive are from people I met professionally. All the same, there are some friends that with time, you’ll realize you’re better off without, and this leads me to my next point.
Cut off toxic people
In your 20s, this is the age most people are likely to get caught up in vices and addictions. People develop alcohol, drug and other forms of addiction at this age.
This is because they are away from their families for the first time and its time they’re exploring without limitations. As you develop relationships, learn to drop off people who are not good for you. Such are people who don’t respect your choices, have erratic behavior or people who use you.
If you’re as trusting as I am, you’ll learn that some people can be real users. Friends who stay with you so they can borrow some money, always asking for favors and never returning favors, who paint you dirty to others, people who rain on your parade and other forms of disloyalties.
It may take some time before you learn who is for you and who is against you, but once you do, drop them like it’s hot. To soar, you don’t need people that are always dragging you down.
If I could give you one gift in life would be the gift of self-awareness. If I could, I would hand out self-awareness Oprah style; “You get one! You get one!”
Becoming self-aware is one of the best things that can happen to you, and the earlier you achieve it, the better. Self-awareness means understanding your thoughts and feelings and how they influence your behavior.
It means understanding your past and how it influences your present. It’s knowing your identity and how it contributes to the person you are today.
Self-awareness is not an event but a process. You will find that how you were brought up really contributes to your behavior today; how you relate with yourself, with others, your career choices and such.
Understanding your past and accepting it, becoming self-aware of how it contributes to your current choices, means you gain control over the situation and you’re in charge of your life.
For example, if you grew up in an unstable background, you may have challenges in creating relationships, controlling certain behaviors and trusting.
Becoming self-aware is will not change your past, but it will help you be in charge. You will know ‘I behave this way because of this and that, and since I am aware of it, I will not let it lead my life. I will make decisions based on actual reasoning and analysis, not as a default from my past’.
You can achieve self-awareness by taking self-awareness exercises that I have prepared because I took it upon myself to meddle in other people’s lives and make them self-aware, just so that they can have their eyes open to how much control they have over their lives.
Explore and experiment
In career, hobbies, and relationships, I encourage that you explore and experiment. Get a job and leave it when another one calls. Get a job outside your qualifications or your area of specialization.
Get a job outside your comfort zone. If another opportunity calls, go for it. Take up hobbies you didn’t think you can. In relationships, most of us tend to be focused on a certain ‘type’ when we are younger. How do you even know your type? Date outside your type.
Date different people. This is no encouragement for you to sleep around, dating around doesn’t mean sleeping around. However, you will never know what you like or what you don’t like until you date all different kinds of people. Don’t limit yourself that you’re looking for a marriage partner.
Trust me, they’ll come when you’re not looking; when you least expect it. I think I changed so many jobs in my 20s, and it took a long period for me to settle career-wise. Do I regret this? No! I learned so much from the different jobs that I took.
Attempt a personal project
Have you ever dreamed of starting a business, writing a book, painting a masterpiece, learning to play an instrument or something else? Attempt it. I say attempt because it may not be your masterpiece, but you learn by doing.
I’ve always wanted to write a book. It has taken me too long to write it. I always thought that I am not well-read enough to write it, my imagination is not good enough and all kinds of self-doubt feeders.
However, I did attempt a couple of businesses in my 20s. They weren’t successful, but they taught me much. If there is something you want to do, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait too long. You will never feel good enough, and you will never know how good you are until you try.
Get close to your family
Create a great relationship with your family. I agree, not all families are good for you and some belong to the group of toxic people and those you should avoid at all costs. All the same, as you work on creating relationships, create a great one with your family.
I am very close to my parents and my three brothers. They are my favorite people and my support system. Although we have always been close, the relationship I have with them is cultivated.
I make deliberate efforts to talk to them, see them as much as I can, have good conversations to hear what they’re going through and be there for them.
There’s a time in your younger years where you think your friends are cool and your family is not so cool. Cool or not, they’re your family, and they’re the people who will be there for you when everyone is gone. Make an effort to call them, meet them, and show them that you love them in different ways.
Don’t do stuff that can damage this relationship and make them lose your trust such that they can’t depend on you. If you want to depend on them, be dependable as well.
Start saving money
You may not have made massive investments, but have little savings to your name. Some money in your account gives you some form of security.
Whether it’s a medical emergency or something else, always know that you have some money that can see you through. Having your own money also reduces codependence in others especially in relationships.
Sometimes you may find yourself attached to toxic people such as romantic partners, and you can’t leave since you depend on them financially. This is not an attractive position to find yourself in.
Have your own money and it gives you a bargaining chip when you are negotiating for new employment, a project if you’re in business or a relationship.
Learn new skills
To excel in life, you will need different sets of skills. Not all these skills are offered in school and even if you may have a degree or two, there are some skills that you need to learn. Such can be acquired through self-education.
It may take a long time to figure out your career while you are in your 20s. You could be at a job that you feel you don’t belong and you’re constantly looking for something that’s fit for you.
Develop a sense of identity
If you want to carry through life on your own terms, you have to develop a sense of identity. The stronger your sense of identity, the stronger you can stand firm and avoid pressure.
If you thought that there was pressure in your teens, you will be surprised. As you grow older, the pressure intensifies. It is not the pressure of “let’s do drugs” or “lets hit the club” kind of pressure. No. The pressure becomes more subtle and more expensive.
Your friends start buying houses in nice places, changing cars every year and going on holiday to nice places. If you don’t have similar things happening in your life, you start feeling left out.
For example, you may feel the pressure to change cars as fast as your friends are changing and you end up in debt. It can influence your emotional spending whereby you start buying stuff you cannot afford because you want to feel as good as you assume your friends are feeling.
When you have a sense of identity, you can carry out a sober evaluation of your life, shut out the outside noise and prioritize what matters to you as an individual.
Self-confidence will help open doors for you, and once the doors open up, your merit will keep you inside the building. Do you know, fewer women apply for jobs that they think they are not qualified for than men do?
Many women feel that have to check every box in the requirement and qualifications section before we feel confident enough to apply for a job.
For men, on the other hand, they apply for jobs that they are not even fully qualified for. They get called for the interviews and there, they negotiate their way to getting the jobs. They know that the worst answer they can get is a no.
I advise you to work on boosting your confidence as it will help you explore more challenges in life. The more challenges and opportunities you explore, the more chances you have of getting ahead in your career.
Women in their twenties should develop more confidence to ask for what they want, at work and in their relationships. As I was reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, I felt that she was telling the story of every woman.
Sure, other hindrances stand in the way of women’s progress in the workplace, but our confidence will help us shatter some of those boundaries and the glass ceiling.
Comparison is the thief of joy. It is common for young people to compare themselves so much with others that they fail to appreciate the good things that are happening in their lives.
Learn not to compare yourself to friends who are seemingly getting better. Comparison makes you feel inferior to others. This happens especially regarding relationships. At some point in your twenties, all of your friends will seem to be getting married and all you will attend are weddings and baby showers.
If you have not got a relationship at that time, you may start comparing yourself and thinking that things are not working for you. Here is some news for you; everything is working just as it should.
People are not as seemingly happy as they look and just because someone is getting something that you don’t have at the moment, this does not mean that they are happier or in a better position than you are. Comparing will deny you the joy and fulfillment you need to appreciate what’s happening in your life.
Take your time to appreciate what’s happening in your life even when you feel stuck. Sometimes you experience hold up so you can be propelled to a brighter future.
It’s common for twentysomethings to feel stagnated in life. Sometimes you feel as if nothing is working out and you are at a standstill. I have talked to many people in their twenties and this is a common feeling.
You feel that it is taking too long to get the career that you want, to get the perfect relationship, to get it all together. The twenties also come with a lot of uncertainties and these stagnations sometimes are not real, it is an illusion. It is being fed by the uncertainties you possess at this time.
I’d urge you to be patient. If you take a sober look at your life, you will realize that you are not stagnated at all. College is taking too long? No, you are learning something. Career taking too long to kick off? Be patient, very few people get propelled to the top that easily.
Unfortunately, we feel stagnated because by looking at celebrities and internet entrepreneurs we see people our age doing great things and you don’t have much you can show for your short life.
Think about it this way, the number you see is just a small number. These are the outliers. The biggest population of your age mates is going through the same challenge you are going through.
Be patient. Impatience can make us rush into wrong decisions such as getting into the wrong kind of relationships and regreting later.
As you wait for things to happen for you, use this time well. Use this time to add to more skills to your portfolio, learn new things, discover yourself and learn yourself better. Use this time to build yourself.
The moment things start to take off, where your career takes off and you get that relationship and family you so long for, you will be so busy you won’t have time to do things just for you. So, as you wait, do things just for you and things to improve yourself.
Improve your self-worth
Here is a hard truth, you will face challenges in your life. Some will be so tough they will break your heart. You will suffer loss as well. You will suffer failure. You will lose a loved one or a job or a career, or even yourself at some point.
Take time this early to build your self-worth and resilience. I listened to this therapist who explained that the people who commonly come to her with struggles, all kinds of people from students to top athletes, faced one common challenge, they felt that they are not enough.
This loss of self-worth sometimes will be caused by external things in your life. For example, while you are climbing the corporate ladder, you can easily fall off and lose your job. If you had attached so much of your self-worth on this job, this is likely to damage you.
The importance of building self-worth is that when you have high value for yourself, no job, person, or even wealth can define you. Your worth is based on your value as a person and not value for the kind of job that you have or the kind of money that you make.
While in your twenties, work hard on improving your self-worth. Know your value and appreciate it when you have nothing. Build resilience and adaptability, by being so in connection with yourself, believing in yourself such that when things happen around you that can break you, you don’t fall with them. You manage to keep standing even when it hurts.
Change your mindset and unlearn some things
If you grew up being told that you were not smart or talented enough, you may still carry this around with you. As a result, you don’t have a good work ethic because you believe that no matter what you do, you will never be as good as other people who are smarter and more talented.
The same thing applies if you grew up with everyone telling you how smart and talented you are. You may walk around feeling all sorts of self-importance and narcissistic.
This can also make you develop a bad work ethic since you believe since you are so smart, you don’t have to work hard at all. In fact, you believe you are so good that other people are lucky to have you and become a narcissistic, self-important and difficult person.
You need to unlearn that only smart people can succeed and develop a growth mindset that believes that anyone can learn anything as long as they put in the right amount of focus and effort into it. You also need to learn that talent and intelligence without hard work are of no use and you need to put in the effort to get what you want.
You need to unlearn other things such that taking care of yourself and putting yourself fast is selfish. Self-care is not selfish and you do need it as part of your mental health. I listed a series of things you need to unlearn in order to create a life that you love.
Don’t wait till you have it together
I saw this post somewhere on social media
“Nothing will ruin your twenties more than thinking you should have your life together already”.
I remember one time I saw a therapist in my late twenties. Somewhere in the conversation, I told her that I was not confident to attend a networking event since everyone in it had their life together and I didn’t. She asked me, ‘what makes you think that they have their life together?’
I later thought about it and realized that no one really, have their life together. Everyone is struggling with something. It’s just the nature of our challenges that’s different. If you wait until you have it all together to be happy, to enjoy life or to go for what you want, you will be waiting forever.
You need to start living, being happy, enjoying your life as it is. Waiting till you have it together is living up to an unrealistic expectation. It will make you unfulfilled and feeling inadequate.
Stop carrying around your background as a badge of shame
If you had an event in your childhood that hurts you, such as abuse, bullying, divorced parents and such, it’s possible that you carry this along with you all the time.
Whether we know it or not, it influences the decisions we make today. The more shameful the past is, the more painful it is to bear and the more we want to repress it down and never talk about it.
However, repression leads to stigma and the more you avoid talking about what happened to you, the more power you give it to hurt you.
A friend recently told me that the moment she started opening up about her painful past, she started to heal from it. She removed the stigma associated with her past denied it the ability to hurt her.
Talking and addressing your past will help you with self-awareness. On the other hand, some of us take this thing that hurt us, and as much as we should own that it happened, we choose to carry it along all the way.
You make it define you and dominate your conversations such that you can’t have a conversation without mentioning it. The whole purpose of addressing it is to move past it, not to carry it along every day.
If you have something that hurts you from your past, talk it over with a therapist or a close person that is self-aware and helpful. Then find a way to work through it and past it.
Don’t let it be the defining factor of your life. Don’t be X who was abused as a child. There is so much more to you than that girl that was abused. Don’t be Y whose parents separated.
There is so much more of what defines you than your parents’ separation. Don’t be Z who grew up so poor they had to eat from bins. While this is your past, and it reminds you who you are, it doesn’t define your life today. You are much more than that person.
Watch out your habits
Watch out for your habits. The little harmless things that you do today have long term consequences. Most people that become addicted to alcohol or drugs develop the habits in their twenties.
It is at this age when people are highly experimental, have freedom and independence, and probably can afford to buy whatever they want. Harmless binge drinking or drinking to get away from your problems, if not well watched, it can lead to alcoholism.
Your habits will define you. At this age, you feel indestructible. Your body can handle drinking till morning and go without sleep. However, you will not feel like this forever. In your thirties, your mistakes will start to show in your body. Your body keeps score.
You will become dependent on things you thought you didn’t need and can function without them. While you had some bit of alcohol to feel good or relax at the end of the day, without care, you might find yourself depending on alcohol to feel good enough to go out or even to work.
Before you know it, you have developed co-dependency. Watch out for your habits not only involving drinking and abuse.
I hope you have a fabulous and fruitful decade and the years after!