Being a 20-something is rough. It can mean desperately finding a job straight out of school, moving into your first apartment, doing your own taxes, and other stressful things that come with being an adult. It’s not all anxiety though; your 20s are also when you’re independent and most flexible, and you have a lot more freedom now than later on when you get more settled into your responsibilities.
This is the time to take charge of your life, to make opportunity rather than wait around for it. But how do you make the best of these ten years and achieve as much as you possibly can, when just yesterday, you Google searched “help my student loans are killing me”?
Sadly, there isn’t an instruction manual to making the best of your 20s (unless you count Google), but we do have plenty of parents, teachers and colleagues who have handed down their wisdom and advice over the years. Here are a few:
1. Stay organized
When you move into your first apartment or set up your retirement fund, get organized and stay organized! Whether you were before or not, now’s as good as any time to start. Your pile of paperwork is still (relatively) small – invest in a filing cabinet and some sturdy binders to keep track of your documents, receipts, work portfolios and other important files. Post-It notes and reminder apps are a great way to stay on top of your tasks, and the more you build a habit of good organization, the easier you’ll make it for yourself down the line.
2. Work on your weekends
It can be tempting to abandon all thoughts of work as soon as you’re off the job, but the best way to excel in a hectic work environment is to put in the extra time and effort. No matter if you work with your hands or with spreadsheets, spare just a few hours of your weekend and consider how you can approach a problem next time you go back to work. Maintain your work-life balance, but if you can map out solutions in your downtime, this makes you more productive when you actually step back into the workplace, and your co-workers will take notice.
3. Smile every day
We’ve all heard how smiling can predict a long lifespan, but someone who smiles a lot also appears more confident and successful to others. By smiling in workplace settings, you can make yourself more approachable to colleagues and potential business partners, and this can be an advantage for you in environments where open communication is key.
“I can’t tell you how many patients start to see their confidence improve once they start smiling,” stated Dr. Ryan Long, a family dentist in Dayton, Ohio. “I’ve always said, keep smiling because it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to!”
4. Write down your goals
As you build your credentials and take on more responsibilities, it can be hard to set time aside for yourself. Don’t lose sight of your own goals and ambitions! Keep a record of your progress with quantifiable benchmarks along the way so you can hold yourself accountable to your target. This goes for future goals too. If you catch yourself thinking longingly about a dream vacation, write that down! You can come back to it, do some research, develop a savings plan, and work towards accomplishing your goal.
5. Workout and stay healthy
Working out is something that people either love or hate, and if you’re in the latter group, it can be hard to stick to a workout regimen that lasts longer than three weeks. There are tons of tips out there for starting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so keep trying until you find one that suits you! Hold yourself accountable to your health, either with a friend or with commitment contracts like stickK. Start small, and reward yourself in line with your goals when you deserve it.
6. Ask for ways to improve
Often, the people with the best understanding of your performance are your coworkers. Your colleagues and supervisors see your work on a daily basis and may be able to provide some insights on how you can improve. Schedule time with your workmates or supervisors and ask them how they think you can perform better. By showing initiative and challenging yourself, you can gain more from your work experience and continue building your skills.
7. Start a side project
When you’re in your 20s, you have heaps of time, energy and creativity at your disposal. Find a project you’ve always wanted to do, like building a bike or selling handcrafted soap on Etsy, and give it your all. If you feel like you’re in a rut, starting a side project may just be the way to get motivated again and direct your energy into something positive and challenging!
8. Stay up to date with the news
With constant, rapid-update news sources out there, there’s no more reason to be out of touch with what’s happening in the world. Make a solid effort to collect your news from more than one or two sources, and try reading more articles that go beyond your regular interests. If you’re strictly into finance articles, try subscribing to an arts and culture column (and vice versa). Expand your interests and stay well-informed.
9. Don’t take yourself too seriously
As a young adult, it can be frustrating when people older than you in your work and personal life don’t give you due credit. It’s important to maintain professionalism, but don’t take yourself so seriously that you lose all enjoyment in your work! This is the time of your life to make mistakes and learn from them. When you slip up, be able to forgive yourself and move past the mistake – your work will be better for it in the future, and your colleagues will appreciate your positivity.
10. Drink less
As with most things, alcohol is good in moderation, but as you get older (even in your 20s) the effects of drinking will be harder and harder to shake off in the morning. The NIAAA reported that young adults in their early to mid-20s are most at risk for heavy or binge drinking. If you go out often, try cutting back on the number of drinks you have, and stay watchful of your habits to be sure you’re always in control.
You will start to notice that when you drink less, your mind will be more clear and your productivity will start to increase.
11. Blog on a topic you’re passionate about
It’s easier than ever before to become a blogger. If you don’t want to commit to a personal blog or writing on a schedule, find an existing blog where you can contribute content. Passionate about mountain biking? Local politics? Somewhere out there is a blog with your name on it. By writing about your experiences and knowledge, you can share that bit of passion with someone else and establish your credibility as an expert in the field.
12. Meet with successful/established individuals
A great way to grow is to learn from others who have experience. If you read an article by someone whose work you admire, reach out to them and ask for their insights in the field! Don’t sell yourself short by assuming it’s not worth the effort; if someone displays their email or phone number on their site, that means they’re willing to share their experiences, and it’s always nice to be appreciated by a fan.
13. Keep a journal
When you’re constantly busy, time slips away from you and before you know it, you’re another year older. Keeping a journal gives you a chance to reflect on the good times and the bad, and when you look back on your past entries, you’ll realize how much you’ve grown since. Even if you only write a sentence or two summarizing each day, having those little remembrances can be incredible when reflecting back.
“I am in the creative industry and a million ideas are constantly popping into my head,” said Barry Eisenman, the creative director for Nutis Press. “Keeping a journal over the years has helped improve my business productivity while relieving stress.”
14. Read a new book each month
Research has shown that reading can lower your stress levels, and keeping your mind stimulated helps you focus on day-to-day tasks. Set a pace and make a goal of reading at least one new book every month. Explore different genres and authors! For non-avid readers, start out reading books that have TV or movie adaptations. It can be easier to stay engaged with the book if you have some context for the story. (Game of Thrones, anyone?) If you’re feeling ambitious, join a local library’s book club so you can talk about your monthly read with other folks.
15. Give back to your community
A little volunteer time goes a long way. Commit part of your weekend to working in your community and giving back where you can! There’s an opportunity for nearly everyone, from working in an animal shelter to tutoring students in underprivileged school districts. In a study by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute, researchers found that 76% of volunteers felt mentally and physically healthier and less stressed out after volunteering. Make a routine of it by pairing up with a friend and carpooling – not only will it be a good opportunity to catch up with a friend, but you’ll feel better for it.
16. Reward yourself for major accomplishments
You work hard! It takes time, effort and commitment to finish a major goal, and sometimes, ticking that checkbox just isn’t satisfying enough. After turning in a huge project or finally running that 5K race, treat yourself to an afternoon nap, buy a $1 roll of cookie dough and eat it raw, whatever makes you happiest. It’s nice when your peers recognize your hard work, but it’s even nicer when you do too.
17. Find a mentor
Is there someone you admire in your life, an old teacher, a coworker or a relative? There’s always something to learn from the people we admire, and having a mentor can be extremely helpful when you’re not sure about something or just need a few words of encouragement. Invite your mentor for coffee and a chat, and be sure to sustain the relationship with regular updates and meetings. It’s a two-way street, and many people will love the opportunity to share their advice and help someone out.
18. Find a mentee
Likewise, you can take someone under your wing and share your own experiences! If you know someone who might want a mentor, offer to buy them lunch and talk about what’s going on in their life. This could be a younger sibling, one of the new interns at work or just someone who could use a friend. Be empathetic and open – you may learn just as much from your mentee as they will from you.
From journeying across the world to the other side of town, visit someplace you’ve never been before. Whatever your means, make time to hop on a plane or a city bus and challenge yourself to visit somewhere new to you. Indulge in the area, visit local attractions, and eat its food. As author Scott Westerfeld wrote: “The best way to get to know a city is to consume it.” By visiting new places, you get an exciting opportunity to learn about yourself and the world around you, and the best part is that you can still travel on a budget!
20. Never stop learning
Your knowledge is one of your greatest strengths. Keep your mind sharp and active by continuing your education. There’s a multitude of free, online classrooms out there like Coursera, tutorials on YouTube, or apps like Duolingo if you want to learn a language. If you prefer an in-person experience, check with a local community center for informal lessons. Even if you can’t commit to a class, read up on programming or Roman architecture each night before you go to bed. Your mind will stay active as long as you keep it learning!
These aren’t the only words of wisdom out there for 20-somethings, nor is this a definitive list. Figure out what works best for you, continue to challenge yourself, and keep moving forward. If not now, then when?
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