Updated: May 19
From our wellwishers to pop culture- there is a lot of hype about what is expected in your 20s. I am just a few months away from turning 30 and as I look back on the past decade here are some lies I’ve been told about these “glorified years” as if I was being passed down some age-old wisdom only to realize that... I have been duped! I’ve created a bite-sized alternative to how you can approach these years instead. You might be starting your 20s with rose-tinted glasses or maybe you’re already riding the waves, either way, I hope it helps!
1. Career: “Follow your passion”
Honestly, there is no shame in working for someone else or starting your own business by going the entrepreneurial route instead. Both are respectable decisions depending on one’s circumstances and needs. Some people know their purpose at a young age, some find it well into their 50s- wherever you are and whatever you do make sure you are either learning or earning.
Cubicle jobs are antagonized so much by those who’ve already “made it”- but it may get you to where you need to go on your path. Use the time wherever you are to learn skills that will help with any future endeavors. Get out of your comfort zone and take risks that will help you build your confidence. Develop valuable relationships along the way. It is important to be honest with yourself about whether you hate what you do or do you hate the company you work for before making a decision on restarting applications elsewhere or starting up your own gig.
2. Romance: “All or nothing”
Don’t rush into anything but also, don’t be a coward. Take the time to get to know someone and be clear about what they want from a relationship before jumping head first and landing flat on your face. Have standards, not expectations. If you feel something, say it. If it is not reciprocated, do yourself a favor and leave. As much as it hurts, do not make being in a relationship your life purpose. Use endings as an opportunity to rediscover who you are. Evaluate situations, sometimes you’re the toxic one. You need to understand everyone has at some point suffered or has been the one causing the suffering- this includes you. People are not bandaids and neither are you.
Maybe you want to get married, maybe you don't (care). Either way, in love and relationships the all-or-nothing approach leaves room for a lot of undesired behavior or disappointments. Your twenties are a time when you are building, make sure to wait for someone worth building with. It’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong person. Learn their love language and teach yours. People aren’t mind-readers, so tell them what you want. You might know who you are marrying, but you don't know who you are divorcing. Be aware of how you overcome differences and disagreements and make sure your values are aligned, love does not always save the day but values will.
3. Family and Friends: “Always there for you”
Your 20s is a time when you tend to get the distance and independence you’ve been seeking in your yesteryears. You think things will be the same at the homefront but it’s not always the case. It is common knowledge that the seasons change and so do people. We know it to be true with other relationships in our lives, but when it comes to family a lot more complex emotions are involved. Depending on what your family dynamics look like, how spread out you are across the country or the globe, past traumas, and individual/collective experiences look like- these changes affect everyone differently. Have a potentially difficult conversation and plan on intentionally rediscovering connections if you believe this is a relationship worth saving. But remember, just because you’re ready doesn’t mean someone else will drop everything and be on board. Patience.
Making meaningful friendships is tough, but as an adult, it's even more difficult. Not only do you have less time than when you were younger due to work commitments but there aren't always all these conveniently placed prearranged social circles like back then either - not just with schoolmates or college buddies who show up everywhere like they're on call 24/7. It’s okay to grow apart from old friendships- don’t take things personally, maybe your paths will cross again, and maybe they won't. Focus on building your network as much as you can. Have a network of people you look up to - get to know people because they inspire you, make you laugh, challenge you and make you become a better person. Show up and follow up. Keep close to those who genuinely care for you, those you can be completely honest with, those who look out for you the way you look out for you and always try to bring out the best in you without trying to change you.
4. Travel: “Travel, your money will return.”
This is the time where you are old enough to know better but young enough not to care. Like many meals you can go with the money left in your bank account after you buy that ticket across the world. Your “real life” isn’t waiting for you in another place or time, your life is happening right here and now. What you do now will inevitably affect what you do and where you are in the years to come.
Everybody is searching for something. In your 20s it's easy enough to turn toward travel as an outlet or as an escape. It seems like a good time to explore before you get tied down with bigger responsibilities at work or at home and maybe you’ll find your purpose by traveling. But, before you ditch your job and decide to buy your one-way ticket- make sure you’re doing it because you want to, not because it’s trending. Travel and experience the world, just do it on your own terms and on your own time.
5. Money: “Do whatever you want and the money will come.”
Money may not be everything, but it does matter. In fact, a recent study actually found that money indeed “buy happiness”. Without a steady income of some kind or another- whether from employment at one's job, working on the side, investments- it really puts an unfortunate halt to your personal growth and prevents any lasting contentment with one's own circumstances. It can give you the lifestyle of your dreams, it can give you the healthcare you need, it can give you the time to spend on things, experiences and people that matter to you.
The sooner you learn how money works, the less you'll have to desperately chase it in the future. There are many different strategies when it comes to making money, keeping money, and growing money with whatever is your starting capacity. There are also a lot of free and paid resources available that can guide you through the baby steps, the risks, and the rewards- make use of them.
7. Rest: “The most successful people wake up at 5AM”
It doesn't matter what time you wake up or go to sleep- what matters is what you do with your time when you’re up. All-nighters become a lot harder to pull off as you get older which is basically your body's way of telling you that you desperately need rest. There was a time when I was working late hours and getting up early for the “rise and grind”. Human nature turns everything into a game of one-upmanship and I had given in to the hustle culture. While I was being praised for my work ethic, it had become a burden to me. Sleep stopped coming easily no matter how tired I was because of stress from impending assignments and feeling restless no matter how hard I tried during the day. I would even look at productive ways to rest!
If you enjoy waking up at 5AM and find that it works for you, go for it. If you perform better after a solid 8-hour sleep, go for it. There are moments in life when you will have to suck it up and work long hours but don’t get too used to it, and more importantly, don’t let others (i.e. your employer or clients) get used to it. You have to set boundaries and respect your time and your wellbeing because if you won’t, no one else will either. Remember, you are no longer useful to yourself or someone else if you’re burnt out. Figure out what works for your health and peace of mind.
6. Grief: “Time heals everything”
I lost my father in my 20s and very soon after I immersed myself into work and taking care of my mother as if I had it all under control. I was living on autopilot without any sense of direction and no longer found any joy in anything that I used to previously. People will say all kinds of inspirational things during this time to try and help, some will drown out your agony with theirs, while others will move mountains to bring some sense of hope back- believe it all comes from a good place but understand that you also need to find your own ways to cope. Reactions to grief can be physical, behavioral, spiritual, or emotional.. or they can be a whole mixture of these. Remember, everyone processes loss differently, and we do so according to our own personal needs and experiences.
Losing someone is one of the most devastating things a person can experience and when people don't process and heal from their loss in a way that is best suited for them, it becomes something they carry with them everywhere into the future in ways more complex than anyone could imagine. Healing does not mean the absence of pain. You might pick yourself up again, you might stop talking about it, you might be able to find little joys in your day again, you might use it as inspiration and bring about great changes for yourself or your community- but the pain of losing someone you love will always be there. Time doesn't heal everything, healing is in your hands.