When you were a kid, you probably imagined what life would be like when you were finally done with school, living on your own, and earning your own money. Chances are you imagine it being a bit more fun than the reality — what’s with all of these bills that keep coming in, anyway?
The truth is, your 20s are often touted as the best time of your life, but quite a few people would take exception to that. Trying to figure out your career, money, relationships, and all of the other things that come with adulthood is enough to make you want to crawl back into your childhood bed and pull the covers over your head. The good news is that you will get through it, though, and if you keep a few pieces of advice in mind, your 20s actually can be the best time of your life. Really.
1. Take Your Career Seriously
“I’m keeping my options open.” How many times have you heard that? Or are you saying it yourself, as you bounce from job to job — or taking low-paying gigs — while you look for the next perfect opportunity? While on the one hand, your 20s is the time to try new things and figure out what you want to do when you “grow up,” it’s also when you’re building the foundation for your career going forward.
Author Meg Jay notes that your 20s are a defining period, since about 70 percent of wage growth happens in the first 10 years of your career. Now is the time to get serious and find the best job that you can. It also means putting in the time to expand your career options; for example, if you’ve decided on a career in nursing, now is the time to get that advanced degree to increase your earning power going forward and your attractiveness to employers.
2. Your Relationships Will Change — And That’s Okay
Your life and priorities are changing — and so are your friends. People are focusing on their careers, getting married, and (gasp!) having babies. As you move through your 20s, relationships will change, and you’ll probably see your circle of friends shrink. The good news, though, is that the friends you stay closest to are usually really great friends.
Writer Katie Racine calls this the “natural exodus” of friendship in your 20s, and it happens to everyone. So keep in touch with your old friends, but be open to new relationships — ones that don’t revolve around late-night keg parties and final exams.
3. Your Health Is Important — Guard It
It’s easy to think you’re invincible when you’re in your 20s. Many of the health issues that plague older people haven’t taken hold yet — late nights out don’t require several days to recover. But what you do now can prevent serious issues down the road. Not to mention, now that you’re responsible for paying for your own health care, you want to keep those costs down. That means doing your best to eat a healthy diet, making exercise a part of your life, and getting to know your doctor.
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that 20-somethings see a doctor to get baseline measurements of their health to both identify potential problems in the future, and build a relationship with him or her, so you can feel comfortable getting help when you need it later.
4. Save for Retirement
When your salary isn’t that high, the idea of saving money for 50 years from now might feel low on the priority list. Even just 5 percent of your salary feels like a big chunk of change — one that could be spent on a better apartment or car. But consider this: Starting at age 23, even if you put as little as $60 per pay period into a 401(k), by the time you retire at age 65, you could have more than $350,000.
That’s not even considering an employer match, which is essentially free money. If you start putting money away from your first paycheck, you won’t miss it, so just do it. When you’re living a life of leisure when you are 70, you’ll thank your 23-year-old self.
5. Be Confident and Audacious
When everything seems to be changing, it’s easy to second-guess yourself. Yes, the decisions you make now are important — and some even form the foundation of the rest of your life. But very few mistakes you’ll make now can’t be undone, and as the saying goes, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.
So be confident, and even a little bit audacious, in your decisions and actions. If something doesn’t work out, or you’re criticized, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. Learn from the experience and move forward.
6. Learn to Accept Rejection
Speaking of learning experiences, rejection sucks. Whether it’s the “thanks, but no thanks” from your dream job, or the “It’s not you, it’s me,” from a date, being rejected stings. It can shake your confidence and make you think, “What’s wrong with me?”
According to author Ellen Goodlett, though, rejection is a good thing. She believes that we should use rejection as a chance to learn — maybe that lost job opportunity is a sign to brush up on certain skills? — and as motivation to keep looking for the right fit. Rejection isn’t always entirely about you, and when you maintain your positive attitude and don’t dwell, you’ll bounce back.
7. Ask for Help When You Need It
Being confident is one thing — being arrogant is something else entirely. Know what you don’t know, and ask for help when you need it. This doesn’t mean hitting up mom and dad for cash every time you run a little low, but getting advice from people who have been in your shoes and who can help you make good decisions.
A financial advisor isn’t just for people with millions in the banks — a good one can help you establish a budget, pay off debt, and plan for retirement. Feeling overwhelmed or depressed? Use your hard-earned health benefits to see a therapist, who can help you feel better.
8. Live Cheaply Now — You Can Upgrade Later
Now that you have a paycheck, it’s tempting to buy everything you want, but couldn’t afford before. Before you go on a spending spree, though, consider the words of entrepreneur Mark Cuban: “The more you stress over bills, the more difficult it is to focus on your goals. The cheaper you can live, the greater your options.”
If you spend your 20s getting your financial house in order — paying off student loans and credit cards from college, building your retirement fund, getting an emergency fund established — you’ll be in a better position to upgrade your lifestyle later on.
9. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Thanks to social media, it’s easy to think that your friends are all out leading fabulous lives. They all have perfectly lit, Instagrammed images of exotic vacations and gourmet meals, status updates about how #blessed they are, and tweets about great promotions. While you’re toiling away and barely making ends meet, seeing these things can feel discouraging — and lead you to make decisions that have lasting repercussions on your finances and future (see #7).
Studies show that social media can actually have a negative effect on our happiness, particularly because we’re comparing our lives to others and feeling “less than.” Remember that most people only share the best parts of themselves and the coolest things online, and that taking a vacation doesn’t mean their lives are great. Not to mention, there’s a good chance that others are comparing themselves to your great life — so run your own race and don’t let others steal your joy.
10. It’s Okay to Not Have It All Figured Out
Guess what? No one really expects you to have everything all figured out at this point — in fact, many people spend most of their lives working on themselves and trying to reach their goals. So if you don’t have the corner office by 25 and the perfect family Christmas card by 28, it’s okay. Enjoy the ride, try new things, and know that by the time there are 30 candles on your birthday cake, you’ll have a better grip on this thing called “adulthood.”
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com