When I was in my 20’s, I felt like that decade would last forever. Now here I am with my 32nd birthday looming on the horizon. (Ooo—it feels so strange to type that!)
The 20’s are extremely formative years (or so I’ve been told), so I took them really seriously. Perhaps, too seriously. As a Type-A personality, I couldn’t bear the thought of making any mistakes—in college, in my career, in my relationships, or otherwise, so I weighed all my choices with a handy pros and cons list.
In other words, I agonized back and forth over every decision.
Then I graduated with a business degree and a small part of me died inside when I had no clue what to use it for. I only knew I did NOT want to be imprisoned in a cubicle or answer to a boss (which is quite limiting in terms of a career!). But when I dipped my toes in entrepreneurship, I didn’t succeed right away. Those road blocks were big blows to my already fragile self-esteem.
In everything I did, I stressed way too much over getting life exactly right. But as much as you plan, sometimes life just gets a little crazy!
Still, handy advice never goes out of style.
Maybe you’re in your twenties (or soon to be!) and feel the pressure of your 30th birthday as a deadline for “arriving” at the perfect life. You want to do something incredible with your life, so you vacillate over the smallest decisions in fear of getting something wrong.
Let me just say: hindsight is always 20/20. But if I could hop in a time machine and time travel back to my 20’s, I’d whisper this advice to my younger self about finances, life in general, and the future. Feel free to eavesdrop as you approach or finish out your 20’s!
1. It’s okay if you don’t know what you “want to do”
Even though I was positive about my college major because I wanted to run my own business someday, I had no idea what business that would be!
So I tried several different things that didn’t work (cake decorating, direct sales, bookkeeping, and even a wedding videography business that I started with Joseph). Every failure made me second guess if I was cut out for the entrepreneur lifestyle.
This would be my advice to my younger self—it’s okay to not know what you want to do right away. Don’t be afraid to try different jobs and be gracious to yourself when those career paths don’t pan out. It takes time to see what you’re good at and what you love. You will find what you were meant to do!
Psst…running an online business eventually became my ticket to virtual freedom. You can learn more about my journey HERE.
2. Don’t rush buying a home
As a newly married couple at 19 and 24 (yep, we were young!), Joseph and I felt like we were just throwing money away renting. Ugh, if only I could go back and lecture myself about how good we had it (renting, after all, comes with free maintenance and we had a really good deal)!
But our budgeting mindset convinced us to buy a home as quickly as possible. As a result, we were blind to all the warning signs of the home we bought. It eventually became the biggest financial mistake we ever made (not an exaggeration, promise!).
Bottom line and one of my biggest pieces of advice to my younger self: Renting isn’t always a bad thing. Here are 5 Things to Know Before Buying a Home so you don’t make the same mistakes we did!
3. Save, Save, Save
Despite being a bit of a budgeting nerd, I didn’t save nearly as much as I should have during my twenties.
Joseph worked two jobs and I worked one part-time job while finishing college (at an affordable institution, thankfully!), but we barely had anything left over to stash away. And we skipped employee retirement plans because we worried we wouldn’t be able to make ends meet (and we were saving up for that house).
Now that I’m in my 30’s, I am much more serious about saving for the future—my RIZE savings even helps me reach my goals in my sleep. But I wish I had hustled a little more and picked up different freelance jobs so I could have made even more progress in my 20’s.
Here are some great goals to consider as a 20-something:
- Build an emergency fund (the bigger the better)
- Pay off college debt (here’s how my friend paid hers off in one summer!)
- Save for your next car
- Plan and save for retirement
4. Make Peace with your Self-Imposed Deadlines
Have you ever thought, “I need to have this, this, and this, checked off by a certain age?” I certainly did! Honestly, I think it’s one of the reasons why I dove headfirst into finding the perfect entrepreneurial outlet (and also why I felt absolutely crushed when my first venture didn’t pan out!) #perfectionistproblems
I did it again a decade later.
My looming 30th birthday made me believe, wrongfully so, that life as I knew it would be over. Now I understand that life is really just beginning. My bucket list is still realistic and achievable.
I wish I could have told myself to stop focusing on those checkboxes in my 20’s, because all they did was put unnecessary pressure on myself to meet a certain deadline.
Life is full of unexpected pivots that will mess with your “life plan” and make you realize that it’s impossible to have a perfect timeline for your life. There are so many more new and exciting experiences waiting for you after every birthday!
5. Friendships Grow Deeper
As a 20-year old, I was surrounded by acquaintances with similar interests, but struggled to make even just one kindred-spirit type friend who would stand the test of time, embrace my quirky qualities, and challenge me to be a better person.
However, as I approached my 30’s, friendships began to bloom on a deeper level. I realized I didn’t need to limit myself to one best friend with whom I could (gulp) overshare…I could have several. And the best part? Age or stage of life doesn’t really matter. Some of my friends are older than me, younger than me, married with kids or single.
That’s not to say all friendships are the same—they tend to look a little different now than they did before because life gets busy when everyone has their own family and other responsibilities to take care of, but there is also a maturity level that wasn’t there before. You can pick up right where you left off if you go weeks (sometimes months!) without communicating and you don’t get into silly fights.
So don’t be discouraged if you haven’t found your “people” yet. Keep investing in relationships and look forward to the deeper connection and commitment that await you in your 30’s.
6. Appreciate Your Body
People aren’t joking when they say your metabolism will slow down and your body will start to ache in places you never thought it would. After you hit the big 3-0, things change. My teenage days of Mountain Dew and pizza every night were over the moment they began sticking to my waistline, and some days I’ll wake up with a sore back from a very simple yoga routine!
The fact is: your body changes as you get older. And while I’m a firm believer in developing healthy habits as soon as possible like…
- Drinking more water
- Creating a regular workout routine
- Eating nourishing, high-energy foods
- Getting plenty of sleep
I wish I didn’t worry as much about the extra two pounds I carried in my twenties or stress out over every poor food choice. I could have enjoyed life a little bit more away from the scale, instead of letting it dictate my life. I still strive to make healthy choices, but I’m less judgmental of myself when I mess up. I just make a plan to do better than I did yesterday!
7. It’s Okay to Be Yourself
As someone who struggles with major insecurities (that still haunt me at times!) I didn’t know who I was or who I should be throughout much of my twenties. I’d hide behind the perfect mask, refusing to reveal the most vulnerable parts of myself in fear that once people knew who I really was, they’d think I was strange or weird.
I’ll never forget what a camp counselor told me the first year I was old enough to work there—16 and shaking in my flip-flops. She was gorgeous, the life of the party, and always had something witty to add to the conversation. She made me feel plain and boring. Someone who could never compete.
And yet, her heart was one of gold. She noticed me hanging back from one of our staff training exercises and pulled me aside. When I mentioned just how much I was struggling, she squeezed my shoulders and said,
The world needs people like you. The world would be boring without you in it. Be yourself and be proud of who you are.
I wish I’d believed her then—oh how it might have changed everything in my 20’s!—but this mantra is something I’m holding onto now more than ever. And I hope you, too, come to the same conclusion… sooner than I did… that we should embrace our differences and be proud of what we’re able to contribute.
The Most Important Part of All
Obviously, I can’t go back and change anything (too bad that time travel machine doesn’t exist!). But the main life lesson I want to share above everything I’ve mentioned here is this:
Learn to appreciate the stage of life you are in…right here, right now.
It’s easy to look back on your past and say I wish I could have done that part a little bit differently. This is sometimes easier than anticipating all you can look forward to and all the exciting things ahead of you as a fresh-out-of-college 20-something.
But the good news is, there’s no perfect age or stage of life or moment in time that defines who we are or what we will become. Which means you can make the present the absolute best time of your life.
Are you a 20-something who has followed these life lessons already? If you’re older, what would you tell your 20-year old self?
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