I have recently noticed the sheer number of lists on the internet explaining the keys to success (or failure) for 20-somethings. So, for our RA training this week, I decided to present my take on this fad. Of course, I did so through the lenses of college student development theory.
The fact that there are so many of these lists floating around and that we are quite attracted to them is no coincidence. Our 20s, and college in particular, is a time of huge growth and development. Psychosocial identity development, cognitive development, moral development, adjusting to changing environments, establishing vocational aspirations…all of these areas are part of the foundations of student development theory. And these are the areas that 20-somethings seek to explore and address in creating these aspirational (or cautionary) lists. We are all trying to figure out who we are, what we care about, who we love, and what we want to do with our lives. It’s incredibly exciting and incredibly terrifying. It’s growing up.
And so, as an educator of 20-somethings and a 20-something myself, I offer up the following list. It is by no means exhaustive. It is hardly specific (intentionally). But it is rooted in the idea that learning and development happens in the spaces where we become uncomfortable, question ourselves, and are appropriately challenged and supported by our environments.
20 Things to Learn in Your 20s
- Set financial goals and save money. Yes, student debt is crappy. Bills are crappy. Some of us make more money than others. But managing your finances and trying to think of money in the long-term is an important investment in your future.
- Develop friendships with people who support your goals and values (and who you like!) Friends are not Pokemon. You don’t have to catch them all. Pick ones that really have your back, that build you up and make you feel a sense of worth and belonging. You want these people to lean on when times get tough.
- Practice a positive attitude. Sometimes things get difficult. Although no one should suffer in silence, choosing your attitude goes a very long way.
- Get uncomfortable. You will never learn anything if you are happy and cozy all the time. It’s called cognitive dissonance. It’s good.
- You don’t know lots of things. You will sometimes (perhaps often) be wrong. Even when you have a college degree. Even when you have a graduate degree. Even when you sit in the corner office. It’s better to recognize that than to pretend that you know it all (and be lying to yourself).
- Seek out the things that you want and make you happy. Please do not choose a career that you hate and then proceed to spend most of your adult life logging 40, 50, or 60 hours a week in a job that’s the equivalent of a barren wasteland devoid of joy and meaning. If you happen to not yet have a family, job, house, dog, etc to pay for, this is a good time to figure out what actually does make you happy and fulfilled without the full pressure of financially supporting others.
- Take risks. Please refer to #4. No risk, no reward. In fact, sometimes you take risks and there is still no reward. But what is worth doing even if you fail?
- Make mistakes. You will f up. In fact, you probably f up every day. So are you going to beat yourself up about this or are you going to accept it as part of life?
- Prioritize your wellness. Newsflash: You’re not getting any younger. Also, you don’t get to trade in your body when you turn 30. So if you spend this decade filling it with Redbull, beer, and chicken wings, never taking it out for exercise, and never giving it rest, that’s what you’re working with for the rest of forever. Stand your ground on aspects of your wellness that are important to you. Is it your mental health? Exercise? Sleep? All of the above? Make those non-negotiables. Achievement or proving yourself is not worth it if you are running yourself into the ground and wrecking your body.
- Care about others and express that care. Let down the walls. Say “I love you”. It makes people feel good. It makes you feel good.
- Travel and explore other cultures. There is a hell of a lot out there that you don’t even know exists and have no idea about. And you can learn so much and gain so much from exploring.
- Keep learning after college. College was great, but I’m certain that we don’t teach you everything in life while you’re here. Hopefully you have more questions than answers when you leave.
- Some people just need to be removed from your life. Toxic relationships need to go. Or be minimized. If someone makes you feel like shit on a regular basis and is bringing you down, cut the cord. Your self-worth and value cannot be tied to someone’s harmful and negative behavior.
- Love and accept yourself. You are enough. You are a wonderful and imperfect human being. Until you love yourself, you really can’t love others.
- Figure out what you believe in and value (it might be different than what your family believes). Also, your beliefs and values might change over time. Speak your truth.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff (s**t happens) Getting worked up over small things that can be overcome is simply not worth it. Learning how to deal with and manage these things will go a long way for your peace of mind and stress levels. Sometimes you are running late. Sometimes you forget to send someone a birthday card. Sometimes you accidentally scratch up the whole side of your brand new car and it’s totally your fault (for example). Life goes on. It could be so much worse.
- There are a lot of things and people you just can’t control. You may really want to change a person or organization and despite your best efforts, it simply doesn’t happen. Not everything in life is within your scope of control. It’s important to positively effect the things that are, but not everything is.
- Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Don’t be afraid to fall out of love. As Kenny Rogers said, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”
- You are not the center of the universe. But you are part of it. It’s not all about you. It’s really, really not. However, your decisions, actions, and attitudes affect others. In fact, they probably have effects that you are not even aware of. So think about others.
- You will change. Your life will change. Embrace it. Things are constantly changing. You can either fight it or ride the wave.