Thought Catalog

18 Lessons You Need To Unlearn About Your 20s

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1. “Your 20s are a throwaway decade to just do whatever you want.” 80 percent of life’s most defining moments happen by the time you’re 35. The first 10 years of a career have an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn. Half of Americans are married or are living with their future partner by age 30. The brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it re-wires for adulthood. Meaning, whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the time to do it.

2. “You have to play some kind of game to get a relationship to work.” Playing hard to get, waiting three days to call, deciding that you won’t give somebody a chance because they’re not “your type,” letting your friends call the shots in your romantic relationships, being unclear about your intentions, caring less to keep the power is all bullshit that needs to stop. Forget what the magazines taught you growing up, act like a human being relating to another human being, giving them the respect and honesty they deserve.

3. “Once school is over, you won’t have to deal with rude, annoying people.” The idea that you’re ever going to be in a position where you don’t have to interact with someone who frustrates you is not only false, but it’s almost harmful. Develop the skills to not only tolerate these people, but to work effectively with them — you’re going to have to for the rest of your life.

4. “Conformity will be rewarded.” As a matter of course, people seek college degrees and partners and white-picket-fenced houses and jobs at a fluorescently-lit desk because that’s what we’re taught will yield “success” and because we aren’t made aware that there are other options out there. It’s not that hard work won’t yield success — it will — but only when it’s in something you actually love to do, and toward which you naturally put all your energy.

5. “Difficult relationships should just end.” There’s a difference between the relationships that challenge us and the relationships that we’re not meant for. Unfortunately, people often get these lines crossed and you see so many couples who are just so clearly meant to be together not make that commitment because of silly miscommunication problems, and couples who have an easy, relaxed relationship together stay that way not for love, or passion, but because of convenience.

6. “Choose what makes sense.” I happen to be friends with a number of extraordinary people who have jobs and lives they absolutely love, and the common thread among them is this: at one point or another, they were ass-on-the-street-completely-broke-and-desperate and there was no backup plan or emergency protocol among them. This is what made them act, and act voraciously. This is what got them to where they are — sheer willpower. It’s not a matter of neglecting responsibility, it’s about realizing that you have to leap hard and build your wings — nothing will make you do so faster than knowing there’s nothing beneath you to land on.

7. “Listen (and follow the guidance) of your superiors.” You should respect your superiors — and then think of new, innovative ways to restructure where you see fault, think for yourself when something doesn’t make sense or sit right with you, and trust your own instincts above the guidance of someone you’re not sure is right.

8. “Relationships should come after everything else in your life is settled.” First of all, relationships should come when, y’know, they just come. You can’t predict when everything in your life will be perfectly situated so that you can allot time for a lover a few times a week. It doesn’t work that way, and we end up warding off so many “right” relationships because “the timing wasn’t right in our personal lives” when the truth is that the timing will never be right, it’s only a matter of us being at a point to work through it regardless.

9. “Happiness is the end-goal.” The minute we start believing (subconsciously or not) that one day, while still human beings, we can arrive at a stagnant, permanent state of happiness, we’re absolutely doomed. A sense of purpose should be the end-goal. The tools and abilities to deal with the ebbing and flowing of human emotion should be as well. This isn’t about feeling one emotion for the rest of our lives, but more gracefully going through all of them.

10. “Failure is the ultimate thing to avoid.” Failures are re-directs. Failures are far from the worst things to happen, they are often guiding us to the best things that will happen. Think about it: the school you didn’t get into and went somewhere else and now couldn’t imagine it any other way. The relationship that ended, and then you found a new, more amazing one and thank God it happened. The job you lost, and then your dream one came along. The more we fear failure, the longer we sit in inaction in the face of that which we’re being called and pushed to — that which is always greater than whatever we have now.

11. “Your reputation matters, and you should concern yourself with the opinions of others for this reason.” If you spend your whole life only acting for the sake of upkeeping an image of what other people see and think of you as, you’re going to live a very boring life, because you’ll never do anything your heart most desires. You’ll never be your most honest self. You’ll always be thinking through the minds of someone else — someone elses who simply don’t matter in the scheme of things.

12. “Act out of obligation: spend the holidays with your extended family because they’re blood, be in a wedding because they’re a good friend, attend a party because so-and-so will be mad if you don’t, etc.” This is the first time you’re actually choosing for yourself, so hear me out. You should spend your holidays with the people with whom you most awesomely celebrate them with. You should say no to a wedding party if it’s something you cannot commit to, financially or otherwise. You should learn to put yourself first enough that you aren’t living on the whim of other people’s desires. This isn’t selfishness, this is understanding that there’s a difference between being self-acting and self-preserving. Often, doing what we want is the last thing we get to do, and it’s a great source of unrest and anxiety.

13. “The ‘real world’ is scary.” It’s a horrendous and over-exaggerated myth that does nothing but convince college students that they’re ill-equipped to handle, y’know, basic survival. There’s nothing “scary” about finding a job, getting an apartment, paying bills: they’re the most common tasks in the entire world. They’re only scary if someone plants the seed of “but maybe I can’t do this” in your head. (Don’t let them).

14. “You have to be poor in your 20s.” The idea that your 20s are set for certain financial instability is a bad mindset to have, not to mention the fact that you don’t know that you’re even going to have your 30s. Pay your bills. Save for just-in-case. But enjoy yourself too. 

15. “You have to start acting like an adult.” The awesome truth is that approximately nobody actually expects you to have it all together, so stop putting unnecessary pressure on yourself, and just let live to whatever ends you’re capable of meeting.

16. “You’re so goddamn young.” We run around with our superhero complexes assuming that we have the rest of our lives to grow old. The very cold, hard, sad, ugly, horrible truth is that for some people (and yeah, some people you know) this is the oldest you’ll ever be. We don’t like to think about this because our mortality is a daunting thing, but let it be a call to remember that you should do what you want in the sense that if it’s a child, get yourself financially and otherwise prepared and have yourself a damn kid. If it’s marriage, go for it. Whatever it is — make a choice. Figure it out. You’re young and can explore, sure, but don’t waste your life waiting for another day to do what you most want.

17. “Good enough just has to be enough sometimes.” If good enough is enough for you, fine, but don’t be surprised when “good enough” doesn’t yield the extraordinary. There’s a time to let go of high hopes and expectations, and then there’s a time to work like crazy for them — and that time is now, when you have the opportunity.

18. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I’m all about the path of least resistance, believe me, but there’s a very fine balance between learning to be tactful in communicating what you need said and just not saying anything at all because you’re afraid of confrontation. And so many people live this way: we just kind of placate things because we don’t want to tell a friend that we very simply dislike the dress they chose not because we hate them but because it isn’t our style. Honesty is a lost, mostly dead art at this point, and it’s because we’re afraid of offending someone over something completely non-offensive. Learn to speak your true opinions. It makes relationships a lot less exhausting. TC Mark

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