Ditch the Instagram playbook.
Ah, young adulthood. Does it get any more awkward than this? The apex of irrepressible uneasiness and planned spontaneity, everyone in their 20’s is (shhh, secretly) yearning for a crash course on how to impede being engulfed by an ominous cloud of self-doubt.
We’re our own worst enemies throughout much of our lives, but it perhaps rings true the loudest during this pivotal decade. With labels, stereotypes, and personal brands — I threw up a little bit typing that — running rampant, we’re bound to be defined by someone else unless we foot the bill first.
But is that entirely necessary? Do you really have to base your quality of life on a set of foregone conclusions — even in a timeframe as vexing as your 20’s? Do you really have to be at the defense of yourself at all times?
My answer, dear friends, is no (and probably not for the reasons you think). While you may have expected this list to encourage spending money on experiences and not things, walk away from people who don’t lift you up, and all the other YOLO white noise you’ve heard ad nauseam, this is not that.
This list isn’t sexy, but it’s effective. It’s basic, concrete shit that — if you don’t gloss over it because your listening is predisposed to a ceaseless echo of “I know this” (see number eight) — will result in steady, marginal improvements in your baseline mood, which is the primary source of your experience of your 20’s in the first place.
Here are 10 simple ways to make the most out of this fundamental decade, without compromising the two that came before and the ones thereafter:
1. Be cognizant of what you put in your body
It’s highly common for you to fall into the trap of making everything about you while in your 20’s (more on that later). As a result, your mood takes center stage: will I be happy, sad, pissed off, or anxious today?
Instead of a blind roll of the dice on your attitude, take ownership over what enters that vessel of yours. Much of what you feel has to do with your physiology and it doesn’t take long for changes to start creating a noticeable impact. Go easy on the short-term pleasures, for those sensations disappear as quickly as your first few bonus checks did. Ditch the drugs, drink responsibly (keeping it under the weekly drink recommendation for not being considered an alcoholic), and have a diet that consists mainly of things that come from the ground.
And if you think “self-love” is to indulge in everything and everything you desire, consider the following from Heidi Priebe,
“Real self-love isn’t about ‘treating yourself’… because real self-love is less about babying yourself and more about parenting yourself.”
2. Get moving
You probably think this is solely regarding exercise. While physical activity is absolutely necessary, (see above regarding linkage between physiology and mood) I’m actually referring to a literal move…like to another state…alone.
Your hometown is a massive security blanket for your personality. You’ve got too much support, history, and commonality to ever feel the kind of discomfort that has you questioning the who the hell you actually are — something you’re going to want to feel and confront sooner rather than later.
Pick a cool city, nail down a gig and place to crash, and get the hell of out dodge. There are enough cars, planes, and hoverboards available to visit the kids from the subdivision whenever you need a shot of nostalgia. Cut the safety net loose and plant yourself in an environment where you’re forced to develop effective communication skills.
3. Take a job where you have no idea what you’re doing
Speaking of landing gigs, when you select your career path isn’t as pressing an issue as your parents are making it out to be. Yeah, I get it, you went to college and you’re now an expert in this preferred field. However, a couple of critical areas will be severely limited in their development if you try to follow a path too straight and too narrow: mental toughness and self-awareness.
As long as your profession tows the same line, your perspective will be limited to that particular industry and the challenges demanded of you (which will effectively shape how you view work and life altogether, which can fuck you in the long-run).
If you’re going to be a doctor, fine, stay the course. But if there’s even an inkling of uncertainty in your heart on what you truly want to do, survey the menu and see what opens up.
4. Sell some of your possessions that bring you comfort
As much as you don’t want to admit it, there are a few of your belongings you’ve unconsciously allowed to define you. Maybe it’s the car you’re struggling to make payments on, or the living room set you put on your credit card (it matches the color scheme, though!). Whatever it is, before it’s too late, get rid of it.
Why? Not so much because of the debt factor — although this is a legitimate concern and will bite you in the ass if you’re not frugal — but more so because taking a machete to your material possessions stretches your character like the Freshman Fifteen did your jeans.
Moreover, fewer distractions and items to hang your pride on will keep the focus where it belongs: developing yourself into a more effective contributor to society.
5. Resist the urge to “settle down”
Much like the pressure to quickly identify your career trajectory, each year that passes will create a more compelling urge to shack up with somebody, get married and start popping out kids left and right.
While finding a partner and reproducing your genes are beautiful essences of life, you don’t have to take the expressway to get there. Sometimes standing pat at life’s red lights gives you more time to think and therefore, better understand yourself. Relish in the lulls and get clear on what needs to be addressed within you, rather than haphazardly dragging someone else into the mess of a 20-something’s internal disturbance — only to blame them when it doesn’t work out.
Oh, and by the way — the divorce rate in America is 50% (not mentioning the slew of unhappy marriages still intact). So even if you wish to ignore everything else, the hard data suggests you take it slow.
6. Take responsibility for how you feel
Times will get tumultuous and shit will hit the fan. These are a couple of life’s certainties. As the pressure meter gets turned up, so will the temptation to reassign responsibility as to why you’re not happy. Plenty of easy targets will present themselves: your job, your family, your friends, your finances, your partner, etc.
While these extrinsic circumstances certainly play a role in the natural flow of your happiness, the buck ultimately stops with you. What’s wrong is always available — the difference lies in how much you allow it to influence you.
Drop your resentment like a soggy loaf of bread. All it’s doing is increasing your cortisol levels and working your stress hormones into overtime, harming no one but yourself. Like Nelson Mandela said, “Harboring resentment and anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”
Once you adopt the belief that you are the only person who makes you feel a certain way, you take back all the power.
Viktor Frankl said it best,
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
7. Filter out the bullshit
Your brain is a servomechanism, locking in and magnifying what you pay attention to. While you’re entrenched in your thought or experience, everything else is quietly deleted. Much like drinking from a fire hose, your brain can’t handle uploading all possible information at once. It would lead to crippling overwhelm and your eventual self-destruction.
Time and energy are your investment opportunities. Given these are both are limited resources, you want to ensure you’re receiving the greatest return on where you choose to employ them. It’s incredibly easy to get hung up on something you can‘t control or dissipate time worrying about what may or may not come. It‘s the automatic of survival.
Because of this, you need a filtration system: a set of principles that determine what of all that are vying for your attention, actually receives your attention. The extremes (ignoring everything or ignoring nothing) can be dangerous, so be sure to find a comfortable but productive place on the spectrum.
8. Opt for listening over talking
In your 20’s, your baseline existence is insecurity (whether you know it or not). When you’re insecure, you do everything in your power to rid yourself of that feeling. The natural inclination is to talk — a lot — as if we’re attempting hypnosis on both ourselves and the person we’re speaking with that we’re not actually full of shit.
The only way to not be full of shit is to know you’re full of shit. This “shit” comes from the incessant need to surmount our own ignorance, something you’re bound to struggle with more often than not.
The downslope is because of all this insecurity, the default is we’re always listening to the following:
– What we’re actually saying
– What we’re saying to ourselves about what we already said
– What we’re saying to ourselves about what we’re going to say
– What we’re saying to ourselves about the other person’s thoughts about us
– What we’re saying to ourselves about what the other person is saying
– What we’re saying to ourselves about the other person, based on what they’re saying
Notice, there’s something distinctly missing from this painfully self-deprecating list: oh yeah, what the hell the other person is actually saying.
Point blank, we don’t really listen — yet, we get upset when other people don’t listen to us. Interrupt all these shenanigans and silence that inner noise in your head. It’s useless information, anyway.
You really want the cheat code for communicating to others you’re secure in who you are?
Keep calm and shut the fuck up.
9. Find out how to grow from whomever you find yourself around
There’s a heap of personal development and success books out there that preach the same thing: you are who you surround yourself with. Sound advice, but only if you’re going through life like a fucking zombie.
If you’re intentional about it, you can find something of benefit from anyone you’re around, regardless of the person’s perceived intellect or wisdom. The heavy hitters — hell yeah — ask questions and soak up the knowledge. You’ll gain perspective, ideas, and the ever-fleeting virtue known as inspiration.
But the annoyances, the freeloaders, and Negative Nancys can teach you something, too: patience, compassion, poise, and open-mindedness. Carl Jung says, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves.”
It always comes back to you. You’ll end up a miserable bastard if you can’t find a way to make the best of a situation where you’re around people you don’t particularly care for. The good news is, all you have to do is quit squirming long enough to look.
10. Focus on incremental progress over achievement and recognition
At first glance, this looks like a giant pile of resignation. Seemingly, the statement looks as if it’s designed to discourage you from chasing after awards, fame, success, etc. Whether you actually are rewarded for your efforts publicly or not is irrelevant — what matters is what’s driving your work ethic.
The problem with goal-setting is it’s interpreted ass backwards. We think that the goal itself, or even if we reach it or not, is the important part. Hate to break it to you, kid — the goal doesn’t serve that purpose.
You set a goal because of the fact you’ll have to become someone better in order to reach said goal. Becoming better doesn’t happen in a flash — it’s a product of repetitive, daily advancements completed via raising the bar on who you know yourself to be.
You don’t have to buy into the laissez-faire statement of being “about the journey and not the goal”. I know you want the damn goal and I hope you reach it. I’m simply saying you won’t get there if your eyes are focused on an imperceptible future and not on what’s actually happening in front of you.
If you miss the little advancements, you’ll miss the deposits in your bank of self-confidence — something you desperately need to handle adversity. The unfortunate certainty of neglecting the day-to-day is once the feel-good moment of accomplishing the goal has left you, you’re back to square one. Your baseline level of self-worth is no higher than it was when you started.
You can glance at the big prize every now and then, but stay focused on the smaller, yet more meaningful prize that’s available every day: a better relationship with yourself.
It’s important to point out that while these 10 items are designed to help you make the most out of your 20’s, they’re provided solely for the purpose that if the better off you are, the bigger difference you can make for everyone else. Let the following sink into the core of your being:
It’s not your world. It’s simply your view of it.
We’re all on borrowed time with everything loaned to us and once you grasp the humility and gratitude that’s accessible in that statement, you probably won’t even need this list. Either way, make the most out of your 20’s not just because it’s important to you, but because this world desperately needs you at your best.
You — not alone but collectively with others — can make a sizeable difference in the amount of light shined on the darkness of the world. Don’t miss the opportunity because you’re caught up in your own shit.