Life is starting to get a little (or a lot) harder. All of a sudden no one is telling us what to do anymore and with that relief comes an avalanche of responsibilities that we are supposed to take on all at once. We are starting to understand that the real world can be a harsh place that we must navigate and hopefully, thrive in. The comforting thing is that these struggles are not unique and there are many resources at our disposal for learning the ins and outs. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out yet, but you can take steps to make things a little easier on yourself and set yourself up for the rest of your life.
1. Make a plan
Actually, make a ton of plans. Plan for everything from the best to worst case scenarios. It’s not possible to be prepared for every aspect of life, but it is good to have a framework for what you can do if things go wrong. The real world does not care about you; it’s your responsibility to care for yourself. Spend your time wisely towards the things you want to do and the things that feed your soul. This is not the time to wait for things to happen, this is the time to make them happen.
2. Be deliberate
Yes, your twenties might be your selfish years. This is because for the most part, you are probably just responsible for yourself (which you are probably also realizing is a lot). This does not mean now is the time to go willy nilly and put off the future. Now is the time to build your future and establish the habits you want for the rest of your life. This is the time to shelve procrastination and get started on the life you truly want to live. Not saying that you can’t kick back and have fun, but if fun is your priority now, don’t expect it to come so easily later. This is also true of relationships. Time goes by very quickly, so make sure you are investing it in those who can offer you more than a warm body and an ego boost.
3. Get smart about your finances
Make a budget. Stick to the budget. It’s good to be impulsive every now and then if you can afford to, but saving for a future that you will one day be proud of can be even better. I know that sounds way more boring than booking a trip or decking out your apartment, but when the day comes that you want to buy a house or retire, it won’t seem so boring.
4. Check your Environment
You are influenced by everything that you consume. This goes further than just the food you eat and what you drink. Your environment is a summation of the shows and movies you watch, the music you listen to, who you spend your time with, the articles or books you read, the status of your living space etc. This is a time in life that seems like it’s out of control, but you do have control over the small things. The small things usually frame our perspective which comes in handy when we need to tackle the big things. Make sure you are consuming that which makes you the person you are aiming to become, and if not, adjust.
5. Surround yourself with good people
The months after I finished school were arguably some of my most difficult. Nothing anyone said to me could really relieve any of the burdens I was facing at the time, which was good, because it was a period of growth. However, I realized during this time that the people I had around me were extremely vital to my mindset, my goals, and my moods. There is no doubt that friendships will change as you grow older and I find now that I can appreciate a friend giving it to me straight up rather than trying to spare my feelings. This is the time to choose who is going to be on your team. Who do you spend your time around? Who do you go out of your way to talk to? Are your friends a good reflection of who you are or who you hope to be? Your twenties are for more than just “hanging out” so it’s good to have friends that offer more than just that.
6. Find a role model
Or, befriend someone that has already accomplished what you are setting out to do. I know competition gets a bad rep, especially in the age of social media. Healthy competition is a good thing though. Follow the do’s and don’ts of someone who has been through it all already. Anyone can learn from their own mistakes, it takes intelligence to learn from someone else’s.
As I said before, these growing pains are not unique. There are many people, who are much smarter than us, that have already been through all of this and were kind enough to write their thoughts and findings down. Now is a great time to get into the habit of reading, not only because it is a healthy pastime, but because you can further your learning. It also expands your diction, improves your ability to be well-spoken, and is the best way to improve your writing abilities. Whatever it is you are trying to accomplish in life, there is most likely a book about it. If there isn’t, then it will be your job to write it.
8. Get ready to fail. A lot.
I recently read a passage in Eric Greitens Resilience that pointed out how somewhere along the way from childhood to adulthood, we have forgotten how to fail. We failed as children all the time — we failed when we learned to ride a bike, when we learned to read, when we tried to do math. As adults, whether it be from expectations or insecurity, we don’t grant ourselves as much room for error. We want to be perfect and we want to be perfect now. This is not feasible. We are going to fail so much more in our lives, but the key is not to throw in the towel. The key is to learn in the process of failing so that one day we can achieve sweet success. Also, again, this pain is not unique to you.
9. Practice Patience
That being said, our twenties are the time to plant seeds. We have the fertile ground of knowing that our choices are wholeheartedly our own, and on it we should plant good decisions that are true to our deepest desires. That which happens quickly is usually not sustainable. A meaningful relationship takes time, a career takes time, sculpting the body of your dreams takes time. School did a good job of emphasizing that we need to strive for perfection in every subject, but the real world lets us choose. Utilize your focus for that which you truly hope to accomplish in the here and now. Form habits instead of buying quick fixes. 30-year old you will say thanks!
10. Gain some perspective
Life so rarely awards us with those big earth-shattering discoveries and moments that we were promised in the movies. You are not likely to stumble upon your passion but rather find your purpose in your typical day-to-day. We received so much abstract advice as kids, which isn’t a bad thing but we’re older now. Follow your dreams sounds nice but it’s got an implication of work hard, fail, work harder, fail again, keep working and then you have a shot at achieving your dream. This is why it’s important to take actions with intention rather than going in blindly and hoping for the best. People respond to concrete examples, achievements, and what you can provide for them. This means that effort or professed interest doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to stand by your interests and efforts with something tangible.
11. Take all advice with a grain of salt
You are going to get a lot of advice throughout the next decade. Some of it is helpful to others and not you, other advice could be destructive to others but vital to you. All of this is trial and error. This life is everyone’s rough draft. If you find that something isn’t working for you, change it. That’s not to say to turn a deaf ear to what you want to ignore or don’t want to deal with. This means to really figure out who you can become and start becoming that person today.
No one is going to hand you the manual for your life. It’s your job to write it.