Thought Catalog

19 Non-Negotiable Lessons You Owe It To Yourself To Learn In Your 20s

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Jonathan Daniels

1. The “need to know what your life plan is” is a bunch of hot air. It’s okay. No really, listen. It’s like we are almost so afraid to die with our dreams and purpose still inside of us that we would almost rather die young, than arrive at 88 but be less than. Life is a series of days that we shove together and try to make a happy, fulfilling thing by the end. There are so many different ways to achieve that. Worry a little, it keeps you hungry, but don’t be paralyzed. People always use names like Oprah or Einstein when they are attempting to encourage you about what they were doing at your age, like waiting tables. But it doesn’t really make you feel better because you’re still waiting tables. It’s about living a life that doesn’t invoke a question mark or the word IF. Find a way to make it happen, and if you don’t know what the ‘it’ is yet, try all the things and enjoy the experiences. Anything can happen to anyone, the real somethings do something with that anything.

2. We are literally dying every day. Don’t let life happen to you, happen to life. There is never an easy day to make a change, it is probably going to be painful. Anyone seen, We Bought a Zoo? This is going to get corny, but bear with me. In the movie, a father talks to his son about having 20 seconds of courage. Give yourself 20 seconds of courage and then he says, I promise something good will come of it. I promise that if you do make a change from something in your life that doesn’t belong there—the days that follow will be better than they would be if you hadn’t decided to have those 20 seconds of courage. Perhaps, over a lifetime, those 20 seconds will grow to 30 and we will have room to do really brave things.

3. This is going to seem a bit ironic and hypocritical because I am sitting typing this on a screen, but life is not in the scrolling. More than any other generation, we are DYING to connect—yet we are the most “connected” generation in history. Most serendipitous events in life need our consent to occur. In moderation, social media/technology is good. But Instagram has become a breeding ground for envy and comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out). Facebook has become a mask where we put our best face forward, true face to face connection is causing social anxiety. We don’t know how to talk to each other. Get off twitter and go hold a sign or walk at a march if you have a political problem. But somehow human beings survived the entire span of existence without cell phones until now—we need to investigate how this was done. We are missing out on conversations, experiences, beauty, and so much more because we are engrossed with our scrolling.

4. Learn to be alone and enjoy it. It is truly a gift to be able to enjoy some time by yourself and not need to be occupied or accompanied by another person. It is independence, and in the quiet there is a lot to discover about yourself. I’m not telling you to isolate yourself or do the whole Into the Wild thing—after all he discovers that it is truly all about human connection. But whether you are an introvert or an extrovert go sit on a bench, or go for a hike, or curl up and read. Make the time. Giving yourself a chance to miss people, lets you love them better and gives them a less distracted version of yourself. Make time for your thoughts, for some self-talk, and to realize who you are absence of the presence of others. Learning to be alone, and not feel alone is a huge talent.

5. Believe in something. Love, the environment, peace, whatever it is for you. It is quite true that if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything. Do not be a chameleon that blends to your social surroundings. Know about something, get passionate about it, and do something about it. It’s pretty easy to hold personal philosophies, it’s harder to enforce them on yourself; a conviction is just misplaced passion if action doesn’t follow. It creates humility to acknowledge something other than yourself on a daily basis. I was talking to a baby boomer about this, and she was telling me about millennials, and how half of us couldn’t care less about the issues of the world, and the other half is on fire…again we are marching and protesting—let’s be the latter.

6. The world doesn’t owe us anything. Millennials are viewed by many generations older than us, as people who want to work the least for the most gain. If you want something, go work your ass off to get it. If you don’t get it…work harder, get better, stay an extra hour, shoot 100 more shots, go through the flash cards more time, know the product up down sideways and backwards. We are not entitled to anything that we don’t work for, and even then, sometimes not. The world doesn’t owe us anything, in fact, I believe that we are each a someone that has something to offer the world—but it is our choice to be that individual or not.

7. Don’t kid yourself that you don’t have time for certain things. If something is important, you make time for it. One thing that I believe that we convince ourselves of somewhere in adolescence and adulthood is that only children play. We need to play. Whatever that is for you—whether it is literally playing and going to the pool, or being with your kids, or planting in the garden, or going for a bike ride—we need it. We need to reintroduce the word play into the adult vocabulary and remove the monopoly that kids have on it in our minds. The monotony of adult choices, bills, realities does not have to consume us. One of my absolute favorite authors is Roald Dahl, his “children’s” books are soaked in this sentiment. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory he writes, “a little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest man.” Playing is therapeutic, and just so downright necessary.

8. It’s crucial to know who you are. Know what you’re good at and don’t deny it, that’s not humble, that’s some fake nonsense. Don’t brag about it or anything, but own it. Also, know what you are not so good at, this will actually keep you humble, and give you strivings. Know what you like and be determined to not let that change based on others’ opinions. Know where you came from, this will remind you both of paths to and paths not to take. Know what you want, it will allow you to put yourself in a position to thrive. Surround yourself with some individuals who deeply care about you, it takes these types of people to enter the uncomfortable field of conflict with you and point out character flaws. Be aware of others, their reactions and treatment of you might tell you a lot about yourself. ASK. Ask people what you’re good at, what you stink at. If they have a quality that you admire, ask how they developed it. Adults ask for what they need.

9. “Do wrong to none.” Remember when you were really little, that kid who called you fat, or that coach that said you were no good, or that teacher that made you feel stupid? Remember that at any given time, in probably several scenarios a day, you have the opportunity to participate in this scenario for someone else, for better or for worse. You could be the kid, the coach, or the teacher—or you could cheer them on, raise them up. Kindness is one of the most widely spoken about, yet underutilized qualities. Literally, everyone is out there just trying to do their best, just like I am, and just like you are.

10. Fill yourself with good things. I am not saying to censor/purify all things that you are subjected to, after all a majority of the most fantastic books of all time were once banned books. This is less of an avoid bad because blah blah blah something self-righteous, and more of give yourself the honor of experiencing fantastic, cultural, meaningful, talented, fun, things. Give yourself the privilege of reading good things that expand your mind, honor your eyes with movies and art that stir your heart and spirit, listen to music that you can vibe to that makes you think and close your eyes and nod your head.

11. Think about your day. You probably got up, got to work/school somehow, arrived at work, went through the work day, returned home, walked into your residence and felt that you were too tired to interact with anyone so you turn something on. There are so freaking many opportunities for that day to be different than yesterday, but we must be willing to be interrupted. Is it scary, heck yeah, 20 seconds of courage friends. Take your headphones out on the bus or train, mean it when you say “how are you?” at work or in the hallway, go and sit down next to the person holding the sign with their head down on the sidewalk. Start small, I promise you will never regret becoming a little bit more interruptible.

12. Know what is happening in the world. “The news is so depressing”. I hear this all the time. Okay, fair enough. Well, let me ask this—wouldn’t it be more depressing if we didn’t know about the civil war that some children are being raised in and gassed in, in Syria? Should those people not have their stories told because it depresses us here in first world America? I’m not saying go and memorize all the movements of the world. But, please open a newspaper, even look at an app on your phone—know what is happening in the world. Not only will this allow you to participate in intelligent conversations, it will help you seek to understand others instead of just seeking to be understood. Inform yourself, if you know about it maybe you’ll share it and we can empower, assist, even mobilize those who have the power to do something about it.

13. Spend time with people older than you. We do not know everything. Every day of my life something happens that affirms that I am not nearly as smart as I think I am. Find a parent, a grandparent, a neighbor, an older person on a park bench—and go soak up that wisdom. They have smarts and experience that we need to know about. We need to know about the how hard the great depression was, the civil rights movement, what they were doing during the Vietnam war, if they listened to the Beatles, what was scandalous in the 50’s, who their sweetheart was and what made it work for so long. Ask questions, seek counsel, we ALL need these people in our lives because the only thing that gives us life experience is life and they have lived more of it.

14. Put yourself in intentional experiences of humility. As a generation that was raised being told we were the greatest thing since sliced bread, we have become so self-important, and we need to see things. In the book The Hobbit Tolkien writes, “the world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there.” It’s hard to remain incredibly self-important when you meet people who have absolutely nothing and are still happy. It slowly fascinates the privilege out of you.

15. Laugh. Don’t take yourself too seriously. In the psychology world, there are generally six universal emotions that have been found to breach languages, culture, geographies, etc. One of which is joy. They have even been tested on blind individuals who have never seen someone smile. And when they laugh they still smile even though no one taught them how. It’s a natural thing…How miraculous is it that all humans have the potential to laugh and feel joy?

16. Humans are social animals, when we don’t know what to do in a situation we commonly, watch others. When we go to another country we watch for the customs—they take off their shoes when they go in the house? Okay I will too. It’s a similar thing with not knowing what you are doing with your life. You tend to watch others and compare, maybe try to follow suit. Well, stop comparing yourself to others. Your purpose in the world compared with someone else’s, is about as different as a bumble bees purpose compared to an octopus’. If you must compare, compare to yourself. Fill out one more job application today than yesterday.

17. Make intentional rules for yourself. Here’s one of mine. I used to throw personal pity parties and feel bad for myself about things. It was beyond letting myself feel my feelings—I was ruminating in them. As a teenager, I thought I had a personal monopoly on pain. After some therapy and steps toward self-awareness, I now have a rule about feeling bad for myself. I get a day to be sad, angry, upset, etc.—to validate my emotions and get it out of my system, but then I must either confront it or move forward.

18. Don’t chase highs—find real things, and hold onto them. That’s the thing about high’s is that they don’t stick around the way real things do. By definition, a high is temporary. This is not to say that adventures aren’t real, but at the end of the day you can’t hug a volcano, you don’t hear I love you from skydiving, you don’t grow old with a zip line. Don’t get so focused on experiences, that you forget about people, because more often than not experiences ultimately mean very little if your people aren’t there. Even the most miraculous adventure living life would be empty if you had no one to bring you flowers in the hospital when you break your arm.

19. I PROMISE you that you are not alone. No matter how ‘together’ some other 20 something seems…they are most likely sharing to some extent in your doubt, in your lostness, in the stretching of your paycheck, in your desire for purpose, in the pressure of your family and friends…We are all freaking out about something. For me today, I am freaking out about the gas needle in my car. Apparently, we have to struggle, so let’s struggle upwards, struggle well. TC mark

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