15 People On The Most Difficult Things You Will Learn In Your 20s

Read some life lessons provided by 15 people from Quora. If you’re just on the cusp of becoming a 20-something, or currently a 20-something, or even past being a 20-something, let us know in the comments of things you’ve learned in your life.

1. Arjuna Perkins

1. Humility. This is the decade of failure. And that’s ok – it’s probably the first time in your life you’ve had to contend with most of the things you’re taking on. Supporting yourself, managing your time / stress / relationships, figuring out what role you want work / study / spirituality / etc. to play in your life. Very few get through their 20’s without some serious soul searching and questioning of fundamental beliefs and habits… And I don’t envy those who do. This is the best time in your life to be making mistakes. It gets steadily less socially acceptable as you progress in age, so go crazy!

2. Honesty. You don’t get away with anything. Anything. If you’re full of it, people will see that, no matter how vainly you struggle to hide it. The truth has a way of rearing its ugly head, so the sooner you can come to integrity with yourself and the world at large, the sooner you’ll be able to get working towards what you really want, who you really want to be. That ugly person you may think you are inside is actually going to be the most compelling, most interesting, most powerful manifestation of yourself.

3. Health. You also don’t get away with self-abuse. Just because you can stay up all night drinking doesn’t mean it’s not taking its toll on your body. You get a bit older, and you start to meet people in their 30s, 40s, 50s who kept up that lifestyle, and believe me, you don’t want to be one of them. Have your fun, but remember: they call it excess for a reason. Eat well (whatever that means to you), get exercise, get enough sleep, and try to have a steady sex life if you possibly can.

4. Having said that, pay close attention to who you find yourself attracted to. They will tell you more about yourself than almost anything else.

5. Get used to being wrong. Conviction can be a symptom of narrow-mindedness. Chances are, whatever you believe now will be out the window at some point in your future, so get used to being open to other assessments of what’s true. Chances are also that someone out there – maybe a lot of someones – knows a lot more about X, Y and Z than you do. Let go of having to be right about things – this isn’t a contest. It’s not a game. You don’t win at life. So say, “Thanks for your perspective. I’ll think about that.” or “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

6. Perseverance. You will fail in life, over and over and over. It won’t feel fair. Maybe for decades. You’ve got to keep moving forward. Keep going. Keep going!

2. Mallory Armstrong

As I near the end of my twenties, I’ve been fortunate to have amazing people in life who’s taught me great lessons. Lessons I’m still learning, but some of which are below:

1. Your 20s are like investments with compound interest. Small, smart deposits equal huge rewards. And diversify.

2. The things that you fear most, that are most uncomfortable, are often most important for you to do. And you might as well do them if it’s related to that “big dream”, because time will pass anyway. And in your twenties often the worst thing that can happen is you move back in with your parents (Thank you Molly Mahar;)). So do it now while you have relatively little to lose, and more time to rebuild than you ever will again.

3. Get a mentor. And another. And another…

4. Read more, never stop trying to learn, cling to your idealism and don’t give up on your dreams. Surround yourself with those who push you, believe in you, will give you the advice you need to hear but don’t want to (and know when to give you the advice you ask to hear when needed because sometimes you just need to shelter/protect your confidence).

5. Choose a real partner in life. Your strategic alliance (ref. Napoleon Hill).

6. Have an opinion.

7. Listen. And be open to other’s opinions.

8. Set goals and write them down. Celebrate your successes then write new ones.

9. Relationships are like bank accounts. You have to make deposits in order to make a withdrawal. And if you overdraw, there will be fines.

10. Invest in a tailored suit, a fabulous set of shoes and yourself.

11. But mostly, I’ve been fortunate to learn not to take health for granted. To cherish your loved ones – friends and family. Learn when to walk away (when something is no longer healthy for you) and when to forgive. Life isn’t linear. You often live in circles and won’t be able to make sense of things looking forward. But when you look back it’s laid out as clear as a map. So don’t worry about making the wrong decision. Just make a decision and own it. You’re can never wrong if you learn something. And last but not least, have fun and make time to live.

3. Brandon Chu

These are the most difficult things I’ve learnt/am still learning:

1. There are always going to be people who are smarter, better looking, more sociable, and just all around “better” than you. In fact, you’ll learn there are LOTS of people who fit that description. To be happy, then, you have to learn to accept yourself and your shortcomings.

2. Success does indeed come from hard work. Hard work without talent doesn’t ensure success, but talent without hard work ensures mediocrity.

3. It’s unlikely you’ll become anything close to your wildest ambitions, simply because you’ll learn everyone has big ambitions, and there’s only so many slots in this world.

4. Idealism aside, money = opportunity and therefore matters. Relationships and power matter more.

5. Friendship isn’t forever. Social and economic status does create divides and strains in even the oldest relationships.

6. Your parent(s) basically gave up their freedom to raise you, and deserve a medal. You know this because with only one job on your plate, you already have no time.

7. Adult life is about learning to live with ambiguity. Remember when you thought you’d have it all sorted out by 30? No. Whether it be your career, your relationships or your beliefs, you will always question whether you are making the right choices and will have to deal with regret.

8. Metabolism slows.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I’ve got for now.

4. Valter Viglietti

1. Life is not “designed” to make us happy (*). —> Don’t feel entitled.

2. You’re just one in 7 billions, so – in a broad sense – you don’t matter much (save for your parents) —> Be humble.

3. Despite the above, you have the potential to make a difference :-) —> Honor your dreams.

4. Your intuition is a wonderful tool but, at the same time, your feelings might be misleading —> Learn to discern between intuition and feelings.

5. The person you’re attracted to might not be a good match; physical attraction is about sex drive and offsprings, not about being happy together —> Enjoy attraction but do not base your relationships on that alone.

6. Everything (and everybody) will change, sooner or later —> Do not cling (to good things); do not despair (for bad things).

7. You (and everybody else) one day will die —> This is the only sure thing in life.

8. This is hard to swallow at any age; especially for believers who have been taught that the world/universe has been created for human beings’ enjoyment – while, in fact, there’s absolutely no proof about it.

5. Thea Pilarczyk

These are the things I learned in my 20s, mostly during my “quarter life crisis”:
1. Don’t mortgage tomorrow to pay for today. The 20s are a prime target for credit card companies and lenders, and you will notice it too – during freshman orientation at University, how many times have you seen a table to sign up for your first credit card with the promise of a free Teddy bear? Before you know it you’re $10k in debt on top of your student loans, and won’t see that paid off for decades on your entry-level salary. Stay out of debt for AS LONG AS POSSIBLE and use it only when NECESSARY TO SURVIVE. Realize that you will end up paying double, maybe more, for that round of drinks at the bar because you put it on credit instead of saving the cash.

2. Greatness will not find you: you have to find it, and work damn hard for it too. All through the eighties and nineties we were taught to follow our dreams, and not settle for less. We were taught to do work for the love of it, not for the money. This is a nice sentiment, but reality comes crashing down on you once you graduate. You might feel slighted, lied to, or unfairly left out of the wonderment that life was supposed to bestow on you. Is it possible to do what you love, be successful, and be happy the rest of your days? Absolutely – but you have to WORK REALLY HARD, EVERY SINGLE DAY to get there. You have to do those 10,000 drawings, play 10,000 gigs, code for 10,000 hours, etc. in order to get there. Figure out who your heroes are in your chosen lifestyle, and focus on the stories of the boring crap they had to do in order to get there. The media loves stories of people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and got lucky, but for the other 99.99999% – and you – this will not be the case.

3. It’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life, but don’t use that as an excuse to stagnate. As the great Baz Luhrmann song that was released the year I graduated from high school says: “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.” Your 20s will probably be some of your fondest years; you have the freedom of living on your own, without the responsibility of having a family to care and provide for. Don’t waste it building a career you’re not interested in just because you’re supposed to already have it figured out, and don’t waste it stressing because you haven’t figured that out yet. And, worst of all, don’t be content with sitting at home doing the same thing you did through your teens just because it’s comfortable; if you don’t want to build a career or go to school, at least keep learning, trying new things, meeting new people. Enhance your experience wherever you can, and see what new paths open up for you.

4. Even the worst job you will ever work at has something to teach you – so stop complaining and pay attention. I have worked at some pretty awful jobs in my life; positions that included slicing my fingers open, being literally screamed at daily, handed a bounced paycheck, and one that after a few months made me literally want to vomit every day. But instead of feeling sorry for myself and just toughing it out until I could find something else, I paid attention to the things I didn’t know and how I could learn them. People were making a lot of money, I paid attention to how. Leaders were making strategic decisions, I figured out why. I was proactive and moved up, because I knew that when I left I would have a better title, better resume, and higher pay grade. (Interesting footnote; this makes a great answer during your interview for that dream job – what did you learn while flipping burgers at a grease joint?)

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure there’s more, because this is a pretty deep question. You can expect a lot of varied responses from anyone in their thirties and beyond.

6. Kathy Hurst Davis

I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was 26 years old. She was very intelligent and very opinionated about many of the things that were wrong with this country.

Yes, she had it all figured out, from the problems with our two party system, down to the evils of WalMart who had run small business out of existance. She kept saying, “We need a revolution. We need to make some positive change.”

I told her, “You are not going to like what I am going to say.” She said, “I hope it isn’t the same thing my dad told me. He said that nothing was going to change.” I told her, “No. That isn’t it.” Here is what I told her.

There has never been a generation of twentysomethings who haven’t identified many of the ways earlier generations have “got it wrong.” I have a question for you. You are 26 years old. Except for identifying problems, what have you, personally, done to help any one of the problems you have identified? You are 26 years old. You have had plenty of time to have started some improvements, somewhere. So many people want someone to start the process of revolutionary change but are not willing to put themselves out there and generate some of those changes, themselves. So, I challenge you to move forward. You have identified problems, now make a plan and execute it.

She was a bit speechless.

People in their twenties need to learn that they have much to offer and they should not wait for someone else to begin. Don’t present a problem without presenting some solutions.

7. Lloyd Powell

In your twenties you learn that you never really become an adult, just that people start expecting you to act like one. So you start pretending to be grown up, even though you still feel like a scared little child.

And if you’re smart, no matter how good you get at playing the adult, you won’t forget that underneath it all, at any age, you are always a scared little child, with no real idea of what you are doing. That way, you will forgive yourself easier when you screw up, become afraid, act weak, and hide from truth. For these things will also always be with you.

And that self-knowledge will remind you that everybody else are scared little children too, and that will make it easier to forgive them when they screw up. And you will not believe other people who want to pretend that they have it all and know it all, and you will not be surprised when they too fall on their ass.

And you will naturally show love and compassion to yourself and everyone, as you would naturally show love and compassion to a child.

8. Angeline Lee

In your twenties:

3. Your parents or close relatives begin to hit their forties or fifties or sixties, and begin to get sick.

And they begin to become unwell, or the family finances begin to get stretched (parents nearing retirement, three kids in college and having to pay fees etc) and things begin to happen.

You’re not a child anymore so you are included in adult conversations about money, health and the care of relatives. Your family members may expect you to contribute to the discussion and possibly also contribute in other ways (financially, if you’ve got a job etc).

Previously when you were a child you were always the first person people thought of when bad things happened, and the first priority was usually for support to be offered to you because you were ‘too young to handle it’. When you hit your twenties, the shields are lifted and you’ll have to be privy to the difficulties and problems hitting your family circle and instead of being the supported, you become the supporter. You may be the only person capable of driving your grandmother to hospital for appointments, etc. You may be the only person your parents will talk to about their financial troubles. And people expect you to be able to handle it. You’re old enough now.

Some of your family members may pass away during this time. Some of your friends may pass away. I’ve had both happen. You’ll have to deal with it, and sometimes be the one who takes charge when others are distraught. You’ll have to not only learn how to deal emotionally as well as practically with death and loss, but also how to do this without the support that you would have had when you were a child.

2. You have to change the way you view relationships with your girlfriend/boyfriend, friends as well as your family.

Often this is a time when you start working, buying a house on your own, or a car, starting a family and so on.

When you were 18, not wanting commitment was fine. When you’re 28, your girlfriend may leave you if you’re not forthcoming with the ring because she wants to settle down and find some stability and you’re not offering it.

When you were 18, spending entire weekends smoking pot with your friends was great. When you’re 28 with student loans to pay and a job that you could lose if you show up high, hanging out with people who insist you do the things you don’t want to do is just asking for it. You may have to leave a group of friends. The weed example is more drastic than others, but often the friends who drag you down do it subtly, without even realising it themselves. Every time you want to go and apply for a new job, or take a new course, they might laugh at you, or say ‘but that will leave you less time to spend with us’. And eventually you’ll look back a bit late and realise that you should have taken those opportunities because now you’ve been passed over for a promotion because you’re not qualified enough etc.

When you were 18, your parents were a massive drag and you couldn’t wait to get out of the house. When you’re 28, your dad may know how to fix the boiler without you having to fork out money to get someone else to do it. Your mom may be able to babysit your kids. Both of them will now have great experiences that you can gain from them – they can be something like walking quoras. Of course this may not apply to everyone, but certainly since I hit my twenties I realised how much my family’s support means to me.

3. When bad things happen, they hit you harder, and you bounce back less well.

When we were kids, if we ran out into the playground and fell down and grazed our knees, everyone flocked over to take care of us, and the wound would heal in a few days and it would all be forgotten, and we would be out and running again before the day was out.

Now that you’re older, the worst case scenario is much more grim than when you were a kid. If you get fired from your job, you could stand to be unable to pay your rent and end up in debt. And say you do lose your job, and you have to start from scratch and do everything again to get back to where you were before, you don’t forget what happened. Some people don’t get to bounce back from the bottom of the pit as easily as others, and end up unhappy and negative for months or years, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

The secret to getting through it is to keep looking forward and trying hard. If you’re not used to this then it will be an added challenge for you to keep convincing yourself there is a point to waking up in the morning. It’s the ultimate challenge, and one that is almost prerequisite in order for you to actually become an adult. How old you are doesn’t measure maturity as well as how many times bad things have happened and how you’ve dealt with these things each time.

Of course the question asked means I’ve had to talk about fairly depressing things, but i think it’s important to remember that it’s a time of experiment, joy and new experiences, so enjoy what you can, when you can!

9. Christopher Mudiappahpillai

I’m nearing the end of my twenties, and here are a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over recently, in no particular order:

  • Keep it classy. Always.
  • Love your friends and family. Tell them, and show them, that you do.
  • Be generous. With your time, and your money, and your heart. Generosity is its own reward. Serve your community.
  • Give back to your city and your country. You’re here because of them. Exercise your rights, and support those who fight for them.
  • Not doing so is the fastest way to losing them. Know yourself. Understand your strengths, and your flaws.
  • Have a purpose and mission in life. Believe in something bigger than yourself.
  • Stay interested. Look to understand everything, even if you don’t like it.
  • Work hard.
  • Be the best person you know.
  • Choose your friends carefully. You will inevitably become a composite of those you are closest to.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learning to laugh at yourself will help you work past your mistakes.
  • Move on. When something goes wrong, fix what you can, and learn from it, but keep looking forward.
  • Do what you love. Life is hard enough as it is, and you shouldn’t hate what you do with one third of your life.
  • Be respectful of others and yourself. Don’t play with the hearts of others, and don’t tolerate anyone who plays with yours.
  • Pick your battles with great care. But once you’ve chosen them, win.

    10. Jim Stone

    You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

    That’s the pithy version. A little more accurately . . . you have a very large number of things you can do with your life, but you can’t do more than one or two to a high level of excellence.

    This has many correlates:

    1. Don’t “follow your passion” when you’re 20: Often people who aim to follow their passions will develop new passions whenever their current track becomes difficult. This can lead to a life of jumping around too much and never getting truly good at anything.

    2. . . . build career capital instead: Cal Newport gives this advice in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and (applied to most people) I heartily agree. When you’re 20, you don’t know all the things there are to be passionate about. You will also find that your deepest passions will come when you’re truly good at something. Get good and connected first, and then, when you are 35, you will naturally find yourself following passions much more compelling than the silly little things you called “passions” when you were 20.

    3. Don’t seek autonomy too soon. Develop excellence in your field, get some connections, get a good feel for your industry, and squirrel away some “frak you” money before trying to set out on your own. It will usually work out better that way.

    4. Focus on what Paul Graham calls “upwind skills”. (What You’ll Wish You’d Known) Upwind skills are things like writing, mathematics, design and programming. These skills take time to build (so it’s better to start sooner rather than later), and they will keep your options open more than other areas of focus.

    If you study mathematics, your knowledge and skills can likely be applied to dozens of fields down the road, depending on where your opportunities lie. If you focus on French Lit, your options will be limited.

    I’m not advising you to avoid French Lit so much as encouraging you to make sure you learn to write, learn to program, learn mathematics, or learn design. At the least you should pick one of those four areas to develop throughout your 20s, and if you develop more than one of them to a high level of competence, you will probably stay in high demand right up to the edge of the Singularity :)

    5. Be less judgmental. When you see a doctor who doesn’t know how to troubleshoot his car problems, don’t scoff. Sure you COULD become a doctor if you wanted to. And you COULD become a master mechanic if you wanted to, but you likely won’t become both. You’ll learn soon enough that you, too, will need to specialize, and can’t become good at everything. So stop projecting in your daydreams to a future self that is good at writing, programming, medicine, design, history, and auto mechanics. Just because you have a passing knowledge of those things at 20 doesn’t mean you’ll be an expert in all of them when you’re 35. So don’t judge the practitioner of X who shows a poor knowledge of Y. Instead appreciate how he or she does X.

    11. Franklin Veaux

    • Just because I feel bad doesn’t necessarily mean someone else did something wrong.
    • Just because I feel good doesn’t necessarily mean what I’m doing is right.
    • It’s possible to truly, deeply love someone down to the bottom of your heart and still not be a good match for that person.
    • Things that are hard and scary to talk about are vitally important to talk about.

    12. Elle Sidell

    1. School’s over. Snap out of it: there’s no gold stars anymore. You won’t get a grade after everything you do, whether it be in your social or professional life. It might sound shocking, but sometimes I still find myself waiting for the approval of some figure of authority. Make sure you measure your achievements against your goals and not by the opinion of others. After all, you’ll be your toughest judge in the end and how you feel about what you’ve accomplished is what really matters.

    2. Life is not a smooth paved road. It’s a winding, bumpy, and slightly obscured mountain path. I often feel that we were taught that after college you’d know where you were going and how to get there. There’s no set plan, so really take the time to think about what you want in life and what will make you happy. Working slowly, step by step towards something (even if that something is not clear) helps you to discover who you are and what you’d like to do with the rest of your life. And (maybe this goes with out saying) work hard. You might not gain the notoriety or “greatness” you dreamed of when you were younger, but the value of hard work is priceless.

    3. Learn to value the friends you have and how to make new ones. Let’s face it. As you get older, your social circle seems to shrink and for good reason. It’s hard to maintain a relationship, a full-time job, and all the friendships in your life. Friendship loses some of its organic interaction as you become older. It takes a lot of time and effort to make sure you see all the people you care about and make sure that you maintain relationships in a way that is satisfactory to all parties. You also learn to spend the free time with the people who truly care about you and not waste it on those who don’t.

    4. Take care of yourself. You’re not going to look and feel the way you did when you were younger forever. So, start building the habits now to really make sure you take care of your health. Learn to eat better, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, cut out/down on some of your more unhealthy choices and de-stress yourself as much as possible. In the long run, you won’t regret it and you’ll probably feel a lot better too!

    5. Learn to forgive yourself. Everyone’s made mistakes and will probably make a whole lot more before the end of their lives. One of the hardest things to do in life is to admit when you’re in the wrong, but an even tougher task is learning to forgive yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. No one is perfect. Just be honest with yourself, look carefully at what you’ve done wrong, and then, learn to let it go.

    6. Don’t judge so much. Form your opinions, but make sure you remember that you’re not here to be the judge of everyone and everything. I am a big fan of standing up for yourself and your opinions, but everything in moderation. It’s important to learn that not everyone has to agree. You can agree to disagree – that’s one of the great beauties in life. Try to keep an open mind and if you’re having a tough time with that, just think very carefully before you speak!

    7. Have fun – don’t forget to live your life. It’s easy to get caught up in your 20s with the whole “I’m an adult” mantra and completely throw yourself into work. Don’t forget to spend some time on yourself and really enjoy life! We’re not on this earth forever and everyone deserves to enjoy the time we’re lucky enough to have. So, make sure you let loose once in awhile and appreciate the world around you. More importantly, make sure you can always laugh at yourself and avoid taking yourself too seriously.

    13. Emilya Burd

    1. Rejection. Professionally, romantically, personally–you’re no longer a kid, and you have to swallow it. Move on. The challenge is not to lose hope, but to keep on chugging, because one day, it will all come. That’s what I tell myself anyway and tell myself not to take things too personally.

    2. It feels odd, I feel like an adult who’s paying the bills, but its an in between stage of figuring myself out, and still not sure how it will all turn out.

    3. ..and related to this Uncertainty. I have no idea where I will be in five years, and neither do my friends. This is both exciting, and very terrifying.

    14. Craig Ryker

    Nobody is going to tell you what to do, nor do most people actually care what you do.

    Find what makes you happy and figure out how to make that happen.

    15. Emma Gat

    • Your happiness wasn’t waiting for you in your twenties, as you thought.
    • You are very much still a child, but you’re the only one who thinks that.
    • Everyone’s expecting something from you. You are expected to man/woman up, step up to the plate.
    • How to take care of yourself in every single way
    • How to successfully manage finances
    • You’re your own money earner now. How to work like an actual person, every single day, no matter how much you “don’t feel like it”.
    • How to deal with whatever life throws at you, without getting any help from your parents. Thought Catalog Logo Mark
    image – Shutterstock

    About the author

    Michael Koh

    Follow Michael at @UghHugs.

    More From Thought Catalog