Why Your Twenties Matter

Starting to make something out of your life in your twenties may seem like a daunting task but it would be even more so if you waited until your thirties to really start trying to make something out of your life.

Once upon a time it was typical for a college graduate to secure a high-paying job, buy a home, find your life partner and begin a family all by the time you were in your mid to late twenties. This bit of conventional wisdom seems to have expired about a decade ago.

Indeed, Millennials are keenly aware of the challenges associated with coming of age in the aftermath of the great recession of 2007. While difficult, this doesn’t mean you should spend your twenties twiddling your thumbs.

If you are “twenty-something” you face a different set of challenges than the preceding generation, but your twenties remain a pivotal point in your own timeline and its significance should not be underestimated. Early adulthood may feel inconsequential, but the decisions you make now will serve as the foundation upon which the rest your life is built, both personally and professionally. No pressure.

Thirty is not the new twenty. In her TED talk, Why 30 is not the new 20, clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay underscores the impact this period of early adulthood has on subsequent decades.

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You might not get married in your twenties but it’s highly probable that you’ll meet your future partner during this time. Moreover, you learn about yourself within the context of your relationships. The kinds of relationships you have as a twenty-something set the tone for future relationships. Dr. Jay suggests that, “The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one.”

The internships you take and the jobs you seek in your twenties can pave the way for future career opportunities. The experience you gain and the skills you acquire before you are thirty can propel your professional life forward. Envision your work life as an interconnected series of events with the past jobs and internships enabling future opportunities.

Twenty-somethings have many advantages in the new workplace. One is that you haven’t spent decades reinforcing poor working habits. Young adults generally have more stamina and more flexibility than older workers. Growing up as native PC users, Millennials greet new technology with a glee that older workers can only admire.

In this special decade of your twenties, it is up to you to make your own luck. Here are a few suggestions:

Discover your purpose. You are not on this planet by accident and it is your job to figure out what you must do. Once your purpose is found, go forward and live your life with intention.

Don’t follow the crowd. Celebrate your uniqueness regardless of what it might be. Successful people are remembered by their unique achievements and not for their sameness.

Network your brains out. The overwhelming majority of life’s most important opportunities are going to come from contacts with a couple degrees of separation. Don’t hesitate to expand your network by reaching out to someone with whom you share a mutual friend.

Consider the creation of your own personal board of directors. Made up of mentors who have skills and wisdom that you don’t have, these trusted advisers can give you feedback to keep you focused professionally and personally.

Make excellent work a ritual. Don’t settle for good; instead do work that others will admire.

Make good choices consistently. This may mean slowing down and avoiding impulsive decisions. Instead, consider the long term impact of your decisions on you and on others.

Journal or blog. Most successful people make a habit of writing about their feelings, goals and aspirations. The writing process helps make the possible real.

Time is not unlimited. Blink and you will be in your thirties. What are you doing now to invest in the person you want to be in ten years?

John Bradley Jackson
Director, Center for Entrepreneurship

[Photo: Tiger Lao]

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