Your twenties are all over the place. In a matter of 10 years, you go from being a large child, who barely knows how to feed herself, to a responsible adult, expected to discuss retirement plans, and maybe even raise small humans. Growing pains, indeed. These are the years you come into your own, discover who you are as an individual outside of your parents’ home, and learn what you do and don’t want. It’s not a decade you want to squander.
I recently turned 25, and while I still have half of the decade to go, I feel like I wasted the first few years of my twenties. Not until I was entering year 24 did I really think about how I was setting myself up for the kind of life I was going to have in the years to come. For the first four years of my twenties, I focused on having fun like any college kid. I got good grades, sure, but the most important part of my life was the weekend. Now, the most important part of my life is what I’m consistently doing every day to become the person I want to be, and create the life I want to live.
No matter what age you are, you still have plenty of time to make some formative investments in yourself, your career, and your life. That’s the cool thing. Unless you’re dead, you can always make a change. The investments you need to make now will help you become more secure in who you are, so you can know what you need and want in all areas of life.
1. Take Up a New Hobby
Hobbies are one of the best ways to insert a sense of fulfillment in a hectic life. They make you feel connected to the things you like and help relieve stress from work. It’s important to find a hobby you like in your twenties, so that you have an interest to carry you through life. Try out several different things to see which one(s) make you feel the most alive.
2. Learn a New Skill
Whether it’s a language or an instrument, your twenties are the perfect time to start learning a new skill. As you get older, take on more responsibilities, and start a family, the time you’ll have to develop new skills will be essentially nonexistent. Don’t know where to start? Choose a skill that you’ll enjoy knowing, or one that will benefit your career or overall life.
3. Attend Conferences
Conferences are great opportunities for you to network and learn useful information to benefit you at work. Find conferences that have solid reputations and offer discussions that relate to your career. They can be a little scary, but your twenties are the perfect time to overcome the fear of meeting new professionals — after all, you’ll be meeting new people the rest of your life.
4. Find a Mentor
A good mentor can make all the difference in your work and life. Find someone whose work you admire, and ask them to be your mentor. Aside from making sure your mentor is related to your field, also look for someone who will tell you like it is — even when you’ve done something wrong. Honesty is what makes a mentor invaluable.
5. Find a Form of Exercise You Enjoy
The longer you wait to make exercise a regular occurrence, the harder it will be to make it a consistent part of your life. Exercise shouldn’t be something you do to punish your body, and you should learn to appreciate it for the good it does your muscles and organs. Try out different forms of exercise to see which ones you enjoy most, and begin making those a regular activity you partake in.
6. Love Yourself
The way you treat your body in your twenties sets the stage for the body you’ll have in your thirties, forties, and fifties. Now is the time to ensure better health for the rest of your life — this includes choosing to fuel your body with the right foods, as well as making time for exercise.
7. Learn to Cook
Cooking is an essential skill that all young adults should acquire. It’s easy to buy pre-made meals from the store and eat out all the time, but you don’t learn anything about the nature of cooking with that approach. Instead, try your hand at cooking by purchasing recipe books, taking a cooking class, or just asking your parents for a little guidance. Cooking your own food is cheaper than eating out all the time, and knowing how to cook also means you’ll be able to contribute delicious dishes whenever you go to a party, potluck, or holiday gathering.
One of the best things you can do for yourself in your twenties is to start reading books that appeal to you. Reading is one of the best ways to continue your education after school, and to learn more about yourself as well as the world around you. Start picking up books that jump out at you, and try to read a little bit every day, or at least one day a week. It doesn’t matter if you choose fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. Just start reading.
9. Cultivate Good Friendships
There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of friends, but as you get older, it becomes more important to have a few very close friends you can always rely on. In your twenties, seek out friends who are genuinely there for you in every thing you do. Your twenties are the best time to cultivate those close friendships, because the further you get into your career and the busier your life becomes, the more you’ll need a tight-knit group of friends to depend on.
10. Talk to Your Parents
As you get older, you’ll realize more just how much wisdom your parents have to impart on you. They actually do know a lot about life, and can help you through all of the adult growing pains. You’re not a teenager anymore, so you don’t need to hide everything about your life from your parents. Talk to them openly about the issues you’re facing so you can receive their advice. I promise, you won’t regret getting to know your parents as actual people rather than figures of authority.
11. Talk to Your Grandparents
It’s a sad reality, but the older you get, the less time you have with your grandparents or other elderly people and family members you’re close with — and they won’t be around forever. Now that you’re an adult, it’s important that you spend time talking to them while they’re still with you. Talk to them about their lives before kids and grandkids, ask what it was like when they grew up, talk to them about your problems, and see what they have to say about them.
Your grandparents have been through a lot of life, and they know even more than your parents do. Their advice is irreplaceable. Make time for them while you can, or you’ll regret not building a stronger relationship with them later.
12. Find Your Go-To Happy Activity
Life is going to have stressful moments from time to time, and there are going to be times when it seems like the stress is too much. You’ll be able to handle that stress much better if you have a happy place you can go to immediately. This might be yoga, a run, your favorite book, or a long, hot shower or bath. Whatever activity you feel most relaxed and happy doing is what you need to do during those high-stress moments. Take some time to figure out what yours is. You’ll be glad you have this knowledge later in life.
13. Set Standards, for Yourself and Your Relationships
Now is the time you should be figuring out your standards in life — standards for relationships, friendships, yourself, and the way people treat you in general. Set these standards in your twenties, and test them out. You might find that some of your standards are too rigid or unrealistic, or you might learn that your standards are too low. Either way, these are important lessons to learn so you can establish the right set of standards to carry you through the rest of your life.
14. Start Building a Classic, Durable Wardrobe
You probably don’t have oodles of money to spend on high-end pieces in your twenties. That’s normal and okay, but you should make an effort to purchase pieces of good quality and lasting design when you can. Fast fashion is okay in the short-term, but the blazers you buy from Forever 21 won’t be worth wearing in 10 years. Think of the long game when you go shopping in your twenties so you have a wardrobe capable of carrying you through several life phases.
15. Define Who You Are
This goes for who you are as a person, a professional, and as a personal brand. Your twenties are the time to figure out what you stand for, what you want to be known for, and how you want to behave as a human. Are you a creative adventurer who makes traveling the main goal in life? Or are you an organized go-getter who doesn’t take no for an answer? Live your twenties with the intention of deciding who you are in all facets of your life, so the years to come are all focused on achieving your goals and being happy.
16. Build Your Network
Once you’ve established who you want to be professionally, you should surround yourself with people who have similar goals and work ethics. Attending conferences is a major part of this, but networking also takes place after you’ve met someone — exchange business cards, connect with them on LinkedIn, stay in touch, and maybe even take them out for coffee, if you’re in the same place at the same time. You never know when you may need that business connection (or when they might need you).
17. Learn Everything About Your 401k
The last thing on your mind in your twenties is retirement, but it needs to be one of your main financial concerns. Don’t wait until your forties to learn the intricacies of your 401k policy, and start saving for the golden years. Read up on your 401k now so you can maximize on it for as long as possible. Don’t put away the minimum amount, either. Put away as much as you can. You’ll be glad you did later.
18. Start Paying Off Your Debt
You don’t want to still be paying off the same debt in 20 years. Start paying it off now so you can be debt-free sooner in life. This will not only mean you’ll be debt-free earlier, but it will also improve your credit score, so you’ll have a better chance of loan approval for a house or a car.
19. Learn to Budget and Stick to It
Budgeting is a hard lesson to learn. However, it’s one of the most essential life skills you can have. It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what budget works for you and to create the habit of sticking to a budget. This is something you need to go through in your twenties before you’re saddled with a mortgage and trying to support a family. Talk with your parents about how to create a budget, or hire a financial advisor to show you the ropes. There are also several budgeting apps available to help you figure it all out.
20. Make Yearly Checkups a Habit
The doctor isn’t someone you should only see when you become sick. Your body starts to age in your twenties, and since you’ve stopped growing at this point, it’s also the time you need to pay close attention to changes. Schedule a yearly checkup with a general doctor, a dermatologist, and a gynecologist. They might seem like a pain, but you’ll be glad you were diligent in them if your doctor ever spots anything suspicious. Your health is not something to ignore — not even when you’re young.
Terra is an Arkansas-based writer who spends her free time obsessing over her planner, debating between working out or eating, and singing to her dog, Gatsby, even though he hates it. She also writes for Earn, Spend, Live blogs here.
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