5 Ways to Make the Most of Your 20’s

Lessons from a 30-year-old who wishes he could have a do-over


Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 8 min read

Sleepwalking through your twenties is a dangerous game.

If you fail to wake up, you may suffer under the yoke of that wasted decade for the rest of your natural-born days.

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has famously referred to a person’s twenties as their defining decade. She believes that twenty-somethings have been fed poisonous misinformation and that promoting the idea that thirty-is-the-new-twenty is dangerous and has “trivialized the most defining decade of adulthood.”

And there are some compelling reasons for this:

  • 80% of life’s “defining” moments happen by age 35.
  • 70% of lifetime wage growth occurs during the first ten years of a career.
  • 50% of us are either married or with the person we will eventually marry by age 30.

It’s scary, sobering stuff. Your twenties matter — a lot.

…The most defining decade of adulthood.

Pretty spooky, right?

In a very general sense, if we look at averages and take a very broad view, this is probably true. However, at an individual level, it doesn’t have to be true. In most cases, it’s never too late.

Color me skeptical on the whole most defining decade thing.

But I’m 30 now, and while I’m not ready to acknowledge the painful prospect of my “most defining decade” being in the rearview mirror of the whacky, metaphorical car I’m driving through this crazy journey we call life, I’d be foolish not to admit that I wish I’d handled some things in my twenties a little better.

There were things I could have done and learned to set my 30-year-old self up with a more creative, flexible life. But alas, I did not, and here I am. Grinding away slowly and trying to escape the carefully laid trap, I didn’t realize I was setting for myself.

Take a few lessons from me so you can get the most out of your twenties. Do as I say and not as I did, and your thirty-year-old self will be eternally grateful.

1. Understand the future value of money

This may be obvious to most, and if you’d asked me when I graduated college, if I understood this concept, I probably (definitely) would have given an overconfident and cocky response like, “Yeah, obviously. I’m not an idiot. I went to most of my econ classes, pssshhhttt.”

But I would have only been paying lip service to the idea. In practice, there would be nearly zero evidence that I truly understood the power of compound interest and the potential future value of my money.

Money may be the root of all evil, but like it or not, it isn’t going anywhere. As we all know, money can’t buy happiness. On its own, it can’t do anything to make you a better, more fulfilled person.

But it can buy freedom. It can buy flexibility. It can buy you fewer instances of stress-inducing life circumstances. It can buy you opportunities to pursue higher callings and to seek deeper meaning in your life.

In a broad sense, that’s something that we all want. It’s something, in one form or another, we all strive after for ourselves and our families.

The problem for many of us is we are tricked, or rather conditioned, into believing that we need f-you money to accomplish this — that this type of lifestyle is reserved for a precious few, the lucky ones.

But it’s simply not true. It’s a lie concocted and refined over decades by marketing and advertising firms to keep you trapped in a web of consumerism and 24-hour news cycles as you toil away under the tyranny of a corporate, “middle-class” life.

And in the end, it spits you out. If you’re lucky, maybe you get a few years at the end — when you’re old, tired, and broken — to call your own.

The dirty little secret is that with some planning and a little foresight, you can probably avoid this bleak fate. Those monthly expenses add up (don’t worry, I won’t attack your $5 latte, drink up bitches).

The power of compound interest

Albert Einstein supposedly said that compound interest is “the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.” Warren Buffett has echoed the same appreciation for that sentiment.

I can’t argue with them.

I now find it helpful to think in 10-year chunks when making financial decisions.

Sure, Netflix might only cost $12.99/month. That’s a little over $150/year for premium, high-quality entertainment right at your beck and call. It’s a sweet, sweet deal. I can’t deny that.

But do you know what $12.99/month invested in an index fund with a conservative return of 6% over ten years is?


That is not an insignificant amount of money for most people.

To be clear, I’m not saying to ditch Netflix. I have Netflix myself. I love it (but I’m a doofus, remember?) The point here is not to vilify your purchasing choices, but rather to filter them through a better, more useful lens.

Thinking about money in ten-year chunks with compounding interest attached helps you better evaluate financial decisions that you would otherwise assume are having little to no impact on your future.

With this thinking, you can set yourself up from a financial standpoint to make the most of what you earn in your twenties. It will mean that in your thirties and beyond, you have much more flexibility and room to design your life.

I put this one first not because money is the most important, but because if you take care of this first thing and manage your finances correctly, the rest of the things on this list become so much easier.

2. Build Your Inner Citadel

Nobody is born with a steel backbone. We have to forge that ourselves.
— Ryan Holiday

Life sucks and then you die, or so the saying goes.

To a degree, it’s true. Life can be rough. No one gets out unscathed. Horrible, bad shit happens to us, people we love, and strangers the world over.

Every single day.

But should you just lay down and cry? Wallow around in the sweet, sweet mud of morosity, as I’m wont to do? Fall down and cover up the ball until the clock runs out?

You could. But I wouldn’t recommend it. I would suggest rather that you embrace the suck instead.

Life, sooner or later, is going to punch you right in the gullet.

Sometimes it happens to us, and sometimes we inflict the damage upon ourselves.

But one way or another, you are going to get walloped, and it’s going to hurt. The shittiest part? It’s probably going to happen more than a few times.

It may have already happened to you. You might get more than your fair share. You might get lucky and only suffer a little.

But you are going to suffer. Had I taken more time in my twenties to build up my inner defenses, I would have had a much easier time dealing with some of the setbacks, roadblocks, and challenges I ran into along the way and continue to face to this day.

So, start building up your defenses, physical, mental, and spiritual — today:

  • Learn to identify destructive emotions
  • You don’t choose what happens, only how you perceive it
  • Remain self-aware and clear-headed, be honest in your assessment of yourself
  • Think about thinking. Rethink constantly.
  • Learn to change your mind; it is not a weakness. It’s a superpower.

3. Assume positive intent by default

Former CEO of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi, had this to say when Fortune Magazine asked her for the best advice she’d ever been given:

Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent… When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because, at your basic core, you are saying, “Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.”

Life got so much easier for me when I learned this lesson. It used to be that a short, direct e-mail or text, punctuated in a certain way, could make me utter what an asshole under my breath.

But no more. I no longer interpret conversations or interactions with people through a lense of insecurity. I simply assume my gut reaction (if negative) is wrong.

Whether it’s navigating office relationships with co-workers and superiors or dodging land mines with friends and family, assume positive intent can and will have a significant impact on your life if you learn to work at it.

We all too often project negativity onto the people we interact with when we have little or no reason to suspect the worst of them. It’s not a fun or productive way to go through life. I suggest you work on this more creative and intelligent solution to that problem and start assuming positive intent when you find yourself upset by the words or actions of another person.

It won’t come naturally, and it won’t be easy. But developing this skill is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. The sooner you do it, the better.

4. Define the broad strokes of your future in writing (or verbalize them)

Where do you want to be in five to ten years? How about twenty? Write that shit down. Not to the last, nitty-gritty detail, but get the broad strokes on paper.

There are a lot of different methods, and all have merit.

The important part is not so much the length or the format, but the handwriting or verbalizing of things like your hopes, dreams, goals, convictions, biases, destructive habits, emotions, limiting beliefs, etc.

Writing or speaking them out loud not only helps you visualize the concepts to help them crystalize in your mind, but it also forces you to organize and get specific with your thoughts. This change will make a massive difference in the pursuit of personal goals and self-improvement:

Vividly describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success, and people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t. That’s a pretty big difference in goal achievement just from writing your goals on a piece of paper.
Mark Murphy

5. Cultivate curiosity, open-mindedness, and humility

One of the many drawbacks to getting older is that we tend to become more certain about the world and more set in our ways.

Use your 20’s to cultivate a natural curiosity about life and a worldview that is less certain about everything and is instead more inquisitive and skeptical.

As Darius Foroux writes in what is the frontrunner for my favorite blog post of the year, question everything. Actively become less certain. Make that your goal:

Why? Because the moment you make up your mind about something is the moment, you stop growing.
— Darius Foroux

So, embrace the uncertainty. Adopt a modest and humble posture toward the world.

Seek ambiguity.

Learn to live in and love those spaces because that is how you grow.

This article was originally published by Tom belskie on medium.


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