Your twenties are for fucking up. It’s a decade of experimentation, a weird, unstructured span between adolescence and real, responsible adulthood.
While previous generations were marrying, starting families, and buying homes in their twenties, new economic realities and shifting cultural priorities have changed the nature of the decade for today’s young people. We’re more likely to try different jobs, move around, and take our time figuring things out.
That means making a lot of mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable; what matters is the lessons you manage to take from them.
It wouldn’t be your twenties if you didn’t wake up from time to time fully clothed in a puddle of sweat and vomit. You hope it’s your own. Why is your underwear in the microwave? We may never know. Fortunately, one breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee later and you’re ready to head to class.
This becomes hard to pull off quicker than you expect it to. By the end of your twenties, you’ll be ready for bed after a glass and a half of wine. Enjoy it while it lasts.
You’re in your twenties, baby! You’ve been young ever since you were born, you’re young now, you’ll be young forever! Take your time. Explore. Work part-time. Read some Ayn Rand and briefly call yourself a Libertarian. Nothing matters! You’ve got all the time in the world.
Whoops. You’re thirty now. Have you started saving for retirement?
You don’t have a ton of real responsibilities, but you’ve got a little bit of money. A very little bit. So what do you do with it? You buy things. That is what money’s for, right?
Not really, you come to learn. Money is to meant to be cherished, cradled like a small child. Kiss your money on the forehead. It’s precious, and you’ll never have enough of it.
Save your pennies now. With enough luck, you’ll get to take a vacation sometime in your forties.
You meet an asshole at a party or in class. You fall for the asshole pretty quickly. You sleep with the asshole a bunch, because you’re still kind of new at sex and you think the asshole is pretty good at it.
Then, slowly it dawns on you: this asshole is a real asshole. So you break up. But what do you do, three months later after a couple drinks? You text the asshole at 1:30 am and take a cab to his place.
Don’t go back to the asshole. Find a new asshole. A better asshole. You’re better than that first asshole.
Don’t be an asshole.
Getting the Wrong Degree
Congratulations! You made it into college and took a couple different intro courses and now you have to pursue a major. What’ll it be? You want something important, something you’re passionate about, something that matters, something that will help you change the world.
You settle on Non-Rhyming Poetry.
Education shouldn’t just be a tool for landing a higher salary, but real-world considerations should certainly factor in to choosing a major. You are going to have to pay those loans back, you know.
Staying Too Long
In a bad relationship. In a bad job. With the wrong group of friends. The flip-side of knowing you’ve got all the time in the world is thinking that the tough decisions can wait. This isn’t forever, you think, so I can abide it for now. But “for now” becomes “forever” faster than you think, and each year passes more quickly than the one before it.
You’re still just a kid, really. You’re still in school, or you’re freshly out. This is only a first job. She’s only my second or third real girlfriend. He’s only my fourth therapist. I am making progress.
And you are making progress. More than you might realize. Yes, you’re young, and you’re learning, but don’t use that as a reason to write yourself off. You don’t have to be the best to demand better. You might not be the smartest, but you’re smart enough. You’re not the toughest, but you’re tough enough.
You’re not the best, not yet. But you’re good enough.
This is similar to “Staying Too Long,” but with a subtle distinction. When you stay too long, you’re planning to change things eventually. When you settle, you’re fine with things as they are.
These are the people who stayed in their hometown, got a job at their dad’s car dealership, married the girl they knocked up and bought their grandparents’ house when they shipped off to the old folks’ home.
If that’s what you really want, then go for it. But don’t settle out of fear. You’re still young enough to take a few knocks from the real world and bounce back. Feel free to try things and explore. Your hometown will still be there if you decide to go back.
Too many people spend their twenties trying to please people. Trying to earn the boss’s favor. Trying to impress their professor. Trying their hardest to make everybody like them, win over every member of their preferred gender, and please their parents.
But that’s not what your twenties are for. Your twenties are for figuring yourself out. Finding out what makes you different, not trying your hardest to fit in. You’ll need a strong send of yourself and your abilities when real adulthood rears its ugly head. Use your twenties to find that person.
Picking the Wrong Living Arrangement
Granted, you don’t have a ton of great choices yet. But there must be a better option than splitting rent with your ex-boyfriend’s sister, or whatever. You don’t have to live with Craigslist strangers or your sloppiest friends or the guy who was kicked off campus for starting all those fires.
Whenever you can, give yourself the time to scout different apartments. Interview potential roommates. Ask your friends for recommendations, or ask Facebook if anybody you know (and can stand) is looking for a roommate.
Your home should be a refuge from the rest of the world. Try to make it livable.
Your twenties can be discouraging (see above). But remember: it’s like that for everyone. Don’t give up. You’ve got plenty more decades ahead of you. Yes, your job sucks now. You’ve lost touch with most of your friends. You aren’t dating, or the only people you’re meeting seem to be escaped mental patients. But the absolute worst thing you can do is give up and accept this as your fate.
Life trudges onward. Circumstances change. Keep learning, keep trying new things, put yourself out there and meet new people.
The Grand Canyon was made by erosion. Tiny, consistent effort over a long period of time can yield huge changes. You just have to be patient and keep going.