I am rapidly approaching the end of my 20s (currently accepting 30th birthday gifts!) In order to stave off that not-quite mid-life crisis that everyone seems to undergo on their 30th birthday I thought I’d do some reflection on the past decade.
My thoughts fall into four categories – things to do, things to learn, things to experience, and things to be aware of. If you’re young, I hope this helps. If you are more mature than me, perhaps you can give me some advice on what to do in my 30s…
Things to do
1) Get your blood work done
Your 20s is likely to be when your body is the healthiest it ever is (although people keep telling me I won’t be able to eat so much chocolate in my 30s!) Therefore, you want to get a baseline level for your health by getting your blood work done. Find somewhere that tests a large number of minerals, hormones, red and white blood cell counts and so on. If something’s not quite right you have the chance to get onto fixing it early, and if all is good you have a baseline you can compare to in your 30s and beyond.
2) A photo shoot
Just like you are the healthiest you’ll ever be in your 20s, you’re probably the best looking you’ll ever be too. I like looking back at pictures of my grandparents and parents in their youth, and you might want the memories down the track too. Do the photo shoot by yourself (you might break up with that boyfriend in a few years…) I even have a few friends that did this completely au natural if you are feeling brave.
3) Write down your annual highlights
When you’re young you think you’ll remember all the amazing achievement and moments in your life forever. The sad thing is you’ve already forgotten plenty of things. At the end of each year take ten minutes to make a record of what you’re proud of, what you achieved, who came into your life, and where you travelled. Simple, but something you’ll be glad you did ten years from now. My mum used to ask my brother and I to write this list every year and choose a photo to represent the year. Then, for Christmas she’d get the photo printed and framed, and put our list with her own personal message in the back of the frame.
4) Buy a few amazing things for your wardrobe
The early part of your 20s are spent trying to feel like a grown up as you enter the working world for the first time. Nothing makes you feel more like an adult than a few expensive, high quality pieces of clothes. Yes, I still shop on the cheap sometimes, but when I put on that fitted suit, or the gorgeous cocktail dress that I splurged on, I feel like I can do anything. Go on, treat yourself. You’re an adult now.
5) Apply for lots of jobs… even if you love your current job
Take your bad-ass fitted suit and do the rounds of interviews because your 20s is the time to practice. You want to be so much better than your peers at writing a resume and killing the interview, that when your dream job comes along in your 30s or 40s you’re going to nail it. Every year (around the time you have a performance review is a good time), update your resume and apply for 3-4 jobs. If you get the interviews go to them. Be honest that you are happy where you work now but are exploring options. It’s a different energy interviewing for a job you don’t need, and you’re actually more likely to get it. My hot tip for resumes – put actual quotes about yourself from your previous managers and clients on your resume. This alone has gotten me more interviews than my education or experience.
Things to learn
6) Figure out how finances work
First things first, learn how to save. Most of my friends are pretty good at this, but they are also good at then spending every dollar they saved on travel (I used to do this too!) For every dollar you save for fun trips, put a dollar away in a long term account or investment.
Once you know how to save, learn how to invest. I’m not talking about speculating on BitCoin or finding a high interest savings account (you typically lose money to inflation if you keep money in a savings account). I’m talking about understanding what shares, bonds, property, managed funds, index funds and term deposits are. How to buy them, what makes the price go up and down, what your risk profile is, how to balance your portfolio and so on. If that sounds boring, think about how much more interesting life is when you have money. And you have to learn actively – by actually investing. I bought my first managed funds at 17 starting with $2000. Then I tried shares. Now I mostly have index funds. And I just bought my first property. I’ve lost some money with poor choices along the way, but I’ve earned far more than I’ve lost.
If you are not sure where to start, The Barefoot Investor that I recommend in this post is a great practical introduction.
7) Learn another language
Or at least try to. I spent 4 years struggling with Mandarin. And 6 months trying to speak Portuguese while I was in Brazil. I’m far from fluent in either but I can at least order food! Most importantly, trying to learn a language means you will never be irritated by someone who speaks English less than perfectly, you’ll be grateful that you were lucky enough to be born in a country where English is the language you grew up with. Language is also the gateway to new culture, new experiences, new food, and a far more worthwhile travel experience if you go to the country.
8) Learn to cook
Ramen noodles and eggs on toast don’t count. Aim for at least thirty different meals that you can make from memory. Plus a signature dish or two for when you have friends or that special someone you want to seduce come over. Don’t forget about a dessert too!
9) Learn your family history
Our kids won’t have this problem as our whole lives are recorded (#selfiegeneration). But the experiences that your grandparents and parents went through might only be recorded in their memories. My aunt did a family tree which traced our history right back to the convicts who were first sent to Australia. My grandparents have told stories of what it was like to travel overseas, or what it was like during the World Wars. Ask the questions before it’s too late.
10) Commit to continuous education
Once you finish school and university there is a part of you that says ‘finally, I’m done. I’m never going to study again.’ It’s understandable that you want to get on with doing things rather than learning things, but it’s a little short sighted. In my early 20s I committed to doing some kind of course every year. So far I’ve done a speaking course, my life coaching qualification, the altMBA taught by Seth Godin, language courses and this year I’m deciding between a photography course, an NLP course and a few others.
Similarly, you need to read (or listen or watch). I can’t tell you how many Tinder dates I’ve been on where the guy proudly announces how he’s only read one book in his whole life… and only because he had to in high school. Don’t be that person. Inform your world view with history, inform your character with biographies, inform your mind with business and personal development books, inform your imagination with fantasy books.
The courses you do and the books you read don’t have to be related to your career, but these pieces of education add up over time and definitely make you a more attractive employee, and a more interesting person.
Things to experience
11) An extended overseas trip – by yourself
At 24 I booked a 6 month ticket to California, with only enough money for the first month. I booked two nights of hostel accommodation and figured I had better make friends that I could stay with quickly. I did. And it was one of the best experiences of my life. Since then I’ve gone back to California several times, travelled through Europe for months, and spent half a year in Rio de Janerio.
Going by yourself means there is no safety net. If you are lonely it’s up to you to make friends. If you are bored it’s up to you to plan experiences. If you run out of money it’s up to you to find a way to make more. You’ll learn more about yourself than you would in a decade at home. This one is so important I wrote a whole post about the struggles and joys of becoming a nomad for a while. Read it here.
My best friend and I spent a month in Tanzania, during which we volunteered by helping young women who had been rescued from trafficking. There were 16 year olds who had babies as the result of being raped – and those 16 year olds were some of the happiest, most loving, and fun people I’ve met in the world. Volunteering definitely puts your first world problems in perspective. If they never complained, if they could find joy in the little things, why can’t you too?
13) Amazing dates… and a few terrible ones
If you are single like me then you want to get out and date. Your 20s are all about discovering what you like, and what you don’t. It’s about setting your standards. As an adult you don’t really want your relationship strategy to be the teenager’s approach of get drunk and hook up. My most memorable bad date… the guy took me to his favourite place for dinner and then we saw a movie. His favourite place happened to be Hungry Jacks, and the movie was Bruno which starts with a close up of the lead character’s penis being swung around on the screen. I spent the whole movie scrunched to one side of my seat as far from him as possible, praying he wouldn’t try and touch me. Definitely won’t be settling for that again!
14) Get outdoors
I had a head start on this as I grew up on family camping trips. The outdoors is all about cultivating a sense of awe in the universe. When you hike for days uphill to reach the top of a mountain you’ve earned the view and the solitude. There is no feeling like the insignificance and awe you feel when you look at a night sky undiminished by human light, or view the vastness of the landscape spread out below your mountaintop, or comprehend the aeons of time it took to carve the Grand Canyon.
15) Move out of home (at least once)
I’m getting quite practiced at this… I’m what is known as a ‘boomerang’ kid (we keep returning home). Moving out is getting harder and harder to do with the rising house prices. The only people in their 20s that have bought houses have either saved every dollar they made, or they are married and shared the cost of buying a house with their partner. But, even if you are renting, you definitely need to experience living away from your parents. You’ll learn how to stand on your own two feet, how to entertain, how to clean, and the annoying necessity of paying bills.
Things to be aware of
16) Your physical limits
The vast majority of the population will never push themselves to their absolute limit physically. To the point where you lay on the ground, gasping for breath, believing that you’ll never be able to get up. To the point where you know you can’t do anything more, and then do it anyway.
CrossFit was one of the ways I regularly went to my physical limits but you could choose any activity. Run a marathon, do a three week mountain trek, learn to free dive, or train for the Olympics. The point is, going beyond what you think you are capable of in the fitness arena builds a confidence that spills over into the rest of your life. A confidence that even when the task feels impossible, you know that with more effort you can achieve it.
17) You get to choose your friends
When you’re at school, your friendships are mostly determined by proximity. Who’s in your class, who you go to soccer practice with, who your neighbours are. You automatically have things in common with those friends because you spend so much time doing the same things. In your 20s you can be a little more discerning and choose your friends consciously. You can gradually let go of those friends you have grown apart with, and you can intentionally put in effort to become friends with new people you meet and feel a connection with. I have only a few friends left who I met in school, but I have made room for an incredible mix of new friends in my life. They might live around the world, but we have a stronger connection than those I know only through proximity.
18) Your boss is the biggest determiner of job satisfaction
You might think if you are doing what you love then you’ll love your job. In fact, all the research (and all of my experience) says that who you work for is far more important than what you do. When I had a terrible boss I contemplated quitting my job (or killing him) every single day. He changed his mind constantly about what he wanted me to do even though I was halfway through the work, took credit for my ideas and was so long-winded in meetings I had trouble staying awake. It was torture. In contrast, I’ve had incredible bosses who made me rush to get to the office and who I would go so far above-and-beyond for simply to earn their approval. What you do is far less important than who you do it for.
19) How you perform under pressure
There will be times in your life that you are expected to perform under pressure. As an athlete it’s a pretty regular occurrence for me and I’m reasonably self-aware of my tendencies under pressure. However, I’ve seen people who have no idea what real pressure feels like, stand up to give the biggest presentation of their career, and totally fumble it. Some people are blessed to naturally perform better under pressure, and some unlucky people are cursed with crumbling under pressure.
The point is, you need to know which you are so you can prepare. Put yourself on the spot when it doesn’t matter so much (it’ll be embarrassing but not career ended) – maybe be the first with a question in a seminar, or take yourself bungee jumping, or volunteer to make a speech at a friend’s birthday. Use the opportunity to learn what pressure feels like to you. Then when it really counts, you can prepare properly. As an example, Tim Ferriss, in preparation for his TED talk mimicked the pressure he would feel on stage in the lead up. He drank copious cups of coffee to get his heart rate pounding, presented in front of groups of strangers, and practised without sleep.
20) Follow your passion is terrible advice
I’m not sure why so many people go around saying this clichéd piece of advice, but it’s frankly untrue. Yes, you want to be passionate about what you do, but passion arises because you work hard at something. I’ve written a whole blog post about this here, but in short: if you work hard at something you become good at it, and you tend to enjoy and value what you are good at. And what is passion but enjoying and valuing what you are doing?
Career advice should go more like: pick something that your skills and talents will help you succeed in, work really freaking hard, then work hard some more, and voila – a successful career that you happen to be passionate about.
That’s it. If you are younger than me I hope this list helps you think a little more broadly about your 20s, if you are older perhaps it is not too late to check a few things off.
Now I’m off to search out some other posts about how it’s not all downhill after 30 to cheer myself up in preparation for my birthday.February 27, 2018