In many ways, I wasted my twenties. In others, I loved them. Sometimes I failed to learn a lesson, other times I did the right thing almost by accident.
Today, I turn thirty. I can officially look back on those ten crazy years and see where I goofed and where I succeeded.
So if you’re in your twenties, you’re probably looking at the world and asking, “Uh, where’s the instruction manual?” There isn’t one. However, as a guy who’s just finished his ten-year lap, let me give you a few tips on how to better survive and love them.
Don’t See Twenty-Nine as the End.
Let’s clear off this layer of stupid right now: thirty is not old. Life doesn’t end when your twenties do. You don’t quit having fun, you don’t become a slave to the man, you just grow up a little more.
Too many people think that the twenties are the best years of your life because you’re young and carefree. That may be true for you, but for me and many others? The twenties are HARD. You’re inexperienced, have zero reputation, make no money, and can’t rely on mom and dad anymore. It’s hard.
If you do life right, you’ll get wiser and better as you go along. There are hiccups and problems to every stage of life, but there are also benefits. As I reach thirty I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
The twenties are awesome, but don’t hold them too tight. You’ll ruin them with desperation and that in turn will ruin your thirties and all the years beyond. Enjoy this time, but know you can enjoy the next stage, too.
Finish School Wisely.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you’re still in school or thinking of going back, ask yourself why.
On one hand, I finished college in three years in stead of four, so that saved money. On the other, I got an English degree with no idea how to use it. I’m still a writer, but I wish I’d majored in something else while still taking writing classes so that I could get a day job, or at least researched my field better.
Will your schooling help you get to where you want to go? How? What jobs can you hope for? Most places value experience more than study, so how can you get that while in school? Would you be better at a trade school? Should you get a Master’s or Ph.D? How will you go about that?
You don’t need to answer all those right now, but asking them will help you. School should prepare you for work. If it doesn’t, well, that’s one expensive hobby. There are no guarantees in life. Take it from a guy who’s limped from job to job because his degree was almost worthless.
Don’t marry too early.
I personally know three people who married too early and they’re all divorced. And that story echoes everywhere you go. Marrying too quickly is a terrible idea.
Now I’m not saying you can’t marry young. Heck, my mom was seventeen when she married and she has one of the longest and happiest marriages I know. But they’d been dating for two years and they’d been through some crap together.
Do not marry a person until you’ve shared some serious experiences. Success, disaster, new things, deaths, sudden transitions, trips, the details vary per person, but it’s unwise to marry someone until you know who they are, and you can’t know if they haven’t been through anything.
And if you think, “Well, I can just get divorced if it doesn’t work out,” then don’t marry. Just live together. I don’t endorse it, but it’s easier than alimony.
Work well and You’ll Outstrip Most People.
So this guy and I both started work on the same day for the same company through the same temp agency. In two months, I was hired on full-time. After seven, the other guy was still a temp without benefits or holiday pay. He grumbled about how unfair this was. “Why shouldn’t I get hired on when we started the same day?”
Maybe it’s because you think clocking in on time is the same as starting work on time. Maybe it’s because you regularly push your duties onto other people. Maybe it’s because when the boss tries to correct you, you shrug his advice off and end up back in his office a month later.
Or maybe because your bottom line was, “I’m here to make money” instead of “I’m here to do good work.”
I’m stunned how many people do the former. Far too many do the minimum they need to stay hired and get their paycheck. If they do more, it’s to get a raise, and if they don’t get one, they seethe and conclude that good work is pointless.
So if you instead come to work saying, “I’m here to do good work,” you’ll automatically do better than a shocking amount of your coworkers. I know, there’s always “that guy” who sleeps on the job, clocks out early, and nearly runs you over with his forklift every day (Check your mirrors for pity sake!) yet never gets fired.
But that guy is a jerk. Nobody likes him. Don’t be that guy. You don’t have to love every job, I hope you get into your chosen career field, and yes wages definitely matter. But no matter where you go, aim to do good work and people will notice there’s something “better” about you.
Plan ahead. For what? Well, everything.
Existentialism is nice when you’re on a date. But a horrid lifestyle. Existentialism says, “Live for the moment, there’s only today.” But then tomorrow comes and you’re hungry, broke, and pregnant.
What do you want out of life? What big, important things do you feel called to do? What are your goals? What inevitable things are in your future? Don’t ignore them. Plan.
I’ve realized that I should probably learn sign language soon because I will likely go deaf one day. My ears are rotten and nobody knows why, and they don’t seem to be improving. I can ignore this, or I can plan for it.
Want a great job? Research how to get it and set goals. Want to get fit? Plan ahead for when you’re too tired to eat healthy. You can’t plan for everything, and rolling with the punches is part of life, but don’t get lazy then blame others when things don’t work out.
Speaking of planning…
Get smart about money, stupid.
I remember a coworker telling me I should never own a house, just have a mortgage because a mortgage means a tax break. Except you have a house payment. Are you telling me the full yearly taxes on your house are equal to twelve months of mortgage plus the lessened tax rate?
Please learn math. Not enough people do.
Many of us are poor as heck, so we can’t invest hundreds a month into retirement and savings. However, a little wisdom goes a long way. How much are you spending on groceries? Can you shop somewhere cheaper? What kinds of discounts/coupons are out there for that thing you need? Hey, Christmas is coming, so shouldn’t you start saving up for it rather than panicking and throwing it all on the credit card, again?
Get-rich-quick schemes don’t work. Brains do. Go read some books or take some classes about managing money wisely. The Total Money Makeover and Pogue’s Basics: Money are two good ones. And if you’re looking to save money…
Libraries are Awesome.
Man I’m glad I got this one right! Most people just think of books when they think of libraries, and already that’s awesome. Books are perfect for education and entertainment.
However, did you also know that many libraries rent movies, TV shows, music, maybe even anime and video games? Did you know they have computers for when you don’t have one, not to mention free wifi? Did you know that several have programs for job seeking, language learning, skill learning, tax help, children and teen activities, movie nights, community growth, and more?
And did you know they’re pretty much free?
One of the wisest things I ever heard in school was, “You never stop learning.” If you want to better yourself, always be learning.
Learning what? Well, that’s up to you. As a writer, I read writing blogs, research the market, and keep the Chicago Style Manual so I know when to use a comma, a semicolon, or an em dash. Your studies will vary depending on your career and your interests.
However, here are some general ideas you can be studying: politics, finances, art skill or study, sciences, current events, technology, home repair, cooking, child-rearing, relationships of all sorts, food and health, foreign language, religion, self-knowledge, literature, job skills (current or desired), and local events.
Obviously you don’t have to learn all that. Everyone has different things in their brain; I just want to make sure you have something in yours. There are enough idiots in the world who speak from derelict minds. Fill your head and you’ll have a better idea of how the world really works.
Be a Kid, Too.
If this all sounds like homework, I don’t mean it to. Learning, planning, loving, and working all form a sort of natural groove in a time, which means plenty of time for being a moron.
You’re in your twenties, a time of life, vibrancy, and energy that you can’t get back. Use it wisely, but also enjoy it–like every stage of life.
My wife and I once had a Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon while we ate nothing but pizza, cookies, soda, and chips. Wasted time and calories? Nope, just a fun day. Some bungee jump, some go for a hike, some waste an entire day by the window with a book, some play video games until their eyes fall out.
The choices are endless. I don’t want you to stop being twenty-something until you have to. I just don’t want you to think frivolity is all their is, because thirty will hit you like a train if you do that. So be smart about the time you’re given, but hey, enjoy it, too.
You can trust God.
I’ve gone into great detail about my experiences with this, so I’ll keep it brief. I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and found God to be absolutely trustworthy.
Now the keyword is “trust,” not “understand.” God WILL do things that make you gasp in horror. Like allow bad things to happen. Or act in ways that make zero sense. I’m not saying you can have a happy, healthy, comfortable life with God, though you can and will at times. I’m saying you can trust him.
Trust means that when everything goes wrong, you know there’s a reason, and a good one. You may never know what it is, but you don’t have to; you trust.
When you’re twenty, no one seems trustworthy. Mom and Dad have revealed themselves to be human at some point. Boyfriends and girlfriends have betrayed you. Friends have walked away. Bosses and coworkers have stabbed you in the back. Politicians have shown their true colors. And if none of this has happened…get a helmet, bro, cuz it’s coming.
But God is better than they are. He can’t be corrupted, he never goes back on his promises, and he’s more interested in your welfare than you are. People and programs will come and go, but God stays the same. Perhaps you have proof in your life that these things aren’t true. May I suggest that God was doing something you can’t see or understand? And don’t bother asking me what it was because I don’t know. Trust and knowledge are not the same.
So once more, I’m saying from experience that you don’t know everything. I thought I did, but I was an arrogant little kid. Your twenties are for bouncing around like a human pinball in the world, but they’re also for learning and growing. So learn this and grow: you can’t know everything. You can only trust.