The twenties are an amazing time in life. For most of us it is the first time that we are truly on our own and free to choose our own path. It is an age where we essentially get to start with a clean canvas and begin painting the type of life we have dreamed of since childhood. It is an opportune time to try new things, new jobs, develop new habits and enjoy the lifestyle that comes with having little responsibility and endless amounts of energy.
The twenties are also foundational years for us and should not be wasted or lived unintentionally. With the help of some friends and mentors, the following are some of the best things we could think of to do in order to make the most of your twenties:
- Surround yourself with wise mentors – you don’t know how to get somewhere you’ve never been. that’s why you need mentors– insight and help from people who are where you want to be. None of us know the answer to every curve ball that life throws our way, but with the help of others that have been there, our chances of making the best decision grow exponentially. Choose a diverse group of mentors and utilize their experience.
- Become a lifelong learner – as mentioned above, the awesome thing about your twenties is that you gain a tremendous amount of freedom to pursue whatever direction in life you choose. With this freedom comes an opportunity to study things for your own enjoyment rather than because you were told to. It’s easy to think that because, “school’s out for summer,” that learning is out as well, but keeping your mind active and continually challenging yourself are key parts of living well and developing these habits in your 20′s will help keep you from becoming dumb and irrelevant.
- Travel – the practice of leaving home to experience new locations and cultures is fundamental, and one that nearly everyone I posed the idea of this list to told me to include. There is something magnificent about traveling that goes beyond just snapping a few photos or placing thumbtacks on a map. Traveling helps us understand that life is much bigger than ourselves and inevitably leads us to the wonderful question, “why?” as we notice the differences from place to place. It is this lifestyle of “why” that is so valuable as we learn to question the way we all live rather than just taking everything at face value.
- Learn to listen and handle criticism well – if there’s one deadly mistake I’ve seen made by many of my peers over the past few years it is the inability to receive criticism. Guess what, all of us have things we could do better at, especially in our 20′s. Toughen up a little and have enough maturity to realize that criticism is a healthy part of life and doesn’t require a poor attitude, excuse or rebuttal on your part. Most importantly learn from criticism.
- Develop an active, healthy lifestyle – by adopting healthy habits such as eating well and exercising regularly in your 20′s you are setting yourself up for a much better quality of life. No great experience or event matters if you are not healthy enough to enjoy it. Learn to cook healthy meals and join a gym…if you’re really adventurous, run a marathon. Developing these habits at age 24 is far easier than age 44.
- Read a classic – even though we are required to read a few classics here and there throughout school, if you’re like me you have forgotten most of the characters and plot twists by now. Take the time to read something by Dostoevsky, or if length is a big issue for you, try something like “Catcher in the Rye.” The issue isn’t so much the specific book, just developing a habit of reading for personal enjoyment. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this list made by my friend Brett at Art of Manliness.
- Go on an overseas missions trip – Traveling is wonderful, but it is possible to travel the globe without ever really stepping outside of yourself. Some of the moments that have changed my life the most came serving others in the poorest and most broken places in the world such as helping in the rebuilding effort in Thailand after the devastating tsunami in 2005. It is well-known truth that we often find ourselves the strongest when we spend our lives in the service of others.
- Create a monthly budget – often the big advice from financial planners for young people comes in a cheeky remark about cutting back on the Starbucks lattes. Well, I love Starbucks and don’t plan on giving up my coffee. Instead I’ve built them into a monthly budget. Building a monthly budget is foundational to a healthy financial life, by starting one and living by it in your 20′s you can ensure a solid financial situation for years to come.
- Start a Roth IRA – I know of no better retirement vehicle than the Roth IRA. A Roth is unique because your money grows tax-free meaning at retirement age (currently 59 1/2) when you finally decide to pull out the money you have accumulated, you don’t have to pay any taxes on any of it. For a layman’s guide to the Roth IRA including how to start one, read my post on the subject here.
- Buy a used car – it may be tempting to show how independent you’ve become by pulling up to your friend’s house in a brand new car, but fight the urge. You are losing thousands of dollars the second you roll out of the dealership parking lot. Even buying a year-old car will save you tons of money while still providing you with a relatively new vehicle. I mention this for twenty-somethings because I’ve seen so many of my friends bury themselves in debt over a car, one of the few “investments” in the world almost guaranteed to do nothing, but depreciate during its lifetime.
- Understand basic investment principles – there is no doubt that financial illiteracy is rampant among young people mainly due to it’s weak to non-existent standing in secondary school curriculum. Most people do not truly begin understanding the basics of investing until they are at an age where it won’t make much of a difference anyway. The three principles I have written about here at Schaefer’s Blog which I think every young person should know include: 1) Time Value of Money 2) Pay Yourself First 3) Dollar-Cost Averaging
- Go to a concert – Ever noticed that many people’s fondest memories start with, “One time we got tickets to (fill in the blank).” There is something amazing about live music and thousands of screaming fans that turns up the volume of our lives in all the right ways. Whether it’s Coldplay, U2, Celine Dion (my wife drug me to her show in Vegas and….it was actually pretty good) or Willie Nelson (one of the best I’ve seen) pony up and buy some tickets to a good concert.
- Learn a foreign language – there’s something wonderful about communicating with someone in their native tongue; it breaks down cultural barriers like nothing else. The 20′s are a wonderful time to learn a new language as you travel the world and immerse yourself.
- Start a blog – the ability to communicate one’s ideas in writing is an incredibly valuable asset. Blogging is similar to journaling, but with the added bonus of exposing your ideas to the scrutiny of millions of eagle-eyed online viewers. It’s amazing how quickly your writing improves when you realize that people will actually be reading your work. For more great reasons why you should start a blog read here.
- Get your college degree – according to a recent report from the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau a college graduate can expect to earn approximately $900,000 more over their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. Whether you like it or not, a college degree is one of those things that society considers an entry ticket for most well-paying jobs. Instead of lecturing everyone on why a college degree is overrated, just take the time to get one and save your lectures for the classroom.
- Pay off credit cards – We’ve all heard the alarming stats yet few seem to be changing their behavior. The average college graduate it now entering the workforce with approximately $3,200 in credit card debt. Add to this student loans and it is easy to see why most in their 20′s take the attitude of, “I’ll deal with it later when I’m making more.” The problem is credit card debt can affect things like qualifying for a home loan, saving for retirement and building a solid credit rating. If you can’t pay off the full balance of your card every month then do yourself a huge favor and don’t use one in the first place. Secondly, whatever debt you do have, pay off as soon as possible – it will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
- Stay in a hotel that costs over $200 a night – My wife and I had a debate about this one. I said you should do this in order to see that it’s not that much better than the $89-a-night Holiday Inn down the street. She disagreed, stating it was normally much better and one should stay in a nice hotel at least once in their 20′s just to treat themselves with a nice experience. So, I guess whatever way you look at it, staying in a nice hotel is something every twenty-something should do.
- Read the Bible cover to cover – no other book has been cited by others, recounted in the arts, or debated in the public arena more than the Bible. And yet, very few have actually read it cover to cover. Being that this book covers so many fundamental issues central to life such as the role of God, man, sin, death, salvation, etc. it is something every person should read for themselves instead of relying on hazy quotes from the university philosophy professor or television evangelist. Man’s decision of what to do with God is one of the most integral he will ever make. Better to make this decision based on a personal encounter rather than off-hand information.
- Explore your family of origin issues (positive and negative) and pursue growth – so many studies in sociology always end up pointing back to one’s family life growing up as the major factor in their growth and development. No doubt some of us experienced a wonderful family life while others went through something more akin to a nightmare. Either way the 20′s are a key time in understanding any family issues that may be holding you back and taking the necessary steps to find healing. It may require some counseling or may be as simple as calling your parents and telling them how much you love them.
- Figure out the type of person you want to marry – I happened to get married at the age of 22 to my beautiful wife. This may seem young to many, but it has worked well for us. While I don’t think getting married in your 20′s is for everyone, it is definitely the time of life to start deciding what traits and values you desire in a future spouse. I’m not saying you need a 3 page checklist, but deciding on some of the non-negotiables will allow you to narrow in your focus and keep you from jumping into one poor relationship after another.
So, what have I missed? What should not be on the list and why? Please leave a comment and make your voice heard!
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