10 Lessons to Learn in Your Twenties

Our twenties are filled with competing priorities. Between establishing relationships, completing our education, and launching careers, there is a lot of pressure to succeed and perform. Sometimes it’s easier to just opt out and tell yourself you will deal with the “real stuff” in your thirties. Choosing to procrastinate in your twenties is extremely detrimental to how the rest of your life will unfold. According to Meg Jay, a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Twenty-somethings, eighty percent of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35.

Are you actively participating in making the defining moments of your life happen or are neglecting a time that really matters? Below you will find 10 Lessons to Learn in your Twenties, each will help you to make the most of your twenties.

Lesson #1: 30 is Not the New 20!

Instead of thinking of your twenties as a throw away decade, or a developmental downtime – take advantage of these years as a developmental sweet spot. Meg Jay is a psychologist who specializes in the development of Twenty-somethings. As she says “Claiming your 20’s is one of the simplest, yet most transformative, things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even for the world.” If you are looking for ways to make your twenties more impactful – read this article on 10 Questions to Ask Yourself In Your Twenties. Another great resource is Meg Jay’s amazing Ted Talk on why 30 Is Not the New Twenty! Check it out here.

Lesson #2: Failure is Freeing

Learning that failure is okay is a hard lesson at any age but this concept is most important for those in their twenties. Why? Failure is often the best learning experience you will get. If you can maximize learning in your twenties – your knowledge will take you further in life, opening up additional options and opportunities. Failure can also lead to perspective.  When things don’t turn out how you thought they would (or should) but you find things are still okay, or even better, your horizons expand. Practice, fail and learn as much as you can in your twenties.

Lesson #3: You Are Enough

Feeling comfortable with yourself is a process – and one I hope you approach with self-love and compassion. Please know that you are enough for whatever comes your way, for whatever you choose to do. You don’t need to be someone else to succeed, you are enough. The sooner you are able to genuinely embrace this belief, the sooner you will be able to spend more time and energy working toward your goals instead of looking over your shoulder.

Lesson #4: Invest in yourself. No one else will

It really is up to you how far you go in life. But remember that as you make your way, the person who is taking care of you, is you. Invest in your health now. Get your financial house in order as soon as you can. Form habits that serve you. Find your balance between education and life skills. Practice good self-care to make sure you can face whatever challenges come your way. If you are waiting for someone else to sort our your life – you will be waiting a long time.

Lesson #5: Procrastination is never valuable

Think about a time when procrastination served you. If you are coming up short of examples, you are not alone!  Procrastination is never valuable, and especially not in your twenties. As this decade represents the sweet spot of opportunity and development for most individuals (remember how many life defining moments take place before age 35!)  if you choose to procrastinate (and yes, procrastination is a choice), you choose to neglect these opportunities. Can you afford to do that?

Lesson #6: You know enough to get started.

Wisdom is gained through experience, acting on your values, learning from mistakes and performing authentic evaluation. Age and wisdom are two separate things. More time doesn’t necessarily result in more wisdom.  If you are waiting to feel “ready” to start your dream job, or launch your startup company, stop waiting! Start somewhere, stay humble and learn as much as you can – but start. Waiting around to be wise doesn’t work.

Lesson #7: Hustle Hard

Act, don’t position. Positioning suggests you are waiting for something to drop into your lap. If you are waiting – you might be waiting forever. Take action in seeking out opportunities, connections, and learning experiences. Get yourself set up so you can take advantage of any valuable opportunity that comes your way. Are there any skills you need to acquire? Is there a network you can explore to make connections?  Start hustling now, and by thirty you will be significantly farther ahead than most of your peers.

Lesson #8: Perfectionism is poison to your soul

If you can’t do it perfectly, why do it at all? Does this sound familiar? We live in a society where perfectionism seems to be secretly valued. Being a “perfectionist” is an acceptable excuse for feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or afraid to take action. It took me a very long time to figure out that my “perfectionism” was actually an attempt to control my world – what went on, how it went on, and what the outcome was. I avoided failure at all costs by lining up every element of a situation before I proceeded. I have since learned control is an illusion. Having control limits your options while giving up control expands your world. If you are suffering from perfectionism, check out this Ted Talk by Charly Haversat on how Perfectionism Is Holding Us Back.

Lesson #9: It is personal.

Going through life acting as if things “aren’t personal” can be a way to shy away from ownership and personal responsibility. Don’t brush things off, they are happening for a reason. While it might work out in your favor that you didn’t get that job (a better job offer might come your way!) it is important to consider why you didn’t make it to the second round of interviews. Please practice judgement free awareness here.  Use every opportunity as a learning experience. If your interview skills aren’t stellar – that’s okay. Know this and practice them. Don’t place the blame on the process the interview committee or the bus driver who drove so slowly you were almost late.  If you own things and don’t put them on others, you will grow faster, go farther and live more authentically. You will find taking responsibility and ownership for the events (or non-events) in your life is empowering. People recognize this quality and be drawn to it..

Lesson #10: Try Again

There are going to be lots of trying times in your life (and you have probably gone through some already) but it’s how you react to these situations that will define you – not the situations themselves. If you take away anything from this post – let it be Lesson #10! Whatever life throws at you, if it doesn’t go well – try again. Winston Churchill once said “Success is stumbling from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”. Try something different. Experiment. Learn something new. Find the lesson in the conflict. Meet the challenge – or learn something in the process but always keep trying.

I hope something from this post resonated with you and you come away with an idea on how to improve – or an  affirmation that you are on the right track. Keep in mind that everything is complicated and often the scariest point in our twenties is figuring out that we really don’t know that much. Keep learning, trying new things and experimenting with the best way to live your life. I would love to hear about the biggest lesson you learned in your life so far – please leave a comment below!


  • Elvi

    Hi! Thank you for this post! I’m 23 and feel lost what I want to do with my life. I thought I’ve got it but recently realized that things aren’t as simple as I thought. But your post really motivates me to improve myself.

    • Justine Cochrane

      Hi Elvi,
      I am so glad you found value here!
      I think your recent realization is a new level of understanding and a huge step forward (even though it might feel like a step back). Keep focused on who you want to become (not what you want to become) – and you will get there.
      Good luck!

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