7 Common Mistakes Twenty-Somethings Make: And how to fix them

It’s really easy to make big mistakes in your twenties. Some of these mistakes will turn into great life lessons but others might set you back or derail your plans. Below is a list of seven common mistakes twenty-somethings make and what you can do to either fix or avoid them.

#1 Letting others define you

As we navigate the major life transitions that take place in our twenties, we surround ourselves with people who can help and support us. As we rely on this important network for bolstering it can be tricky to set boundaries around where their suggestions end and their definitions start. Are the stories they tell you about who you are and what you can achieve in agreement with what your gut is telling you? Does anyone in your support network have their own agenda?

The Fix: Be aware of what is external and internal. Do you feel a certain way because you were told to, or because your instincts are guiding you? Spend time alone, and away from social media so you can give your brain room to process independently of the constant feedback and stimulation. The easiest way to stop caring about what others think is to remove yourself from a situation where you are bombarded by that person’s thoughts. Use this space to grow your confidence by learning new things and discovering your own unique skills and abilities.

#2 Undervaluing the decisions you make in your twenties

A common misconception among twenty-somethings is believing your twenties don’t really count. You’re just getting started so you can afford to let things slide, make rash decisions, not get started and waste time, right? If this is your current pattern of thinking, you are only shortchanging yourself. Time is not a limitless commodity, you can’t make more! While it’s perfectly acceptable to take your time before jumping into big life decisions or changes, intentionally avoiding responsibility and action will leave you playing a nasty game of catch up in your thirties.

The Fix: Be intentional with how you live your life in your twenties, and consider the consequences of your actions. If you want to backpack around the world for a few years – great! But make sure that the loss of income and social support is worthy of your life goals. If you want to quit your job because it’s not exactly what you want to do – wonderful! But make sure you have thought through the professional repercussions of quitting. How will this affect your future hire-ability in terms of your resume and professional connections?

#3 Neglecting to be intentional about your life path

A lack of direction is common in twenty-somethings – but this doesn’t mean it is good. While you may not know what you want in your twenties, wasting time will not get you closer to a resolution. Furthermore, avoiding thinking about what you truly want will only cause anxiety and inner turmoil. Do the work and identify your passions, desires and dreams. No one else can do this for you – and although it might be tough, the rewards will be monumental as you live the life you want.

The fix: Take the time to set goals that represent who you want to become.  Trust your future self and believe in him or her to succeed. Listen to your gut, intuition and instincts – and avoid the outside noise of what society wants for you.  Find mentors who inspire you and form connections with them to enrich your life and grow your perspective.

#4 Failing to invest in yourself

Failing to focus on self improvement and development in your twenties is a huge mistake, and a common one. Your twenties are a time of immense growth and if you can capitalize on that growth, you will be justly rewarded. Often twenty-somethings end up focusing on status improvement instead of self improvement. They land corporate jobs, purchase or lease fancy cars and finally get the rental apartment of their dreams – however, often they end up burnt out and discontented in their early thirties.  

The fix: Find ways to develop new skills as you encounter new experiences. Ask, what can I learn here? How can I grow? Vigilantly expand your network, both personal and professional, surrounding yourself with individuals who challenge you to step into your full potential.  While traditional education might not be the right fit for you, continuing education can be found in any area – so seek out additional opportunities to learn.

#5 Failing to see the value in the pecking order at work

A lot of millennials struggle to fit into a traditional office environment. Values have changed over the years and sometimes this structure of seniority goes against what millennials believe matters most. But before you dismiss the pecking order at work, consider how it can serve you.

The structure provided in a traditional environment is a great opportunity to observe without having to “know it all”. You can take a step back and “watch how it’s done” without having to be an expert, or take any huge risks. Although this may seem like you are just doing menial tasks, observing and reflecting on how others do things is the true value of knowing your place.

The Fix: Recognize the experience of your colleagues and consider how you can learn from them. Take a deep breath and know that this too shall pass if things are feeling mundane. Working well in this environment could open up possibilities for your career – regardless of whether you decide to leave corporate world and do our own thing. You will be establishing respect among your senior colleagues as so many of your peers are agitating workplace dynamics by failing to recognize the seniority and value of others. The reputation you develop as a result is one of the most valuable assets you have in the professional world.  It’s amazing what people will share with you when they don’t feel like they are competing with you. That being said, if you truly feel like you are not in the right place, make a move to something that speaks to your passions – just make sure you are respectful in your departure.

#6 Equating happiness with money

While not just a problem among twenty-somethings – this mistake can affect your life for years to come. While money is an important element of day to day living – there is not a clear rise in happiness with an increased income. In fact, many people report the opposite effect. Once a certain standard of living is achieved, additional income presents more problems and ends up decreasing overall happiness. Don’t count on money to bring you happiness, and don’t sell your soul for a dollar amount.

The Fix: Pursue your passions while cultivating financial freedom. I’m not suggesting you give up on making money all together. As I stated before, money is necessary. However don’t make it your single focus, and don’t let it define you. When you start making money, you will notice the next goal level of income is always your guiding point. $100,000 doesn’t sound as $150,000…$150,000 isn’t as great as $250,000 etc. The goal continues to move the more money you make. Instead, look for your happiness from internal sources, explore if you are happy with your relationships, skill set, life balance, community?

#7 Believing a fresh start will solve your problems

How many people do you know who have made a drastic life change only to end up with the same problems in a new job or city? Many twenty somethings think a fresh start will solve their problems – but this isn’t usually the case. An external change will not solve an internal struggle.

The Fix: Examine your current environment for physical manifestations of your struggles or issues. Does that pile of papers really represent how busy you are? Or is it a metaphor for how you just can’t let some things go. Notice the items you are tolerating and dig deeper into both the cause of the toleration – and how it influences your life. Seeing that pile of papers on your desk day after day might provide a subconscious reminder of your failure to organize your life. You might find yourself seeking another area to work to avoid these negative subconscious thoughts. Imagine how great you would feel if you conquered this pile and therefore what it represents – claiming back your space! Running from your problems will give them power, facing your problems will empower you.

In conclusion, know that mistakes are a natural part of life. We all make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Love your mistakes for making you who you are today. I hope this above list will provide you with some awareness for common mistakes twenty-somethings make so you can be on the lookout for them in your own life. If you do find yourself in one of these situations, take the fixes and apply them. I would love to hear what mistakes you have made in your twenties – and how you turned them into a learning experience. Please email me at justine@southofthirty.com or leave a comment below.

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