Gramps, what d'ya think?
December 13, 2009 11:22 AM   Subscribe

What are your 20s like?

(Premise stolen shamelessly (okay maybe some shame) from here)
Starting up in my 20s and I would like someone to sit me down and tell me some of the things to expect during this long, winding decade. I am all ears and I will listen. I may smirk occasionally.

What I am looking for is advice or wisdom that you wish the 40 30 year old you could tell the 30 20 year old you. What sort of challenges to expect, what sort of changes to anticipate, etc.
posted by litleozy to Grab Bag (87 answers total) 119 users marked this as a favorite
I'm currently 28. You will change. You will change a lot. More than you ever thought possible. This is a time of growth and figuring out who you are. Don't be afraid to flail around a bit and seek out what you really want, for this is the best time for it. Your thirties are your time to embrace who you are, your twenties are the time to figure out who that person is.
posted by youcancallmeal at 11:29 AM on December 13, 2009 [15 favorites]

What youcancallmeal said. It's a much more accurate and succinct version of what I would have written. I'm 35 now.

One other thing. If you experience a setback or adversity, don't take it so seriously. Don't think, "God, I'm a failure, my life is completely hosed" in your 20s. You have time to regroup.

I'm 35.
posted by Thistledown at 11:31 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm 25. You are fairly likely to think that most of the stuff you think is cool now is not cool.

Time will move faster and faster.

This is your chance to become the person you will be. Don't screw it up like most people. Weigh carefully what matters.
posted by cmoj at 11:32 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh man.

My twenties were full of awesome and crazy. At 20, you're an adult but not really yet a grownup; you've tons of capacity but not a lot of experience.

You're going to do a lot of stupid things, so make them count. Drive across the country; hell, drive across Asia. Love hard and without reservation (but with protection, because nothing derails this plan like an unexpected pregnancy or disease); I met someone whom I thought was the man of my dreams when I was twenty, and I was right. (We've been married for six years now; I'm 34.) Follow your dreams, even if it means working your way across Paraguay as a dishwasher.

Now for the sensible parts: pay off your credit card every month, or just don't get one to begin with. Try not to get too wrapped up with drama. And for God's sake take care of your teeth, even if it means going to the dental school to let first-year trainees clean them, because you don't get another set.
posted by KathrynT at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

I wish someone had told me to simply relax (for one)!

Take care of your financial future now. At least put into place (even if the money isn't there) a method of putting aside money that you will commit to continuing from this point forward.

Research the above. Like crazy. That sort of thing intimidated me when I was in my twenties. I acted like it bored me, but it actually scared me. I wish I had realized this then.

Travel. Take road trips. Go places as often as possible.

Write down every possibility for your future you can think of as though anything were possible. This will help you see what it is you really want from life.

Take as much time as needed "off' to figure out things that might be causing you problems in your life. This could be time away from certain friends, this could be a break from romantic relationships in general, this could be a semester off from school. You have the luxury of time NOW that you won't necesarrily have later. Don't feel rushed or locked into anything yet.
posted by marimeko at 11:40 AM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Pay careful attention to Pink Floyd's lyrics to "Time".
posted by Kirklander at 11:46 AM on December 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Mine were a bit of a wash -- I was very poor, made dumb choices about money, relationships, etc., and hated my jobs. On the flip side, I had lots of fun adventures and trips, interesting friends and girlfriends, some 10 (!) piece of shit cars and learned a bit about work ethic and what I wanted to do with my life. My advices: always use condoms, don't rack up credit card debt and don't spend your student loans on anything but tuition. I've enjoyed my 30s much, much more.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:49 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 28.

I hate to say it, I REALLY hate to say it. I never thought that I would be the person giving this advice, but here I am. It was given to me, and I didn't listen, and OH THE WOE AND HEARTACHE:

Figure out how much money you need to live according your own standards. THEN find a job where you make enough money. Doing it the other way around doesn't work. At all. Ideally, you will be able to do this in a career that you love, but you have to calculate if this means you will have to live in a cheaper neighborhood, eat ramen all the time, and have roommates. Figure that shit out before you end up thousands of dollars in debt because you worked a job that you liked, but made no money at it and had to eat anyway.

Every year or so, figure out where you want to be in ten years. Write it down. This will change, but it will also give you some kind of direction and help stave off the "Quarter Life Crisis." (It is a real phenomenon that I think everyone has gone through at every time in history, we now just have a dumb term for it.)

One thing that I tell my friends all the time: It's dating. Not research. Don't feel compelled to see if you might like someone. You do or you don't. If you don't, no big. If you do - JUST GO FOR IT. If it seems too complicated, it probably is and it's not worth it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:49 AM on December 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm 26.5 and some things that I've noticed so far through this phase of my life are...

- You start finding you can more easily connect with and be active friends with what you previously considered "adults."

- If you haven't had any major health changes in your life yet, expect to perhaps get your first in your twenties. For a guy it might be something like losing hair (been there, thank god I look good with a shaved head), for a girl it might be gaining weight, losing your perkiness, etc.

- Relatives start dying. Yes this is a very generalized statement, but you are getting to the point where your parents are probably in their 50's and grandparents are even older and things can go wrong. Prepare yourself mentally for it as it is a fact of life.

- I hope you enjoyed college because work sucks unless you are in the rare percentile who finds a job they love (good luck in this economy) or who don't need to work. Start trying to figure out how you can start your own business now while you have a head start and a lot of freedom--you'll be thankful down the line.

- In general you have more responsibility. Bills, insurance, social obligations, etc. All of these things will contribute to helping you gain better perspective on what kind of person you really want to be. If you aren't that set in your ways, consider taking an adventure while you have few roots/worldly possessions and little responsibility. It may be a lifestyle that you decide you want to make permanent.

- Be advised that you may end up in a serious relationship that leads to marriage. As someone who was habitually single for most of my life, I randomly met that perfect someone when I was 23 and now we've been together three years. Even if you don't get married, expect your friends and acquaintances to, which means you should have something in your wardrobe you can wear to a wedding.

- Throw out any preconceived notions that there is a "set way of doing things." I grew up thinking you went to school, then 4 years of college, then worked your way up the corporate ladder. That can certainly happen but the illusion I held that this is the "proper" way to do it has been completely shattered by those who don't go to school or flunk out and end up starting their own successful business. Start as early as you can and fail often since the stakes are lower.

- Don't be paranoid about going through several different types of jobs. Every job you have that you hate brings you one step closer to knowing what you love because you'll know more about the types of things you never want to do again.

- Friendships may drift apart as people spread out into the world and develop new relationships. You'll quickly learn who are your true lifelong friends and who are more situational friends. There isn't anything inherently bad about being situational friends though and most people understand that. Particularly with things like Facebook and such, you don't need to expend as much energy into maintaining those relationships as you once needed to.

- Always wear sunscreen. (sorry, couldn't resist)
posted by Elminster24 at 11:50 AM on December 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oh, and just wanted to second the poster who mentioned learning to manage your personal finances. Given the economy it is crucial that you learn how to manage your money and know if you have a positive or negative cash flow. I found that stuff fascinating and love learning about it but for others it is painful. You need to know it regardless. Spend less than you make and save it. You will hopefully not be tapping this money until you are older--ie. saving for retirement. It is a foreign concept to younger people who are used to spending every cent of their paycheck on having fun but it is part of the responsibility that comes with being independent and looking out for your future.
posted by Elminster24 at 11:54 AM on December 13, 2009

I'm 28.

The biggest difference between me-now and me-20 is that I see the world in a more nuanced way. At 20, everything was black and white. Everything was very extreme. I divided--not consciously--the world into Good and Bad. At the time, I had no idea that I did this. But now, looking back, the judgments I made and the reactions I exhibited in my early-to-early-mid 20s are embarrassing, foolhardy, and wrought with hubris.

However, I'm of the firm belief that people mature at different rates and at different times. People manifest their 20s in such different ways. Some people my age are much more grown up than I am (a few are less). I guess one thing to note in your 20s is that age becomes more relative and less absolute--there are no more grade levels, no more finite markers that everyone should reach by a certain age. What matters is when you choose to, or really, when you wind up doing things, not how old you are: that sets your cohort. 28-year olds who are married with kids and own a home and two cars and live in the suburbs are a world apart from 28-year olds who live with roommates in a city, or who are in grad school. Someone else's 20s might be my 30s, or 40s.

Actually, maybe it's not just age that becomes more relative and less absolute. Maybe everything becomes more relative and less absolute.
posted by millipede at 12:00 PM on December 13, 2009 [10 favorites]

Your twenties are the time in your life where you've possibly got the skills to be impulsive with your life and career, but you don't necessarily have relationships and other things tying you down.

If this is true, take advantage of it. If it's not true, think about whether the things holding you back from experiencing new things are really worth the impact they are having on your life. You can be impulsive your whole life, but in your twenties, there is usually less holding you back and you're not as worried about screwing up because, hey, you're only in your twenties.

Spread your wings as much as you can.
posted by elder18 at 12:01 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm turning 29 soon. Related to Thistledown, don't ever think that you are now old while in your 20's. I hear too many people complain that they are getting a late start on their career when they switch paths at 26. Even I know that's baloney and plenty of people start long careers in their 40's. It only seems like you're now old because you've never been this old before.

Don't get caught up in other people becoming grown-ups. Right out of college, everyone seems to be getting married, and some people feel that it is "time" and they should marry whoever they're dating at that point. They do the same with having kids. Even when it seems that "everyone" is doing something, they're not, and plenty of your friends will be regretting their choices by age 30.

Don't neglect your family while enjoying how awesome being a 20-something adult is. Yeah, you're so busy with your "real" job and friends and dates, but you can't count on all of your family being around when you get over yourself later on.
posted by parkerjackson at 12:02 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I turned 23 today.

My 20s so far have been really different from what I expected. I'm making more money than I thought I would (and after 4 years of college, making money at all is a big deal), but I also have very little free time. I might have just gotten all of my crazy out in college, but I go to bed and wake up early and only go out with my friends every other weekend or so. I spend a lot of time on car maintenance. I've turned into a clean freak. I started blow-drying my hair every day because looking sloppy has started to make me feel uncomfortable. I'm working on becoming a more confident, decisive, well-spoken person.

Basically, no one can tell you what your twenties will be like. I have to remind myself that I'm really young a lot, because I feel like I'm over 30.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:04 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm sort of against the idea of giving too much advice to a young person, because a) those damn kids never listen and b) the important part of the process is figuring it out for yourself. that said

use condoms, nthed
dont rack up credit card debt, nthed

and one piece of solace: when/if you find yourself feeling negative about you, it gets sooooo much better. by the end of this decade you will be developing a sense of confidence, knowledge and trust in yourself that is a wonderful reward in exchange for youth. and life stays fun for a lot longer than you might imagine at 20.

I'm 41. enjoy your youth!
posted by supermedusa at 12:05 PM on December 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

This is when you start making life decisions that your parents don't agree with, but which they can't do anything about. It's the turning point where you become fully independent.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:08 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 27.

Seconding cmoJ: Time will begin to move faster, especially as you approach thirty. Days, even weeks, will pass by in a blur. Keep a journal.

Travel as much as you can. If you're still in school and can swing it, do study abroad. If not, take road trips, even if it's to a place only two or three or four hours away. Serendipity will give you many unexpected experiences that will remain with you the rest of your life during your twenties.

Take care of your teeth! I have a colleague who is 47 and has had at least four or five root canals and crowns because he did not take care of his teeth when he was younger. It can be expensive and potentially painful if you do not brush, floss, and visit your dentist. You only get one pair - make sure they last.

Save as much money as you can. It will eventually pay off when you get older. My colleague in my previous example has never been a saver. He is completely broke, spends all of his paycheck every month, and then bemoans the fact he will probably have to work until he's dead (his words, not mine).

Like marimeko said, relax. Ferris Bueller said it best: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and take a look around once in a while, you might miss it."

If you have a good relationship with your parents/family, enjoy it. Make sure you ask questions now. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me, "I wish I'd talked to my mom about family history..." I'd be retired by now.
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 12:13 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

You'll stop smirking so damn much, because at some point, whether it's in school or at work or when something important and poignant happens, you'll learn that the words you choose and the actions you take matter so much more than a knee-jerk, dismissive reaction.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:27 PM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'll be 24 in a few weeks. So far, being in my twenties has actually been a big relief. When I was a child, I remember begging myself not to forget how children feel, or start looking down on them, or start ignoring their thoughts and emotions. I was truly afraid of becoming condescending and lifeless, unaware of the wonders of the world around me. I imagined, somehow, that there would be one day when, despite my protests, I would have to drag my feet and Become An Adult.

Obviously, that doesn't happen. First of all, it turns out that adults aren't nearly as confident and sure-footed as they appear to children. There's no handbook for this life gig - everybody's winging it. And it's kind of fun! You really do get to be who you want to be. You have the freedom to make all kinds of choices. Your mind is more developed, you've seen more of the world, you're figuring out who you are and what really matters to you, you probably have more money than you did as a child. You can think really hard about what path you want to be on and set out on it. Terrifying - but cool.

On the flip side of things, I've been quite cautious when it comes to big decisions or changes. Before I moved in to my first apartment, I read just about every article I could find on the Internet about living on one's own for the first time. I made a budget. I scoured all my bank records to make sure I wasn't missing any hidden costs. I asked relatives for suggestions. I researched finding an apartment. I got my own health insurance. I make sure that I take care of my teeth and eat a healthy diet and exercise plenty, because there are SO many problems can arise from NOT doing those things that are way harder to treat than they are to prevent. I applied to graduate school and went. Before I (we, me and my boyfriend) got a cat we considered the pros and cons of pet ownership for quite a while. When we had to furnish our apartment we made a huge list of every item we'd need - from a bed to measuring spoons - and sourced each item from the most ethically and environmentally responsible source we could find. I'm so glad I made those choices carefully - it was reassuring to prove to myself that although I'm young and don't have much experience, and things will never be perfect, I don't have to be bad at budgeting or unsafe or unhealthy or afraid for the future.

And, like pretty much everybody else, I try to see my family all the time. My parents are in their 50s and while they are in excellent health, thankfully, they won't be forever, and that's starting to become very obvious.

Of course, I've still got 6 more years of my 20s left, so maybe I'll come back and think this is hogwash. Who knows??
posted by Cygnet at 12:33 PM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm 36. When I was in my twenties, what I would've loved to hear from the elders:



Because 20's are awesome. But also, I would let them know that life seems to reset itself, because back then, I saw life as being really linear.. 20's, 30's, 40.. 100's. I saw that progression in the number getting bigger and associated that with how I would be feeling.

But funny things happen. See, when you're 20.. you worry about being 30, because 30 seems old. But when you get to 30, it's like you move up a tax bracket.. but an age bracket.. you now compare yourself to other 30's.. and those who are 36.. 39 are now the "old ones" and you're the "younger 30's.."

It's like being a senior in high school. You feel "old". But you get to college, and you're the freshman again, young. Then you're senior year of college, you feel "old". Then you're the new guy at work, young. It's a cycle.

So I'll be looking forward to being the new senior citizen at the bingo parlor, where I'll be one of the "new young ones".. cause you know, I'll be like 78.. and all them 85 year olds... pshh.. what do they got on me..
posted by Like its 1997 at 12:34 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm 27, and most advice I'd offer has been covered already (especially the credit card debt thing). There's just one other thing I would add.

Don't feel obligated to continue childhood friendships into adulthood. Knowing someone your whole life does not make him a good person. I've watched my brother continue friendships with bad people (like stealing from my grandmother's retirement home bad) long after he should have cut them out of his life. I've had friendships with people I had nothing in common with and couldn't relate to, simply because we had just been friends for so long.

I'm not saying you should ditch good friends, but you'll start to really figure out who you are, and this can cause you to drift apart. Just recognize that this happens, and it's OK.
posted by lexicakes at 12:37 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

The 20s are your life without consequences. Live well, live wisely and be foolish.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 12:37 PM on December 13, 2009

I just finished my 20s yesterday. Mine were full of silly decisions and lucky breaks. Early on you can and should do anything. At the end you might have a spouse, kids, and crushing student loan/mortgage payments (like me!). Don't be put off by little distractions or fleeting drama, do everything now.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:40 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm 42. The thing I wish I could tell my 20-odd-year-old friends (and could have told my 20-odd-year-old self) is "this too shall pass". Yes, it's awful that your boyfriend dumped you and your best friend is being a bitch and so-and-so deleted you from their facebook account. In six months or a year, you won't care at all about the second and third item and the first item will be much less painful.

Real and important things do happen in your 20s (grad school, job, marriage, etc.) but a lot of what I agonized over most is not the important stuff I care about now, and I'm pretty sure that's true of a lot of the things I see my younger friends agonizing over. I'm not saying the agony isn't real--bustups with friends hurt even now--but a dose of perspective about how much I'll care about it in the long run does ease the pain for me at this stage of my life.
posted by immlass at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Pay your bills.
posted by sunshinesky at 1:16 PM on December 13, 2009

(The rest is pretty much optional)
posted by sunshinesky at 1:17 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm 25. Everyone is in transition. Some have settled down and have kids and real jobs. Others still like to get wasted on a Tuesday afternoon for no reason. There were friends I thought I would have for lifetime when I was 19. Haven't talked to them in years. Don't even have a phone #.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm turning 29 early next year.

The advice I would give my freshly 20 year old self:

You will fail at many things and that's okay. Don't worry about them. You will have successes as well, and don't forget them. Chase your dreams as far as you can and you won't worry about turning 30. And 30 isn't the end of anything except your 20s.
posted by Kattullus at 1:32 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your 20s are the best time to do crazy, adventuresome stuff because your abilities are high but the consequences are still small. Now's the time to backpack through Asia, teach snowboarding at a resort, try being an artist, and all that stuff. Take smart risks, like travel and career, but avoid the dumb ones, like debt and stuff that will mess up your health.

Get moving because you'll be 30 before you know it.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:34 PM on December 13, 2009

Oh hey, I just turned 27 on Thursday, and this is the biggest piece of advice I can give you: NEVER SETTLE. Always, constantly, challenge your heart, your head, and your senses.
posted by banannafish at 1:37 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Be pliable. Somebody once told me, "The teeth are hard and fall out. The tongue is soft and remains."

It took me most of my 20s to find out what that meant.

To me, it means being able to constantly re-evaluate how you and your ideas and circumstances are changing. And adapting to those circumstances.

I'm not telling you to "learn to settle for less" -- although so many people start doing that in your 20s. I never advise anyone to do that. I mean, constantly be searching yourself for what it is you REALLY do want, and how your development and opportunities have changed to make it so that you too have to change to get what you want.

In your 20s I think you'll find that your own idea of "yourself" will start to change a lot, and you'll probably greatly resist these changes and want to force yourself into behavior that no longer works for you.

And so it'll hurt to walk away from that ad firm internship because You've Always Thought of Yourself as an Aspiring Clio Winner, but seeing it up close shows it's not for you. Do it anyway.

It'll hurt to break up with that woman you've been with for two years because She Was Supposed to Be My One and Only, but now you're just going through the motions. Do it anyway.

It'll hurt to realize you have to move away from home because You Have to Be There for Your Parents, but now you see that the place you're from isn't big enough for the life you want to have. Do it anyway.

You're going to change. I think the people who fight that only fight the self they're becoming. And I've seen that lead to a lot of unhappiness.

Remember: "The teeth are hard and fall out. The tongue is soft and remains."
posted by meadowlark lime at 1:41 PM on December 13, 2009 [20 favorites]

After I had my kid, I sat down and did my will. I sat down with one of those old hippy lawyers making bank writing boilerplate wills for spoiled yuppies. When it came time to figure out how to dole out inheritance, he says dole it out in three chunks - one at 24, one at 27, one at 30. His advice: "if they don't get it by age 30, they're never going to get it." I laughed and did as he suggested.

The moral of that story: don't worry too much about flubbing it at 24 or 27, that's almost expected, and you'll probably get another chance. But get it together enough to be a responsible adult by age 30. Make sure you can pedal without training wheels by then.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:45 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Be really aware of paying bills on time, and how things like having a store credit card that you don't pay off can do serious damage to your credit. I've always been super careful about my credit score, and now that it matters more than ever in regards to getting loans to buy a house, etc, I am THRILLED that I took care of my credit in my young and desperate days. Set it up so at least minimum credit card payments are automatically deducted from your account.

Likewise, keep track of your receipts for tax purposes, especially if you freelance or are self-employed. The IRS can very easily ruin your year, so do everything you can to keep proof of your spending. Likewise, get a good accountant.

Take care of your health. Get vaccinated whenever applicable. Get health insurance. A friend of mine in her early 20's basically had the decade fiscally ruined for her because she had no health insurance and got hit by a car.

Figure out what you want, as soon as possible. Spend a lot of time thinking about this, as it will spare you a lot of wasted time and heartbreak. So many people I know have drifted aimlessly through their twenties because they couldn't figure out what they really wanted. If you are one of the lucky people who know what they want, figure out how to get it, and try as many ways of possible of getting it. Then at least it won't have been a waste of time.

And, it's okay if the definition of that ideal life you want, changes down the road. That's okay, and normal. But make sure that whatever you do to pay the bills will in some way advance you towards that goal, even if it just means working days at Starbucks so you can spend your nights writing music and networking to meet a goal.

If you have yet to start a 9 to 5 office job, the type you plan to keep for several years, that doesn't give you much time off, I highly suggest you maximize your travel NOW. My boyfriend's job requires him to work 5 years before they give him more than 10 days off (including the week between xmas and new years) and he started working right after graduation, basically. He really wishes he had taken some time to travel before he got locked in.

Figure out a realistic budget, including all the things you don't usually think about (toothpaste, parking tickets, etc.) Stick to it.

Lastly, don't stay in an unsatisfactory relationship out of laziness or fear of finding someone better. This is an ideal time to meet the person who really knocks your socks off, before the majority of people are married.
posted by np312 at 1:46 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding nestor_makhno. The 20s are when people's lives stop following the same prescribed path of elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. Suddenly there's no road map, so people start doing completely different things at different times. I'm 28, and I have friends with toddlers, friends who are married, friends who identify with their job as though it defines them, friends who just want to go party every night, friends who are teaching English on the other side of the globe, friends who own houses and host dinner parties, friends who can still barely heat a frozen pizza in their rented apartment to feed themselves, and so on.

It's really easy to compare yourself to the people you know, to feel like you "should" have your career figured out, or you "should" have a house by now, or maybe you "should" have stuck with your table-waiting job so you could go out to the bar every night. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and in your 20s you suddenly see everyone maintaining their lawns in a crazy variety of ways. The key is to figure out what YOU want to do, plan it, work towards it, and don't worry about what anybody else is doing.

And to go with all the previous exhortations about taking care of your teeth: get enough sleep, too. People in that 30s thread complained a lot about not being able to stay out til all hours anymore, and taking a lot longer to recover from a hangover, but that stuff definitely starts in your 20s.
posted by vytae at 1:49 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

My 20s were a lot like my 30s are so far. Nothing magic happens when the number of trips of our planet around the sun is a multiple of the number of fingers on our hands (which is probably the reason for our base-10 counting system).

I say let go of these expectations that your life is compartmentalized into several periods of 3652 or so days, each distinct. Instead, live and grow and learn however you like. Take care of your present and future self, and forgive and learn from your past self. As time goes on you'll have more past-self and less future-self. That's something to think about and learn from too, but hardly relevant (or seemingly real) at 20-30.

You are not embarking on a new journey because you turned 20. You're embarking on a new journey because it's a new day, just like every day.
posted by fritley at 2:02 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm only 25 right now, but I've already noticed a lot of differences. Some of this has already been brought up, but for a topic like this I think it matters whether a lot of people or only one person make a claim.

- As the years pass, chances are the people who are your friends right now will scatter across the country and globe. You can go from seeing people every single day to seeing them once a year, if that. Enjoy seeing your friends frequently while they still live near you.

- You will change. A lot. The big periods of change that seem to be nearly universal so far have been: starting college (if you go), about two years after that (~20 years old), then again around 22, then by the time people are 24 they're MUCH different than they were at 18. And actually, chances are you don't want to be the exception to that: mostly people change for the better, and the ones that don't change -- or change for the worse -- start to grate on their friends that have changed.

- If you change for the better, stuff that people always say but didn't mean much to you before will start to sink in. In fact, it's less like "sinking in" than you ignore those things until you realize them on your own, and then you realize that's what people always meant. Some examples:

Most things are not a big deal. Chances are you will have some seriously messed up things happen that you will get through, and compared to those things, everything else you used to freak out about seems trivial. After a while, the seriously messed up things become easier to deal with, too.

Drama is not worth the time and should be cut out from your life. Looking back on some of the drama that my friends and I perpetuated in early college, it's like we were zoo animals or something. It is way easier to cut out drama than you think; follow lexicake's advice about not being friends with people who are shitty just because you've known them a long time. Without exception, every single person I know who is stressed out from social drama either causes it themselves, or cannot bring themselves to cut off people who constantly inject it into their lives just because they've known them since they were younger. As you get older, you will start to realize that some of your friends, despite having some good qualities, are rather shitty people who will not acknowledge the ways they hurt other people. The first time you have to cut out someone like that, it will hurt a lot. You will feel like you should have tried harder and that friends are hard to come by, and chances are it will cause some social messiness since you will have some of the same friends. As you get older, especially if you come to hear through mutual friends that the other person is still pretty shitty, you will realize your life is less stressful, you made new friends, and you made the right decision. You will become better about choosing your friends and you won't have to cut people out often, but the few times you do it will be a lot easier. Hopefully, the perspective will let you become less effected by those kind of toxic people.

- You will hopefully become more introspective and more empathetic to others. Most people in their early 20s are self-absorbed and don't even know it; that's how I was, anyway. I thought because I cared about people I wasn't self-absorbed, but when it came down to it, I really didn't think much about how other people might interpret my behavior, or why negative interpretations might even be reasonable. Being able to put yourself in other people's shoes is a valuable ability, but in practice, it doesn't come easily. Usually some significant events will come and go where people don't interpret you favorably, and hopefully one of them will finally stick and force you to re-examine yourself. (Some people never seem to do this, and just spend their whole life indignant and angry. Of the people I know, though, it seems like the majority change for the better.)

- On that same note, I agree with runningwithscissors. Knee-jerk cynicism comes close to inducing physical nausea in me now, but only four years ago or so I thought it was really cool to be dismissive and contrary and even confrontational because it showed I was confident in my beliefs. In actuality, it shows insecurity in one's beliefs: if you're secure that you're being reasonable, you'll give most stuff a fair shake and you'll investigate dissenting opinions just to be sure you haven't missed anything. Instead of having an emotional reaction when others want to be dismissive and contrary about your beliefs, you don't really care and you don't bother to engage unreasonable people. I would have never admitted this in my early 20s, particularly because I didn't even realize this was all true; I think every little argument I had back then was emotionally-charged.

Again, that's another thing it seems that some people never learn, but mostly people seem to get there sooner or later.

- Similarly, you get a lot more humility about things. When I was 19, I thought I knew exactly how I would be and act when I was older, and I was really happy about that since I was so full of myself. Now that I'm older, I realize I can't possibly know what's going to happen in the future... and I'm really happy about that, too. I'm glad I changed so much from who I was back then, so even though I'm happy with who I am now, I also kind of hope some stuff that's over my head to understand now will happen. I think it would be awesome if I could look back at who I am now and be embarrassed later, because it will have meant that I changed for the better.
posted by Nattie at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'd like to add: don't spend any time during your twenties worrying about "almost being in your thirties".

For one thing, your thirties aren't nearly as old as you think at this point in your life. You'll realize this once you are in your forties = true story (I said something along these lines in that "other" thread you cited).

I say this vicariously, as spending even a second of this period in your life worrying about being "old" is a waste of your time. Believe me. I did this. No one around me told me how young I was (for some reason) and I really, really needed to hear it.

Twenties: take time to actively figure out what you want from life and avoid anything that will jeopardize your health.

Thirties: apply the above.

Forties: reap the rewards.. (and, in many instances, start all over again).
posted by marimeko at 2:03 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm almost 25. A few of these are more like things I should have been told at 18, so if it's already too late for some, disregard. Also, some of these are more applicable to American young people, so keep that in mind.
-Don't rush growing up. Live on your own and be your own person for a while.
-Don't use credit cards unless you can pay the balance that month.
-If at all possible, save money.
-Don't drink too much and don't smoke at all if you don't want to speed up the aging process. Honestly, by the time you're about 22 you can start to tell which of your friends are the drunks and which aren't as much by how much older and more grizzled they're starting to look than everyone else.
-Take care of your teeth! The laziness you might have gotten away with re: flossing and whatnot in your teens really starts to catch up to you in your 20s. This also means going to the dentist (don't wait like 3-4 years between visits, not that I um did that or anything).
-If you can get the chance to spend some time living in a foreign country, do it!
posted by ishotjr at 2:12 PM on December 13, 2009

Oh, wow. Just read all the other replies and I guess the teeth thing is pretty universal!

The 20s are your life without consequences. Live well, live wisely and be foolish.
Hm, I don't know about that. I feel like in your 20s, you actually have a lot of consequences because your decisions end up setting the path of your life to a large degree. Yeah, you can take some risks, but the less you have at the time and the more you stand to gain in the future, the more crucial choices can be. Like if you're in a position where a poor decision could lead to financial disaster or screwing up your chances at pursuing the career you've always wanted. No need to stress about everything, but you definitely don't want to end up turning 30 in debt with no career, burned bridges, and regrets.
posted by ishotjr at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 26. My 20s have already been a massive time for learning who I am and what I really want out of life, sometimes the hard way. Especially with relationships. My eyes have really been opened in ways I never expected and it's been really interesting to learn that real love and romantic "love" often have nothing to do with eachother, and that this whole "love" thing we chase after is often just a fleeting feeling that leads to trouble, and can blind us to how we are being treated, whereas proper love seems to be much more based around our actions, but actually, feels much better. And you don't need a romantic partner to experience it. I'm still figuring a lot of this out but my perspective on relationships has changed so much even since I was 23 and thought I'd found the man I would marry (and almost did - oh dear!)
posted by Chrysalis at 2:21 PM on December 13, 2009

Exercise. It doesn't matter how. Don't give it up. You'll thank yourself in a few weeks, in a few years, and again in a few decades.
posted by cmoj at 2:27 PM on December 13, 2009

Tomorrow morning, the phone's going to ring, and it'll be NASA on the other end! Your lifelong dream's come true! You get to be an astronaut! And then it'll ring again, and this time it'll be the World Wildlife Foundation telling you your other lifelong dream's come true! You get to be a zookeeper! There's just one catch: whichever job you take, you'll have to turn the other one down.

When this happens — and I promise you, it's going to happen — there are two things you need to do. First, you need to think long and hard about which job is right for you. And once you've done that, you need to let the other one go.

The dirty secret you learn in your twenties is that it's okay to have regrets. Everyone has regrets. It is possible to love your life and still have regrets. In fact, the happiest people I know are often the ones with the biggest regrets. Falling madly in love with one guy means saying "no" to a date with another and never knowing how that date would have gone. Backpacking around the world means quitting your no-vacation-time day job and never knowing where that career might have led. Thursday night band practice means no more Thursday night basketball game. Starting a company and getting rich at 30 means a lot of long nights eating ramen when you're 25. Any time you do something really awesome and worth doing, you'll find yourself looking back on the other things you could have done instead and wondering what might have been. And that's okay. Because the alternative — the only way to keep all your options open — is to never do anything, never commit to anything, never make any decisions. And that is the surest way to wind up 30 years old and miserable.

Most of the time, the truth is that there's no best choice. There are a dozen lives you could live and be happy. And you can't live all of them — but the good news is, you don't have to live all of them, you just have to live one. So pick one and go live it. And when you're graduating from Astonaut School and thinking about all the fun you could have had as a zookeeper, it's okay to be sad about it for a minute. Just don't let that detract from all the fun you're going to have as an astronaut instead.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2009 [39 favorites]

You know, one more thing. Don't be ashamed of turning down something flashy for something drab if you love the drab thing more. A lot of us, when we're teenagers, we worry about selling out. We look at mom and dad and say "Man, these guys are losers! Mom's always talking about that job she quit when she had us kids, and dad's always talking about the parties he used to go to before he got married — why the hell did they settle down?! I'm never going to be like that."

And of course, some of us really do have parents who made bad choices, which makes the whole thing harder. But for a lot of middle-aged married folks, the answer is, "You know, those parties were starting to get boring anyway. I mean, sometimes I miss those guys, but I like your mom more."

If you discover that the thing that really makes you happy is marriage-and-kids, or grad school, or dentistry, or I dunno, collecting tea cozies or whatever, then just go ahead and enjoy that. A rock star who wishes he was home with his tea cozies is a way bigger sellout than a tea cozy collector who's loving every minute of it, even if he looks cooler on the outside.

posted by nebulawindphone at 2:43 PM on December 13, 2009 [15 favorites]

If your twenties are anything like mine were, you'll question your sexuality, become a lesbian, question your idealism, become a yuppie, question your sanity, take antidepressants, and overall just wade through angsty neurotic waters until you finally start to see land again. Good luck with it.
posted by whalebreath at 2:49 PM on December 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

I'm 35. Three points:

- If you're like me, you will have had a pretty successful academic career up to that point. Especially during college, you had increasing responsibility, challenge, and opportunity to be creative. Then you take your first "real" job, and it's tedious as hell, and you don't seem to be moving at all. "I've made a terrible career choice!", you think. Well, maybe. But if you make a move, your new field will also be full of tedious duties. Unless your dad was Donald Trump or Tim Russert, it's just part of being young. It's cool to want to get past it- that should motivate you to work hard and do well- but don't let it make you think that you're a failure.

- Hold on to your friends, and enjoy your time with them. Make opportunities to be with them- as people move and start families, it just gets harder. Couple/ family time is full of its own priceless joys, but your window to hang out with your friends a lot is not infinite.

- If you've ever been tempted to be in a rock band, this is the time to do it. Similarly, if you've ever been tempted to live abroad, it's much easier now.
posted by Clambone at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

About to be 35.

Dear 20 year old me. Don't get married. Don't think that the job you want now is certainly your career. Don't think that the debt you take now -- for college or otherwise -- is going to be simple to pay back later so you don't have to worry about it.

Seriously. I know it's offensive to tell you that you aren't the person you're going to be in 10 years, or even 2 years or five years, but seriously, keep your options open. Everything will change. And then change again. And change after that.

You feel like a grownup and you're out on your own and the world "is your oyster." Are you going to make it? Yes, you will. Will you be successful? Yes, stop worrying about the long term and stop worrying about this week and make 5 year plans. That's it. Plan for five years for now and take baby steps.

You will be hit with things that feel like the end of the world. They're not.

You will try to avoid sincerity because sincerity isn't cool. Guess what? Being cool through cynicism sucks.

You have no idea what life will be like in 10 years. It will blow your mind at how different it, and you, will be. So stop living for that.

Be a person you'll be proud to be. You won't ever have another decade with as much flexibility, as much freedom, as much change. Do it now.
posted by Gucky at 3:19 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Knowing your desired (career, life, relationship, whatever) path and setting out upon it early can certainly feel very reassuring, but it can also lead you to live in a state of perpetual risk-avoidance, at the expense of big adventures and fun. Every so often, take a little bitty detour off the path for an adventure or two, and don't be scared of them.
posted by so_gracefully at 3:32 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm half way through and these are things that I didn't do at first, but am doing more now and loving life all the more for it:

Kiss the girl.
Drink the wine.
Eat the deep fried cricket/roast goanna tail/crunchy tarantula.
Feel a spontaneous impulse to fly to Peru and climb a mountain? Do it.
Don't spend money on things you'll forget a week later (I'm looking at you, every drop of alcohol I've bought after 2am).
Live beneath your means (to save money for the spontaneous trip).
When you move away, do all you can to get back home for the one big thing a year that brings people together. Friendships can survive a year of missed nights out, and lazy Sundays at the beach, but the week long houseboat trip with all the mates? That's the crucial one to be on.
Enjoy everything you do. It's either great to be doing it, or a great story, or both.
posted by twirlypen at 3:44 PM on December 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Okay, not sure why 23 yr olds are answering, but as someone in their early thirties, I say:

1. Go to the dentist every year for a cleaning and checkup.
2. Get a physical every year from the doc.
3. Exercise. Lift weights. Your bones stop maturing at 30. Strengthen them as much as possible.
4. Take vitamins.
5. Save at least $5000 a year.
6. Wait to attend graduate school until you're in your late twenties, or you might end up getting a degree in something you stop being interested in, even though you were soooo interested in saving the world at 23.
7. Be nice to everybody.
8. Don't be rude to anyone in a working situation. it really matters who likes you, even if that feels all kiss-assy and fake.
9. Don't have sex with random people who don't care about you.
posted by anniecat at 3:46 PM on December 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Dear 20-year-old me,

You know how you look at people and can't figure out how they're better looking, luckier, happier, wealthier, etc? It's because they really do know something you don't. They may not consciously know, and they may not be even able to tell you what it is, but regardless ... they know.

They know how to respect themselves. They know how to say no to things they don't want to do, and how to say yes to things they do want to do. They know that they are mentally and emotionally impervious -- that others cannot make them feel anything they don't choose to feel.

Because they respect themselves, they go and do the things they want to do, and they enjoy them. They do not wait. They're enjoying their lives right now. They will look back on now and think it was an amazing time. And they know that tomorrow will be even better.

So, you know how you secretly harbor a wish to go off and do something amazing? I believe in your case it was moving to a new city and doing new things? Go do it.

Also, it's actually less expensive and easier than you think it is. You're not gonna go broke. And if you do? Bummer. You're 20. Join the Air Force.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:53 PM on December 13, 2009 [27 favorites]

I turn thirty in less than two weeks. If I could boil it down to one sentence: your early twenties are like your teens, and (if the answers in the thirties thread are accurate) your late twenties are like your thirties.

Time starts feeling a lot different. Once you're out of school, time isn't portioned into convenient chunks and the markers you do have are somewhat randomly placed: what apartment you were in, what job you had, who you were dating. Years can sort of blend together. At the same time, you start to appreciate that a decade is an incredibly long time, and you realize that there's even more ahead of you.

Somewhere around 26 or 27, you discover the first evidence of aging. Maybe it's a slightly droopier jawline, a creaky knee, or a pudgy spot that doesn't spring back out when you poke it. If you have any insecurities about your appearance, you will start appending "and I look so old." You won't look old.

Whether or not you are in a relationship by the time you reach 30, you will be many times wiser about relationships than you are now, and better equipped to handle a serious relationship. Unfortunately, many of these lessons will come from heartbreak. It's worth it in the long run.

You still have plenty of time to enjoy things like partying all night, wearing glitter and fake eyelashes, collecting Transformers, having nothing but beer and leftover pizza in the kitchen, and spending entire weekends playing video games. You will get bored of them one day, but your time really isn't running out.

It's a pretty good decade.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:05 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you're of the female persuasion, I know you think you'll be able to put these kinds of questions off forever, but take a damned honest look at your family history and your own desire for offspring, and plan accordingly. It's not fair that plenty of people can conceive perfectly healthy kids for the first time in their late 30s while others need to start trying by 27 to even hope for the same outcome...but you NEED to think about which group you're in and whether it will matter to you. It's shocking to me how many otherwise together, bright women have expressed surprise at the necessity, difficulty and expense of their fertility treatments. Avoid the issue altogether and actually plan your life around your future kids if you want to have them!

If you're a man, keep in mind that any woman you date may or may not have this particular sword of Damocles hanging over her head.
posted by crinklebat at 4:14 PM on December 13, 2009

At 22, I graduated college. I worked a shitty job in NYC. I did some dumb things, I fell into a horrible depression. I met a girl.

At 23, I moved with this girl who I had just met across the country to be with her. I worked at an ice cream store and a college cafeteria to make ends meet. 6 months later we got engaged and got accepted to the Peace Corps. 6 months after that we got married.

At 24, I was in Berlin on my birthday. We were going to Morocco next. We came back to the US to find out that the Peace Corps had un-accepted us for vague reasons. That was hard times. We regrouped, moved back to NYC, I got a job in Marketing and Web Dev. We found a great apartment and met amazing people. I started going to Church. Everything got better, even as my wife lost her job and we went back to scraping pennies.

At 25, I was still at that job, but unhappy. We applied to teach ESL in Korea and got accepted. My job got crazier- I was working 70+ hour weeks for less than 400 bucks a week. My wife was busting her butt at a day camp for pennies, but it was the only job she could find. In August, we left New York. Now we're in Korea.

When I turn 26 I'll be unbelivably happily married in Korea with some real savings and the promise of adventure to come.

Lesson: Things get crazy. Things will change. Don't be afraid to do something insane, your opprotunities only end where you decide they do.
posted by GilloD at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


1. Only date people who are considerate. If someone's hot and seems to have great "qualifications" (whatever those are in your mind) but is inconsiderate to you, don't just stick with it - you can do better. Corollary: be considerate to your partners.

2. Maintain your social network of friends and family who will see you through hard times. Do your bit for them, suck it up and go to the boring family events or whatever.

3. You will probably have a bunch of different jobs, no one of which seems like The Perfect Job that you're Meant To Do. That is good, don't be freaked out by it and think "oh, I better go back to school" or something. Do a bunch of different things and you will be building up a list of skills and contacts that will serve you well once you start to figure out what you do want to do.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

20s are difficult and exciting and overwhelming.

For one, love your body because seriously, it starts changing sooner than you think. I mean, you are so hot right now, you have no idea. Just love it! Wear whatever you want and glow and rock it.

Around 25-27, start seeing a therapist, if not sooner. No, seriously, you will need it by then. It will make everything so so much better than putting off your problems for another year, and then another.

If you're a woman, learn to set boundaries early on and how to negotiate for what you want. It's the best thing I learned early on.

Watch this. It pretty much says it all.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2009

My twenties were a long painful and transitional time, for reasons I won't detail here. When I hit 30, I finally felt more comfortable in my skin. At 40, I was going through another seachange in my life, and now, at 43, I feel more able to fend for myself, ask for what I want, and get support from loved ones. The one thing I would say is, don't think that once you hit 30, or 40, or any age, that you can't continue to explore or grow or go out on a limb.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:27 PM on December 13, 2009

Think long and hard before getting any tattoos. The tattoos you think are awesome to cover your body with during your twenties may not seem so cool in your thirties.
posted by garden hoe at 5:35 PM on December 13, 2009

I wish someone had told me not to waste time too much time trying to be cool. That's time you won't get back. It's way better to get a head start on being you, with your real interests and real opinions. Those are the things that make you satisfied - and the fact that you can't contrive them makes them all the more wonderful.
posted by kitcat at 5:43 PM on December 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm 29, and a few months away from 30. If I had to tell 20 year old me some advice which he wouldn't listen to, it'd probably be...

You are young enough that you can become almost anybody that you really really want to become. That power is in your hands; don't just think 'Oh, I'm bad at this' -- if you want to be good at it, work at it!

The catch is that it doesn't always get you what you thought it'd get you.

You get really good at the things you do. This is obvious for things like sports, but think really hard about whether or not you want to be really good at watching TV or playing video games.

TV and movies are there to tell a story. They'll lie to you. That guy on a sitcom may always have a cruel quip for everybody and be beloved by all. It may not work out for you. I know people who think Dr. House is awesome and want to be like him ... in that they're kind of sarcastic and mean and 'keep it real'. But people put up with House because he's the most brilliant doctor on the planet.

The brand of your clothes isn't as important as how well it fits. Tailors are your friend.

Don't be ashamed of liking something just because it's not cool.

Be really suspicious of anybody who uses the phrase 'alpha male' sincerely.

Don't be afraid of failure; it's often not as bad as you think it is. It's more important to deal with it and learn from it.

Find a sport you love and stick with it. Being in shape is awesome.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:28 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If someone had told 19 year old (senior in college) me who 26 year old me is, I'd have looked at that person rather incredulously. So, I'd like to reiterate what some others have said, and add a few things.

-Don't worry about what your degree is in; unless you're in a pre-professional track, it really doesn't matter. And take time in college to take a few random classes that simply seem interesting. You might develop some hobbies or interests along the way that you'd never have imagined.
-If you're fit, stay fit! If you're not, get there! It's an uphill battle to regain fitness once you've spent some time away from being as active as you were as a child and an adolescent. That said, find hobbies and activities that promote health and fitness and you'll enjoy working out. Surfing, cycling, tennis, jogging, whatever. But do it! And try to keep health insurance.
-Be mindful of your sexual and reproductive health.
-Be aware that relationships with your family and friends will mature, and hopefully become better with age. I have a better relationship with my parents now than I had ever imagined.
-Don't be afraid to move away. Your folks and friends will always be somewhere, and you can always visit.
-Travel! When I graduated college, I took an internship in Baltimore, drove across the US with my best friend, and lived outside Atlanta for little while. In one summer. I wish I still had the time!
-If you have the time, spend it helping others. Volunteer at a shelter, read to kids at the library, work for a political party you have interest in! You never know who you'll meet, and you'll have experiences that you can't find sitting at home or in the bar scene. Get involved!
-Find something you love and make it a career. At 23, I got a bug up my butt and randomly decided to join the fire service - my degree is in parks and municipal management. Now it's my career, and my volunteer/part-time work as well. I've been able to take amazing educational opportunities and understand a lot more about life and the way that people "work".
-Cherish each day. You're not certain of the best day of your life until it's over. Don't waste energy wishing your life away.
-You might have to take crappy jobs in order to wait for what you want. Find a silver lining.
-Don't get caught up in what you're "supposed to be doing, because everyone in my peer group has reached -this specific milestone-". Everyone develops at their own pace.
-Don't be afraid to walk away from a toxic relationship or one that's not working. You're not going to be alone for the rest of your life at 21, 31, 51, or 61! There are plenty of people out there!
-Don't discredit someone because they're different, or older, or younger, or from a different socioeconomic background, etc. Everyone has some sort of valuable experience to add, even if it's an example of what NOT to do.

-Jumps down off of soapbox-
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:35 PM on December 13, 2009

Also- start saving for retirement now! Go! Open an IRA! Even if it's $10 a month! Do it!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:39 PM on December 13, 2009

Think long and hard before getting any tattoos. The tattoos you think are awesome to cover your body with during your twenties may not seem so cool in your thirties.

I have two tattoos, one I got at 26, the other at 18. I regret neither of them.

HOWEVER. In this vein... facial piercings are "cute" if you're under 25 or over 35 and no one cares anyway. In that in between stage - they really do affect how people treat you and it's up to you if you want to be taken seriously, but a lip ring isn't going to help that cause. As soon as I took my lip ring out, it was like a whole new world where suddenly! I was treated with a ton more respect!

Up to you, really, but if you're gonna pierce your face - take that thing out when you start looking for a job.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2009

keep up with your dentistry, exercise, and sunscreen. you'll really wish you had down the line. consider this your retirement investment for your body. if you're female, take calcium and be proactive in protecting your reproductive health. go on the pill, or get an iud (they will give them to women who haven't had children now).

it depends on your lifestyle, but if you are going to go into the "corporate" or "professional" world, keep the tattoos hidable under normal business clothes (but feel free to be a freak between the collar and cuffs--just remember that tats don't age as well as the rest of us). likewise, visible piercings should be modest and small, and you will have to be willing to take them out. i pierced my nose at 27 and have never regretted it; i wear a tiny, tiny stud that is rarely noticed, and i work in a professional environment.

in your 20s, you should travel as much as you can, meet as many people as you can, and do as much cool stuff as you can. i had a crazy travel bug in my 20s, now i'm happy to go to an exotic beach and sleep. this is mostly because the other pressures in my life have changed and my vacation objectives have likewise changed.

learn a second language.

i found i made a ton of romantic, social, and career mistakes in my 20s. don't panic. you may cringe about them for the rest of your life, but you'll get past them.

a fun thing, as you reach your late 20s, is that you can take some jobs off your resume. that's weirdly liberating.

don't get married. seriously.

get involved with stuff outside of work so you can meet friends. the college bubble doesn't always burst upon graduation, but it does eventually fizzle. the friends you make in your 20s will be the friends you have in your 40s.

take chances. it gets harder when you get older and have more at stake. now's the time to start a company, do the peace corps, chuck it all and work for a nonprofit. even if it's a mistake, you're young enough to bounce.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:51 PM on December 13, 2009

9. Don't have sex with random people who don't care about you.

This ... but do have lots of (safe) sex with people who you might care about.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:22 PM on December 13, 2009

Oh ...and I'm almost 40.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:22 PM on December 13, 2009

31 here, spent almost all of the last 13 years in college of some sort.

The 20s are different for everybody, depending on their circumstances. I mean really different. If you go to grad school, your life will be completely different than if you don't. If you get married, your life will be completely different than if you don't. If you have children, your life will be completely different than if you don't. This makes it hard to give advice that would apply to anyone's 20s, with maybe one big exception:

Because the life you lead will be so different from so many others of your age, you will very likely drift away from some (if not all) of your friends. This is almost certainly true, but actually pretty useless advice because there's not anything you can do about it anyway.

What follows are a few pieces of hopefully useful advice, depending on what kind of life you've led and are going to lead.

Before you have kids and a career-path job (with exceptions for some of the more flexible careers out there), do as much traveling as you can afford. It's really hard to do it once those responsibilities set in.

Going to the dentist every year is indeed good advice, but you probably already knew that. The trick is just getting off your ass and doing it.

If you've maintained a reasonable weight until now without worrying much about it, there's a decent probability that this will slap you in the face sometime soon.

If you aren't already married or in a career-path job (and possibly if you are and they don't last), sometime in the next 10 years or so, you'll almost certainly have one of those existential what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life crises. The severity can range anywhere from an uneasy feeling for a couple months to a full-on mental breakdown. It might help to understand that you don't actually have to decide yet. You might need to decide what to do with yourself now, but even if you make a big bold change to put yourself on a long path to a particular future (e.g. graduate school, apprenticeship, etc.), you can always change your mind later. Sure, it'll be a pain in the ass, but it's always an option. My strategy has always been to have a gameplan just in case nothing else comes up, but to be willing to change it without feeling bad about it. It's worked well for me. Your mileage may vary.
posted by ErWenn at 8:26 PM on December 13, 2009

Wow, it's hard to generalize a decade. Your 20s could be one thing if you are flitting around from job to job and town to town, or working in a major global city in, say, an investment bank. This is what I experienced:

1. Be good to your body, mind, and spirit. Whether you are single, in a relationship, or married, always strive to look good and feel good about yourself.
2. Other people (through jobs, responsibilities, friends) will take up more of your time if you let them. Don't. Figure out what you were put here to do and race after it. Take risks. Live your own life.
3. Keep learning. Keep challenging yourself.
4. Get good at failing, and keep learning from those failures. If you're not failing, you aren't trying hard enough at something..
5. Pay off your debts and start saving.
6. Go for the jobs that pay as much money as possible, don't worry about the 'passion' thing (if you are in the creative fields, that is). If things were meant to happen, they will.
7. Many friends will start getting married, some might even be getting divorced during your 20s! Don't feel pressured to do or not do things based on what they are doing.
8. Get known for something, even if it's just a hobby. Get known globally (if possible), nationally (if you can), or if not that, then even regionally or in your town. Basically, get on people's radar and start cultivating a network that you can build upon for years to come.
posted by dvjtj at 9:26 PM on December 13, 2009

turning 30 in a couple of months...

pay attention to how much money you earn, how much you owe, and how much you're spending. don't get into debt. seriously. just don't. it's so easy to do when you're still young and good looking and going out and having fun and one night is $200 gone. that fun is not worth the sleepless night in the future worrying about how you're going to pay for rent.

but do have some fun. i spent my early 20s trying to be responsible and get a grad degree and build my career and therefore had no fun at all. and now i have a worthless grad degree and the economy sank and i'm too old and fat to have the type of fun i missed out on at 23.

make friends that aren't friends left over from high school and college.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:49 PM on December 13, 2009

I'm 27 and Mrs ThaBombShelterSmith is 26 and w have the following advice:

-Pay off your credit card, and really, only use them for emergencies (No trips to best buy to get DVDs with your roommates or nights at Dave and Busters).

-Travel. Go to europe for a week or two. If you don't think you can afford it, use your student loans to. Fuck it, they gave you the money, use this time in your life to do something fun with it.

-Move across the country or at least out of the state. It will give you great perspective about what you miss, what you love, and what you truly want in your home.

-Go out with lots of girls or boys when you're young, at least until you find that one special person. I don't regret my early twenties because it prepared for the moment I met my wonderful wife at 23.

-Be prepared to make more money than you ever have at your first REAL job out of college. Enjoy it, buy fun things, but also save money when you can.

-Be prepared TO COMPLETELY CHANGE YOUR PATH IN LIFE...MORE THAN ONCE! It's okay, as long as you are doing something that makes you happy. When I started college at 18, I wanted to design cars, when I graduated, I wanted to be the next Chuck Klosterman and set the rock writing world on it's ear...After school, I worked for a foreclosure law firm, and now I'm going back to school to become a High School English Teacher, and it's the first thing that has truly, truly felt right.

-Take care of yourself and your car. Regular oil changes, dental work, etc. It's WELL worth the money.

-Learn to cook and do laundry. There are better things than ramen!

-Figure out what you want now, and go for it!

-Go on a road trip for the sole purpose of going on a road trip. We have a ridiculously awesome country, go check it out!

Enjoy them!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:44 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't get into debt and just have fun. When you are 24 or 28 or 32 or 40 you will figure out what you want to do.
posted by afu at 11:50 PM on December 13, 2009

Don't get any tattoos. You will with 99% certainty regret it.

Don't burn any bridges - that includes the asshole professor and the moron boss. Suck up if you must, just stay on good terms otherwise it will come back to haunt you.


Choose your friends wisely.

If you go to college, choose a field you are passionate about. If you don't go to college, that's fine too! As long as you're somewhat excited about what you're doing on a daily basis.

If you haven't already, find a physical activity that you love.

Don't get drunk every weekend.

Don't listen to people telling you what you "should be doing", follow your gut feeling and trust yourself.

I'm 28, and these are things I either wish I knew or am glad I was told.
posted by heytch at 11:52 PM on December 13, 2009

I got a tattoo when I was 17 in Malaysia. I don't regret it at all. It's not even a good tattoo. It has no personal significance for me other than I always wanted to get a tattoo and I got it when I was 17 in Malaysia, which actually means it has a lot of personal significance for me and I don't regret it at all. Just don't get a tattoo on your face, you will regret a tattoo on your face.

Don't be so scared to make mistakes. It's so much easier to get over a mistake you made than one you didn't. Seriously. As a good friend once told me just take a god damn chance already.

He/she is not out of your league.

You can love somebody that is not good for you, even if they are a good person. Love is necessary, but not sufficient to maintain a long term relationship.

Move to a big city, a really big city.

People will generally treat you as well as you demand to be treated. You deserve to be loved and respected. Or at the very least treated with a minimal amount of dignity and kindness. Seriously, give it a try. Demand to be treated well and 9/10 you will be.

You really have no idea what will make you happy and more often than not the things that you thought would make you happy won't.

Go with the flow. Make the best of whatever happens to you. The only thing you can really control in this world is yourself. There have been so many times I have found unexpected happiness in a place I didn't want to be, doing something I didn't want to be doing.

Realize that the things that will have the greatest impact on you and your life are more often than not things you never could have predicted that will suddenly hit you out of nowhere and change your life forever. So plan as much as you can for the future, but be aware that there is absolutely no way you can ever really be prepared for the future or know what that future will be. And don't worry about the future so much either, the one you are planning/worrying about probably will never happen.

Don't be so judgmental. Forgive people. Everyone will hurt you one day and you aren't so perfect yourself.
posted by whoaali at 12:47 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Dear 20-year-old Me,

Wow. You were so young. You were in great shape - you were swimming and lifting and practicing martial arts. Wish you had kept that up, but I suppose time has its limitations. But hot damn if you didn't look good. And to think - you ate like a horse on those dull red cafeteria trays, and man, was that cafeteria food real shite. Pity you spent 4 years of your life eating it - I would almost, *almost* say it was worth it building up that senior year credit card debt spent on so much take-out Chinese.

You'll start drinking more regularly this year, and it'll stick. You'll come to use it as a crutch later, the only thing that helps you sleep sometimes. You'll find its important to give up at times, but fortunately (so far) it won't turn into something that controls you. You should really consider drinking less - you'll waste a lot of money on it.

You'll break up with this girl, and that'll be for the best. You'll meet another one, she'll leave you shortly though, even if her parents love you. And then senior year you're going to meet the girl of your dreams. Its going to be a bit of a torrid thing with her - young infatuation mixed with what-might-be. Its not going to end well. You're going to spend most of your twenties alone, and it will be both a good thing in some ways and a big regret in others. Towards the end, you'll finally give up - for real. After so many attempts at it. It will be a mountain you finally summit.

Next year is going to be a great one, even if you do break up with the girl at the end of it. Enjoy senior year for all you can. Stop working so much on the side and spend more time with your friends. Keep your grades up just high enough to graduate with the lowest level of honors, at least. And for heaven's sake - spend that last week between finals and graduation playing wall-ball on the roof of the dorm, that'll be worth every minute.

You'll get a job towards the end of that year based on serendipity and the fact that you were asking questions. Ask a lot of smart questions, you don't realize now how far that will take you. Especially in interviews.

Your first job is going to be somewhat soul-sucking. It will be good for you in some ways, it will teach you a lot about putting-your-time-in. You'll be learning good business skills, even if some people treat you like shit. Ignore and deflect. Keep looking around at other jobs in the meantime.

You're going to get involved volunteering with the high-school youth group at church, and it will turn out to be the most rewarding part of your twenties, hands down. The kids respect you more than you realize. Don't sweat it too much when you do something stupid in front of them, it shows your human. Try to be more patient with them, and for cryin out loud - don't lose your temper with the difficult ones. Its a good opportunity to practice being the type of parent you might want to be some day (hint, you still won't be worrying about that at 30, thank God).

A couple years of living in Pittsburgh were fun and rewarding, but thank God again, He'll take away your job there and you'll move to NYC - without ever having viisted, and spend an awesome 6 years living there. This is where every person should really spend their 20's. You'll make life-long friends, but you'll also realize that you have to pick the most important ones, and work hard at maintaining those relationships. More on that in a minute.

Don't spend so much money on stupid shit you don't need - clothes, crazy nights out, etc.. Working in fashion is really going to skew your point of view here - try to keep it in check. Don't buy the BS.

Good on you for keeping steady work for so many years and paying down your student debt. You'll pay off the credit card first, and never get into that kind of debt ever again. You'll pay down the monthly student loans every month of your 20's - but there's light at the end of the tunnel, trust me - in your early 30's you'll be in a situation where you could pay it off but you actually don't because you're doing better things with your money. Crazy, right?

You'll get bored of fashion and leave it for consulting. Kind of like leaving Pittsburgh for NYC, you'll later come to realize you wish you had made the move sooner. Another regret you just deal with and move on. You'll start traveling a lot, working more and longer, and your business acumen will shoot up tenfold. You'll be interacting senior management of large corporations, the day you walk back into your former fashion employer's headquarters to work with an SVP will be a good one, but don't be an ass about it to your former co-workers.

Go to more baseball games. They don't cost that much and you don't make enough time for them. Same goes for concerts.

Your jet-set consulting lifestyle is going to catch up with you way sooner than you think. At some point you're going to realize life isn't about 6 figures, and you're going to make a pretty radical shift. Life is about other people, which you already knew in some ways, but thanks to the stars aligning, so to speak - being single, being financially solvent, having applicable Supply Chain industry knowledge - you're going to start consulting with a development and relief agency. In your late 20's, you'll move to Africa. Maybe for good, hard to say in your early 30's.

It will be the hardest frickin work you've ever done, but doing work you really believe in, and seeing positive change, will be the best reward ever. Your employer won't treat you that great, certainly not as good as the last one. At some point you're going to start seeing the importance of pro-actively managing your way upwards, not just downwards. Realize the value that you bring. The travel will be rewarding but it will also wear on you - and another one of those things you'll come to realize you wish you started sooner. There is both a reason and a reason for everything. Buy that DSLR camera a couple years earlier and learn how to use it. Write more.

You're going to shift from the religious background towards a more spiritual and flexible approach - it will be good for you. Same goes for your politics, after a fashion. You'll experience the excitement of seeing your country elect a black president.

Your 30th birthday will be pretty uneventful other than that you'll spend it looking at the eastern-Atlantic from the beach in Ghana.

Maybe lighten up a bit on the being-single initiative you took a few years back. Find some balance in your 30's and enjoy dating. Don't rush into anything too fast.

Spend a bit more to buy nice things, but only a few of them, and the ones you'll really use and enjoy. The home theater projector, the 4x4 truck, and the nice jacket all come to mind. Other than those, live simply. You don't need much. Others do, give more than you're comfortable giving - push yourself here.

Your parents are going to start feeling more like children, and you more like the adult. This will be weird but also seem somewhat natural. Keep respecting them and choose your words carefully. It won't be easy for them, just like being a kid wasn't easy for you. Caring for them will get more difficult but remember - they cared for you. They weren't perfect either, so don't beat yourself up too much.

Treat others well and expect nothing in return. Keep running daily and try incorporating situps and pushups - maybe even find a pool and start swimming again. Eat more fruits and vegetables - for dinner too, not just for lunch, you cheater. Keep drinking water and wearing sunscreen. Your hair is going to start going, but fortunately you have a good head for shaving. Be a peacemaker.

All in all, I'd say don't sweat it too much. You're gonna be pretty well-adjusted and the adult thing is just part of figuring out life. You have a lot to look forward to from here.


31-year-old Me
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:53 AM on December 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

Don't have babies in your twenties. That's all I got - do everything else you can. Of course, you're younger, and your body can take the sleep deprivation more easily, but patience for parenting comes with time. I'd do that bit different.
posted by b33j at 1:49 AM on December 14, 2009

I'm 28. My advice is:

Start saving for retirement now -- i know, i know it sounds crazy, but if you can put away money now, you could stop saving at the end of your 20's and still be better off than a lot of people, thanks to the miracles of compound interest. The earlier you start saving, the more your money will compound. You are in such an excellent position to do this huge favour for your future self - don't squander it! I see you're in the UK, so a SIPP would be ideal, or a stocks and shares ISA would do in a pinch.

Learn to cook from fresh ingredients, if you don't know how already. As your 20's progress you'll likely get more and more busy, and if you can't already cook it gets harder to eat healthy and prepare your own meals. If you learn this good habit now, it will pay dividends later on. Any Nigel Slater cookbook will help with this! Also: the freezer is your best friend - if you can learn now how to cook a week's worth of something and freeze it for later, you are so laughing!

Don't worry so much about what you're going to do with your life - just take things as they come, and accept that as long as you're responsible, there really are no Big Mistakes or Bad Decisions - you will make the best of whatever you choose, and if you look after yourself and listen to your own needs, you'll find your happiness no matter what.
posted by ukdanae at 5:07 AM on December 14, 2009

While I totally agree with b33j about patience (and wisdom!) for parenting coming in later in life, don't wait too long to have kids, either; especially if you want a large family. Sure, women are having babies well into their 40s (and beyond), but be aware of the risks and consider how old and active you will be when your kids are in high school, college, or having kids of their own. I wish I had started earlier.
posted by ellenaim at 5:17 AM on December 14, 2009

I'm 36. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Start becoming your hero now. When I was 20, it was easy to wrap my mind around what it meant to be awesome. What I wasn't ready for was the discipline it actually takes to become awesome. It has to do with the anecdote of the marathon and the concept of simple and easy. Running a marathon is simple. You start running, go for 26 miles, and stop. Simple. But not easy. Same thing for being awesome. If you start 'training' now, working the habits and virtues necessary for becoming awesome will be a snap.

Let humility drive your growth. You may already be ahead of the curve here. As you expand your horizons in experience, you are going to realize how many smart, talented, and virtuous people are out there. Chances are the smartest guy in high school is not the smartest guy in college. Chances are the most talented guy in college is not the most talented guy in the company. Knowing that, listen more than you talk. Work hard, ask questions, and keep your ego in check.

Realize that academic measures start the lose there meaning and you will be measured on other things, some of which can't be measured. As you spread your wings in the real world, there are not going to be as many objective measures of your success. Sure, you can somewhat measure success by the your income, your credentials, your employer, etc. But other things will start to become part of a very complex yardstick including: attitude, outlook, relationships, loyalty, reputation, personality, social circles, etc. etc. You will learn how to find value in ambiguity.

Expose yourself to as many songs, lovers, cities, dishes, experiences, beers, books, parties, buildings, risks, businesses, and religions as you can. You have the capacity and energy to soak all of this up now. Odds are, your free time and energy will be reduced by the time your are thirty. Do not underestimate how vibrant and energetic your mind and body is right now. Answering the question to the meaning of life means collecting enough experiences to take an educated guess. Finding the answer sooner lets you lay the early foundation necessary for building your dreams high into the sky.

Cultivate one talent and see how far it takes you. I am not talking about what you pursue as a profession or for income. I am talking about that thing that brings yourself and others joy. By now, you have identified something you are pretty good at. It may have been flagged by others or yourself as frivolous. Don't give it up, even if that one thing is seemingly as trivial as origami, whistling, or thumb wrestling. From the time I was 11-17, I played the drums. I thought I was pretty good, but not great. I stopped playing because I didn't think it would 'help' me get to where I wanted to go. In the years that have passed, I have had numerous people ask if I was still playing the drums or mention how good they thought I was. I haven't picked up a pair of sticks since I was 17. I am thinking about picking them back up again. Why? Because I now know that I had / have the potential to become great. Unless your Da Vinci, there are only going to be a few things that come along that you have a chance to be great at. Your odds of finding and cultivating that are far greater now than they will be when your 36 with a wife, kids and a career that leaves time for little else.
posted by jasondigitized at 8:50 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

A couple of great recommendations here I would like to highlight:

1. Contribute the maximum to your 401 and/or IRA each year.
This could save you decades of savings in the long run as long you begin at your age.

2. Being likable is the most important skill you have.
In any field, people choose to work and promote who they like. Generally, this just means follow the golden rule and be thoughtful of others.

3. Traveling is a necessity.
Which aspects of yourself have you inherited rather than chosen?

4. Cultivate one talent. Become known on some level.
I've done a little of this, and it's meant job security and a social circle. Done well, it I think it would improve quality of life all around.

My own piece of advice: Explore and do what you want to do, but do it seriously.

I wish I had really treated some of my interests as a job and all consuming passion rather than side interests I worked on when time permitted. Want to learn cooking - really learn it. Whatever it is - really do it. This ties to #4 above.
posted by xammerboy at 11:27 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 29. I grew up more between 22 and 25 than I did between 18 and 21.

Learn how to stand up for yourself. Become comfortable in your own skin. Your entire belief system, values, etc, may change - they may completely reverse.

Oh, and sex is overrated. (At least speaking from a female POV.) If you haven't done it yet, wait for someone you're really in love with.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:45 PM on December 14, 2009

You will either have time, or you will have money. You will be too broke to go out and have fun, or you will be too busy at work to go out and have fun. You will then have to balance these two, and try to save money for those times when you have time, and save time for those times when you have money.

If you have cash, you have power. Living paycheck to paycheck sucks, because you are a slave to your job, even if you hate it. Instead, save money up with each paycheck, so that you can quit when you want to, or at least not feel trapped. For the same reason, credit debt is evil, and a trap.

Take advantage of the 401(k) at work as soon as is practical. You won't really miss the money if it comes out of each check.

Get involved with a group of fun people. Don't get involved with a group that thinks that getting drunk is the same as having fun.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:54 PM on December 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody for their replies, a lot to take in. It really helps to get some advice from people on the other side because it can seem like a daunting decade at times. Daunting in the good way too.
posted by litleozy at 6:22 PM on December 14, 2009

Don't put yourself in a rut. You have to find the environment that allows you to blossom. Two different environments produce two different people. When I lived with my parents or shut myself up in my apartment and did nothing for two years, I was a depressed loser. When I went to college and started to work on things I cared about, I became happy and motivated. Put yourself in an environment that excites you, whether it's an organic farm, backpacking in asia, a big city, a video game design school, or anything. Don't isolate yourself and don't work a shitty job in a shitty town. Just surround yourself with amazing people in a fascinating environment and you will thrive.
posted by aesacus at 7:47 PM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm in my late 20s:

My advice (probably all nthed):

1. Take full advantage of all the free time (read summers) and lack of obligations you have, and go travel.

2. Don't worry too much about making mistakes. If you're unsatisfied with some part of your life (job, personality, friends, SO, etc), do something to try and improve it, now. Don't let it fester.

3. Keep an eye towards the future (as in no more than one): don't go for the easy classes in school, work towards a realistic expectation of a good job, and save for retirement.

4. Figure out your priorities, because you'll have conflicts between some of the stuff you want to do.

Basically: don't sit on your ass.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:50 PM on December 14, 2009

Around 25-27, start seeing a therapist, if not sooner. No, seriously, you will need it by then. It will make everything so so much better than putting off your problems for another year, and then another.

This is crazy. (rimshot!)
posted by pollex at 7:46 AM on December 15, 2009

I'm 65. Your 20s are THE decade. Absolutely decisive. You make all the decisions you'll live with for the rest of your life. (Not that they're irreversible, but . . .).
posted by feelinggood at 9:53 AM on December 15, 2009

Don't follow other people's advice. As I remember, you were asking about experience, and things I wish I'd known. Well, I'm only a few years older than you, but my experience of taking other people's advice to heart has been really disappointing. People have always told me that I should go to a "good" college so I can get a "good" job so I can be happy, among other "truths" or "reality-checks". Well, I didn't go to college, worked a job I loved and paid me well, and I'm happy. I have no money, my best friend is a recently turned 61 year old gay pos who paints for a living, and I just got a job doing what I love making tons of money. And when I tell people that, they're surprised that I still do what I want, that my best friend isn't in love with me or a pedo, and that I actually love my job. Everyone's advice is given with good intentions, but all indicate a different world that they believe to be true based on their own experiences but for some reason call it "reality". My mother still can't believe that I'm actually happy and that "these people" are my friends.

So, don't follow other people's advice. If something I said strikes you as particularly anything, then create your own "reality" out of it. That's something I wish I'd known when I was 20. Hell, when I was in high school.
posted by bam at 11:11 PM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dear 20,

You are going to have a lot less energy and a lot more wisdom at my age. Do what you want with that information.

Also, those things you really passionately believe in? Odds are (and I still find this astonishing) in 20 years you are still going to passionately believe in them.

Best of luck,
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2009

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