Many of us are determined to hit the ground running in our early twenties. How could we not? Naysayers aside, millennials are doing big things. Half the apps I use on a daily basis (cough, cough, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify . . .) were started by people under the age of 30.
Thinking about all the success my peers have had is inspiring—but also scary. There are a wealth of articles, books, and TED Talks about how to lead a great life and find your purpose. According to these sources, though, I should be building social capital and determining long-term goals, all while enjoying impeccable health, fostering lifelong friendships, and meeting my future husband. For me, paying my bills on time and grocery shopping regularly seems hard enough—how would I ever fit all this in?
A part of me believed that if I didn’t figure out my trajectory during my third decade of life, I would already be behind. Worse, I’d be running out of time. As a recent college graduate in a new city, I was unsure how to operate in the present without worrying about whatever was next. Was I really using my strategic communications degree in my administrative media job? Should I get engaged to my perfectly nice boyfriend already? How can I look as flawless as the girl in the cubicle next to me? Did my Instagram account make my weekend look exciting enough?
After a few years in the working world, I’m working in the field I studied by day and committing time to my personal life and my writing by night. I’m single but not lonely. I haven’t founded a start-up, published a book, married the perfect man, or even adopted a pet. But, rather than lying awake worrying about the future or comparing myself to my peers, I’ve been sticking to these six habits in order to make the most of my twenties.
01. Redefine success on my own terms.
Without semesterly GPAs, graduations, or the relief of making it to summer break—all the school-centric achievements that have marked life thus far—it can be hard to measure your progress. I’ve been trying to make sure I find small successes in daily life. Sending some emails or even crossing a task off my to-do list can boost my mood. When I’m willing to accept that finishing a load of laundry and decluttering my inbox counts as a productive day, I’m less frozen by my desire to achieve. I can actually find satisfaction in the simple act of getting something—anything—done.
02. Accept that I’m not going to be good at everything . . .
. . . or honestly most things. I haven’t quite figured out what I think I’ll do in the long term. In the meantime, I’ll keep finding out what doesn’t work for me. And I’ll practice calling that a step in the right direction.
Some of my steps have been quite literal. I had never run more than a 5k when a friend asked me to run two half marathons with her. I trained and completed both races—as a slow, steady tortoise more than any sort of hare. I will never be a natural runner, but it doesn’t matter if I’m “good” or not. This past winter I ran my third half marathon with my parents. No one cared if I couldn’t keep up with my long-legged father and athletic mother. They just wanted to celebrate at the finish line with me. Our twenties are a great time to be perfectly content with simply being OK at something.
03. Spread the love in all aspects of my life.
I have learned that the more love I give to those in my life, the more love comes back to me. By not placing all my energy into only one or two relationships, I’m able to experience several kinds of love in my life. Many people in their twenties are single or without children, so it’s a convenient season to share our time and energy with others outside our more intimate circles.
Reach out to an acquaintance, and go on a friend date. Don’t worry if it seems weird. Most of us are looking for a connection. Even a simple coffee date can kindle a new friendship.
Commit to your community. Dedicate an hour a week to serving others. Deliver groceries to seniors. Help a friend move. Volunteer at church. Tutor at a local school. Even the simple act of buying someone’s coffee, holding the door, or slowing down to acknowledge those we encounter with a smile reminds us that compassion fades if we don’t make it a habit.
04. Remember that resisting change is futile.
People change. Circumstances change. But rolling with the punches is far better than resisting.
Earlier this year, I moved into a studio apartment—solo. After years of dorms and roommates, living alone felt crazy and impossible. But the winds of change are, by nature, temporary. We can adapt to almost anything over time.
My apartment and I now chug along on our own timeline. Evenings that once seemed a little empty have created time for me to focus on worthwhile pursuits, such as getting in touch with old friends and reading more books. Accepting change as it comes can transform difficult transitions into positive growth experiences.
05. Caring for my physical body makes everything else easier.
Eating well, sleeping right, and exercising can make all the difference in our lives. I am a better coworker, daughter, friend, and person when I’m taking good care of myself. Sometimes it can mean saying no to that happy hour to make myself dinner instead. Or it could mean going to bed early so that I can get up for a quick jog in the morning. It doesn’t have to be crazy. I don’t need to train for a triathlon or eat a strict clean diet (though sometimes I try!). Making the time to focus on my health improves my day-to-day. And it helps me interact with loved ones, colleagues, and the world with an energetic and joyful heart.
06. It’s OK to cut myself some slack.
Most important of all, I’ve learned to let myself off the hook once in a while. Not every day is a great day. Sometimes I will sleep through my alarm. I will transfer to the wrong train. I’m sure I will continue to leave my lunch on the kitchen counter with somewhat shocking regularity. And I’m not going to get everything marked off my to-do list every single evening.
When I let the feeling of failure pile up, more unfortunate incidents pile up right alongside it. By acknowledging that things aren’t going my way, I allow myself to bring my day back into the right perspective. Cutting myself some slack makes it easier to find a few simple successes and recalibrate.
I’m sure these practices will continue to serve me throughout life. Right now, though, as I navigate the intimidating and high-pressure time that is my twenties, I find it helpful to remind myself of these things. Spreading love, embracing newness, not being defeated by life’s pressures—this is what’s making all the difference.