More than any generation before them, Millennials have been offered some of the worst life advice upon entering adulthood. Many of us are waking up in our 30s, in debt, unmarried, with little career success, no homeownership, and with vertigo from watching our 20s fly past us.
We’re navigating a world that’s much more difficult to succeed in than our parents’ and grandparents’ world. The odds have been stacked against us by greedy elites inflating the price of property, politicians shipping jobs overseas, a degenerating culture encouraging only the worst in us, and impossibly high tuition fees. In the face of such immense obstacles, one can either laugh or cry.
Why Millennials Aren't Making the Most of their 20s
Millennials’ response has been to laugh, and many have resorted to ignoring the reality that the party of our youth has to end at some point. They simply shrug and go with the flow to cope with the lack of opportunity to find stability. The future is too dismal a place to envision, so why bother? If they won’t let you win, don’t play their game, right?
Millennials’ response has been to live in the moment, to seek out that good time wherever it might be had, and enjoy life while we can. We’ve become world travelers, professional partiers, masters at avoiding commitment and responsibility, and resistant in general to any form of “adulting.” Why grow up when it seems so miserable to do so and it just means ending up like our divorced, unhappy parents?
Many Millennials have resorted to ignoring the reality that the party of our youth has to end at some point.
From the world being organized in a way that almost sets us up to fail and there being so little incentive and proper guidance on how to make a life for oneself, it’s no wonder Millennials have found themselves looking back on the decade that was their 20s and wondering why they have so little to show for themselves.
In hopes of preventing the same from happening to the next generation of young people, I’d like to offer some advice on why you should not emulate us. As well as, why even though it’s not entirely our fault that we have ended up in the situations we have, there are things we can do that can help us get ahead and off to a good start from the beginning.
1. Master a Skill, Learn a Trade, or Focus Your Potential
So often we think of highly skilled people as rare oddities who were gifted their talents naturally, but the reality is they most likely are ordinary people who had to work very hard to get where they are. Certainly, an element of natural ability can come into play, but most people who have mastered an instrument, trade, area of expertise, etc, did so simply because they practiced consistently over long periods of time.
Your 20s are the perfect time in your life for this task because studies show your brain is most malleable up until 25, meaning neural-plasticity makes learning and adapting new skills far easier in your 20s than in your 30s. We can continue to grow and acquire skills throughout our entire lives, but the key thing to understand is that it becomes harder to change who we are after 25. We must make the most of this integral stage of personal growth rather than squander it.
Obviously, it’s not impossible to learn new things later in life, but as Harvard psychologist William James says, “In most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.” For most people, it will simply be an easier process to begin learning at a younger age. And never before have we had so many resources to learn something new via the internet. The only thing stopping you is yourself.
Your brain is most malleable up until 25, meaning neural-plasticity makes learning new skills far easier.
Furthermore, the dramatic difference in energy that we have in our youth as opposed to when we’re older is highly relevant. As we age, our mental and physical stamina decreases, meaning that the vigor we have in our 20s is best harnessed towards learning something that you can benefit from for the rest of your life.
Finally, in our early 20s, many people still live with their parents and have lots of free time on their hands. This free time also decreases as we age and our responsibilities multiply. That free time can be spent in all sorts of productive ways. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make time for fun and enjoying our youth with friends, but it means that scheduling some of that time for developing ourselves into better, more skilled people should be a prioritized part of the equation.
2. Build a Network of Friends and Work Connections
Have you ever heard someone say that it’s harder to make new friends the older you get? It’s a cliché because it’s true. Building a network of contacts who will serve as a community of support in both your career and personal life is harder to do the older you get. If you squander your chance to build a solid network while you're young, in university, trying out different jobs, etc. you will have missed a huge opportunity that can support a successful life in your 30s and beyond. It’s simply harder to build social networks the older you get.
This is particularly hard when you find yourself living in a new city or even country every couple of years. I know from personal experience as I have lived in several countries as an immigrant for extended periods of time, the sting of letting go of complex networks of friends and colleagues over and over again. Every time you end up somewhere new you have to rebuild, and it gets harder and harder to create these networks as time goes on.
When you’re in your 20s, everyone in your peer group is looking to build their network just like you are, and these connections seem to materialize almost without effort from you. The closer you approach 30 though, the more these networks circle and close themselves off; they become self-sustaining islands of social interaction that can be particularly hard to break into as an outsider.
People with healthy habits and healthy lifestyles help one another remain consistent and to succeed over time.
Try to make sure the people you’re surrounding yourself with are positive influences who have big dreams and are high in conscientiousness and industriousness. These are the types of people who you become better for knowing. People who celebrate your victories and encourage you to be the best version of yourself are so much more valuable than someone who you’re hanging out with just because they’re a good time on a night out.
People with healthy habits and healthy lifestyles help one another remain consistent and to succeed over time. These are the sorts of contacts you want to make in your 20s. As you advance through life, the single greatest asset you have is the people you know. Having a solid network can mean the difference in getting a job, finding help when you need it, and inspiration to continue growing, as opposed to burning out or plateauing on your goals.
3. Having a Future Orientation Is Better Than Living in the Moment
Laying the foundation of work, personal development, and relationships in your 20s is what allows you to start to receive recognition, appreciation, and a decent quality of life in your 30s. For most people, it takes years of hard grafting before they start to reap the benefits. The earlier you begin, the earlier you will enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Many of us were pressured out of settling down and getting married “too early.” How many times have you been told to “live life,” “travel and see the world,” and to “collect experiences,” whatever that means, before taking yourself seriously and beginning to plan for the future that’s fast approaching you?
New Age spirituality and its influence on youth mindsets have been a total disaster for Millennials. The superficial cherry-picking of various Eastern philosophies and theologies like Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Hinduism combined with the influence of popular spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and his book The Power of Now have culminated in a widespread belief that living in the moment and not thinking too much (or at all) about the future or where we are headed is not only good but preferable.
Certainly, we should be able to enjoy the present moment and not let the future be an oppressive force in our minds that prevents us from being grateful for our current lives and enjoying our blessings. But never engaging in delayed gratification for future benefit, or putting in hard work today for rewards down the line, often just leads to people floating like driftwood downstream, directionless and without consideration of where they will end up. Not surprisingly, where they end up is nowhere special.
Having a future orientation means you make the most of your present for your future.
When we workout in the gym regularly, we ensure that we will get stronger over time and live healthier lives rather than deteriorate. When we practice hobbies that make us happy, we create ourselves into skilled, interesting people rather than becoming boring and mediocre with time. When we read books rather than watching that Office rerun, we ensure that our knowledge expands rather than diminishes. When we nurture our relationships today, we create strong long-lasting connections, rather than slowly drifting apart from your contacts and finding yourself lonely and without community.
If we never ever consider how the things we do today shape our future, then we can expect to have much less to look forward to. Having a future orientation isn’t easy. It takes maturity and discipline. It takes the intelligence to know that small efforts over long periods of time result in big rewards. Having a future orientation doesn’t mean you sacrifice your present for the future — it means you make the most of your present for your future.
Your 20s is a decade that’s valuable. It’s the time when you’re at your peak in mental and physical ability. You will find it easier to meet your spouse, gain skills, learn new things, and engage in personal development now than at any other time in your life. When you make the most of this vital decade, you set yourself up for success in your 30s and beyond.
If you’re like me and wish that you had made more of your 20s, don’t panic, because there will still be lots of options for you to grow and improve throughout your 30s. You can still integrate some of this advice into your life at any age. The idea is, though, the sooner the better.
Enjoying your youth and savoring the intense and sweet moments of your 20s don’t have to be sacrificed for you to treat your future self with kindness and generosity. Make sure your future self will thank you for your wisdom of self-investment by acknowledging that your 20s are not a trial run, they are the real thing.