Why Your Twenties Matter: 3 Decisions That Will Set The Course Of Your Life

Being in your twenties can be adventurous, uncomfortable, and exciting all at once. After graduating high school or college, some people feel that the world is at their feet, while others are overwhelmed with anxiety about what is to come.

By Juliana Morehouse Locklear6 min read

My 25th birthday is in a few months, so I’m taking some time to reflect on the first half of my twenties. When I was a junior in college at 20 years old, I was required to read Meg Jay’s book, The Defining Decade. In the book, she reveals that 80% of life’s most defining moments happen before age 30 and that the best way to see positive personality changes in the twenties is to “get along and get ahead.” It was a wonderful book that got me thinking about how to best spend the decade ahead. 

At 20 and 21, I was in my last two years of college, working on school while maintaining a leadership position in my sorority, staying plugged in to my church community, competing in pageants, and dating my now husband. At 22, I moved to Maine. While in Maine, I started working on my master’s degree, volunteered as a community educator for the Alzheimer’s Association, competed for Miss Maine USA, got engaged, and started planning a wedding. At 23, I won Miss Maine USA and fulfilled that role with appearances at a myriad of events throughout the country while preparing for the Miss USA pageant and getting married. Thus far, at 24, I have competed in the Miss USA pageant, continued working on my master’s degree, finished my role as Miss Maine USA, moved to South Carolina to be with my husband, continued doing volunteer work, and started freelance writing and speaking. 

Am I an example of the perfect twenty-something? Certainly not. But I am content with the trajectory of my life. Over the past five years, I have had moments of confusion and frustration, but in each aspiration and experience, I have found purpose. The key to success in your twenties is not perfection or reaching your peak. But rather, it’s about making decisions with the end in mind. The twenties are about progress, process, and laying the foundation for what is to come. 

While your twenties are certainly a time to make mistakes and grow, it isn’t a season of life to waste. So, how can twenty-somethings seize this era of their lives? Let's get into the 3 decisions that will set the course.

Romantic Relationships 

When I look at the state of dating and romantic relationships today, the only way I know how to describe it is the Wild West. Some people are in long-term dating relationships, some people are married, some people jump from relationship to relationship, and some people are caught in the spiral of hookup culture. And many who do get married are getting married later in life. According to The Hill, “In 1980, the average American male married at 25; the average woman at 22, U.S. Census data shows. Today, the average first-time groom is 30, and the bride is 28.”

Everyone’s story is different, and there are circumstances that influence different outcomes when it comes to dating and marriage. However, getting married in your twenties is good – even beneficial. In The Defining Decade, Jay tells us that stable relationships contribute to twenty-somethings’ sense of security and that remaining single by avoiding commitments throughout the twenties does not yield happiness. This isn’t to say everyone is meant to get married; some people live abundant, celibate single lives. However, for people who desire marriage or family in the future, the decisions made in their twenties can heavily impact those outcomes. 

Cohabitation is a watered-down commitment that unnecessarily prolongs the window between dating and marriage.

Cohabitation is another common relationship trend that might not be as beneficial as advertised. Some people are delaying marriage because of fear of commitment. Some people delay marriage with their long-term partners because they have a desire to reach an arbitrary level of income. With the rise of overglamourized wedding culture, it’s now common to see years-long engagements in order to prioritize a proper degree of celebration and to secure the perfect wedding vendors. But it’s important to understand the potential consequences of cohabitation. The Institute for Family Studies says, “With 70% of couples living together before marriage, it is important to understand how and when cohabitation is associated with poorer odds of marital success.” Couples who move in together before being engaged are 48% more likely to divorce than those who only cohabitate after being engaged or are already married. Cohabitation is a watered-down commitment that unnecessarily prolongs the window between dating and marriage. You are likely not going to meet every desired life milestone before getting married. The important part is to make sure your values align with your prospective spouse and to commit to each other unwaveringly. 

The other major area of consideration related to marriage is fertility. Per the current cultural messaging, you’re supposed to date for a certain number of years before you live together for a certain number of years before you are engaged for a couple of years before you get married before you have a few years together alone before you finally start trying to have a baby. But following this timeline could eat into a woman’s peak fertility window. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A woman’s peak reproductive years are between the late teens and late twenties. By age 30, fertility (the ability to get pregnant) starts to decline. This decline happens faster once you reach your mid-30s. By 45, fertility has declined so much that getting pregnant naturally is unlikely.” While people continue planning to start trying to have children in their thirties, the facts of biology remain the same. This isn’t to say there aren’t mothers who successfully have all their children in their thirties and even forties. This is to say that, as a societal whole, saving childbearing for your thirties and forties is not ideal. 

Reflect: So as a twenty-something, spend some time thinking about what your relationship desires and goals are. If you want to get married and have children, then don’t waste your time dating someone you know wouldn’t be a good husband and father. Date with the goal of finding a husband as opposed to just dating for fun. Put yourself in social circles where family and marriage are prioritized. Talk with prospective partners about whether or not they want children and how soon after getting married they would want children. Prepare your body for a hopeful pregnancy by nourishing it. Eat healthfully and avoid putting artificial hormones in your body. 


Cultural messages about health and fitness fall somewhere on the spectrum between a hot Pilates girl on TikTok drinking green juices and a fitness magazine putting an obese person on its cover. So what is the proper approach? Much of nutrition and fitness is often motivated by and tied to aesthetics, but the best way to think about it is from the inside out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, but the problem comes when we forget that smart health and fitness decisions are not only important for a lean body and clear skin. Eating healthy and being active is important for proper heart and brain function, stress management, fertility, stamina during pregnancy, mood, energy levels, and longevity. 

According to WebMD, the top two causes of death in America are heart disease and cancer. And in large part, these two diseases can often be preventable. The American Cancer Society says maintaining a healthy weight is important to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. The American College of Cardiology says that being overweight in your twenties can have serious effects on the heart decades into the future. So, while you might think you have all the time in the world to get healthy, that time is now. 

Reflect: Take some time to do an honest evaluation of your health and fitness status. What goals can you implement? Start small by implementing a new habit every few weeks. Find a form of physical activity you enjoy and do it regularly. Consume less sugar and alcohol. Eat more plants and protein. Add supplements to your routine. Take care of the body you have been given. Give yourself grace and focus on the process of getting healthy as opposed to only focusing on the desired end result. 


The cultural messaging about professional aspirations is broad. On the one hand, the twenties are often presented as a time to not get tied down and to remain available by working part-time short-term jobs. Some twenty-somethings think that they must go “find themselves” before they choose their career path. On the other hand, there is immense pressure to partake in hustle culture. Some people think the twenties is a time to work so hard that you’re miserable because it’s necessary to make a lot of money and money will make you happy. So, what is the middle ground? 

Rather than working our careers around our children, we are taught to work our children around our careers.

Jay’s book talks about the concept of identity capital. Identity capital is a compilation of personal assets. It’s an arsenal of individual resources that we acquire over time and significant investments of energy that become part of who we are. Identity capital could be your degrees, your upbringing, your appearance, where you’re from, your extra-curricular activities, your job, or an array of other life experiences. It’s something that shapes you by giving you depth or a new perspective. For me, some of my identity capital has come from leadership in my sorority, being the oldest child, my work with the Alzheimer’s Association, doing my graduate work, and my time in pageantry. So, what is your identity capital? If you’re working towards something, you’re moving in the right direction. You might not have a full-time corporate job yet, but maybe you’re taking a year to work as an au pair in another country. You might not be a physical therapist yet, but maybe you’re in school to be one. Maybe you are working as an assistant to the person whose job you would like to have one day. Whatever it is, have a goal. Working towards and reaching goals breeds confidence and life experience.

The other layer of career considerations is something outside your career – children. Our culture does not teach women to consider how their careers will factor into family life. Rather than working our careers around our children, we are taught to work our children around our careers. The culture sends the message that women are supposed to spend their twenties becoming a “boss babe” and then have children in their thirties. You give birth, take your maternity leave, put your baby in daycare, and head back to work. Sounds simple, right? Likely not quite. I’m not saying it can’t be done because plenty of women do it. But, it may be miserable for you and it may not be in the best interest of the child. You may want to go part-time when you have a child. You may want a job that can be done from home while you are with your children. You may want to stay home with your children until they are in school. Will the path you’re pursuing accommodate such decisions? 

Reflect: What’s your identity capital? What kind of capital would you like to acquire? If you think you will want children someday, what career moves can you make now that will give you future flexibility? Choose work experiences in your twenties that are not only financially driven, but experience driven. Yes, salary is certainly a major consideration. But, also consider what you can learn from the job at hand. Maybe if your hope is to stay home with children one day, you focus on saving money so that you have a nest egg put aside for when the baby comes. Maybe you put extra time into an entrepreneurial goal before you have children so you can exercise some flexibility once you are established. You don’t have to concoct a perfect grand plan in your twenties, nor do you need to have it all figured out, but it is important to make decisions about your career purposefully. 

Closing Thoughts 

If you’re a twenty-something reading this, you might be overwhelmed. Don’t be. Whether you’re 22 or 28, you still have time to make changes. Don’t underestimate the power of making small decisions everyday to better yourself. Imagine who you might be just one year from now

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