Advice for Your 20s + 5 Exercises for the Future

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Defining Decade" by Meg Jay. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s the best advice for your 20s? How can you make the most out of these important years of your life?

Your 20s are an important part of life where you shape your future and the person you want to be. The best advice for your 20s should focus on how you can build your future and make your best self, personally and professionally.

Keep reading for the best advice for your 20s.

Advice for Your 20s: Looking Forward From Here

As you enter your adult life, you become entirely responsible for your own choices. You no longer have another adult figuring out things for you—it’s up to you now to figure out your life. There’s no magic formula and there’s no right or wrong answers on what kind of a life you should live. But there are right and wrong ways to go about establishing that life. Happiness as an older adult starts with the goals you set as a younger adult. It continues to develop as you consciously and intentionally move towards those goals.

Make choices. Opt for action. Don’t try to avoid the years ahead—you can’t. They’re coming whether you’re ready or not. Invest in them now, when it can still make a meaningful difference, so you’re not playing catch-up later.

Take your twenties seriously: You are crafting your life. Now here’s the best advice for your 20s. 

Finding Work

To end up in a career you’re happy with down the road, you need to make difficult choices now—and the sooner you start, the better. Without purposeful planning, it’s easy to live day-by-day and put off the difficult tasks of making meaningful career choices. The following guidelines explore ways you can begin to craft a fulfilling work life.

Finding Love

We get much less information and training on how to find a long-term partner than we do on how to find a career. And yet, choosing a marriage partner arguably has a more lasting effect on your long-term happiness. Giving the topic serious thought now, in your twenties, will decrease the chances you’ll have to settle later. The following sections are some guidelines that can help you approach the subject mindfully.

Understanding Your Brain and Your Body

In your twenties, your brain and body are developing in remarkable ways specifically designed by evolution to prepare you for the rest of your adulthood. This process is unique to this period of your life, and it won’t continue as you age. 

Understanding the opportunities and limits of your brain and your body during this decade can help you better anticipate and plan for the future. Some of the steps involved in this process are detailed in the following sections. 

Advice for Your 20s: Exercises

These five exercises can help you stay on track and follow the advice for your 20s.

Exercise: Cultivate Weak Ties

Your weak ties are people with whom you share a distant or occasional connection. These are the people who are most likely to help move your career or love life forward, since they can introduce you to information, opportunities, and people you would not otherwise have had access to. A great way to approach a weak tie and open a connection is to ask for a small, interesting, specific, and easy-to-accomplish favor.

Think of two or three people you consider weak ties that could possibly provide you with an opportunity. An old roommate? A former professor? Your local council person?

For each of these people, think of a way you could open a connection. What specific, easily-resolved favor could you ask of them that could introduce you to new information or opportunities? 

Exercise: Create Goals

The options you have before you at any given moment are determined by your past—who you are, where you’ve come from, and what identity capital you have—and your vision of the future—where you ultimately want to be. 

Make a list of five realistic options you have based on your experience, education, strengths, interests, and goals. (These could be career options or options related to another major life choice.) 

Go through your list and evaluate each one against your vision for yourself in the future. Think through what it will take to accomplish each goal, how much time it would take, and where each will lead. 

Of your now-examined list, pick just one or two options. Compare and contrast them. Make note of your emotional response to each and examine that response—is it excitement? Anxiety? A little of both? Write down your reactions and continue to reflect on them over the next few days. 

Exercise: Measure Your Personality

Write down where on the scale of each trait you lie. Are you low, high, or in the middle for each of these characteristics? 

Examine your current relationship or think of a previous one. Is or was your partner close to you on any of these? Where did you differ and to what degree?

How did any personality differences cause conflict between you? 

Did any of your other characteristics, maybe ones for which you were both similar, help you get through that conflict? If not, how did you resolve it? Or not

Exercise: Cultivate Confidence by Facing Challenges

Real confidence comes from the mastery of skills. You will not feel authentically confident until you’ve overcome challenges and accumulated successes. You’ll become a master of your skills only after devoting about 10,000 hours to practicing them. 

Calculate how long it will take you to reach the 10,000-hour mark of mastery at the rate you currently practice this skill. Figure out how many hours you’ve already dedicated to it. Subtract the second from the first: How much longer do you need to invest in this to become a master of it? Is it a reasonable goal? 

If it’s not a reasonable goal, think about why not. How could you alter either the skill or the process to make your goal achievable? 

What are some steps you could take to begin mastering this skill?

Exercise: Create a Timeline

The attitude that life-begins-at-thirty might lead you to postpone getting started on major milestones, and might then lead to a very stressful thirties decade in which you need to do everything at once.

Brainstorm the important milestones you envision for your future. Include goals from both your professional and personal life. What are the major events you want to happen in the next decade? Grad school? Job? Marriage? Kids? 

From your list, pick the three to five goals that are most important to you. Examine them and think about how much lead time you’d need to accomplish each one. Be aware of any that you would prefer not to do simultaneously (for example, would you be comfortable starting a new job while also starting a family?).

Create a timeline. Start with the end: Decide when you’d like to hit your prioritized milestones and work backwards from there to plot out the path to achieving them, following the advice for your 20s.

Advice for Your 20s + 5 Exercises for the Future

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Meg Jay's "The Defining Decade" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Defining Decade summary :

  • Why the twenties are your most important decade
  • How you were fooled into thinking it was an extended period of youth and freedom
  • Why you should use this decade to find personal and professional success

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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