How to Learn New Skills in Your 20s & Why You Should

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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Do you want to know how to learn new skills in your 20s? Why are your 20s a great time to learn new things?

Your 20s are a great time to learn new skills. Your brain is still active and ready to learn, and you can use this time to develop important life and professional skills.

Keep reading to find out how to learn new skills in your 20s.

How to Learn New Skills

As you try to learn new skills in your 20s, it’s important to also understand what your brain is like and what you’re capable of.

Understanding Your Brain and Your Body

As should now be clear, your twenties are a unique decade during which you’ll have opportunities you won’t encounter again. Many of these are available simply because the world is very open to you during this time. But timing is not the only reason your twenties are so full of potential. 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 is an important part of knowing how to learn new skills.

Understanding both the opportunities and limits of your brain and your body during this decade can help you better anticipate and plan for the future. Here are some of the steps involved in this process:

  • Learn new skills while you can: Take advantage of its remarkable potential to learn. At the same time, watch out for your brain’s wiring shortcomings.
  • Take control of your primitive brain and its emotional reactions to setbacks.
  • Cultivate real confidence through mastery of skills: Gain experience and face challenges to find confidence.
  • Cultivate a positive personality by being active. 
  • Be aware of your body’s childbearing limits: Don’t put off raising a family.
  • Keep track of the time: Plan your years smartly. 

Learn New Skills While You Can

In your twenties, your brain goes through a period of massive neuron production, one of two major growth spurts in your life. The first growth spurt is during your toddlerhood, and prepares you for all you are about to learn in childhood. The second starts in adolescence and continues through your twenties, preparing you for adulthood, and will help you understand how to learn new skills.

Because of this, your twenty-something brain is incredibly plastic and open to learning, and the experiences you have in your twenties will shape how you approach the rest of your life:

  • Your job teaches you how to plan for the decades ahead and how to negotiate the complex social world of adult life. 
  • Your relationships prepare you for the intricacies of a long-term partnership.
  • Your setbacks and disappointments train you how to handle the challenges you’ll inevitably face in work, love, and parenthood. 

Many twenty-somethings find this learning process difficult because very often, the skills they now need are completely different from the ones they’ve practiced and honed during school. They find their old skill sets are no longer enough to ensure success in life. School problems had right-or-wrong answers and defined time limits. Adult problems are not as clear-cut. There’s no one right answer for who to partner with, what career to pursue, or when to start a family. There will be pros and cons to each of these decisions, and navigating them requires you to juggle complexity in a way you didn’t need to when you had the more solid road map of schoolwork. 

Fortunately, your brain is remarkably adept at mastering these skills during this period of your life. However, despite its strengths at this time, your brain has a shortcoming: Some parts are developing faster than others. This uneven progression is part of the reason many twenty-somethings have difficulty planning for the future.

The frontal lobe—the part of the brain that was last to evolve and is responsible for reason, judgment, and long-term planning—only fully matures as we approach age thirty. Therefore, in your twenties, your more primitive, emotion-driven brain is fully operational while your more temperate, forward-thinking brain is not yet fully functional. 

In fact, twenty-somethings often share characteristics of people who’ve had trauma-induced frontal lobe damage: These people become reckless rather than thoughtful and often make decisions that work against their long-term interests. They have trouble planning for the future or seeing the specific steps needed to achieve a goal. 

Luckily, we are not bound to the whims of our primitive brain while our frontal lobe takes its sweet time maturing. In fact, practicing adult skills helps your frontal lobe develop properly.

Now that you know all about your brain in your 20s, the idea of “how to learn new skills” should come more naturally, and you can start learning anything you’re interested in.

How to Learn New Skills in Your 20s & Why You Should

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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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