20 Hard Lessons Everyone Should Learn In Their 20s

Your 20s are a time to discover what the world’s really like and how you fit into it. Flickr/Calvin YC

Transitioning from a lifestyle without significant responsibilities into the “real world” makes your 20s a decade of tough lessons.

Wherever you’re at in your 20s — whether you’re on your own or still with your parents, figuring out your career or going through grad school — you can learn from those who have already been through it.

We took at look at the Quora thread “What are the most difficult things people have to learn in their 20s” and highlighted the best answers.

Here are 20 hard lessons that everyone should learn in their 20s:

1. Your world view may be seriously flawed.

It’s natural to feel like you’ve got a solid life philosophy figured out by the time you graduate college, but you’ll likely redefine how you see relationships, politics, your career, and anything else you can think of. As Rachel Laine puts it, “[Y]ou discover everything that you thought you had all figured out was tragically wrong, laughably confused, or utterly delusional.”

2. It’s harder to get away with lies and excuses.

Maybe you made a habit of getting away with things by making up stories for your parents or professors. But lies and deceit won’t fly in your professional or personal life anymore.

“The truth has a way of rearing its ugly head, so the sooner you can come to integrity with yourself and the world at large, the sooner you’ll be able to get working towards what you really want, who you really want to be,” says Arjuna Perkins.

3. You can’t party like you used to.

Back in college you may have been able to spend a night binge drinking until two in the morning and make it to class by 11 a.m. That sort of lifestyle is incompatible with most careers. And you’ll come to find that as you progress through your 20s, your body has a harder time dealing with excess, Perkins says.

Enjoy your vices in moderation, exercise, and eat well. Your future self will thank you.

4. People will resent you if you try to always be right.

“Let go of having to be right about things — this isn’t a contest,” Perkins says. “It’s not a game. You don’t win at life. So say, ‘Thanks for your perspective. I’ll think about that,’ or, ‘I was wrong. I’m sorry.'”

5. Life is hard, and it never gets much easier.

As your responsibilities begin to pile up in your 20s, you’ll realise that just getting by — let alone becoming very successful — requires a lot of work. And there will always be failures and setbacks.

“You will fail in life, over and over and over. It won’t feel fair. Maybe for decades. You’ve got to keep moving forward. Keep going,” Perkins says.

Couple shadow holding hands

Flickr/Bubble Fishh
Meaningful relationships require sacrifices and dedication.

6. Meaningful relationships are difficult to maintain.

If and when you decide to consider marriage or at least a serious romantic relationship, you’re going to realise that it requires plenty of sacrifices and work. You’ll realise the same goes for your closest friends, who will also be changing as you grow older. But these relationships are more important to your happiness and fulfillment than anything else in your life, says Rich Tatum.

7. You’re replaceable at work.

Many companies like to portray themselves as families, but at the end of the day that’s just semantics. If your company can no longer afford you or thinks it can invest more wisely in someone else, you’ll be cut from that family pretty easily.

“The company does not love you. It has no heart,” Tatum says.

8. You don’t have forever to find and pursue your passion.

The money you make from your job will mean nothing if you’re not actually enjoying life, Tatum says.

If you pursue a career solely for a big check and set aside the things you love to pursue later, you’ll find it becomes significantly harder to change careers or dedicate yourself to a passion project the older you get.

9. You’re not entitled to anything.

It’s necessary to be humble, Tatum says, especially about advantages you may have received through sheer luck. And never think that just because you put in work for things like degrees from elite universities that they guarantee you privileges in life.

Be grateful for what you have, and realise that in a single moment you can lose the things you take for granted.

10. Picking fights and holding grudges will make you miserable.

“Avoid fights. Seriously. Avoid them like a plague: Nobody wins in a fight, even if you walk away unscathed,” Tatum writes.

Accept apologies and apologise when you make a mistake. Don’t fill your life with negativity.

Boss, feedback

VFS Digital Design/flickr
You will need to always be developing your communication and negotiation skills.

11. You must keep learning if you want to be successful.

Your education is far from over after you leave a classroom for the last time. Dedicate yourself to learning things that will help you in your career, including “the abilities to assimilate, communicate, and persuade,” Tatum says.

12. Decisions that take a few seconds to make can have long-term ramifications.

Never make a decision on an emotional impulse. “[S]tupid decisions made in the moment can rob you of years of joy and happiness,” Tatum writes.

13. Money is hard to earn.

When your family is supporting you, it can be difficult to grasp how much a dollar is worth, even if you are not spoiled or selfish, says Rahul Bhatt.

As you start living on your own, however, you’ll soon realise that frivolous things you would normally not give a second thought about purchasing are not worth the hours of work equivalent to the price tag.

14. Your friend circle will likely get smaller.

As you go through your 20s, you’ll naturally start to drift away from some of your friends. Gone are the days of partying with a room full of your buddies, Bhatt says. You will realise, though, that the friends you put the effort into staying in touch with are the ones who mean the most to you.

15. You’ll probably have a bigger role to play in your family.

“Family is very important. Till now they supported you, now it’s your turn,” Bhatt writes.

Your parents may always try to nurture you as if you were a child, but they will need your emotional — and perhaps even financial — help as they get older and you become your own person.

16. Hard work isn’t always recognised.

You should accept that your boss may not always notice your contributions, Bhatt says.

Do not let that be an excuse to become lazy, and don’t protest if someone else gets credit for your work.

Multiple credit cards

Flickr / John Lambert Pearson
Be careful.

17. Debt will haunt you.

A full 70% of college students graduated with debt last year, averaging $US30,000 in loans. But the fact that most young professionals are living with debt doesn’t make it something you should live with for a long time. Prioritise your spending to get rid of it as quickly as you are able to.

And at some point in your 20s you’re probably going to get a credit card — use it wisely. “Realise that you will end up paying double, maybe more, for that round of drinks at the bar because you put it on credit instead of saving the cash,” says Thea Pilarczyk.

18. There is always someone “better” than you.

“There are always going to be people who are smarter, better looking, more sociable, and just all around ‘better’ than you… To be happy, then, you have to learn to accept yourself and your shortcomings,” says Brandon Chu.

Pursue success on your own terms, not by living someone else’s life or forever living in the shadow of someone else.

19. You’ll never have it “all sorted out.”

“Remember when you thought you’d have it all sorted out by 30?” Chu asks. You’ll realise how silly that is as your 30th birthday draws closer. The truth is, you’ll become wiser with age, but you’ll always question your decisions.

20. Becoming an adult is not some magical transformation.

Being an adult is more a matter of heightened expectations than any tangible change, says Hugh Powell. As he bluntly puts it: “[N]o matter how good you get at playing the adult, you won’t forget that underneath it all, at any age, you are always a scared little child, with no real idea of what you are doing.”

Use this knowledge to recognise that everyone else is in the same position as you, no matter what image they project to the world. This can help you become more insightful, compassionate, and forgiving, Powell says.