The 20s are a confusing and crucial decade for anyone pursuing a life of happiness and success.
In fact, the goals you set for yourself when you were 20 are likely to be completely different from the ones you are hoping to achieve at age 30. And you very well could find the path you expected to lead you to success is nothing like the one you’ve taken.
Here are 13 misconceptions people in their 20s have about success:
1. That their role models will be able to give them the right advice.
Oftentimes we look to people we hope to emulate for words of wisdom on how to be successful like them, whether it’s a boss at work or a leader elsewhere in our field.
But for all of their success, these people aren’t always the best people to look to. Energy mogul T. Boone Pickens says young people should instead ask themselves these three questions before accepting advice from someone: Is this person smart? Do they have a conflict of interest? Do they love me?
2. That doing what they’re told will help them climb the ladder at work.
Many young people leave the structured environment of college with the idea that they can be successful in the real world by following the directions given to them by their bosses, perhaps in the same manner that they passed tests in school after being told which readings to study.
In a column for Forbes, Docstoc CEO Jason Nazar writes that the only way for people in their 20s to get ahead at work is by taking initiative and doing things that need to get done, even if those tasks haven’t been explicitly assigned to them.
“You’ll never get ahead by waiting for someone to tell you what to do,” he writes. “Saying ‘nobody asked me to do this’ is a guaranteed recipe for failure.”
3. That they have any idea what will make them happy in the long term.
In 2011, I landed my dream internship out of college covering the New York Mets for MLB.com, only to learn that being a professional sports writer was about the last thing in the world I wanted to do with my life.
I’m not alone. As self-help writer Mark Manson — who previously worked in marketing for a car parts manufacturer and as a dating consultant — puts it: “Out of the dozens of people I’ve kept in touch with from high school and college (and by ‘keep in touch’ I really mean ‘stalked on Facebook’), I can’t think of more than a couple that have not changed jobs, careers, industry, families, sexual orientation, or who their favourite Power Ranger is at least once in their 20s.”
4. That they will know when they have made it.
Though it’s tempting to think of it this way, success isn’t something tangible. It’s not like you’ll ever be a struggling artist waiting tables to pay rent one moment and a massive, internationally famous success the next.
In a post on Quora, Wonwhee Kim writes that no matter how well you are doing, you will never feel successful unless you are hungry for more.
“Thinking you’ve ‘achieved’ is a static worldview and stunts your growth,” Kim says. “Come to terms with the fact that if you want to achieve, you can never stop trying.”
5. That failure is not an option.
Though many young people feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, your 20s is actually the best time for you to experience failure.
“Very few get through their 20s without some serious soul searching and questioning of fundamental beliefs and habits … And I don’t envy those who do,” Quora user Arjuna Perkins writes. “This is the best time in your life to be making mistakes. It gets steadily less socially acceptable as you progress in age, so go crazy!”
6. That their talent will carry them to success.
In school, many smart people coast by on brains alone. But things get much more competitive afterward, and people who want to be successful need to couple their abilities with hard work.
“Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are simply wasted potential,” Jason Nazar writes at Forbes. “There’s no prize for talent, just results. Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked their way to success.”
7. That they need to be super-networkers to get ahead.
It’s important to know the right people, but not if those people think you’re only buddying up to them so that they will advance your career.
“Keep contacts, but be genuine,” writes Quora user Dee Ty. “People will know if you are keeping in touch merely for professional favours — no one wants to be used. Cultivate a habit of genuine affection and other things will fall into place.”
8. That having a good job will make them feel like an adult.
“In your twenties you learn that you never really become an adult, just that people start expecting you to act like one,” writes Quora user Hugh Powell. “So you start pretending to be grown up, even though you still feel like a scared little child.”
Keeping in touch with this inner scared child will make you more compassionate and forgiving of mistakes, whether they’re your own screw-ups or someone else’s.
9. That they will accomplish all of their goals.
It’s nice to set out an ambitious set of achievements you’d like to have under your belt by the time you turn 30, but it’s not realistic to think you’re going to accomplish all of them.
“Spending the first two decades of our life in school conditions us to have an intense results-oriented focus about everything,” Mark Manson writes. “You set out to do X, Y, or Z and either you accomplish them or you don’t. If you do, you’re great. If you don’t, you fail.”
Things are a little more fluid in the real world. Manson writes that he had only accomplished about a third of the goals he set for himself by the time he was 30 — and he’s actually really happy with that.
“As I’ve grown, I’ve discovered that some of the life goals I set for myself were not things I actually wanted, and setting those goals taught me what was and was not important to me in my life,” he writes.
10. That success can only be found in the workplace.
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race, but a healthy life outside of work can be just as important and fulfilling as a promising career.
Quora user Sandhya Abirami Rajan explains that several of her friends spent their 20s building extremely successful professional lives, but their intense focus on work strained relationships with family and friends along the way.
“I decided that it was totally ok for me to be an average person with a 8-5 job but I should have an awesome family life,” she writes. “So far, so good.”
11. That quitting their job is a career-killer.
Given the perilous nature of today’s economy, many 20-somethings are told that leaving their jobs will cost them money in the long term. After all, the best time to look for a job is when you already have one.
But an anonymous Quora user advocates taking more risks.
“Move quickly when you get the sense that something isn’t right in your career,” the user writes. “In your 20s there is relatively little cost/risk to pulling up roots and relocating, or restarting your career in a different direction. Do this fearlessly and immediately.”
12. That they need to wait for the right moment to succeed.
Many people wait their whole lives to pull the trigger on a great business idea or to go into the field they really want to be in. For young people, this amounts to a lot of, “Well, once I save up enough money …” and, “If I can just get this big promotion …”
Quora user Yann Girard says there’s no time like the present.
“If you wait until you have that perfect idea, or until you know who you really are or what you really want to do with your life, you will probably never start doing anything,” he writes. “It’s only by starting to create things that you will figure yourself out and find your true purpose in life.”
13. That they will be successful in their 20s.
Of course, there’s no guarantee you will experience success any time during your 20s. And that’s ok! Stan Lee, for example, created the Marvel Universe at age 40, and legendary comic Rodney Dangerfield didn’t catch a break until he was 46.
“Most intentional success is accomplished in a relatively short period of time, and rarely in your twenties,” writes Quora user Keinosuke Johan Miyanaga. “New careers can be built in less than a decade, and business ventures maybe less than 5 years. Books or software can be written in months. New relationships can happen in an instant. If you are an artist or an actor, it may take many tries, but it only takes one big hit.”
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