Most people use their 20s to figure out what it means to be an adult, and the process is certainly not easy for everyone.
Whether you’re finishing up school, just starting out on your own, or preparing to transition into your 30s, you can benefit from the wisdom of those who’ve already made their way through all of it.
We looked through three Quora threads, “When people in their 30s, 40s, and older look back on their life, what are some common regrets they have?“, “What myths do we commonly realise are false in our 20s?” and “How should a 22-year-old invest his/her money?” to find the biggest mistakes 20-somethings make. Here are 13:
1. They think education and talent are enough to become successful.
High intelligence, natural talent, and degrees from elite universities are all good things to have, but they in no way guarantee that you will land a great job — and mean nothing when not paired with hard work.
How you work with others and carry yourself can also turn out to be much more important in advancing your career. “Having social skills, navigating politics, knowing who to ask for what, and being able to see the big picture are invaluable no matter what you do,” says copywriter Joe Choi.
2. They don’t start saving money.
A new survey of 1,003 people from Bankrate found that 69% of those ages 18-29 had no retirement savings at all. Your retirement may seem far off, but you’re doing yourself a massive disservice if you don’t recognise the importance of saving as soon as possible.
Entrepreneur Aditya Rathnam says there’s no need to start investing too much as you’re just starting out, but that it’s essential to take advantage of your company’s 401k matching program if it’s available, and/or open a Roth IRA account.
3. They equate happiness with money.
Prestige and a fat paycheck can certainly make you happier, but there’s plenty more to success than that, says Choi.
You’re setting yourself up for years of regret if you pursue a paycheck rather than your passion.
4. They neglect their health.
As you get older, you’ll learn pretty quickly you can’t party like you did in college. “Your hangovers will be so bad at 28 that the idea of staying out drinking all night will be a hilarious idea to you,” says Meggie Sutherland Cutter. And the more years out of school you get, the more excessive drinking, smoking, and even an unhealthy diet go from acceptable behaviour to dangerous habits.
Communications professor Michael Weston also says that 20-somethings also need to pay attention to their mental health, since any potential issues usually arise in your 20s.
5. They give up when things get tough.
Ending a serious relationship, getting fired from a job, and having your startup crash and burn can all seem life-destroying when they happen to you for the first time. But rather than giving up or aiming for a lower target the next time, you should use failures as opportunities to learn and improve yourself.
“Getting fired and waking up the next day as usual made me realise that failure isn’t the end of the world. Getting dumped taught me the difference between a good and a bad relationship, something I already knew inside but refused to accept until the bad relationship was over,” says Carolyn Cho.
6. They put things off.
“Myth[:] You will be incredibly successful and have it all figured out by 30 years old,” says Sutherland Cutter.
It can be tempting to set aside your longest-held aspirations, continually thinking that you’ll have time for them later. But then you’ll find yourself at an age where it may be too late to change careers, or go to graduate school, or start a family.
7. They try to please everyone.
When you’re starting out in your career, it can seem natural to want to be on friendly terms with your boss, clients, and all of your coworkers. Rather than feeling crushed when you realise some of them simply don’t like you, accept it and don’t stress out.
“Inevitably, someone will always dislike you. I wish I had figured this out a lot earlier and stopped trying so hard and worrying so much about it,” says Cho.
8. They think all friendships can last forever.
“Your college pals that you think will be your best pals for life? Some will still be there at 40, most will be living their lives doing their thing,” says Sutherland Cutter.
When your friends aren’t all living in the same town or campus, you’ll realise which ones mean the most to you, and which ones are worth the effort of maintaining a relationship with.
9. They look for their “soul mate.”
Some people decide to spend most of their 20s single, unattached to anyone. Others search for the right person to marry. The latter group can get caught up in the fantasy of finding someone where everything just clicks and the relationship is effortless. But in real life, the most meaningful long-term relationships require work and dedication.
“You have to continuously make sacrifices, adjustments, accept shortcomings explain yourself, but know what — that’s what makes it fun!” says Mitesh Jain.
10. They think moving somewhere new will solve their problems.
Travelling and living somewhere new can be culturally enriching experiences, and your 20s are a perfect time to do both. But, says Choi, do not think that moving to the opposite coast means you’ll suddenly find meaning and direction.
11. They see things in black and white.
Author and investor James Altucher thinks that many people in their 20s get caught up in absolutes. For example, some feel like they have to choose between a career path that benefits them or one that benefits others, without realising that self-interest does not have to mean the opposite of doing good for the world.
12. They try planning years in advance.
“It’s hard to predict where you’ll end up and what you’ll be doing,” says Choi. So avoid driving yourself crazy with five-year plans and focus on immediate goals.
13. They think they’re the only one of their friends struggling.
As you’re finding your way in the world, determining who you are as an adult and building a career, it can seem like your friends or colleagues are more successful and confident, says Sarthak Pranit. But regardless of income, job, or living situation, every 20-something is still figuring things out as they go along.
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