How to Happily Survive Your 20’s (and why Forbes thinks you’re a great big failure)

Last week, a few lists about being in your 20’s made their rounds on the Internet. I shared this one on Facebook. It basically says that if you aren’t working in a professional career, in a committed relationship and making babies by the time you’re 30 that you were wasting your 20’s and would be in big trouble later since you “wasted” those important years. It cites the fact that most recent grads are un- or under-employed, working unpaid internships and living at home as examples of how this generation has been misinformed about how important this decade is.

[insert lame stock photo of happy young adults carrying briefcases]

You are forced to make some pretty big, independent decisions in your 20’s and I think that’s really special. We should all be working hard in our 20’s to make ourselves happy and lay a good foundation for our adult years. A lot of us are still getting to know ourselves, what makes us happy, what motivates us and where our passions lie. I don’t think anyone’s life or a specific time period in their lives should be dictated by an out-dated redundant list that emphasizes professional milestones over personal development.

I had a long, heated conversation about these lists with my good friend Elissa. Elissa is part of my support group – whenever I have big news or an important decision to make, I can call her and count on her to give me some good advice because she knows me and knows my dreams and goals and what is best for me better than any list published to chastise 20-somethings for their perceived failures.

After thinking on it for a day or two, Elissa sent me this article titled “30 things that will make you want to kill yourself whether or not you’re 30”, published in Glamour magazine. It’s the same sort of idea as the list I had been so angry about and says stuff like your life should be defined by designer handbags, a successful career and your ability to snag a man who wants to procreate with you by the time you reach 30.

The author of the article is critiquing this list in more of a feminist discourse than I prefer, but she provides her own alternative list of things to achieve before your 30 that really resonated with me:

1) Too small shoes will always be too small. They will never “stretch” — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Buy comfortable shoes.

2) Do your very best to ensure that your life doesn’t revolve around a man. Men are fine and good and sometimes great, just as women are fine and good and sometimes great. But you will be told, often, that your intimate relationships with men define you. They really don’t.

3) Value your friendships and put work into them. Friends are important. Make an effort.

4) It’s ok to watch TV. Don’t feel guilty about it. That’s dumb. Intelligent people can watch TV and be intelligent at the same time. It’s a fact.

5) Spend lots of time cuddling with dogs. Unless you don’t like dogs, in which case, don’t, but I really can’t alter this advice with any sincerity for people who don’t like dogs because dogs are what true love and joy and unconditional love look like.

6) Wine and cake?

7) Don’t believe people or lists that tell you that your life should look like some kind of dumb, imaginary rom-com life or that you should be married or have babies or have some kind of career or a certain amount of money or material things or anything else. Those lists of full of shit and will only make you feel bad about yourself which is a waste of time because the whole world already spends an inordinate amount of time trying to make you feel bad about yourself because you’re a woman which, according to dominant culture, means you are always flawed and that your life is less important than a zygote’s.

I think that is all great advice, but thought a few more points needed to be added to the list:

8 ) Figure out who your support group is. These are people who know you and what is best for you. It can be your parents, a sibling or cousin, or a good friend. These people will help you make decisions from “which dress should I wear to my ex’s wedding” to “should I buy the condo I can afford or the two-bedroom family home I can grow into” and support you in any decision you make. Not every good friend needs to be a part of your support group, but don’t waste your time on people who don’t bring anything to the friendship table.

9) Own power tools. (And a basic toolkit while you’re at it.) Nothing fills me with greater satisfaction than being able to fix something or hang a pretty shelf without anyone’s help.

10) Manage your own finances. Because having your daddy do it is just embarrassing at this point in your life.

11) Do one thing that makes you truly happy every day. This changes everyday for me. Some days it’s hitting the gym or an intense yoga class and others it’s just going for a leisurely walk with my dog. Sometimes all it takes is treating myself to a special treat at the coffee shop. You are in charge of your own mood and your own happiness so finding little pick-me-ups are really important.

12) Stop making excuses for yourself and your behaviour. Own it, good or bad. Now that you’re old enough to be making your own decisions, you are the only one to blame for the bad ones.

13) Never stop learning.

14) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You aren’t less of a woman (or a man!) if you can’t do any of these things by yourself. This is where that support group comes in!

15) Do things at your own pace. You, and only you, know what is right for yourself and not some stupid list (even this one).

16) And if you don’t do it right the first time, 30 isn’t too old to try again. This applies to relationships, friendships, career choices, education and anything else you aren’t happy with!

I know there are a lot more to add to the list – what do you think 20-somethings should be doing or accomplishing?
Do you agree with the original author that you should be focusing on professional and romantic goals above all else?

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  1. April 30, 2012 / 3:11 pm

    I’ve been reading a lot of these lists lately and I definitely don’t think that the key to life as a happy 30-something is professional and romantic accomplishment.. but I do believe that that’s what some people value and interpret as success. 

    I know plenty of people who “revel[ed] in a decade-long identity crisis” and have become better human beings because of it; travelling the world, going to school, teaching English in another country, going back to school.. it all contributed to the person that they’ve become and I definitely don’t think that they’re any less “adjusted” than people who completed post-secondary education, got a career and started a family. If anything, I think it’s the other way around.

    I really enjoyed your list; specifically #12. If there’s anyone’s list 20- and 30-somethings should be living by, it’s yours 😉

    • JamieLeighTO
      April 30, 2012 / 7:46 pm

      Thanks Terri!

      My issue with the whole thing is that all of the articles assumed that marriage and careers is how everyone defines success. I define a career as “success” too but I also know that things will work out when they’re meant to and it won’t happen at the same time for everyone. It’s always been that way.

      There just aren’t enough jobs for everyone right now and more people are attending post-secondary education. People live at home and work at Starbucks to pay off student debt, so careers and families come later. Even unpaid internships are competitive at this point! The author of the Forbes article seems to put the blame on 20-somethings as opposed to the over-saturated job market and the abundance of unpaid job opportunities.

  2. Elissa Schneiderman
    May 1, 2012 / 3:19 am

    thanks for the shout-out, boo! love you and love the additions to the list.