3 Career-Boosting Tips For Making The Most Of Your 20s

Your twenties are your gift to yourself. Here’s how to live them well–and set the stage for a killer career down the road.

3 Career-Boosting Tips For Making The Most Of Your 20s

Writing about his road trip with David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky said that college prepared him to be an Athenian, but not an American. If you’re still trying to calibrate your career compass, you might feel the same way.


You’re not alone. Your twenties are hard. And for clinical psychologist Meg Jay, they’re the defining decade. In a conversation with LinkedIn, she tells us why.

Hitting the life snooze

There’s this saying going around that 30 is the new 20, which Jay says comes from how life milestones are being delayed, be it marriage, children, finalizing your career, or, well, death. So she compares it to when a professor tells you that you have another three weeks before an exam–are you going to start studying earlier? Probably not. You’ll delay.

Which is not always bad–as we’ve discussed, delay can be healthy.

Making the right mistakes

Yes, it’s good to explore–Jay was an Outward Bound instructor in her early twenties. Take a gap year (or two), go abroad, do the internal work of forming your identity. But don’t tread water, she says:

The only mistake not worth making is doing something that is a placeholder or that you’re aware is killing time, that this doesn’t matter. If those are the words you’re saying to yourself, that’s probably a mistake.

As Reddit CEO Yishan Wong noted in an epic Quora answer on the same subject, as a young’un you’re flush with the most precious of resources: time. While you can borrow, give, and store money, you can’t do that with time. So spend it wisely.

Willing luck to happen

Jay relays some crunchy fortune-cookie advice: “A wise man makes his own luck.” If you’re going to make it, you’re going to need help, which means finding and fostering weak ties–the folks who knows folks you don’t know.
She puts the how-to pithily:


Have the courage to ask people for a favor, or an interview, or an informational interview, a phone call on your behalf. You’d be surprised by how willing people are to open the door for a twentysomething who asks.

It’s age-old wisdom, really: like Goethe said, look for grace from those in high places. And like Rick Ross said, hustle real hard.

TED 2013: Why Our 20s Are the Most Important Decade of Adulthood

Drake Baer is a contributing writer for [i]Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.[/i]

[Image: Flickr user Andy Ciordia]


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.