15 hard lessons everyone should learn in their 20s

By | July 17, 2015

Your 20s are a time of rapid transitions.

As you get used to the responsibilities that come with developing the foundation for a career and sustainable lifestyle, you’ll inevitably make mistakes, some of which could have major consequences.

No advice can replace these experiences, but some insight from those who’ve already been through it can help you become more aware and lessen the sting of growing pains.

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

Here are 15 hard lessons everyone should learn in their 20s.

1. Your worldview may be seriously flawed.

It’s natural to feel as if you have a solid life philosophy figured out by the time you graduate college, but you will most 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. Life is hard, and it never gets much easier.

As your responsibilities begin to pile up in your 20s, you’ll realize 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.

3. 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,” Rich Tatum says.


4. 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 realize that it requires plenty of sacrifices and work. You’ll realize 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 Tatum.


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 realize, though, that the friends you put the effort into staying in touch with are the ones who mean the most to you.


5. 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.’”


6. You are 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.


7. 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.

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8. 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 realize that in a single moment you can lose the things you take for granted.

9. 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 apologize when you make a mistake. Don’t fill your life with negativity.

10. 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.

11. 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 aren’t spoiled, Rahul Bhatt says.

As you start living on your own, however, you’ll soon realize 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.

12. Hard work isn’t always recognized.

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.

13. Debt will haunt you.

A full 70% of college students graduated with debt last year, each averaging $30,000 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. Prioritize 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. “Realize 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,” Thea Pilarczyk says.

14. 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,” Brandon Chu says.

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

15. 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 realize 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.

Being an adult is more a matter of heightened expectations than any tangible change, Hugh Powell says. 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 recognize that everyone else is in the same position as you, no matter what image others project to the world. This can help you become more insightful, compassionate, and forgiving, Powell says.