I hit my 4th decade back in mid-December, and I’ll be honest, I thought I’d feel differently about turning 30 than I do. Everyone says it’s a milestone birthday, a turning corner to official adulthood. Women start buying wrinkle cream and hitting the gym feverishly, men start doubting their success and their career path, and everyone just wonders how the heck they flew through their 20s so fast.
But I felt none of that. I wasn’t dreading the day I turned 30, I wasn’t worried about looking older or feeling like I had wasted time. And you know why? Because I had used my 20s to build a life I love. I had done the work, and I can’t tell you how happy I am with where I am now. Was the journey always fun? No. Is everything perfect now? No. But I truly feel like I found a great balance between fun and responsibility in my 20s, and now, it’s laid a good enough foundation for me to do the same in my 30s. But on a bigger and better scale.
I’ve listed below the top 20 things I did in my 20s set me up for success in my 30s. If you’re interested in feeling that same sense of satisfaction and passion that I did, think about crossing some of these off your list before you say adios to 29. Or better yet, check off all 20 ;).
1) Learn to Say No
While we’d all love to volunteer every Monday & Wednesday, host your niece’s birthday party, and take on that extra project at work (that you SERIOUSLY don’t have time for), it’s sometimes not physically feasible. You will be pulled in 7,000 directions the older you get, and if you haven’t mastered the art of saying “No” by the time you graduated school, you best be learning it now.
2) Create a Budget
I say it a lot because it’s important. A budget will help you spend within your means and allow you to hit those big financial goals like buying a house or traveling to Bali for two weeks. Without it, you have nothing to track your progress or hold you accountable, which is always a recipe for failure. If you’re in need of a budget template, you can find one here.
3) Find Your Priorities
I had to learn early on that I couldn’t do it all. I wanted to have the immaculate house, the perfectly-toned body, the amazing career, and the culinary skills of Gordon Ramsey. But once I started pouring more time into my blog, I realized something had to give. So my house is a little messier and I sometimes eat chicken nuggets for dinner, but I’m ok with that. Spending time with my friends and family and focusing on my career and this blog are more important to me than a clean floor. And you need to find what is most important to you, too.
4) Discover What Makes You Happy
This is difficult to do, and it probably won’t happen overnight, but it’s a must. Your 20s are the best time for you to explore this world and yourself, and you need to take the opportunity to do just that. Find what it is that brings you joy (and no, your significant other doesn’t count), and make it a focus of your life.
5) Work Out
I don’t care what kind of workout it is, but do it. And do it regularly. It’s good for your physical health, relieves stress, and gives you confidence. Win, win,win.
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6) Master the Art of Small Talk
Being personable and relatable will help you get any job you choose, and mastering the art of small talk is part of this. If you feel you’re one of those people who finds this difficult, check out this article on how to charm the socks off anyone.
7) Find Your Style
Trends literally come and go about 50 times a season. That’s no joke. And just because everyone is wearing crop tops doesn’t mean you have to wear crop tops, especially if you look like crap in them. Find what works well for you and your body type, and stick to that. You’ll find you have a wardrobe you love instead of one you hate that keeps draining your bank account.
8) Contribute to Your 401(k)
If you have one, you need to contribute up to the match. No ifs, ands, or buts. You company is giving you free money, and I don’t know about you, but getting a 100% return on anything I put in seems like a damn good investment to me.
[RELATED: 5 Ways You're Screwing Up Your 401(k)]
9) Diversify Your Income
You should never fully rely on one income stream to fund your life. Along with my full-time job, I a) invest and b) have been renting out rooms in my home each year since I bought my house, which has earned me roughly $20K over the past 4 years. And now I’m working on getting my blog to generate another income stream for me as well. Will my full-time job always be my main source? Yes. But having extra cash for fun money or to help pay off debt or fund a vacation is important to have to live a balanced life.
10) Change Your Eating Habits
As wonderful as the beer and pizza diet is, you will learn that the closer 30 approaches, the harder it is to eat that and maintain your health. Do I still eat pizza and drink beer? Absolutely. Do I also eat a lot of spinach and fruit? You know it. The better you eat, the better you feel, so try to sneak in some nutrients between your Papa John’s orders.
11) Learn to Adjust
College is wonderful because everyone is at the same place in their lives, but that quickly changes as you navigate through your twenties. Some friends will get married and have children young, others will move across the country, others will stay single well into their 30s. Being in different places in your life can be challenging when maintaining friendships, so make sure you learn how to adjust. Just because you can stay out until 3am on a random Friday night doesn’t mean your mom friend can, so recognize that next time you make plans. You may not party into the wee hours of the night together anymore, but boozy brunches are just as awesome.
12) Pay Off Your Debt
Debt is not your friend, and the fact that you have to pay the bank each month to use their money (i.e. pay interest) should piss you off enough to get rid of it as soon as possible. Just imagine what that extra $400 per month could do for you. So figure out how to pay it off as soon as possible. You’ll want to have made a big dent (or paid it off in full) by the time you’re ringing in the big 3-0.
[RELATED: How to Cut Your Student Loan Payment in Half]
13) Know How to Host a Party
And I’m not talking about an all-night rager here. Hosting parties – whether they are Friendsgivings or bridal showers or your Dad’s 60th birthday – is all about organization, and you need to be adult enough for people to trust you to pull everything together. Learn how to cook something easy and delicious, find a few decent and cheap bottles of wine, and figure out how to work with vendors. You got this.
14) Aim to Fail
We’ve all been taught that failure is scary and something we should avoid, but in your 20s, you need to change that mindset and actually pursue it. Failure means you’re taking risks and trying new things and growing as a person. Don’t be afraid of it. By the time you’re 30, you should have at least epically failed at one thing; otherwise, you aren’t living largely enough.
15) Learn to Ask for More
The gender wage gap a real thing, which is why all you women out there have to always be in pursuit of pay that equals your value and worth. Many of us tend to settle for a lower wage because we don’t even think to ask for me. But ladies, if you’ve proven yourself, you need to ask. I did this 4 years ago when I started at a new company and received $10,000 more than the initial offer. Um, yes please.
Even if it’s just two states over, get out of your bubble. Meet people. Have experiences you’ve never had before. Travel doesn’t have to take you across the globe or be expensive, but you need to do it to be a better citizen of the world.
17) Knowing Your Limits (Drink without the Hangover)
Being the girl who is 30 years old and still doesn’t know how to drink without getting completely hammered is embarrassing. Use your 20s to find your limit so that you aren’t the one always having to get cabs home after work events. Learn to drink responsibly and in context, and you’ll avoid being “that girl.” Trust me, it’s not cute after 25.
18) Take Responsibility
We all make mistakes. The difference between being an adult or being a child is whether or not you own up to them. When you’ve messed up a work project or relationship, take responsibility for your part in the matter and work to find a solution.
When they say it’s all about who you know, it’s truly all about who you know. I got my last job because the CFO of the company was the father of a girl I played college soccer with. You never know how or when an opportunity will arise, so brush up on those small talk skills I mentioned previously and get out there and meet people.
20) Continually Learn
Education doesn’t end when school does. You need to constantly be broadening your mind, challenging yourself, and expanding your skillset. Read books on a subject that interests you. Teach yourself through trial and error that program at work that you don’t have a good handle on yet. Join a barre or painting class to tap into your creative side. It doesn’t matter what you do, just don’t settle being the person you are today. Learn. Absorb. Grow.
There you have it – the 20 things you need to master in your 20s to kill it in your 30s. Now I want to hear from you: What is missing from this list that you would suggest all 20-somethings know?