Your 20s are a time of discovery. You figure out who you are, what you want, and how to make it happen.
The habits you establish during this time tend to stick and become the foundation of your adult life. Establishing positive ones can be the difference between success and failure.
We’ve sorted through a variety of advice from entrepreneurs, academics, and media influencers and found a few recurring themes. Here are the habits everyone should master early on to set themselves up for a lifetime of success.
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Learn from every failure
“Listening is like programming a computer,” author and investor James Altucher writes. “You take stuff in, you process it, you spit life back. Learning is different. It shatters your life.”
No matter what your financial, intellectual, and moral circumstances are, you will make terrible mistakes and have to deal with unexpected and unfair challenges. That aspect of life is largely out of your control, but you are always in control of your perception.
“Just relax,” Altucher says. “Those things are going to happen. Enjoy them. You can’t avoid them. These are opportunities to learn. That’s your only goal.”
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Take measured risks
“With no family to feed and no dependents counting on you, your 20s are without a doubt the years to take a leap and pursue your passion,” says Jessie Goldenberg, who abandoned a promising media career shortly after college to start her own business, the successful mobile fashion boutique Nomad.
Of course, taking risks to the point of being reckless is as bad or worse a habit than suppressing ambition. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, recommends a simple exercise for weighing risk:
- Fold a piece of paper into three columns.
- In the first column, write down all of the things that could go wrong should your attempt fail. Think of the most terrible things possible.
- In the second column, determine ways that you can mitigate the possibility of each of those bad consequences from happening.
- In the third column, think of how you would recover from each of the scenarios you imagined and wrote in the first column.
Shark Tank investor and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban became a billionaire in the tech industry, despite never formally studying computer science. It’s why he says the best lesson he learned in his 20s was that “with time and effort I could learn any new technology that was released.”
It’s not a boast, but rather a message that if you want to have a successful, enriching career, you’re going to need to make a habit of dedicating time and effort into acquiring knowledge that gives you an advantage.
Cuban explains that college is the time you pay to learn, but “now that you have graduated, it’s your chance to get paid to learn. And what if you aren’t a recent college grad? The same logic applies. It is time to get paid to learn.”
Associate with those who make you better
Tech entrepreneur and author Ben Casnocha has worked closely with LinkedIn founder and chairman Reid Hoffman for several years and writes that the greatest lesson Hoffman taught him was “that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around. You really are the company you keep.”
There’s no need for maintaining toxic personal or professional relationships out of loyalty.
“If you really want to reach your highest potential you have to consistently surround yourself with people who challenge you, who are strong where you are weak, and work just as hard or harder than you do,” says Beth Doane, founder of Raintees.
Build meaningful professional relationships
And on that note, don’t develop a habit of going to so-called networking events and blindly tossing out and collecting business cards with the hope that someone will get back in touch and help you out.
Always take an opportunity to meet someone interesting and talented, and prioritize personality over perceived usefulness, says Jon Levy, founder of the Influencers. “It’s adding diversity to your network that truly helps it. The reason is, every time you add an additional person that’s in your industry, you’re not expanding your network very much because you all probably know the same people,” he says.
He recommends taking Wharton professor Adam Grant’s advice. As Grant told Business Insider last year: “If you’re a giver, then you build quality relationships, and with those relationships you’re exposed to opportunity over the long term. You actually increase your own luck so far as you contribute things to other people.”
Save and invest for the future
It’s essential to develop healthy personal finance habits, and the earlier the better.
Consider taking a portion of your paychecks and putting it into an emergency savings fund, a stash of money you don’t touch until you absolutely need it. A good goal to start working toward is accumulating the equivalent of three months’ salary, says certified financial planner Jonathan Meaney.
And as Business Insider’s Sam Ro points out, it’s best to start taking advantage of compound interest as early as possible. Take advantage of your employer’s 401k plan if one is available, and consider investing in low-cost index funds.
Take care of your health
A common theme among Quora users is wishing they’d shed the bad eating and drinking habits of their youth and developed a fitness regimen before the physical limitations of growing older began to set in.
“Your hangovers will be so bad at 28 that the idea of staying out drinking all night will be a hilarious idea to you,” musician Meggie Sutherland Cutter writes on Quora. Choose an hour at the gym over a happy hour every now and then.
Love what you do
The late Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs gave one of the most memorable commencement speeches ever from a podium at Stanford in 2005 a year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” he said.
Jobs said this mindset will make you understand the importance of your work. “And the only way to do great work is to love what you do,” he said. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Settling means giving in to someone else’s vision of your life, or the pressure to prioritize salary above all else. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition,” Jobs said.
Keep work from overtaking your personal life
As you strive to make something of yourself in your 20s, don’t develop a habit of ignoring your personal life.
“If I could go back in time, I’d introduce my 22-year-old self to a quotation by the writer Brian Andreas: ‘Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life,'” Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington writes on LinkedIn.
Huffington says that advice would have saved her from the “perpetually harried, stressed-out existence I experienced for so long.”
Learn when to take a step back from everything and appreciate what you’ve accomplished and what you already have. And if you are obsessed with your work, understand that you will actually be making yourself more productive by allowing yourself to enjoy life.