In her famous TED talk “Why 30 is not the new 20”, clinical psychologist Meg Jay talks about the importance of owning your twenties:
“Claiming your 20s is one of the simplest, yet most transformative, things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even for the world.
This is not my opinion. These are the facts. We know that 80 percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35. That means that eight out of 10 of the decisions and experiences and “Aha!” moments that make your life what it is will have happened by your mid-30s.”
Jay later goes on to say that:
- The first 10 years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn.
- Half of Americans are married or are living with or dating their future partner by 30.
- The brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood, which means that whatever it is you want to change about yourself, now is the time to change it.
- Personality changes more during your 20s than at any other time in life.
Think of a cannonball being fired into an open field. Slight changes to the angle of the cannon can lead to profound differences where the ball eventually lands. In the same way, the choices you make and the experiences you have in your twenties profoundly affect how your life later unfolds. This is why you shouldn’t take this period of your life lightly.
In this article, we’re going to dive into 5 things to do in your 20s to make the most of this critical time, and prepare you for the later decades of your life.
5 Powerful Things To Do Your 20s
1. Live In a Foreign Country
Your twenties are an exciting time of experimentation and discovery. It’s a period of learning who you are, what you like, what you dislike, and what you want out of life. Sometimes you need to remove yourself from everything familiar to allow these aha’s to take place.
Most advice you’ll hear will tout the importance of travel. Although travel is important, a far more enriching experience is actually living in foreign country for a period of time. In his book Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, the travel writer Rolf Potts states:
“The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — the slow nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.”
Some of the most life-changing periods of my twenties were spent living in Australia for 12 months, and Brazil for 9. Removed from the expectations of my family, friends, and peers, I had the necessary space to discover myself freely. It was during these times I slowly absorbed myself in different cultures, different ideas, and different perspectives. I also had the time to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with locals who deeply affected my life.
This growth doesn’t happen during a fast-paced, 6-week backpacking trip around Europe. Transformations occur by giving yourself the necessary time to assimilate to the new environment around you. When this occurs, you’ll experience inner growth you’d never have seen back home.
Road trip during the year I lived in Australia
2. Have a Psychedelic Experience
From visionary entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, to Nobel Prize winning scientists like Francis Crick, to legendary actors like Cary Grant, they’ve all stated that a psychedelic experience was one of the most important events of their life. Contemporary science is beginning to find evidence of how true this is.
In a recent double-blind study conducted by John Hopkins University, participant who had never experienced a psychedelic were given psilocybin (the active compound in magic mushrooms). An essay in the New Yorker titled The Trip Treatment outlined the results:
“Participants ranked these experiences as among the most meaningful in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Two-thirds of the participants rated the psilocybin session among the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; a third ranked it at the top.”
The psychedelic experience matures you to the world like no other experience can. The walls of your ego will dissolve, allowing you to see how interconnected you are to everything and everyone around you. This can be a deeply moving experience, radically changing your outlook on practically every area of your life.
Taking Ayahuasca in the Amazonian jungle was the most important event of my twenties. I grew more in those seven short days than I had the previous seven years. From Ayahuasca, to Magic Mushrooms, to Peyote – these plants all have the power to give you the same transformative experience.
A reality shattering Ayahuasca retreat can be one of the most powerful things to do in your 20s
3. Get Your Heart Broken
Falling in love, then later getting your heart broken can be one of the most transformative experiences of your twenties. Pain is one of the most powerful vehicles towards inner growth. As uncomfortable as pain is, it’s a beautiful feedback system that points out areas of your life you still need to learn about and grow into.
A breakup rips the rug from underneath you and exposes dirt quietly hidden in the background of your life. It exposes emotional dependency, it exposes deep-rooted insecurities, it exposes some of your greatest fears. Most of our lives are spent hiding from these things but a breakup forces you to confront it all head on. If you can work through it, the event like no other can change you into a wiser, stronger, more self-reliant individual better equipped to handle your thirties and beyond. Rumi once said:
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
If you get your heart-broken during this time of your life, welcome it. Looking back you’ll realize it was the most important events of your youth.
4. Experience a Rite of Passage
Experiencing a rite of passage is one of the most powerful things to do in your 20s. In an interview, the famous anthropologist Joseph Campbell talks about the problems our current society faces with youths lacking development into mature adulthood:
“We, until we’re pretty well along – 12, 13, 14 – are utterly dependent on our parents and our society. So a psychology of dependency is developed, a psychology of submissions, asking for approval, expecting reproof, and all this sort of thing. But how are we going to break out of that psychological bondage into self responsible authority, courage for what our thoughts are on our life – this is the problem of killing the infantile ego, which is one of dependency and coming into a mature ego of authority.”
Societies throughout the world recognized the dilemma Campbell points out and created rites of passage to resolve this issue. Highly challenging, yet deeply transformative events were set up in order for youths to die to their adolescence and become reborn into maturity. We can look at various instances throughout history where this occurs:
- 17,000 year old Lascaux Caves in France were used to initiate young boys to hunting warriors
- Eleusinian Mysteries in Ancient Greece where youths were given psychedelic brews
- Brazilian Amazonian tribes fitting gloves brimming with bullet ants on the hands of boys
- Circumcisions of young boys in Tanzanian and Kenyan tribes, told not to flinch during the ordeal
Many like Joseph Campbell argue that the lack of rites of passage in our society is the reason most adults still have childhood psychologies. One of the most important things you can do in your twenties is take part in your own ritual to develop your maturity. This doesn’t mean you have to get bitten by bullet ants or hide in strange caves. There are modern rites of passage you can take part in to achieve this same transformation, yet in a safe manner.
Incredible organizations such as The Mankind Project created their New Warrior Adventure Training Weekend to act as a rite of passages for males today. I’ve personally experienced the weekend myself and can vouch for how transformative it can be. As mentioned earlier, heading to the Amazon to an Ayahuasca retreat can act as a powerful rite of passage.
You can even create your own rite of passage like Claire Potter did for her 13-year-old son. She set up a series of challenges for him to complete such as riding on a train alone, going to a restaurant alone, and playing a musical instrument in front of a crowd of people. With a little creativity, you too can create a set of unique challenges for your own coming of age ritual.
5. What Scares You The Most? Do That.
Think of your twenties as a period of planting seeds on the farm that is your life. The quality of the land which these seeds are planted in will directly affect the yield you’ll eventually see. If you first take the time to remove the weeds scattered throughout the land, you’ll later be rewarded with a rich harvest. If left untended to, those same weeds will wreak havoc on the land, eventually leaving you with a mountain of headaches and scarce crops.
Think of your fears as those weeds. If they aren’t dealt with early on, they later obstruct virtually every area of your life for decades – from your career, to your love live, to even your physical health. The stronger the fear, the more power it will hold over you, and the more important it is to conquer in your twenties. In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about the importance of leaning into your fears:
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Social fears? Get a part-time sales job forcing you to interact with people. Scared to talk to girls? Head to a local bar and approach as many as you can. During my early twenties I found it difficult to open up and let my personality show around strangers. I ended up taking 9 months of improv lessons at Chicago’s Second City where I was forced to act silly in front of crowds of people. It was terrifying at the time, but conquering that fear early later opened a number of doors in my career, my social and love life, and improved my general well-being.
Me trying not to shit my pants during my final Improv performance
What are other things to do in your 20s that can transform your life? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
Photo by lacabezaenlasnubes