There are many general beliefs that people have about the magical time known as your 20’s. Most of them equate to it being the most important decade, where every decision you make will impact the rest of your life and define who you are. If that is true, everyone should spend the precious years of their 20’s wisely.
I am a firm believer that everyone is different and each of us has a unique path and timeline for our lives. There is no cookie cutter shape of how your life should be, no matter how much society tries to convince you otherwise. Many people feel pressure to meet certain milestones by the time they hit 30, but to me, there is really only one thing that is true about this defining decade.
Your 20’s should be a time of discovery.
What does this mean? Many things…
You should work hard on your education and career, discovering exactly what you’re best at, what you’ll do with your life and what you’ll contribute to the world.
You should meet people, make new friends, and build your network, discovering the importance of relationships and building a support system for years to come.
You should go on dates, discovering what it is that you need in a partner and a relationship and never settling until you find it.
You should have lots of fun and enjoy your youth, discovering what your passions are while gaining experience and memories that will shape who you become.
You should be work on yourself, discovering who you are, becoming confident and comfortable with yourself, and setting goals for personal growth.
But most importantly, you should travel and explore the world, discovering new perspectives and cultures that will connect you to humanity. Personally, this how I have experienced the most powerful discovery.
The YOU years
For those of you still in your 20’s listen up. This is the time in your life to be unapologetically selfish. It’s especially important to spend your early-to-mid 20’s focused on YOU and discovering as much as possible.
One of the most important things that happens in your 20’s is you figure yourself out. If you accomplish that by the time you’re 30, you’re lucky. Most people float through their 20’s feeling lost. They feel pressure to quickly pick a major and career when they barely even know who they are. They feel pressure to fit in, which means learning tough lessons on friendships, loyalty, and authenticity. They feel pressure to settle down, consuming themselves with dating and relationships, instead of first finding out who they are, deciding what they really want/need, and learning to love themselves first and foremost. I am here to tell you that you should NOT let all this pressure get to you. Just do YOUR thing.
I know a lot of people who were devastated when they hit 30 because they always thought they’d be married with kids by then. But I am not sure why this is so common. These days, marriage and especially children can wait. As I said, everyone’s path is different. Some people truly want kids and marriage younger in life, and that is fine. However, the overwhelming consensus among those who settled down earlier is that they wish they had more time for themselves. I can’t tell you how many times parents I know advise me to wait as long as I can until I am ready to have kids.
I am not saying you should pass up on your soul mate though. If you’re lucky enough to find that, don’t let it go. If you truly want kids as soon as possible, then that is what your path calls for. What I am saying is you should not want these things because others tell you that you should want them. Rushing these huge life changes when you’re not ready means you’ll miss out on a lot of discovery time. But if you are ready, then by all means go for it.
I am very grateful that I waited until the age of 29 to get married and am still putting off kids for another couple years. Otherwise, I would never have been able to spend all my time on myself and my discovery. For those who have kids, things like self-discovery and travel are still possible but in general, it’s harder when you have to dedicate so much of yourself and your time to your partner and your children. Marriage and kids seem to be more enjoyable and fulfilling when you have had time for yourself and are more established.
Whatever you do, DON’T worry about all the pressure you may feel to do what is expected of you and what you’re “supposed” to do. There will be plenty of time for that ahead. The single best thing you can do with your time during your 20’s is to travel as much as possible. Everywhere and anywhere. In this day and age, we have more opportunities to travel than ever before. Booking a trip and hopping a plane is easier and more accessible than our parents and grandparents ever could have imagined. We should take full advantage of this and go see the world. I am adamant and passionate that travel is the BEST thing you can do for yourself. It will maximize the discovery time in your life because you will gain the most profound and priceless experiences, which will transform you into the best person possible.
The earlier the better
During these precious years of your 20’s, you are the most impressionable and easily influenced. Your mind is completely open and your biases are not as fixed. Staying in your hometown with the same group of friends and the same frame of reference will mean your reality is limited to that. If you’re lucky enough to go off to college or move away, you will have more influence from the world outside of your comfort zone. And even better, if you’re brave enough to travel a bit, seeing and experiencing the world will make you a more cultured and worldly person, which will greatly benefit you throughout your personal and professional life.
I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is to expose yourself to the world during these defining years. Your travels will shape and influence who you are and what your perspective will be throughout your life. That is why your 20’s is the perfect period to begin traveling as much as you can. If you travel as a child, you’re really too young and naïve to truly appreciate the experience. If you wait until you’re older, you’ll be more set in your ways and fixed to your own perspective. You won’t be as open to new cultures, different ways of life, and trying new things. However, traveling during this golden window of your 20’s will make much more of an impact on you and how you view the world.
Think how much could be solved if everyone witnessed less fortunate countries, met people from different backgrounds, and explored different cultures early on in life. We would be more tolerant of diversity and have a more global perspective with the understanding that we are all humans first and foremost, and none of us choose where we are born or what culture or race we’re a part of. Travel forces you to be a more compassionate person, and we are in a time where the world desperately needs more of this.
The sooner the better
The reason travel is more critical and a lot easier when you’re younger is because you have more freedom than you may realize in your 20’s. You’re not too tied down yet. The longer you wait and the older you are, you’ll have more reasons than ever not to go. You may have more means to travel as you age, but then you will also have demanding jobs, kids, pets, a partner, a home to care for, a routine you hate abandoning, and a plethora of responsibilities that you cannot escape as easily.
Even worse, if you put it off until much later in life, chances are your health will not be as great as in your prime years and will limit you, whereas in your 20’s you have the perfect health, energy, and tenacity to explore. You won’t mind sleeping on trains and hostel beds. You may not even need much sleep at all. You are physically capable of more adventures and strenuous activities, like hiking the Great Wall of China or Machu Picchu in Peru, which will be a lot easier at 25 than 55. Yes, you’ll have more time after you retire, but chances are your health will slow you down more than before. It can still be done. During my travels, I see a ton of older tourists doing it big. And these days, people live longer, healthier lives than ever. But even older travelers will tell you it would have been easier and more enjoyable when they were younger.
Plus the world we live in is constantly changing. Political and environmental factors may limit or prevent you from seeing some amazing things in just a matter of years. Look at Syria. The city of Damascus will never be the same as it was due to the ongoing Civil War. And after the earthquake in Nepal a few years ago, neither will Katmandu and all its historical treasures. Some places in Mexico and Egypt that I have always wanted to visit are no longer considered safe. Plus, it is said that places at the top of my bucket list like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Taj Mahal in India are seriously at risk due to things like global warming, erosion and pollution. You just never know what could happen or how much a place could change if you wait too long. If there is a city or attraction that is calling your soul, you’re better off going as soon as you can.
Don’t put it off
Many people are not where they want to be by the time they hit 30 and that is because they wasted a lot of time in their 20’s worried about the wrong stuff or not realizing how crucial this decade is to set the stage for the rest of your life. That is why I decided to write this. My hope is that people in their 20’s may read this and feel inspired to make their time count.
If I knew then what I knew now, I would have traveled a lot more and a lot sooner. If I had, I would now be an even better version of myself. Many times, I let trivial things like financial limitations and not having someone to travel with stop me. And yes, those are indeed trivial things. That is because: 1) You can travel on a tight budget, stay in hostels, and aggressively save your money for trips rather than waste it on things that most 20-somethings commonly splurge on (trendy clothes, drinking in clubs, and $5 lattes to name a few). I often wish I could go back in time to stop myself from buying designer bags and other meaningless things, when instead I could have spent my money on more travel experiences. I now realize that would have been a far more valuable investment in myself. Later on, your perspective and your priorities change, and you realize how much time and money you wasted. And 2) You can experience the exhilarating thrill of solo travel instead of waiting to find the perfect travel buddy and missing out on great opportunities. These days it is totally common for young people to backpack and wander on their own. My point is, if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen, and you absolutely should.
My personal reflection
As I look back, yes, there are definitely things I would definitely do differently if I knew then what I know now. Most of all, I would have traveled more often, every chance I got even if it meant traveling solo or saving every penny for more trips. I would have even more experience under my belt now. There is nothing I can do to change these things at this point and I am still very grateful for my exact path, since all of it has made me who I am and taught me invaluable lessons along the way.
Overall, as I approach my 30th birthday in a few days, I feel incredibly blessed. Anyone who knows me and has witnessed my evolution during the last 10 years can tell you I have come a long way. It feels good to say that I am very proud of how I spent the most important and defining decade of my life.
The best word I can use to describe my 20’s is FEARLESS. I went after everything I wanted, gave it my all, never let anything hold me back, and accomplished every goal I set for myself. I have been through many ups and downs, but I made my dreams come true one by one. I worked my butt off to finish my education and establish myself in my career. I traveled to many different places in world and got a ton of stamps on my passport, which has been the greatest teacher in helping me to find out who I am, how I view the world, and what my true passions are in life. I found and married my soul mate and best friend. I learned to surround myself with positive, uplifting people and built the most amazing support system of genuinely awesome individuals. I studied tirelessly and made great leaps in my spiritual journey. But best of all, I found myself and learned to truly love, embrace and accept the amazing woman I am. I now feel so ready and confident as I begin this next decade of life. I am READY for 30 and excited that the best is yet to come.
“The time will pass anyway. You can either spend it creating the life you want or spend it living the life you don’t want. The choice is yours.”