I tend to think of myself as an “it’s never too late” kind of person. It’s never too late to move to a new city. It’s never too late to change your career. It’s never too late to learn Spanish. Some might call it delusion, but I call it optimism. That said, there are plenty of experiences you should have when you’re young, if the opportunity presents itself or life allows.
Life gets more complicated when you’re older. People pair off, and it becomes more difficult to make plans. You become more committed to your job and have less free time. And your body physically ages—not to mention your memory begins to decline before age 30—so there’s that.
I realize there may be 60-year-olds out there laughing at this, but please, 20-somethings, take a bit of my 30+ wisdom and enjoy every ounce of fun and challenge this decade has to offer you. It’s never too late for any of us, but for you? Now’s the time.
If you haven’t already peaked in athletic prowess, you’re in your prime for trying a new sport (physical peak in most sports is considered to be between age 25 and 35). But let’s put the scary numbers aside for a second and talk about this: Discovering a new ability is one of the most exhilarating and confidence-boosting things you can do—even more so when it’s a healthy activity! Plus, if you discover a new sport, you’re likely to open yourself up to a whole new world of people, be it teammates, trainers, or just people you pass in the gym.
I think that no matter how old you are, you should do something that scares you every day. Whether that means making a phone call or getting an adrenaline rush, conquering our fears is always a good thing. But as we age—physically—and we have more to protect, the fear mounts. If the thing that scares you at 25 is skydiving, do it. Do it now because you can and because it will make you stronger. When you're older and not so limber, simple activities might scare you, but at least then you’ll have these great adrenaline-filled memories to look back on.
Traveling alone can be daunting at first, but it’s one of the most liberating experiences you can have. You can do what you want, when you want, on your own terms. You’ll challenge yourself in ways that would never be possible with a travel partner. You’ll meet so many inspiring people, and you’ll have more confidence in yourself than ever before. With fewer “attachments” and responsibilities, your 20s are a time to travel alone; it only gets harder to find the occasion.
Not all friendships last forever. Many of them need to be nurtured. And often life and all of our responsibilities and geographic hurdles get in the way of even our most thriving relationships. Make a dedicated effort in your 20s to foster your friendships from the past, be it with high school or college pals. Plan a weekend getaway. Meet each other halfway, wherever you live. It might not happen again for another three or five years, but maybe a couple of days on the sand will be just the thing that gets you gabbing again.
I’ve moved to a new city three times, and I can honestly say each move was one of the most impactful choices I’ve made in my life. Everything is new: your address, your friends, your colleagues (and maybe your job), your habits and activities, your favorite restaurants, your commute, your outlook on life, the weather.
People tell me all the time that I was so brave to move to a city all by myself, but it has been easy. So much easier than it seems. It’s so great it makes me wonder why people don’t do it more often. But it does get harder to meet people as you age, as people get more serious about their commitments, so your 20s are the time do it. And remember: You can always move back. Many do.
We are not all musically adept. At this point, you’ve probably tried to play an instrument sometime in your life, and if that wasn’t The One, maybe there’s another one out there for you. Maybe piano is too advanced for you, but surely you can pull off the tambourine. Playing music taps into underused regions of your brain and lifts your spirits. Plus, you’ll be the life of every party when you surprise people with your harmonica skills.
Some people are adventurers, and they’ll forever be hiking into dark jungles and scaling unscaled mountains. But there’s only one way to find out if you are. Give yourself a taste of the outdoors. Go stay in a small town with no cell reception. Camp on a remote beach for two weeks. If you discover that you’re a cities-and-hotels kind of explorer after all, at least you can say you did it when. Most likely, you’ll learn that you love a little bit of both, and you’ll open up a whole new world of travel for yourself.
If you drink, one of the longest relationships you may have in your life is with wine. I was lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, where I had great exposure to wineries, vintners, sommeliers, and wine-world insiders of all sorts. I’m certainly not an expert, but I did soak up a lot of wine knowledge that honestly just makes every meal better. It’s not about getting a buzz, but appreciating all of the flavors of what you’re eating and drinking more. Why anyone would waste any time not learning at least the basics of wine baffles me. Do it now and look forward to a life full of happy hours!
Remember how Mom always talks about that fantastic suede trench coat she wore in the ’70s? Or that vintage Liberty of London scarf she has somewhere? She’s been hoarding it for years hoping you would wear it one day, and the window is closing. You won’t fit in it forever (she didn’t), and the trend may likely only come around again once, so go raid Mom’s closet and rock those looks while you can. She’ll be so excited to see you wearing her pieces, and it will make all her great memories come rushing back.
If you haven’t discovered the magic that is Ancestry.com, do it now. Genealogy might sound like a dorky word, but it’s cool in conversation to know the history of your clan. More importantly, your grandparents, aunts, and uncles won’t be around forever, so now is the time to ask them all the questions you have about your family history. Record your conversations and take notes and photos. And more importantly, don’t just ask the questions you have, but start digging into old photos and records because more questions will arise, and eventually, it will be too late to ask.
What do you care about? Is it planting urban trees? Is it children? Is it animals? Is it clean water? Is it healthy eating? All the above? Find your cause and devote yourself to it. Doing good is always a good thing for others, but devoting yourself to a cause is also good for your soul and your sanity; it’s so inspiring to have an interest and a project outside of work and your social life.
Figure out what your thing is and throw a fundraiser. It will allow you to exercise your skills in new ways, and it will introduce you to new people. It will teach you how to manage your time better, to network, to negotiate, to ask for money, to delegate, to be creative, and to wear many hats. Throwing a fundraiser is like business boot camp, and doing it in your 20s will give you not only new skills but also confidence that will improve every facet of your life.
Life doesn’t always stack the deck in your favor, especially when you’re applying for jobs with little experience under your belt. But at some point in your 20s, work for someone you admire. Make that your goal. It doesn’t have to be your immediate boss. Maybe it’s your CEO or someone your volunteer with or even shadow temporarily. But put yourself near them and learn everything you can from them. Doing so will get the wheels turning and tap into new synapses in your brain. If you’re lucky, it may give you your big idea, but if not, it will give you some of the skills you need to achieve your big idea, which is very big in and of itself.
Children look up to you. They are magically drawn to 20-somethings. You are undeniably cool, and as soon as you hit 30, you won’t be as cool. Kids admire you, so do them a favor and spend some time with them. Let them enjoy your amazing sense of humor, your style, your tech savvy, and your inside edge. They will make you grin from ear to ear, and they’ll remind you that life doesn’t have to be so serious. Their naïvety and positivity will make you appreciate the beauty in the little things.
I’m not condoning throwing your money away, but there will be a time in your life when you enter a casino, whether it’s in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, or a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Knowing how to play something besides the slots will keep you connected, entertain you, and stimulate your brain. Blackjack is a good place to start. At the very least, learn to play Liar’s Poker—that only costs a buck, and it’s an idle game you can play when you’re sitting in traffic on a road trip.
The thing about collections is that they only get better with age. They take time. Start young, and you’ll have one hell of a stockpile in the next decade. I don’t recommend kitschy figurines, but matchbooks, records, art, tablecloths, and the like will certainly lend an air of cool to your home.
Whether you’re a Le Cordon Bleu chef or you’re still eating Annie’s mac ’n’ cheese, there’s always room for improvement in the kitchen. In your 30s and later, there will undoubtedly come a time when you’re forced to entertain, so start polishing those culinary skills now, and you’ll be a star soon enough. Need some inspiration? Here are some important recipes you should master by 30.
America the Beautiful is a big, wide place. There’s certainly more to see than you could have covered in your 20-some-odd years, so hit the trail and explore a new American city you haven’t seen before. The local currency and short travel distance will be easy on your young and underdeveloped wallet.
Learning a new language is not an easy thing to do, but exercising your existing language skills is certainly something you can accomplish. Did you take three years of French in high school? Did you study abroad in Spain during college? Head to the French West Indies for a long weekend and strike up a conversation with the locals, or pony up to the French wine bar in your city and order a glass of Sancerre and a cheese plate in the native tongue of your bartender. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it, so see if you’ve still got it.
Travel is expensive and time-consuming, but it’s one of the most fulfilling experiences you can have. Sometime before you’re 30, grab a pal and head somewhere that’s nothing like home—major metropolitan cities like London and Paris don’t count. Expand your horizons, and your mind will be widened by the exposure to new customs, languages, and landscapes.
You’ll always be beautiful, but you’ll never be as young as you are now. (Trust me—crow’s feet are real, and they will blindside before you know it.) Have your portrait taken—anyone with a quality DSLR can do it—and capture your youth while you have it. An orchestrated portrait session isn’t necessary: Just be yourself and allow someone to snap you in a content moment.
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