2. Science says we’re alright. Take comfort from this excerpt from Dr. Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health in The Wall Street Journal: “The fact that the brain stays unfinished during early adulthood ‘is the best thing that ever happened to humans’ because it allows us to adapt to changing environments […]. We can figure out what kind of world we live in and what we need to be really good at.” Translation: it’s scientifically okay to not have everything figured out.
3. You are not yet old enough to get hangovers that slam into you like a ton of bricks, but you are not so young that you think it’s cool to knock back enough liquor to stun a palomino.
4. Other people expect 20-somethings to be messy. They expect us to be sloppy and awkward and gangly because in their hearts, they know they were, too. There is freedom in that expectation. It means the only bars we truly have to jump over are our own.
5. Chances are good you don’t have a mortgage or a spouse; you have a roommate. And you can change your roommate and change your apartment and even change neighborhoods and cities if you want to.
6. It’s never been more socially acceptable to be unmarried. In the 1960’s, the average marriage age for women in the U.S. was 20 years old. Now, it’s roughly 26 for women and 29 for men. We can flirt with whom we want and date who we want and sleep with who we want without worrying that this may be the person we wake up next to for the rest of our lives.
7. On that note, your body’s fertility peaks in your mid-20s, which was probably designed by nature to encourage you to have kids, so even if you’re not ready to have a family, you might as well do evolution a favor and practice.
8. You’re not old enough yet to have forgotten that you can still learn. Our brains do the bulk of their growing in our teens, but they haven’t quite settled yet. You just spent at least 17 years of your life, from kindergarten onward, learning as much as you could. And it would be a shame to stop learning after you’ve invested all that time.
9. Your parents will still want to help you. A study recently found that “American parents give an average of 10 percent of their income to their 18- to 21-year-old children.” If we’re lucky enough to have financial, or even just emotional support, it might just be the vouch of confidence we need to take a risk.
10. Your body is at its physical best between 25 and 30. Your skin has yet to sag, your hair will grow back, your muscles have yet to atrophy, and your bones have yet to ache. Move your body how you want to move it and decorate it how you see fit. It will be forgiving.
11. Sometimes it takes a fling with someone to figure out what you don’t want, and there are studies that argue that that strategy is just fine. They are, in a lot of ways, what a test-drive is to the car buying process. And if you don’t like the way the thing drives, it helps eliminate the other details that put the car in the running in the first place. You don’t want to be stuck with a lemon, after all.
12. When those flings go sour, be thankful we grew up in a culture of people who don’t know other people’s phone numbers. We have them saved into our phones, and if you decide to delete somebody from your phone, they’re gone from your memory. It’s that easy to start anew.
13. TRAVELING. You’re old enough to explore the world and know what you’re doing, but still young enough to recognize that there is so much more to discover. If you want to travel the world, it’s never been easier. You have no other obligations. You can just go and get lost in the culture. Nothing is quite like saving up months of waitressing tips to spend a summer in Thailand, sleeping in bunk beds filled with rowdy Australians, and deciding where to go next at a moment’s notice.
14. With the memory of college or high school still fresh in your mind, you know what it’s like to be handed assignments you don’t want to do. You’re tough and can handle them, but now, for the first time, you have more control over how you spend your time. If you hate your job, be constantly on the look out for a new one.
15. You are your own greatest experiment. Today’s 20-somethings have started a movement scientists call “emerging adulthood.” We’re figuring it out as we go. Even if you make a mistake, you can fix it, whether by yourself or if you ask for someone’s help (which, sometimes, is the most adult thing you can do).
16. You will find your voice in your 20s, and “Yes” will sound so good the more you say it out loud. When you shout it, even. From rooftops. You have not yet been told “No” enough times to actually listen to it. Even if you have, there is such a heady rush in being able to vote and buy your own alcohol and make your own choices that you won’t listen anyway.
17. In your 20s, you get to define your own family. You are no longer beholden to family members who might have treated you poorly. You are your own person, and you will create your own tribe of acquaintances and friends and lovers who will in turn become your family.
18. You know how to save in ways that other people might find beneath them. You will collect your change and eat canned beans and spend your Saturday nights babysitting, and sometimes you’ll pool that extra money and put it towards rent, and sometimes you’ll put it towards a new TV even though your old one worked just as well. But it will still belong to you.
19. There is a certain rush that comes with the first time you buy something not because you need it, but because you simply want it and can actually afford it. There are real benefits to splurging. Make that first big purchase in your 20s, and savor it.
20. Sometimes the dirty work is the most fun. It may suck sometimes to lay the foundation and put in the hard work that sets you up for doing what you want, but you get to be creative when you’re working with the basics. Remember what it was like to splash around in puddles as a kid.Make that kind of a splash in your own life.
21. 20-somethings are masters at selective hearing. You’ve developed a tough enough skin to let unnecessary criticism roll off your back, but you’re still open and vulnerable enough to listen to the constructive help that’s coming from a good place.
22. Not knowing who you are is terrifying, but that fear is a healthy one. It helps you take risks, but it will also make you hungry. Let that motivate you.
23. You’re still paying your dues, and probably haven’t climbed very far up any specific ladder, so take a running leap. Risks are good for you. If you fall, you won’t have a long way to hit the ground, and chances are much better that you’ll land on your own two feet.
24. A job with a paycheck is still a perfectly respectable job. No matter what people say, there is nothing wrong with working at a coffee shop, or as a bartender, or working retail. Whether you’re buying time to figure out what you want to do, toiling away on your off-hours to make your dreams come true, or truly like where you are in that time and place, take pride in knowing that you’re still proactively making your ends meet somehow.
25. Everyone needs that one truly nutty story to tell their grandkids, or to turn into a movie one day. You have years to refine the details, and the rest of your life to sell that manuscript, but write the framework to the story now.
26. Your 20s are a time for resilience. You may be living on your own for the first time, and have just barely managed to take care of yourself, but that is, in large part, because you are resilient and bounce off bad ideas like rubber. Bounce off a few more while you’re at it. Do it because it’s fun.
27. Debt will always be there…so there’s no use feeling miserable about it. We all have debt, meaning we’re all in this together. But we still have our youth, which is priceless. Learn to be responsible, and pay your bills and your dues, but save some money for memories that you can only make now when you’re young.
28. You can still suck at stuff. You can be gloriously god-awful at stuff, but that’s okay. Make mistakes. You have years to get better, and years to refine whatever it is that you want to do. The fact is that you were brave enough to start, even if other people might have said that it was too late. They’re wrong. There is no such thing as too late. Ever.
29. A huge chunk of your 20s is not knowing, and being unsure, and not having everything figured out but working to figure that out. That’s the point of your 20s, and admitting that you don’t know is the first step in figuring it out. Admitting that you’re not sure what you want to do means you suddenly can do anything and everything. And you have to start somewhere, so you might as well start now.
30. Some times will be euphoric and some will be horrendous, but they will all teach you something. There are too many people to kiss in this world to waste a minute of your time worrying. (Literally, there are over 103 million unmarried adults in America).There are also too many sunrises you should see unfold, too many friends for whom you should drop everything and visit, and too many moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life.