We’ve been called pre-adults, emerging adults, millennials, and the lost decade. We’re told that our 20s are crucial for development and that 80 percent of life’s most significant events take place by age 35. Women face an uphill battle in corporate America; we only make between .66 to .91 cents to every man’s $1 and hold a mere 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. To change these statistics, we should “Lean In,” ask for raises without apology or fear, and perhaps choose husbands while still in college.
It can be hard to figure out what you should and shouldn’t do when starting your career or navigating adulthood in general. Just look at how popular “20 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make” listicles are! We’re all just looking for some guidance.
I moved to New York a few years ago to follow my dreams, but I quickly realized that it cost a lot of money to live there. I spent most days eating ramen noodles and canned beans because I couldn’t afford anything else. Working from home also meant that I was isolated from the outside world because who could afford to go out for drinks when they were $14 each? Even though people told me they believed in me, I felt like a failure. But then I realized that my experience wasn’t unusual for someone in their twenties.
Although I was unsure of what I wanted to do, I knew the person that I aspired to become. So, emulating others who had found success, both professionally and personally, became my focus. If you are currently questioning your ability to find a career or life fulfillment in your twenties, read on for ten pieces of advice from female leaders who have made a significant impact and imparted their secrets to me…
- Have a vision.
You won’t end up where you want to be in life if you don’t know where that is. allow yourself to dream and think about the sort of life you want to build, then write it down. Doing so will help increase your awareness so you can take advantage of opportunities as they come your way. Here’s some great advice from an executive coach, strategist, and writer Cherylyn Harley LeBon:
“View your life in decades and think about what you would like to accomplish in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and plan accordingly. This applies to your personal or professional life. For example, if you would like to be married in your 30’s with children, then make smart decisions about your dating life, take care of your health, and put yourself in a position to meet a responsible life partner. If you think you would like to eventually have your own business, make sure you’re developing overall entrepreneurial skills and building your network. Visualize how and where you’d like to be in the future and your 20’s will be much more productive and enjoyable.”
- Start before you’re ready.
20-somethings face unique pressures at work, especially women. We often feel like we have to be perfect and do everything right, but this paralyzes us from taking steps toward our goals. Instead of striving for perfection, allow yourself to create, discover, and get messy. Experiment with different vocations and explore the ones you take pleasure in or discover hidden talents. Create a list as a reference of these passions and keep growing it. Embrace risks by taking on jobs that scare you, this will help develop confidence outside your comfort zone. most importantly- Start before self-doubt tells you that you’re not ready yet.
- Be intentional.
Time is a precious commodity that we need to use carefully. As Gabrielle Jackson, President and Millennial Strategist at The Millennial Solution shared with me, “We think things are just ‘going to happen’ whether it’s a raise at work, fulfillment in relationships, or even that pile of laundry we’ve been putting off. You can’t procrastinate in your own life. Your 20’s are your time to take risks and start a business, learn a new language, try a different career and build the life that you want. Show up for your own success. When you hit 30, you won’t be wondering where your 20’s went, you will be excited about where your 30’s will go.” Your 20s are a time to be enjoyed, but they’ll fly by before you know it. You’ll be grateful for taking the time to think through your decisions now.
- Choose a role model.
Women have more opportunities available to them than in the past, which has led some women to develop multiple passions. While it’s great and permissible to have multiple passions, make concrete choices that help you wind up where you want to be. As a career coach and author of The Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk told me, “To make sure you have attainable goals, identify a woman older than 35 who you want to be. Make sure you’re close enough to her to know what her personal life is like. It’s a package. Then look at the sacrifices that person made to get where she is. Decide if you want to make those sacrifices as well. If not, then pick another role model. Don’t let yourself go through your 20s with no idea where you want to end up.”
- Define your value system.
We get inundated with messages every day about who we’re supposed to be, what we should look like, and what we ought to do from advertising, the media, and even our friends. Our 20s are when we figure out the answers to those questions, “What do I believe and value? How do I want to be remembered? What will be my legacy?” As CEO and Founder of SHE Global Media and SHE Summit, Claudia Chan shared with me, “Start developing and defining the values you want to base your life on. They can be about the kind of relationships you want to have and nurture, to what’s required in the professional opportunities you take, to qualities you want to strengthen.”
[Related: Learn more about what Claudia Chan has to say on her Office Hours segment]
- Learn to budget and save money.
When you first start working after college, it can be exciting to get a real paycheck and immediately spend it on things you want. Budgeting is a skill, and you want there to be more than one zero in your bank account. Saving money gives you the financial freedom to leave a job if necessary, take a dream vacation (you can!), or plan for retirement. As Rebecca Jackson, COO of GoGirl Finance shared with me: “Saving for the future can feel like you’re restricting yourself, but alongside putting funds into a 401k or an IRA (and please do that), consider saving money as a gift to your future self for dreams that are unknown. Savings can be the means by which they unfold.”
- Choose your friends wisely.
It’s essential to have friends who help motivate us to become better versions of ourselves and give back to others. Amy Palmer, Multiple Emmy-nominated TV host, and Founder & CEO of PowerwomenTV told me: “The biggest lesson I learned in my twenties was to look around at the people I was hanging out with. Are they using their time and talents wisely? Have they decided what and who they want to be in life? Your circle of influence defines who you are.” The relationships we make in our 20s often greatly influence the rest of our lives, so it’s important to be selective.
- Build a strategic digital presence.
Everyone is online. Learn how to use the digital tools available, like LinkedIn, to connect and network with potential employers, mentors, and clients. Ask for a recommendation, tweak the language in your executive summary, and invest in professional headshots. This attention to detail can potentially pay lasting dividends, literally. Millennial expert and TV and Radio Talk Show Host, Chelsea Krost, is no stranger to the digital landscape. She says, “Your twenties should be a time where you build your personal brand and network network network. Millennials, Digital Natives, and people in their twenties today have unlimited resources at their fingertips thanks to technology. The time is now to start building a presence online and create a LinkedIn account. Let your twenties be a time where you create, innovate, and collaborate. You never know what relationship or opportunity may lead to something bigger and better! I live by the motto, “It’s always a yes until it’s a no.”
- Know that you’re more than your job.
I often meet people in big cities who ask me “what do you do?”, as if our success and value can be defined by our occupation or salary. However, we all have inherent purpose and value that exists separate from any job title or degree. Amanda Slavin, CEO, and Founder of Catalyst Creativ, completely understood this concept when I spoke to her about it, she said, “It’s easy to rush through life to get as much as you can as quickly as possible. We like to push ourselves to the limit, throw ourselves in the fire, and never think we’re never going to get burnt. But we do. Instead, think about the fact that you’re more than your job. You’re a multifaceted person. Slow down, breathe, and take the time to realize you can create your own happiness in your life, and that doesn’t just mean in your job.”
- Don’t rush.
When you see your friends bragging about working 100 hours a week and then claiming they read Moby Dick before bed as some sort of honor, don’t try to copy them. Sure, it’s admirable to work hard, but you should go off of how you feel and what you’re capable of rather than succumbing to outside pressure. New York Correspondent for E! News Alicia Quarles is familiar with living life in the fast lane, but she said: “So many people in their 20s are in a hurry to get to where they want to be: graduated, established, promoted, in love. Your 20s are a time where it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Don’t be in a rush to be who you’re going to be. Just enjoy being who you are.”
If you’re a Millennial and want to learn more about your personality, make sure to tune into Sally Hogshead on Office Hours!