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8 Career-Defining Moves To Make In Your 20s

Claim your twenties!

Your twenties are awesome. They’re your ‘selfish years’, your ‘no-strings-attached’ years – for most of us, it's the only time in our lives when we have no mortgage, no little ones, and no one to answer to but ourselves.

Your twenties can be as boozy, carefree and directionless as you make them. Because, like everyone says, ‘You’re only in your twenties. You’ve got plenty of time to figure things out!’

Actually, not really.

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay, who specialises in twentysomethings, says that our culture has ‘trivialised the defining period of adulthood.’ In her provocative TedTalk, she argues that 30 is not the new 20:

‘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 explains.

Think about it. Milestones like graduating from uni, getting your first ‘real’ job, travelling overseas, meeting your life partner, getting married, buying a house, having children – most of these things happen before you hit 35.

And what’s even scarier to hear is that ‘the first 10 years of a career has an exponential impact on how much money you’re going to earn,’ Jay says in reference to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that found the bulk of earnings growth happens in the first decade of your career

So, millennials and Gen Z, wake the hell up!

Your twenties are not a throwaway decade. They shouldn't be considered an extended adolescence. They’re potentially the most transformative – and defining – years of your adulthood, and a critical set-up period for later life. Do. Not. Waste. Them.

‘Twentysomethings deserve to know what psychologists, sociologists, neurologists and fertility specialists already know: that claiming your 20s is one of the simplest, yet most transformative, things you can do for work, for love, for your happiness,’ Jay says.

So, how do you conquer your twenties? Here are 8 career-winning moves you should make in your twenties to slay it in later life.

1. Explore, explore, explore (with a purpose) 

Make a point to do as much purposeful exploring and experimenting as possible

Hang on, what?! You just said not to waste my twenties!

While it’s true that you might not have a lot of ‘real’ responsibilities yet, – your one obligation is to explore and experiment.

But you’ve got to make it count. (Otherwise it’s called procrastinating).

Jay calls this exploration accruing ‘identity capital’ – doing things that add value to who you are, and is an investment in who you want to become.

Make sure that you’re always asking yourself: is my job, hobby, or travel making me smarter, more experienced or more interesting? You need to make sure that these things help you become the person you want to be.

These are, after all, your ‘selfish years’. Use them to define your sense of self!

2. Actually do stuff

Actually follow through and do stuff

Don’t talk about doing it. Don’t think about doing it. Do it.

Move fast and break stuff.

‘You don’t learn to walk by following rules,’ says Richard Branson. ‘You learn by doing and by falling over.’

So, if you want to be world’s greatest Pokemon master, then what are you doing watching Netflix all day? Get off your butt and go catch some Pokemon! See if it is your destiny.

If it’s just not ‘you’, that’s awesome too! You haven’t wasted time wondering and dreaming about it. Just move onto the next thing.

3. Find things that fire you up!

Get fired up

As you start to rack up some serious identity capital, it increases your chances of stumbling upon the good stuff in life – what you’re really passionate about.

Big data, scriptwriting, football, start-ups, fighting terrorism, baking droolworthy macarons, teaching the next generation of young minds – whatever it is, make it your mission to find things that mesmerise you, outrage you, intrigue you, and fire you up.

By doing this you’ll start having those spine-tingling ‘Aha!’ moments about what you value in a career (and life), and suddenly the whole ‘what do you want to do with your life’ question becomes less like an interrogation, and more like an opportunity.

‘Doing what you love’ isn’t the only thing that contributes to a satisfying job, but knowing what you do love means that you’re one step closer to figuring out what your dream career is. 

4. Take risks, make sacrifices 

Take risks and make sacrifices!

Why? Because you don’t achieve your dreams by playing it safe.

And your twenties (when chances are, you’ve got only yourself to answer to) are the perfect time to take a career gamble, and make a truckload of sacrifices.

Like Mark Zuckerberg says, ‘The biggest risk is not taking any risk… in a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.’

That internship with the United Nations you’ve always wanted to apply for – Go for it.

That zero-pay job your friend’s start-up offered you that you can’t stop thinking about – Take it.

That audition your boyfriend just tagged you in this morning – Head to it.

Living out of a suitcase, surviving paycheck to paycheck, and subsisting on a diet of mi goreng and baked beans – there’s no better time to make these sacrifices in the name of success!

Only the twentysomething version of yourself will be able to put up with the unglamorous reality of ‘making your dreams come true’. So make the most if it! 

5. Set goals (and write them down!)

Set yourself some goals

Goals are for lame control freaks and I’m too cool for that anyway.

If that’s what you think then you’re probably ‘too cool’ to care about succeeding at anything too. Because goals are awesome. They set up expectations, force you to follow through, and give you a roadmap to stop you from aimlessly wandering through life. They help you gauge how close (or far) you are from success, and are fantastic for those ‘what am I even doing with my life’ meltdowns you’re bound to have at some stage (like just before you blow out all thirty candles on your birthday cake!).

And don’t just think about what your goals are; commit them to pen and paper!

Studies show that when you write down goals, you’re more likely to achieve them.

Just remember that the overarching aim of your twenties isn’t to find a career you love, it’s to get started as soon as possible in a career you love.

6. Get it together

Get it together!

Leaving things to the last minute, rocking up late to class, and throwing on whatever smells clean from your floorobe might have gotten you through uni, but it just won’t cut it once you transition from uni life to work life.

What used to be equal parts endearing and exasperating about your teenage self looks downright sloppy and unprofessional in the world of ‘real’ work.

So get yourself together!

This means sorting out your career wardrobe and dressing appropriately for the office, getting serious about being organised and managing your time, and knowing the dos and don’ts of office etiquette.

And for god’s sake, clean up your social media footprint! Tighten privacy settings on any personal accounts, and remove anything you wouldn’t want your mum seeing – because chances if you don’t want her to see it, you wouldn’t want a future colleague, investor, client or boss seeing it either. 

7. Nab yourself a kickass mentor 

the force Alec Guinness star wars luke skywalker mark hamill

Luke had Obi-Wan, Mark Zuckerberg had Steve Jobs, Lena Durham had Judd Apatow, and The Biebs had Usher – everybody needs an awesome mentor.

Mentors have literally ‘been there, done that’, and are a trusted adviser you can turn to for all things career-related. They’re there for guidance, support and invaluable industry access, knowledge and contacts to help take your career to the next level.

So once you’ve figured out what you want to do with your life (or if you need help figuring it out), find yourself a kickass mentor

8. Become awesome at receiving feedback 

Nobody is born amazing. Well, nobody except for Beyoncé that is.

For the rest of us, we’re born with an inkling of talent, and hone this over the course of our lives. And the only way to get better is by being honest about how good you really are, being open to feedback, and working on your weaknesses.

One of the best things you can do in your twenties is mastering the art of receiving feedback.

Critique isn’t a personal attack on you as a person; it’s an invaluable gift for your career and professional self. If your manager or mentor takes time out of their busy schedule to help you identify what your weaknesses are, then listen up! Feedback is a gift. Learn how to listen with an open mind, and take any feedback you get as a chance for self-improvement.

Don’t throw away your twenties and meander through life, hoping that stuff will work itself out. Use these career-winning moves to conquer your twenties and set your career up for later life! 

Want to know how to slay it in your 30s? Here are 8 career-defining goals you should tick off in your thirties

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