28 Tips for 20-Somethings to Own Their Future

My cousin, 28, is a rising star in the media world. As she evaluates job opportunities that have been recently presented to her, I was reminded of a similar opportunity that was presented to me at a similar pivot point more than 15 years ago. Both roles require(d) a physical move, advancement, more responsibility, a new trajectory, and for her, a new company. Will she stay? Will she go? Will she look back on her choices and vividly appreciate the implications? Will she set something in motion that benefits her future? Will she hesitate? Will her decision change her course or even matter?

I passed on the opportunity presented to me all those years ago. You might assume I regret it, but I don’t. You might assume I knew for sure, but I didn’t. It was a difficult decision and while I don’t regret it, I did over-estimate how frequently such opportunities would come. I wish I would have known that at 28-years-old. Here’s what else I wish I would have known then…

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contemplating a move

1. Life goes fast, and I’d hate for it to pass you by. Opportunities are rare and what feels intimidating now might be impossible later.

2. There will always be trade-offs. Some will be more heartbreaking than others. Decide, pick a direction, trust yourself to know.

3. Opportunities are not only rare, they often come before you’re ready. If you aren’t being presented opportunities, that may be a nudge from the Universe to find a new path. If you are, rise to meet them and grow into your shoes. If you do decide to pass, let it be because you are holding a different vision for yourself not because you are scared. Choose progress even if you don’t fully understand where it will lead.

4. When you’re young, you’re more likely to be healthy, to have time, to be unencumbered, to be singularly focused on your career. Capitalize on that stage. It’s not that those traits absolutely change over time, but other things can become distracting or take precedent. Go big early.

5. Figure out what motivates you, what lights you up, and thrive. Own your youth, build momentum, and use your career as a means of discovery. You can do this anytime, no doubt about it, but it’s simpler when you’re young. Use youthfulness to your advantage.

6. Make some money, challenge yourself, build your skills, build your network, build your resume. Grow. Learn from others. Be kind. Don’t burn bridges. Take care of your health. Take care of your money. Buy life insurance. Don’t wait for life to happen.

7. You can be happy anywhere, but some cities are beautiful, vibrant, amazing — “great cities” for a reason. If there’s a city that’s calling you, try it on for size. Strive to see enough of the world to appreciate your options and validate your choices. Don’t stay unless it’s right for you.

8. You should absolutely love where you’re at, and if you don’t, go somewhere else. Explore, find your place. You can always choose somewhere new and you can always go home. Be inspired, not intimidated, by the world.

9. Speaking of that, as you evaluate promotions, opportunities, or change, know what’s really keeping you where you are. Is it a house? A boyfriend? A pet? Familiarity? Comfort? Convenience? Fear? A location is more than just a location. It’s your network, your outlook, your inspiration, your motivation, your satisfaction. There are always trade-offs, so choose bravely, not conveniently. Your location should reflect your values and goals.

10. Make a 2-, 3-, 5-, 10-year plan and let it be your compass, not your playbook. Life will intervene, inevitably you’ll change, the industry will shift, the leadership you once admired will move on. Any number of things can happen so re-evaluate often and know your end-goal.

11. Don’t forget to be happy and healthy along the way. If you make consistent progress toward your goals, live your values, and keep your future in mind, even when your short-term goals are seemingly contradictory, you have a very good shot at getting what you want long-term. For example, having a family, living debt-free, and traveling the world can be priorities no matter where your career takes you.

12. 20–30 and 30–40 are prime earning years for women. Our incomes often become stagnant or decline after 40. So get it girl! Make as much money as you can as fast as you can and take care of it from the get-go. Your 401k and real estate are relatively safe bets and nearly appreciate as fast as your career. Compounding interest can change your life. As you earn more, learn more, so let that be your mantra.

13. Accordingly, set financial goals that correspond with your career and life goals. You don’t need Bobby Axelrod money and you can’t live on love, so figure out your somewhere-in-the-middle number, stick to a budget, save a lot (probably more than you’re thinking), and beware of lifestyle creep. Stuff is just stuff. Spend on experiences and give generously. Strive to be debt-free before 30 and make it a lifelong commitment.

14. Talk to your girlfriends, family, peers, and colleagues (discreetly) about salary, benefits, and compensation. Communicating about money is not taboo, it’s especially relevant for women. Having perspective will help you negotiate, discover if you’re undervalued, level the playing field, create more realistic goals, and diffuse the emotional component of earning. You’re smart, savvy, and marketable, so know your worth.

15. Know that how you contribute and how you earn might change over time, that (someday) you and your husband might rotate who is the breadwinner in your family, that careers and incomes are rarely linear and don’t always follow a growth curve. All of it might ebb and flow, flourish and decline, circumstantially and/or by design. The more you know, the more experiences you’ve had and skills you’ve cultivated, the bigger your network, the more options you’ll have, and options are good.

16. Connect broadly inside and outside of your industry. You don’t have to have a Plan B (there’s power in fully committing) but make time to read, learn, and pursue your passions and instincts so you don’t get tunnel-vision. Keep your resume and LinkedIn profile current, stay involved in your career and in your industry, and continuously up the ante. Then when it is time for Plan B, you’ll be excited about your potential rather than restricted by your past. Your future self will appreciate your range and curiosity.

17. Life is and will continue to be more complicated for women. It will cost more, it will be more volatile, it isn’t equal, and (perceived and actual) safety is always an issue…personally, professionally, with regards to your responsibility in #metoo, protecting your self-worth especially as you age, your children’s safety, etc. Embrace your reality and strive to make life better for all women.

18. Try not to let it get you down that men in the same or similar positions make more money than you. It sucks, it’s true. Honestly, it’s a stupid f*cking outdated notion that undermines our families and economies, but it will change for the better. In the meantime, negotiate fearlessly but gratefully, with real data and performance trends to support your position. Hire women, promote women, train women, encourage women. Make it right when you can, for yourself, your subordinates, at every opportunity you can be influential.

19. Which reminds me, if you get married and have children, at some point everything that seems important right now will possibly mean less. Even if you are a strong independent capable woman who is only vaguely interested in dating who hasn’t decided if you want kids someday, just know your prime earning years are also your prime engaged-married-pregnant-3 kids-and-a-dog years. It’s not absolute and it’s not inevitable, but it’s true for many women. Even if you can’t see it on the horizon, know that everything will change.

20. If you press on the gas or jump out of the race, temporarily or permanently, that’s a choice with implications. If I were addressing my 28-year-old self, I would have emphasized this point. If you think you want to have kids, at any time, be strategically riskier earlier in your career. Be bolder, climb faster, experience different paths to know yourself, to know life, and possibly even prevent regrets. Motherhood doesn’t necessarily derail your career, but it does reframe it, heighten your senses, and complicate everything.

21. And if you think that adulting is hard or life moves fast now…if you think owning a home is tying you down or whatever it is that is holding you back, kids are infinitely more tethering. Don’t be scared (because it’s wonderful beyond description), anticipate it. And, don’t count on having time, because time is tricky.

22. And one more thing about that. Kids are undeniably a gamechanger, but do you know what is even more important? Who you marry. Who you marry will dictate your career, your location, your healthy, your happiness, your ability to achieve your goals. Who you marry is the single biggest indicator of your future success.

23. With that, maximize your career. At each stage, each opportunity, with each relationship, dive in, make the most of it. You may not have the bandwidth later, it may not have the same relevance later, and although the future as I’m describing it may sounds limiting, it will be liberating. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve created a path that serves you, each stage will be great for what it is while you are in it, and will also begin to stack up, to create a richer meaning, a clearer picture. You’ll find that the clarity brings simplicity, significance, and focus. It will compound and have exponential meaning too. Make good choices and let your good choices lead you to something even greater.

24. When I think back to 28, I see a girl who wanted to take on the world but my ambitions were almost entirely focused on myself, my career, and my goals (which is ok) but as my perspective has transformed, I’m increasingly focused on what I can I do for others, how can I help, motivate, support, meaningfully connect, and advance causes that are important to me to drive progress. Over the years, I’ve found that my way to impact the world is to ferociously love my family, to model authenticity, to prioritize creating and building over earning, to invest in the future, and to improve every day. My way doesn’t have to be your way. Your career and your way can be whatever you want it to be. Find your own way.

25. But also, try to get out of your head sometimes and find others who want what you want or have been where you’re going. Find a mentor or coach who not only paves your way but also offers insights you may not have discovered on your own.

26. If I could re-live my career, I would have dabbled more, pursued my passions more doggedly, pushed myself more, listened more to my callings and instincts, focused less on comfort. I was so sure at various stages…and then I wasn’t. And when I didn’t initiate risk, it came anyway, and in those times of uncertainty, things changed which is pretty obvious I guess, but whether it was for better or worse, that’s where the growth happened. That’s a biggie, focus less on comfort and don’t resist change.

27. Finally, a career is a big deal but it’s also just a career. Recognize that there are a million ways to earn money, just as there are a million ways to live a life. Your choices are yours, but if you are happy, healthy, smart, and savvy (and you are), you got this. No matter what you choose, it will all work out; or it won’t, but it’s not defining either way.

28. Good luck with your decision. Don’t take it too seriously. Yes, it took me 28 ways to say that. Keep it all in perspective and trust yourself. You’re pretty amazing. You got this.

Written by

Life coach for women. Writer for 29 publications. Happiness, success, productivity, balance, leadership, inspiration. Follow me on Instagram @coachformoms.

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