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For some reason, school doesn’t always teach us the life skills we actually need in our twenties.

We go through college, often spending a small fortune for an education, and leave feeling completely unprepared. 

Maybe we need a new kind of education once we hit our twenties. A strategic, big-picture plan on how to succeed truly and authentically in a decade that feels ripe with un-success. 

After 10 years of writing, researching, speaking at universities and having two books published all on what it truly means to be successful in your twenties, here are some truths I believe will help us all get on the right track—even if we’ve ungracefully fallen off of it. 

And while yes, this advice can apply to anyone, our twenties are setting the direction for the rest of our lives, so it’s crucial we point our boat in the right direction now, or risk sailing around in circles in some New Jersey harbor.

1. Learn When to Say Yes or No 

Successful people have mastered self-control in the small—the skill of saying no and yes at the right time to the right or wrong things.

It’s not complex. It’s simply trusting your gut and having the strength to follow its lead. 

It could be as simple as consistently saying yes to going to bed at the right time. Saying no to that next round of drinks. Saying yes to the lunch with a friend of your parents, even though it’s bound to be awkward. Saying no to the relationship that’s about as healthy as sipping motor oil. Saying yes to reading and exercise. Saying no to office birthday cake.

It’s not just praying for wisdom and direction in the big, life-altering events. It’s living a life of prayer, letting God’s Spirit speak within the daily doses of “groan” up life, and then honing your ability to hear what He’s actually saying. It’s not just stopping your day to pray. Its living your day in honest conversation with Him.

2. Practice Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a crucial, underrated skill. Not an obsession of self, but a daily, deepening understanding of who you are and who you’re not. 

God is a master chef, using specific ingredients, with strategic amounts, to create in you a flavor that no one else can bring. You have a unique Signature Sauce and the more you define, refine, own and hone what it is, the more you’ll be living intentionally with passion, purpose and meaning.

You have a Signature Sauce that God wants you to serve to the world. It just takes some honest, hard, intentional reflection and countless failed experiments to find out what it is. 

3. Use Social Media Responsibly

Drinking responsibly is life-savingly important. Doing social media responsibly is reputation-savingly important.

Are you presenting an authentic, positive image of yourself online? Or are you the purveyor of these Facebook updates that need to stop happening?

4. Mentor and be Mentored

Twentysomethings should continually be learning to learn and learning to teach.

As I write in 101 Secrets for your Twenties:

“[We can’t] be smothered in Twentysomething. We need to sweeten our lives with some Generational Potpourri–a collection of age ranges with different backgrounds and experiences to spice up our lives.”

I don’t think there are a lack of mentors for twentysomethings. I think there are a lack of twentysomethings who are actively seeking mentors.

Maybe it’s pride or a lack of time that’s holding us back from seeking help, but I think the real obstacle is fear.

Maybe it’s a fear of being rejected. Or a fear of commitment. I think most likely, it’s a fear of someone shining a light on all the stuff we’ve been hiding and challenging us to do something about it.

Don’t hide your crap. It will just keep smelling up your house. 

5. Invest Your Time with Purpose

One of the biggest advantages twentysomethings have is time. And every day, you have a choice: Will I invest my time in things that build or things that destroy?

How wisely do you invest your time, energy and creativity in things that will produce high returns?

Do you deposit your time in things that will produce value? Or continually make withdrawals of time and spend it on things that will never pay it back? (For example: taking career classes vs. spiraling down the Netflix vortex of no return.)

How you leverage your time now will be the key to your success later.

6. Learn to Work a Lousy Job

Lousy jobs are a twentysomething rite of passage.

But sometimes we can learn the most in the jobs we like the least. Don’t worry so much about working in the wrong job. Worry about your job getting the wrong you.

Every job, no matter how terrible, has something to teach. What skills can be gained now that you can leverage later?

7. Figure Out How to Fail Well

Many twentysomethings have experienced an epidemic of success growing up. We received awards, accolades, and most importantly, immediate feedback on how we we’re doing (most of which was overwhelmingly positive).

After college, immediate feedback is gone, trophies are packed away in your parent’s attic and tangible success becomes a fairy tale of the past.

Twentysomethings must learn to fail well—to fail without calling yourself a failure.

To fail is human. To become a failure is deadly.

8. Know When to Stay and When to Leave

Knowing when one season is over and one is ready to begin is a crucial skill many of us spend years perfecting.

There are miserable thirty and fortysomethings in jobs they stopped caring about a decade ago—and it shows all over their work.

Then you have twentysomethings jumping from ship to ship before it even heads out to sea.

As I write in my book All Groan Up: Searching For Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job!, “Life is lived in overlapping seasons and cycles for us to recognize and act accordingly. Instead of dreading the season we’re in, we should be thankful for it. We should sink deep into it and ask ourselves and God what we should be doing in this season.” 

Read the signs, ask for advice and know when it’s time to go, time to stay, time to work in a cubicle, and maybe time to light it on fire (metaphorically, of course).

This article first appeared at AllGroanUp.com and is used here with permission.

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