First things first, most twentysomethings are too hard on themselves.
It’s one of the downsides of a youth-obsessed culture. We tend to think if we haven’t published our first book, planted our first church or gotten married by the time we’re 30, then we’re on the fast track for a lonely, penniless death which will be mourned by none. Sure, some people get famous when they turn 25. Some people also swim across the English Channel.
Your twenties are a prime time to explore and grow, without all the baggage that comes with settling down and making your mark. (Jesus Himself was an unknown carpenter in a reviled corner of Israel until He was 30.)
That said, there are a few things every twentysomething should know how to do.
1. Make a Great Breakfast
Ideally, you should be able to craft a great meal for any occasion, but this is the most important meal of the day and so, it’s the one you should have down. Use real butter, large eggs, fresh mushrooms, cheese, whatever, but know the ins and outs and invite a lot of people over to eat it with you regularly.
2. Argue Kindly
An increasingly rare trait, but you’ll be better for it. Learn how to have your own opinions (and make sure they’re actually yours—not just something you “heard somewhere”) and how to put them firmly and politely, in a way that invites spirited conversation. It’s a rare and wonderful thing.
3. Hold a Conversation With Someone of Any Age
Whether the person you’re talking to is eight or 80, you should be able to hold a meaningful, intentional conversation with them. Remember to ask a lot of questions, be more interested in who they are than in who you are, and strive to make their day.
4. Parallel Park
Nothing menial about it, and not nearly as hard as it looks. Practice a little. Become an expert. Dazzle your friends.
5. Defend Your Media Choices
Whether you like Kendrick, Kings of Leon or Ke$ha, you should be able to articulate why. The media we consume affects us, and you should be able to explain to yourself why you’re listening, watching and reading the things that you are.
6. Limit Your Online Life
This cannot be over-emphasized. The inability to manage an online presence has toppled promising careers and made fools out of otherwise competent individuals. You should have a good grip on how often you use social media and what you’re using it for. If you find most of your free time spent on the Internet, it’s time to make some choices. If you’re checking your phone at every awkward pause, delete that Facebook app.
7. Approach a Stranger
Whether it’s for directions, a favor or even just to pass the time on an airplane, knowing how to strike up a conversation out of the blue is a marvelous skill. Ask them questions (don’t lead with information about yourself), be approachable (not aggressive) and look for clues that they’d rather be left alone.
8. Stand Up for Yourself
Whether it’s your boss shooting down an idea before you’ve explained it or a guy shouting rude comments as you’re walking by, you should know how to keep from getting walked over.
9. Say “I Was Wrong”
A relationship squabble. A professional tiff. A theological debate. Whatever it is, you should always be looking for where you might have messed up. “I was wrong” is a magical little sentence that diffuses conflict and brings peace to any situation. You should have it at the top of your go-to phrases.
10. Brew a Great Cup of Coffee or Tea
Look. Once and for all, turning on the coffeemaker and brewing a pot of coffee is totally fine. But you should also be aware how to make a perfect cup of coffee or tea. For yourself. For your friends. Do a little reading. Perfect your technique. It’s a skill you’ll be glad you have forever.
11. Tip Generously
What’s just an extra buck or two to you can completely make your server’s day. Make it a habit to tip generously and, if you’re really feeling daring, write a brief thank you note on your check.
12. Maintain a Mentor
Your twenties are a great time to invest in a mentor. Find someone you want to be like—be it your pastor, a friend or even a peer—and commit to meeting with them regularly. It takes a little humility and a lot of dedication, but there is no ceiling to the value it will add to your life.
13. Bite Your Tongue
Know how to pick your battles. It’s OK for you to be right without getting everyone to admit you’re right. It’s OK for you to be offended by something without everyone knowing you’re offended. Understand when you should go to bat for what you’re thinking and when you can let it go.
14. Stay Well Rested
Late nights will come (if you’ve got kids, they’ll come pretty frequently) but our generation has forgotten the value in a good night’s sleep. Push yourself to go to bed earlier. Utilize your downtime wisely. Resting is just as important as being productive. In fact, you’ll be more productive if you are resting well and often.
15. Respond to Criticism
Defending yourself against criticism is easy. Graciously accepting it is harder, but the improvements it can make to your life and work are wild. Remember that criticism usually isn’t meant to be a personal attack and, if you can learn to take it in the spirit it’s offered, people will have fewer things to criticize you about in the future.
16. Write a Cover Letter
Filling out an application is a pretty simple process but, in all likelihood, the job you really want is going to take more than a list of references and previous employers. Cover letters require some effort, but it can be the difference between “don’t call us, we’ll call you” and “when can you start?”
17. Be Alone
The Millennial generation prizes community, which is very good, but it tends to come at the cost of fearing loneliness. The truth is, being alone can do you a lot of good. Be able to sit quietly—reading, writing, praying or just listening to the silence—and use that time to truly evaluate how your spirit is. Loneliness is exercise for your heart. Do it regularly.
18. Recommend a Book, Movie or Album
It’s harder than it sounds. It’s easy to sound like a pretentious snob or a gushing fan when you’re telling someone to check out something you love. Be able to explain not only why you love something, but why you think someone else would love it.
19. Prioritize the Important Over the Urgent
There are two types of demands on your life. The first and easiest to focus on are the urgent: paying your rent, getting ahead in work, etc. The second and much harder to tackle are the important: your spiritual life, your relationship with your family and looking after the health of your soul. Know the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important, and know which one matters more.
20. Hold on to a Good Friend
There’s going to be a lot of transition in your twenties as both you and your friends float from job to job and location to location. You’ll have to say a lot of good bye’s in the midst of it all, but you should know when you’ve found the rare friend who you don’t want to lose, and you should be able to prioritize staying in touch with them beyond the occasional text message.
This story originally ran in October 2013.