Stop for a moment and think of 16-year-old you. Embarrassed? Blushing? Maybe, at that time, you didn’t know your own social security number, how to pay a bill, iron dress pants, break up in person, sit still for extended periods of time or—to disastrous results—do your hair.
But things are different now. You have a few hard-won young adult years behind you’re chock-full of practical knowledge and lessons learned the hard way. Still, you are young, and in five to 10 years, your thirtysomething self will be passing judgment on the current you. How they think of you is up to … well, you. But here to help are some skills you can develop right now that can set the years to come off on the right track—and that might even make your pre-middle aged, minivan-driving, slightly more wrinkled, wizened self thankful for their twenties.
7. How to Lengthen Your Attention Span
Imagine Michelangelo stopping his Sistine Chapel job every five minutes to text Raphael how uncomfortable he found his scaffolding or to Instagram his work in progress.
Meaningful work and large projects require long attention spans, but mobile technology with its constant notifications and newsfeeds makes this more difficult than in past generations. It takes practice, discipline and a conscious choice to, once in a while, turn off smartphones, tablets or TVs. When developed, a long attention span can open up a whole new world of ambitious undertakings formerly unavailable to the distracted.
6. How to Deal with Life’s Letdowns
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Rolling Stones (aside from how not to dance) it’s this: “You can’t always get what you want.” This truth tends to find its way to earth in one’s twenties. It’s a time when dreams of being a fighter pilot collide with nearsightedness; when you realize maybe that modeling career you were counting on will never materialize and no one but your mother will listen to that album you recorded and into which you poured your heart and soul.
You’ve figured out by now that life will let you down, but you may or may not have figured out yet how to weather these disappointments. Deal with your quarter-life crisis by seeking wisdom from Scripture; older, wiser folks and professional counselors, and with such help, choose wisely how you will respond. You can’t keep disappointments from coming, but you can, like the Boy Scouts, be prepared.
5. How to Think Using Basic Logic
It used to be taught as a subject in schools; now only philosophy majors at universities have this privilege. But because logic could be summed up as “the science of thinking clearly,” it’s time we made it a required subject of study for all of us.
Clear thinking is desperately needed from church pulpits to brokerage firms to oil rigs. Without logic, we are lost in a sea of over-generalizations, endless conspiracy theories, false causations and personal attacks. As Questular Rontok said in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “She’s lying. She’s skinny and she’s pretty, and she’s lying.”
4. How to Keep Up on the News
At some point on the road to maturity, watching The Colbert Report and scanning your Facebook newsfeed may no longer be sufficient news-gathering. It’s helpful to keep up with the times, but there is a right and a wrong way to do this. The right way begins with doing the legwork of finding a news source that is organized, wide-reaching and dedicated to honest reporting. But it is equally important to use those logic skills you have been acquiring to spot a slant when you see one—and even the best publications and websites have them.
Now is the time to learn how to read the news critically—to form your own opinions out of what you read, rather than merely consuming the headlines. And finally, learn to become a good sifter—how to resist clicking on the story about Princess Kate’s secret new tattoo because you know the difference between the significant and the silly.
3. How to Budget
Maybe you’ve read the verse, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Well, budgeting helps you find out exactly where that treasure is and where it is going. If you know exactly how every penny of your hard-earned income is spent, you will be a more efficient spender, saver and, most importantly, giver. Wasteful spending can take away from meaningful giving.
Also, “budgeting” is not a practice reserved for only those with dual incomes. If you are unmarried, your future spouse will thank you profusely for learning to manage money responsibly before the matrimonial knot ties up your incomes.
2. How to Put Your All into Your Work
Whether you are working a menial, mindless, justpay the bills sort of job or beginning the internship of your dreams, now is the time to learn to work hard. Laziness, like chronic frowning, is an unhealthy habit, and over time, it makes an unmistakable mark.
Your twenties is the time to develop the good working habits that will lead to career successes: learning to anticipate your boss’s wishes before she or he asks, taking full responsibility for mistakes without excuses and putting all your effort into your work—not workplace drama.
1. How to Love Unselfishly
If you dream of having a happy marriage—whether in the near future of further down the road—there is a secret you should know: Happy marriages are made unhappy by husbands or wives who allow little annoyances to turn into big issues. In other words, no one wins when you make cedars out of saplings.
The only way to ensure this does not happen is to, minute by minute, cultivate an unselfish attitude. If you are worried about the needs, thoughts and feelings of another person, you will be much less likely to brood and seethe because she treats you like her child or he says “groovy” in front of your friends. But it’s not just true for married couples. Try this with roommates, siblings and co-workers—and watch your relationships reap the benefits.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on the young.” That doesn’t have to be true of you. Be the twentysomething your thirty-, forty-, fifty-something self will be proud to call part of their past.
This article has been updated from a version published in 2013.