27 Pieces of Advice for your 20s and beyond
A Defining Decade

“At 30, you’re old enough to look back, and young enough to look forward.”
-Unknown

 

In March, I turned 30.

As the birthday came and went, I realized in some ways it was the end of an era —a defining decade.  My twenties are officially done, and what a ride it’s been.  I always thought turning 30 was going to be bittersweet (with an emphasis on bitter), but now that it’s happened, for me, it seems to be more sweet than anything.

Over the past 10 years I got to cross a lot of things off my bucket list and I can’t imagine having a better 20s.  Looking back, I feel thankful for all the chances I took, opportunities I created, and most importantly the people I met along the way.  I won’t pretend it was a perfect decade and I’ll be the first to tell you I f*cked up (a lot).  But those choices led me to travel to over 50 countries, find a career I love, and share my passions with the world.

“The goal is to die young- as old as possible.”
– Ashley Montagu

I enter my thirties debt free, with a firm understanding of who I am, what I value, and what motivates me each day. Yet I still have new goals to strive for.  I know I’m not alone when I realized that my 20s really was a defining decade.

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some really hard moments that almost broke me (like being broke, unemployed, and feeling helpless while living on the other side of the world).  It may sound cliche, but there isn’t a single thing I would change, because each choice led me to where I am now.

Keeping the tradition alive, it’s time for my birthday reflection post. Each year finds me looking back on the past.  As I end my 20s and enter my 30s it only feels right to not look back on the past year but on the last decade as a whole.

After all, I must have learned a few things along the way, right?

The list below is a collection of mottos, lessons, and beliefs that I learned throughout the defining decade that was my 20s.  Each one has helped shape the person I’ve become and the one I hope to grow to be.

My hope is that creating and sharing the 27 pieces of advice I learned in my most defining decade, I will save you from some of the mistakes I made and frustrations I felt. I hope at least one of them will inspire you to live differently.  I hope you walk away with a smile and a little wiser.

Related: Tips for a Good Life

So without further ado, here’s my roundup of my 27 pieces of advice not just for your 20s but beyond.  

1. Whatever you are, be a good one…

Learn who you are, what you value, and why.  Don’t be ashamed. Don’t hide it. Understand and embrace who you are.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve chosen to be the President of the United States, a stay at home mom, a world traveler, or a heroin dealer; throw yourself fully into it, give it your all, and own it.

After I graduated from Creighton and started traveling I struggled to figure out who I was and what I valued.  I had quit my job; left everyone and everything I knew behind in the search of some grand.  I’ll be honest, I caught a lot of shit for it. Most people didn’t understand why I was ‘throwing my life away”.  I thought I was this fun and adventurous person who was going to see the world and have interesting stories to share, but I was ashamed and afraid to become that person because of what others around me said. I almost called Princess Cruises and told them I wasn’t coming.  Even though I felt the pull of the person I really was, I almost denied it.

Over time, I became more and more comfortable listening to my internal voice and staying true to it- which fully shaped the person I’ve become.  I’m okay with being ‘that guy’ or people not understanding exactly what I’m doing or why. I’m okay being the first to take the risk and helping others follow suit. I’m okay marching to the beat of my own drum.  Never feel ashamed about who or what you are (easier said than done, I know). Once you understand who you are and what you want; don’t hold back. Go be the best version of it possible.

2. Life is all about perception and timing…

I’ve found there are two huge factors that will shape each of our lives.  Perception and timing.  Like it or not, your perception determines your reality.  Oftentimes, that same perception is based on our experiences (or lack thereof).   Our perception forms each and every opinion we have.  We owe it to ourselves to understand if our own perception is slanted (spoiler alert: it is) and if so, how and why.  Only by understanding our own slant and accounting for it can we find the real truth.

The timing of events also plays a large role in our lives. Timing heavily influences what’s possible and what’s not. In short, life is not only about HOW we view things but WHEN we are viewing it. You can have the perfect idea or find the girl of your dreams, but if the timing is off it doesn’t matter.

3. You get back what you put out…

You can call it karma, energy, vibe, or luck, but at the core it’s all the same belief—don’t be an asshole.  The universe responds to positivity and hope.  If you walk around with a smile on, a little charisma, and are quicker to encourage than anger, you’ll be amazed at how much nicer the world is back to you.

Related: This must be the place

It may sound obvious, but the more positive you are (and the more good you do) the more positive experiences you’ll have.

“Never leave a friend behind. Friends are all we have to get us through this life—and they are the only things from this world that we could hope to see in the next.”
-Dean Koontz

4. Show up for those who show up for you.

I’m a big fan of places.  But the hard truth is, places don’t love you back and they sure as hell don’t miss you when you’re gone—but people do.  Throughout your life, people will come and go, and my advice is to pay close attention to your “3 am friends”.  Those are the people you call at 3 am when you’re in trouble or in need of help.  Those are the people who have your back no matter what with no questions asked.  And those are the people who you show up for no matter what, just as you know they’d do for you.  Those relationships will bring more value to your life than anything else ever could- yes, even places.

5. Life ain’t bad

It’s a fact of life: bad shit happens.  However, very rarely does the worst thing happen and there’s beauty in that silver lining.  Whether you’re in the middle of the storm, celebrating an accomplishment, or just enjoying a glass of whiskey as the sun is setting, it’s vital to take a step back, smile, and realize life ain’t bad.

The universe is a wonder, humanity a marvel, and you are a miracle.  Even if things aren’t going your way at that moment, train yourself to appreciate what you do have, because honestly, life ain’t bad.

Related: F*ck Happiness- and other thoughts on mindfulness 

6. People aren’t against you. They are for themselves.

Hard truth- most people don’t think about you.  They make choices without you in mind, to help themselves, and sometimes the results of those choices will hurt you. You’ll feel betrayed, back-stabbed, and angry.  Keep in mind that most people don’t see it as betraying you; they are merely doing what they feel is best to help themselves, not to hurt you.  Instead of getting angry, try thinking about the decision from their perspective.  Oftentimes you’ll realize, they weren’t being malicious and when we understand someone’s intentions it makes it much easier to shrug it off, forgive them, and move on.

7. People are good.

I’ve been around the world (a few times) and I still believe at their core most people are good.  I’m not saying we don’t all have a dark side we try to hide.  And yes, some people’s dark sides are worse than others.  But the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them.  The amount of people who’ve helped me over the years, when they didn’t need to, really gives me hope that people are good.

It’s not just the grand acts of kindness I remember—someone tracking me down at the World Cup to give me my lost phone (based on my screensaver photo), the Parisian who walked with me for 45 mins at 3 am to make sure I found the right metro stop—but the small acts of kindness—someone in a hostel sharing the last piece of bread so I had a meal, someone watching my bags so I could use the restroom—I’ve witnessed throughout my travels and day to day life which has taught me this: if people can help you, without harming themselves or what they love, they will.

8. Have standards not expectations…

I once heard a quote that goes something like, “what screws us up the most in life is the picture in our head of what it’s supposed to be.” Having expectations for your life and those in it will usually lead to heartache and disappointment.  At the end of the day, not everyone has your heart, mind, or values.  Expecting them to act a certain way that is contrary to their nature will only cause you grief and resentment.

People and events only let us down because of how we may have previously built them up in our heads (or so the Stoics believe).  Our expectations are what gives things power over us.  By understanding this and adjusting your expectations, you’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment.

On that subject, here’s a free piece of advice: when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. 

Don’t confuse having standards with having expectations.  There are things in your life you want for yourself.  If a person, place, or job, isn’t living up to that standard, it’s time to move on to better things.

Related: The Power of “What Next”

Time is the most valuable thing we have. When you choose to take time doing something, you are quite literally exchanging your life for it. Don’t spend it in scenarios that are counterproductive to the standards to which you hold yourself or the people around you.

9. Know your worth…

This is the code I choose to live by. When you know your worth and what you deserve, you won’t settle for less. When you demand what you want from life, everything else tends to fall into place.  When you know your worth, you stop wasting time on other people’s bullshit and drama. You end up prioritizing yourself and your goals and that’s where the magic happens.  No, I don’t think that makes you selfish, I think knowing your worth gives you the backbone and structure to pursue the things that really set your soul on fire.

10. This too shall pass…

If you haven’t heard or read the story, don’t worry I got you.  This too shall pass is a lesson in impermanence.  In short, this phrase reminds me that everything is temporary.  If something good happens, remembering ‘this too shall pass’ helps from turning into an arrogant asshole.  If something bad happens, remembering ‘this too shall pass’ can help get you through until your luck changes. Why? Because everything is fleeting.  Everything is temporary.  This is one of the five phrases that has impacted my life the most and really helps me recenter when I feel myself getting too high or too low to keep a clear mind.

11. They will hear your tone before your words…

People don’t like being shouted at.  People don’t like being talked down to or belittled. People don’t like assholes.  Everyone wants to feel respected and empowered—which is really hard to do when your voice/tone is saying otherwise.

Related: 31 John Steinbeck Quotes to make you think

In any confrontation or conflict, I do my best to not yell because I want the other person to actually be open to what I’m saying. If you want attention, sure, yell away, but if you want to actually solve the problem, don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

12. Learn the delicate balance between always being grateful, but never being satisfied…

If you want to achieve great things in life, you can’t be complacent.  You have to keep pushing long after you feel like giving up. If you want to live a happy life, you have to be grateful for what you have.  You have to be able to look around and count your blessings no matter how small.  At first, these two things may seem like they contradict each other.  After all, how can I want more than what I have but still be grateful for what I already possess? Yeah, pretty fucking hard.  These are two concepts that don’t naturally coexist, but the only way to live a full life is to master that balance.  To understand how to push yourself to achieve everything you want, but also be able to step back and cherish all that you’ve already done.

13.Learn to appreciate and acknowledge a moment as it’s happening…

I honestly don’t know if there is anything more magical than to cherish a moment as it’s happening. Learning to appreciate the moments before they become memories is a powerful thing.  It could be a trip, a story, a sunset, or a person.  The moment may last a second, a day, or a year. But when you understand its significance in your life while it is still going on, it allows you to enjoy it in a completely different way.  On a higher level.  The truth is, some moments will only be important in retrospect, but the ones you connect as they are happening, when you look around and think ‘if this isn’t nice I don’t know what is’ on that higher level, stay with you forever.

14. The length of a relationship doesn’t matter…

People like to brag about how long they’ve been friends, dating, or married.  But it doesn’t matter.  After all, it’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years.  After 6 months of working on a cruise ship, I knew my friends better than people I’d known for 10 years.  Length of time doesn’t matter. Shared experience matters. Intimacy matters. Being honest and unguarded about who you are matters.  The sooner you allow yourself to do those things, the sooner each of your relationships will reach their full potential.

15. Take chances…

What is life if not for the living?  We’re on earth to try things, so don’t let anyone tell you different. Taking chances may not always work out, but it beats the alternative of a boring and uneventful life. Taking chances is the only way to truly understand what you love and why.

Related: Roaring 20s- Why it’s okay to be selfish

Everything you love now, was at some point, a risk. You took a chance and it worked.  You had to take a chance to talk to that girl (who became your wife), or apply for that job (which became your passion), or move to that new city (which became your home). There will always be risk and reward, but that’s what makes life interesting.  Don’t wait, take the chance. In the end, it’s better to have a life of ‘oh wells’ than ‘what ifs’.

16. Be more curious than certain… 

You know what’s easy? Listening to other people. You know what’s hard? Making up your mind for yourself. I’m sure you heard from a family friend that (insert location) was ‘unsafe’.  You heard from a teacher that (insert drug) is bad.  You heard from your friend’s cousin’s aunt that quitting (insert job) to pursue your passion ‘wasn’t a good career move.’   How do you respond when people tell you things? Do you automatically accept it as absolute truth? Or do you see it for what it is?  Someone’s (usually uninformed) opinion.

Have you ever tried something for the first time and were surprised at how much you liked it? That’s what life is about.  Finding new things that make your soul grow. I’m a firm believer that you should try most things in life at least once (or twice) for yourself.  By giving into your curiosity, you figure out first hand what you love and what you hate.  You’re able to actually experience life.  You can listen to other people’s opinions, but they should never decide for you.  Open yourself up to possibilities and don’t dismiss something just because someone else tells you to.

17. Things it’s okay to change: your mind, your beliefs, your character…

If you’re lucky, life is long.  As you age, I hope you learn a few things and that those things change you.  After all, only a stubborn fool won’t adapt or change after learning new information.  We’re not omniscient. It’s okay to be wrong.  It’s okay to say you don’t have all the answers.  It’s okay to grow and change.  If a belief you hold is disproved, it’s okay to update your position. You’re not obligated to be the same person or believe the same things you did 5 minutes ago, let alone last year. By being open to new information and experiences, you allow yourself to evolve into the best version of yourself.

18. Letting go is an art…

Nothing lasts forever and learning to let go is essential to living a happy life. If your heart hurts a little after letting go of someone or something, that’s okay.  It just means that your feelings were genuine.  No one likes ends.  And no one likes pain.  But sometimes we have to put things that were once good to an end after they turn toxic to our wellbeing.  Not every new beginning is meant to last forever.  And it’s a sad truth that not every person who walks into your life is meant to stay in it forever.

19. It’s not meaningless just because it ends…

Whether it’s a romance, friendship, or an impactful era of your life, odds are it will, at some point, come to an end—and that’s okay.  Something ending doesn’t diminish the impact it had on your life.  When things end, some people want to dismiss it as ‘unimportant’ or say ‘it couldn’t have mattered too much’ since it’s over.  But that’s complete and utter bullshit. Growing apart from someone or something doesn’t change the fact that for a long time you grew together, side by side. Your roots will always be tangled and intertwined, which is something you should be glad about.  Never fall into the trap of thinking that something has to last forever to really matter.

“It is funny about life: if you refuse to accept anything but the very best you will very often get it.” -W. Somerset Maugham

20. The race is only with yourself…

In today’s world, it’s impossible not to compare yourself with others (thanks social media). Someone else’s achievement automatically causes us to examine our own lives. Our hearts fill with doubts of where we are and what we’ve accomplished. Are we behind? Did they ‘beat us’? Are we good enough?

Related: The key to getting what you want

You’ll save yourself a lot of sleepless nights and the stress if you realize one thing: other people’s accomplishments don’t matter. There is plenty of sunshine for everyone. Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.  The only question that really matters is: are you a better version of yourself than you were yesterday?

21. Take the lead…

Most people are indecisive. Use this to your advantage.  If you are assertive, can make a decision, and are willing to deal with the consequences of that decision, you’ll go far in life.  Time and time again, I’ve gotten my way simply because I took the lead.  Sometimes it backfires and I’m left holding the bag of what was a terrible decision, but I’d rather have that then let someone else make decisions for me.  With great power and all that…

22. Use Less… 

I’m cheating on this one- as this lesson was really hammered home after my 30th birthday while I was rafting and camping in the Grand Canyon.  Each of us needs to be more intentional with everything we use and consume. We don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we give it to our children. Be aware of the type of stuff you buy, your waste output, and ways you can be part of the solution and not part of the problem. If each of us takes small actions in our everyday lives, we can save the world.

23. Not my monkey – not my circus…

In life, it’s tempting to stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong.  To add your two cents just because you can. Well, don’t.  There’s no “right” way to live.  Understand that each and every person gets to decide how to live their life based on their goals. More importantly, not everyone wants your advice.  If something is happening that you don’t agree with, but it doesn’t affect you, don’t spend your time and energy getting involved in it.

Involving yourself in other people’s drama will only end up cluttering your life with unnecessary negativity.  By taking a step back, understanding that not all situations need you to fix them, you will be able to focus on things that really matter to you. Saying “not my monkey, not my circus” helps me to think about where I’m directing my focus and energies.  Which things need my attention and which are better left alone.

24. Be patient…

Patience is a virtue for a reason. Things don’t happen overnight and it’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t see results right away. As important as it is to have a breadth of experience throughout life—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up.  If you get frustrated easily at a person or situation, you’ll find it more and more difficult to find success.  Everyone wants to talk about the ‘overnight’ success, but no one sees the thousands of hours that person puts in before they make it big.

25. There are no rules…

It’s your life—do what you want with it. At the same time, don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t. It’s okay to follow a ‘non traditional’ path. It’s okay to zig when everyone else zags. You don’t have to have some grand life plan, but you do need to pursue the things that inspire you.  As my friend Adam loves to say ‘if you aren’t interested, you won’t be interesting’.

26. Question Everything…

With the state of the world, rise of social media, click bait and ‘fake news’ everywhere it’s never been more important to be aware of the information you’re consuming.  It’s your responsibility to be informed.  Don’t take anything as truth unless you’ve spent the time, researched, and confirmed it.  If someone tells you something instead of automatically believing it, ask yourself what their angle is and what agenda they are pushing.  By learning to question everything you’ll set yourself up to make truly educated decisions.

27. Figure out what you’re willing to struggle for…

Building something worthwhile is never easy. Things will go wrong. You will feel inadequate. You’ll ask if you’re on the right path.  The truth is, there’s always going to be a five hundred pound pile of shit in the room, but the key is to find the shit you don’t mind shoveling.

Related: What makes a bad traveler?

What things in your life are worth the pain? What motivates you to face the shit head on and not blink? If you’re not willing to struggle for it, then you don’t really want it.  Because all great things come with a price and that price is usually sacrifice. Find the things you are willing to struggle for and with a little hard work, you can change the world.

That’s my list of the 27 piece of advice for not only your 20s, but beyond. 

Your 20s really are a defining decade which can be a bit of a whirlwind.  During that 10 years you are processing so much and constantly exploring who we want to become. As we become more independent, we learn who we are and what we want.  We discover different mottos and beliefs that are core to who we are and what we value.

I hope that reading this list featuring my 27 pieces of advice for the defining decade that is your 20s, helps you rethink what you want and the best way to go after it. I hope it helps you make less mistakes than I did in my 20s. I hope this list is the inspiration you didn’t even know you were waiting for.

And if your 20s have already come and gone, I hope this list helps you make the next decade the best one yet.

Stay Gold.

Todd Smidt

About Todd Smidt

Todd is a man of simple tastes: traveling, words, whiskey, & dad jokes. He enjoys first-rate banter, long walks along the coast, Jameson, and Vonnegut. He spends his free time traveling the world and writing about it.