YOLO in your 20s: A Gen Y smackdown

This is a two-part series. To read about the 5 things you should learn in your 20s, click here.

You’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you; the whole world at your feet. You’ve got your diploma. You have a job. You have a cool apartment in a big city. You have friends. Now you’re ready to just have some fun.

This is what the 20s is supposed to be all about, right? Having fun, partying, traveling, and exploring various interests?

Hollywood gives us a perfect image of life in our 20s: an extended adolescence with better perks. You have your own apartment, live on your own terms in a big city, spend your time in bars, at parties, or with friends until 2 am, start your high-achiever job 6 hours later and make your type A boss happy for the next 12 hours. Control-oriented, fashionable, full of energy, and highly emotional. But that’s ok, you’re just exploring and experimenting. That’s what the 20s are for. Right?

You’re supposed to make the most of life while you’re young and free. Before the kids come, while you can still flirt with every six-pack who smiles at you. Your boyfriends are like your lingerie drawer: sexy and lacking substance. After all, no one expects them to be mature at this age. They’re living the party life as well.

Real life can come later, in your 30s. That’s when you’ll live up to your standards. That’s when you’ll settle down in a fairy-tale marriage with a modern-day Pierce Brosnan and have two perfect kids, a fulfilling career with a six-figure salary, and everything figured out.

Post 13 20somethingsIt’s only too late when you realize that you’re still stuck in the same old job, marriage is tough and not something you prepared yourself for, and figuring out your purpose, being a good spouse, parenting, and the pursuit of happiness is too much all at once. So your unrealistic expectations lead to a divorce, a very well-paid therapist, a soul-crushing job, and a million doubts and insecurities.

Here’s the reality: You don’t live in a bubble in your 20s. Everything you go through affects you later on. The time you’re not using now to figure out your purpose and meaning in this world will get pushed back to what’s become the 35-year-old crisis. You might think that you’re “exploring” right now, but ask yourself – is staying in your comfort zone for an entire decade really going to help you be any more prepared to “live your dreams” in your 30s?

At some point, you will have to come to terms with the fact that dating the same old dead-beat guys with a hot face and no brain is not going to prepare you for a real marriage with a man who respects himself and you. It’s going to take a lot more work to keep that one up. You’re going to have to let go of the guilt-tripping, the yelling, and the drama. You’re going to have to step out of your insecurities and neediness and learn to love yourself before you can give him the love he deserves. You’re going to have to learn how to make love happen rather than expect it to happen if you want to have a happy and successful marriage.

Our culture has given 20-somethings an easy out from the hard work that is growing up. In its typical consumerist fashion, it has told us to “just enjoy” these years and take our time with everything. There is no need to step out of your comfort zone now. That’s what your 30s are for.

When you get to your 30s and realize that you just wasted the better part of 10 years, it’s too late. Now the sense of urgency that was inexistent in your 20s doubles and even triples, to the extent that “figuring it all out” becomes just a little too overwhelming. Stepping outside of your comfort zone in too many areas wears you out, and you slowly start to lose hope and give up dreams.

It’s too late now. Maybe I can do this later, when the children are older, when this crisis is over, when I have this figured out. But you realize that you may never have it all figured out and live up to your big dreams. You just can’t do it all yourself anymore.

But you were never supposed to do it all yourself. Maturity, the ability to hold a successful marriage, learning to be happy… all of these were supposed to come on their own, as a result of your “exploration”. Right? All that time you spent in your 20s making mistakes and “figuring things out” should have moved you forward. Right?

This is where your future 30-something-year old self gives you a smackdown and you realize that you’re not doing yourself any favors by wasting this time away.

Nothing is going to happen just because you “explore” life while being comfortable. You’re going to have to make it happen instead.

And it’s not going to come across magically. It’s going to come across because you put in hours of work to understand yourself, respect yourself, get in touch with your inner wisdom, and act from a place of love rather than fear.

This doesn’t just happen. You create it.

You create it by stepping out of your comfort zone over and over again.

You create it by refusing to fall back into old patterns and habits.

You create it by committing to live up to a higher standard, to be a better YOU, every single day.

And the biggest favor you can do for yourself, especially if you’re a 20-something, is to start today.

Cultivate awareness. Learn to be present. Live out of love instead of fear. Connect with your inner wisdom. Step out of your comfort zone. Keep expanding. Be better.

Don’t just let time take care of it. Your life is your responsibility. You are the only one who can make your dreams come true.

What’s most important is that finding yourself, discovering your gift, connecting with your purpose is just so important not only for yourself, but for the world. And the more time you spend stuck in the fears and insecurities that are driving your comfortable life, the less time you will spend enriching the lives of others with your unique gift.

Why would you live a comfortable life, full of superficial happiness and a money-driven career, when you can start laying the foundation now to a rich life filled with authenticity, love, generosity, and a deep fulfillment you may otherwise reach only when it’s too late?

Your 20s are an amazing gift. Now, when you have your life ahead and the world at your feet, when you have nothing to lose, when you heal quickly and bounce right back on your feet… now is the time to push through your boundaries and discover the stuff you’re really made of.

The world needs you. Even in your 20s. Especially in your 20s.

Step up to the game.

I’m going to leave you with this inspirational TED talk:


What are you doing to make the most out of your 20s?

If you’re past your 20s, what is your perspective on this?

What did you do in your 20s that made the biggest difference in your life?

P.S: For those of you wondering what YOLO means (as was I only a few months ago): YOLO = You Only Live Once. (Don’t you just feel a few years smarter now that you know this? I thought so.)

This is a two-part series. To read about the 5 things you should learn in your 20s, click here.

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  1. Thanks a lot for sharing, Laura. The article and the TED talk really inspired me 🙂

  2. I’m 28 and most of my friends are turning 30 this year so this 20s/30s theme is often on top of my mind. I honestly can’t say if I did the 20s “right”. I know I did my best when it comes to relationships (never the one to go purely for the looks, but it still took me a while to adjust my douchebag radar) and I’ve been happy for the past 5 years.

    But when it comes to work, I’m still going through the process of finding out what I really want to do with my life, and it’s this “I’m almost 30 and have nothing to show for it” urgency that’s making me take steps I didn’t dare to take before. I now think that was silly, I should have done it all sooner and not spend so much time in companies where I was clearly not the right fit for the job, but this fear of making a mistake was already so ingrained since childhood that it took me several years of intense mindset work just to get to a spot where I’m kinda OK with not knowing what tomorrow will bring (I’m a freelancer with bills to pay), which terrified me in my early 20s.

    If you’re dealing with controlling and perfectionist parents, it makes matters all the more difficult…

    Would I prefer that I explored all the different options before? Hell yes, but those different options weren’t even available in my mind. I didn’t have any positive role-models, all grown ups were miserable people with their boring 9-5 jobs and mortgages, and I didn’t even know a different way was possible. I sensed it must be because I wanted it so badly, but if you can’t imagine something, you can’t find it…
    So here I am, imagining better 30s 🙂

    • Nela, thank you so much for sharing your story! I grew up with perfectionist parents too, and I have to say that to this day I’m terrified of “making a mistake”, and it manifests in so many areas of my professional life. Especially as an entrepreneur there is that big discrepancy between the fact that the world of possibilities is wide open and at the same time it feels like there are a lot of stupid decisions and choices you could make. It’s really paralyzing sometimes. But the key is to always remind ourselves of why we need to take action – for me, that’s the fact that I feel I would disrespect these gifts I have been given by not using and sharing them, and the fact that I don’t want to have regrets when I grow old. So I go balls to the wall and hope for the best. I think that’s absolutely the only thing you can do. Here’s to better 30s!

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