Research Gives You 3 Tips To Navigate Your Turbulent Twenties
Don't just roll with the punches, take charge.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 4, 2023
Being in your twenties and early thirties can be an intense experience for the toughest and most driven of individuals. Today, with the added pressures of social media, hustle culture, and a volatile mental health crisis, early and mid-adulthood can feel like a never-ending roller coaster. It may force you to question yourself, saying things like:
- "Am I the only one who feels so unprepared for this phase of my life?"
- "I have never failed at so many things in my life. When will my self-confidence bounce back?"
- "Everyone expects me to suddenly act like an adult but I've never felt further from adulthood. How will I learn to bridge the gap?"
Like any other challenging phase of your life, you have to simply ride certain parts of your 20s and early 30s out. However, this time does provide us with a unique opportunity to expand, grow, and embrace ourselves like no other time in our life.
If you find yourself or a loved one struggling to take charge of this important decade of life, here are three research-backed tips to get things on track.
#1. Follow your gut
Being inexperienced and enthusiastic, young people are vulnerable to unsolicited advice and external influence. A study published in Personality and Individual Differences lists the ability to decline external influence as a key part of the maturational process. Young and callow adults are more likely to conform to other people's expectations and standards for them.
In order to live a life aligned with your own cognitions, emotions, values and beliefs, one first has to know what they are. You can follow these three steps to get in touch with your authentic self:
- Be curious but not accepting of all opportunities. You learn little without making any mistakes. However, saying 'yes' to everything might have the opposite effect. The healthier middle path entails asking more questions, consulting multiple people, and indulging your spontaneity with caution.
- Reflect on your decisions and their consequences. The pace of your life during your twenties can make reflection seem like an inconvenience but it might be the best investment of your time. Reflection builds self-awareness.
- Establish boundaries. This will help you bring much-needed stability to your life. Having healthy boundaries with your partner, co-workers, friends and family is probably the strongest indicator that you are living life on your own terms.
#2. Play the field
For a lot of people, their twenties are the first time they experience a long-term relationship. Some may even begin to look for 'the one' (if they prefer monogamy). Therefore, developing the skill of dating and romantic experimentation can prove to be extremely helpful for this stretch of life.
Picking someone you want to spend the rest of your life with cannot be a split-second decision, no matter how much rom-coms try to convince us otherwise. The courage to put yourself out there, being vulnerable with another person, and maybe even failing a few times can, at the end of the day, be an immensely enriching experience.
While the experience of dating is unique for everybody, there are a couple of science-backed tips you can keep in mind to hone your skills:
- Date someone smarter than you. They don't have to be an Ivy League graduate or a Ph.D. holder, however, they should challenge you on an intellectual level. Research suggests that dating an intellectual match can help you grow, ensure better communication, and add longevity to your relationship.
- Be a mindful partner. Even when you are exploring your options, being curious of and tuned in to your partner's desires, emotions, and needs is essential. According to psychologist Tasha Seiter, focusing on how you love is more integral to your love life than who you pick.
#3. Patience, grasshopper
There is no way to fast-forward or skip through your twenties. It might be helpful to remember though that the specific circumstances you encounter during this phase might never come back. Being a time of transition, however, it can still feel tumultuous and never-ending.
The biggest favor you can do yourself during your twenties and early thirties is to repeatedly reinforce to yourself that you are not 'falling behind' or 'running out of time.' According to psychotherapist Jennifer Coren, author of the book I Love Me More, you experience during this phase the 'Caterpillar to Butterfly Affect.' The things you go through during your twenties might solidify the pillars of your character.
"We're not wasting time; we're not losing time," she advises to anyone struggling through their twenties. "We're figuring out how to make peace with the time we have. When you validate the transitional experience itself and the process of life – of finding meaning right where you are as who you are – you will find yourself more secure, happy, and filled with abundance."