AS MUCH AS WE’D LIKE TO FORGET SOME TIME IN OUR TWENTIES, WRITING OFF AN ENTIRE YEAR ISN’T EXACTLY THE RIGHT APPROACH. GOOD THING WE’VE GOT SOME GUIDELINES FOR MAKING EACH YEAR COUNT.
Your twenties are all about defining and creating your personal brand. A lot can happen within a decade, and while we all have different goals in mind and will probably veer off course for better or worse, we’ve got a loose set of recommendations to help guide you. Because your twenties are the time that you make strides toward that person you wanted to be when you grew up.
AGE 21: WORK ON THE WEEKENDS
We’re skipping age 20 because chances are, at that point, you’ve got other things on your mind—like your final college project or how you’re going to make rent after graduation. But by 21, chances are you’re a new graduate in a very real world. This may not be the advice you were looking for, seeing as you just left weekends (okay, Sundays) spent in the campus library behind, but working on weekends is how you’ll get ahead early in your career.
Incidentally, our definition of “work” here varies. If you’ve just landed your first big job, setting aside some weekend hours to take on bigger projects or learn skills you don’t have in your arsenal will help set you apart from your peers and push you toward increased responsibilities and (fingers crossed) promotion. On the other hand, if you’re still unsure where you want to go professionally, weekend work might mean scouring job boards, reaching out for informational interviews, or taking a class to get ahead.
The point is: “living for the weekend” is a fatal mistake a lot of us make in our early 20s, biding time at our day jobs and spending our paychecks and weekends at parties, bars, and Zara. All that should come into play, too, just not at the expense of pursuing some creative and professionally challenging projects after work hours. So, Saturdays out on the town, Sundays on LinkedIn.
AGE 22: FIND A MENTOR
In your early 20s, you might mistake “mentorship” for talking to a slightly older friend in a similar professional field. Au contraire (BTW, see our goal for age 23). A mentor should not be a friend by any stretch of the imagination. It’s time to find someone objective and experienced who will push your boundaries and ask you the hard questions. Finding the right person means rolling up your sleeves. Research possible connections through your professional network and LinkedIn, reques informational interviews, or cheat a bit by trying Career Contessa’s Hire an Expert platform (just saying).
In your early 20s, you might mistake “mentorship” for talking to a slightly older friend in a similar professional field.
AGE 23: THAT LANGUAGE YOU LEARNED IN COLLEGE? USE IT AGAIN
It’s time to dust off that old Spanish book and start fine-tuning those skills once again. If you haven’t used it since college, your memory is fading fast. Don’t let all of that hard work go to waste. Sign up for a refresher class or attend monthly conversational dinners (you can find them on Meetup). Just keep using it.
AGE 24: START A SIDE HUSTLE
There’s more to you than your career or your social calendar—you’re a woman with passions and interests and talents that complement your work. Even if you enjoy your job, you’ve had a few years to get settled and it’s now time to push your creative limits. Starting a side hustle allows you to connect your passion work with your work work. Plus, it’ll make you a more interesting guest at those grown-up dinner parties your friends are all starting to throw.
AGE 25: TAKE A JOB YOU’RE NOT CURRENTLY QUALIFIED FOR
Key word: currently. Taking a job 1 or 2 levels above what you’re perfectly comfortable with is always a good idea. You may not feel that you’re qualified to take on this new role, but you’ve also go 4-5 years of professional experience behind you so you’re probably more equipped than you realize. And if not? By jumping in and learning through immersion, you will be qualified in just a few short weeks.
Your mid-twenties are a perfect time to take some risks before you have too many other commitments to consider. You’re allowed to mess this gig up. Chances are you won’t though, and taking a big professional leap means you’ll enter your late 20s on a stable yet challenging career path. Because by 25 or 26, ideally you won’t be thinking in terms of “day job” or living paycheck-to-paycheck.
AGE 26: START A PROFESSIONAL BOOK CLUB
It’s important for women to connect with other women and doing so over a book allows for the conversation to center around something more than each woman’s personal experience in her job. In other words, it’s sort of round table mentorship. It also forces you to read (a pastime you might have let slip since your college years) and ensures you’re learning about topics beyond the news that lands in your work inbox.
Be intentional about [your travel].
AGE 27: TRAVEL
It’s time to put a gap in your resume (or at least take a really long vacation) that you’ll later refer to as a “trip of a lifetime.” Be intentional about this goal—it’s essential that you have an explanation for taking this time off because you’ll need to break it down for a hiring manager at some point. Make sure you’re able to make a clear connection between that life experience and your future work.
AGE 28: FIND A MENTEE
Give back. Remember that mentor you found in your early 20s? Offer that experience to someone else. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn when the responsibility is on you to guide others.
AGE 29: DON’T WORK ON THE WEEKENDS
Yep, you’re rounding into your 30s and it’s time to consider new direction. You don’t have to commit to this, just commit to trying it. Start with not working on half of the weekends in the month and see how you feel. This doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule, but it should be an ideal you strive for as your career progresses.
What was the biggest goal you accomplished in your 20s? How did you do it?
*This post originally appeared on Career Contessa.