Our 20s are supposed to be an exhilarating time in our lives, but more often than not, this decade feels like one long stretch of lonely, bewildering experiences, with minor existential crises sprinkled throughout.
Those years can go by quickly, but they can also be some of the most significant of your life.
In examining dozens of life stories written by prominent, successful people shortly before their deaths, researchers at Boston University and the University of Michigan discovered the most consequential moments that determined the years ahead were most heavily concentrated during the twenty-something years.
“Claiming your 20s is one of the simplest, yet most transformative things you do for work, for love, for your happiness, maybe even the world,” clinical psychologist Meg Jay once said during a TED Talk about the importance of this decade.
Steve Adcock leveraged his 20s to achieve his dream of retiring early and traveling across the U.S. with his wife, Courtney.
In 2016, he and Courtney retired at 35 and 33, respectively, after accumulating about $870,000 working in information technology. With the right investments, their net worth increased to $1 million shortly after.
Adcock credits much of his success to smart habits he adopted in his 20s. Here, Adcock shares the three habits all 20-somethings need to enjoy a long, prosperous life:
Switch jobs often
Gen Z and millennials get a bad rap for job-hopping, but Adcock believes it’s one of the best moves you can make for your career.
“If you’re not switching jobs regularly, you’re leaving money on the table,” he says. “I switched jobs five times in the span of my 14-year career and got a 15% to 20% raise each time, which increased my pay well beyond the rate of inflation.”
The difference in wage growth for job switchers relative to those who stay in their current role is at a record high, Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, told CNBC earlier this month.
Job switchers got a 7.7% wage increase in November compared to a year earlier versus a 5.5% increase for job stayers, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
Just be careful not to switch companies too often. Try to stay in a role for at least a year, Adcock says, because “some employers will not hire candidates who are going to bail after a short amount of time — the hiring and onboarding process is expensive.”
Say “yes” more than you say “no”
Your 20s are the best time to get out of your comfort zone and take risks.
“If you have an easy, low-stress job, you’re doing it wrong,” Adcock says. “Your 20s is when you should be busting your ass, because you have more energy and fewer responsibilities than when you’re older.”
Adcock recalls almost turning down a promotion to a director-level role in his early 20s because he didn’t feel confident or ready. “I was so afraid of failure that instead of addressing what scared me, I hid behind my potential,” he says.
He accepted the role anyway, a decision that set him up for a higher salary trajectory for the rest of his career.
Saying “yes” to more promotions and opportunities earlier on in your career will often yield you much better results in the long run, from broadening your experience to meeting new people who can help push your career forward.
Although retirement might seem far off in the distant future, how you spend — and save — in your 20s can determine what kind of life you’ll live when you’re older.
Adcock recommends opening a Roth IRA account, which allows you to invest money you have already paid taxes on in exchange for tax-free withdrawals during retirement, and maximizing the annual contribution. For 2023, that limit is $6,500 per year if you’re under 50.
Or, set up a 401(k) with your employer, and if your company matches employee 401(k) contributions, take full advantage of that benefit, Adcock adds.
“If you don’t consider either of these retirement saving strategies, I guarantee you’ll regret it later in life,” he says. “To live a rich, full life, you always want to think 10 years ahead … your 20s don’t last forever.”
Self-made millionaire says 90% of your success depends on this single skill: ‘Young people are terrible at it’
New year, new job? Experts break down if January really is the right time for a new role
Successful people do these 3 things on Sunday for a happier, stress-free week, according to a productivity expert
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter