“You’ll be 30 and still living at home with your parents,” one of the older janitors said to me as he took a drag from his cigarette.
I was 17 at the time, working as a part-time janitor at a local school; we were taking a break. I couldn’t tell if he was implying that I wouldn’t amount to anything or if he was looking into the future and that’s what he actually saw.
Regardless, he was right! Some of the smartest people on earth have all the data and fancy software at their fingertips, but they still can’t accurately predict the future. Yet, somehow, this guy did it on his cigarette break.
I might try to track him down for some lottery numbers later...
Anyway, when my 30th birthday rolled around, I went out to dinner with my parents and came back home to sleep in the same bedroom where I grew up. Maybe it doesn’t seem like the best situation for a 30-year-old, but I was happy.
During my mid-20s, I was living in NYC, working at one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and attending grad school. Outsiders might have labeled me as someone who “made it.”
Truthfully, was I was desperately unhappy more than 90 percent of the time. I only started feeling better and less anxious upon unlearning the following 12 myths about my twenties:
1. Changing your location will make you happy
I thought that traveling a lot or moving to a new place, where I could start over again, would make me happy. Conversely, it never worked. Sure, I had moments of happiness, but after the initial honeymoon phase wore off, I’d still be the same person I was before I left.
You can travel to somewhere that has always interested you, to get out of a toxic roommate situation or to a place that offers better job opportunities.
These are valid reasons for changing your location, but if you’re just taking off to escape general unhappiness, chances are, you’ll find unhappiness in your new location, too.
2. Lifelong friends will always be there
When I scroll through Facebook and see photos of people I’ve known my entire life, many are posting pictures of weddings, kids or other milestone life events.
It makes me feel bad because a part of me feels I should be a part of those, in some way, as a lifelong friend. But now, I’ve realized it’s completely natural to outgrow your friends. It doesn’t make you or them bad people. It just happens.
3. You can always get healthy later
When I started my journey into the working world, my health habits declined. I always made excuses. "I’ll start working out and eating better once we finish this project, once the weather gets better or once I move to a new place that’s closer to the gym." But, I never took any action even when those things happened.
If you’re too busy to stay healthy now, there’s a good chance you’ll be too busy in the future, too. There’s never a better time to focus on your health than right now.
If you start building healthy habits early on, they get easier to maintain as you grow older.
4. Writing your own ticket to the good life
I thought that working in a better company, learning some in-demand skill or going to graduate school would magically open up new doors for me and I could write my own ticket to the good life.
Writing your own ticket is a myth. Okay, people like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk totally exist, but you can also Google “billionaires who went broke” and get 501,000 results about people who had it all then lost it all.
You only write your ticket to the good life when you’re grateful for everything you have today.
5. Magically stumbling upon "the one"
It took me awhile to realize this, but dating actually requires me to actually start talking to people. Go figure! I used to think that I’d somehow meet someone in some random encounter, just like it happens in chick flicks.
As uncomfortable and awkward rejection might be, it’s on the right track to finding your special someone. The longer it takes you to get something, the longer you’ll probably keep it around. So, keep truckin’ along.
6. Having enough technical skills will get you hired
I used to think that if I had enough technical skills in something, I would easily find a job doing it. Only later did I learn that technical skills are only a small part of the equation.
In many work situations, navigating different personalities and dealing with problems is the job. Once you realize this, you’ll start seeing the big picture. You’ll be able to position yourself as the person to come in and solve problems, rather than someone who is just technically skilled.
7. You have to achieve greatness to be happy
Many times during my 20s, I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing great things, like many other people my age whom I had read about. At one point, I felt like I was just settling into crap jobs and I’d be unhappy because I couldn’t achieve anything great.
Later on, I began reading biographies of people who achieved greatness. I didn’t realize how much these people sacrificed and how unhappy they were at times.
We live in a self-help society where people think they need to achieve greatness to be happy. However, there are just as many benefits to not achieving greatness that will allow you to be just as happy.
8. You need a plan for the future
At one point, I was an obsessive planner. I wrote out everything and noted at what ages I wanted to complete specific milestones. However, none of my plans panned out. Unexpected developments popped up and I lost interest in other things.
You can’t script life; you can only make each day your masterpiece.
9. You’ll start when you have everything figured out later
I dreamed of working for myself for a long time. I’d daydream about walking into my boss’s office and giving my notice. It wasn’t until I quit/was fired, however, that I actually started working for myself.
I made a ton of mistakes and had no safety net. Looking back, it would have been better to begin my personal venture while I still had a formal job. I thought I needed to have things figured out before I could start.
There’s never a better time to start anything than right now. With age, you become increasingly risk averse. When you delay starting something, you’re only robbing yourself of valuable experiences and progress.
10. Showing off how much you know or how you’ve made it
I’ll admit it: I used to love going on and on about how knowledgeable I was about some subject, or how I had everything together.
Whenever someone asked me a question to which I didn’t know the answer, I’d think of a BS answer and ramble on anyway. A lot of this behavior was rooted in insecurity.
Over time, I learned that it’s usually the most insecure people who have to show off how knowledgeable they are, or how well they have things together.
It’s best to be comfortable in your own skin, to be self-aware and vulnerable. Being open about your strengths, weaknesses and struggles, attracts the right opportunities in your life and creates the best partnerships. Plus, nobody likes a know-it-all.
11. The goal of owning a home
I used to think owning a home was the end goal and something I should do in the future. Consider the real reasons why you want to own a home. A surprising number of people pull the trigger on buying a home just because they feel like it’s something they “should” do.
This is the biggest purchase you will likely make in your entire life. It pays to do research before you decide whether or not owning a place is right for you.
12. Thinking you're not good at anything
I was average in most school subjects and I was average in my jobs after college. Only after I left the beaten path did I begin to discover new interests and possibilities.
The trouble with school is that it only tests you on a handful of subjects. If you’re not good at any of these subjects, you might assume you’re not good at anything.
But, the world has infinite possibilities. Everyone is good at something, but most people never try enough things to discover their true strengths.
Your twenties are a time to try, experiment and fail. Be curious and question all of your assumptions.