The most difficult things you’ll learn in your 20s

Ahhhh. The things you learn in your 20s. Your first foray into “adulting” where you begin to find your place in the world. A time when sh*t starts to get real (but not too real) and you begin to earn your stripes.

The Real World | Your Twenties:  “the true story of what happens after you graduate, are forced to pick a job, work together and have your life scrutinized (by your parents), to find out what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real.”

Right? I think the Real World reference really drives it home!

I have been reading quite a few of those “I just turned 30, here is what you’ll learn in your 20s” – type articles.

I love those types of retrospective pieces because it’s a great and immediate way for people to reflect on the most formative time in their lives.

However, the types of summaries I’ve been reading lately aren’t really linking up with what I am personally experiencing.

Your twenties are not full of rainbow and butterfly-type cliche realizations that belong on a Pinterest board.

It seems that the deepest, most real takeways some of my peers are reflecting on are…

Travel is the key to happiness.

Find your passion and chase it relentlessly.

Work on you and then find a partner

You deserve more!

Surround yourself with people who inspire you.

Don’t worry about your career, find your purpose first.

… and so on and so forth. As someone who is in the final two years of his twenties, these are pretty watered down realizations. I mean, come on! Duh!

I don’t mean to be a downer, but these types of articles are doing a disservice to those who actually want to get the most out of their twenties – the realistic story.

So, I decided to write a couple thoughts on the realistic truths that you will actually learn in your 20s.


You’re not going to find your passion by “looking for it.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…. stop trying to find your passion. Why?

Because you don’t know what to look for. You have no idea. And that’s OK.

I wrestled with this realization for the past decade. I was always trying to identify and cling to “my passion.” I desperately wanted to identify it, execute on it and dedicate my life to it. As a result, I was always pushing things off, saying that things would be great once I found my passion. My life would have purpose once I found my passion. Everything would make sense once I found my passion.

Yea, not so much.

I have learned that this is an ass backwards way of living.

You will waste a lot of time and happiness by clinging to this hope. Instead, realize that you simply do not know all the things you might be passionate about and that you will only find them once you realize one thing… that passion usually follows talent. Figure out what you’re good at!  If you want to do what you love and make a living from it, figure this out.

And if you don’t think you’re good at something, figure out how you can get better. How do you do that?

learn in your 20s

You practice it. You chase it at all times. You surround yourself with people who are also good at them. You network, collaborate and excel. That is how you find your passion and execute on it. It is a natural process, one that is tied to ability, practice and purpose.

(PS: you don’t have to settle for just one passion. It is passions.)

Having talent won’t cut it. 

Given what I just said, you might be thinking that the key to success in your twenties is to simply find something you are good at and then the world is yours.

Talent = success, right?

Not quite. I have learned that talent does not always equate to success. Just because you have natural talent for something doesn’t mean you won’t fall flat on your face. The formula you should be considering is:

Talent + Experience = Success.

The main driver of success in my experience is just that… experience. Street smarts > book smarts.

I have seen people (myself included) struggle with this realization time and time again in their twenties and it can be quite frustrating.

I’m a great writer! Why is no one willing to publish my book?

I’m a great analytical thinker. Why aren’t companies willing to pay me more?

I can sell anything! Why am I not making six figures?!

I hate to break it to you, but none of that matters. Your talent means nothing. Your ability means nothing. Your potential means nothing.

What does mean something is your drive to apply that and to accrue experience.

Know this early on and put it into practice. Don’t dwell on ability. Don’t rely on your “talent.” Instead, turn to your ability to execute.

It’s never too late… but you should hurry

OK, so now you realize that you should be finding what you are good at instead of chasing fairy tale “passions” and that instead of relying on how good you think you are at it, that you should be proving it by “doing.” If you’re like many twenty somethings, you’re going to start to freak out once you hit your mid to late twenties and you haven’t quite found that talent.

I personally am fortune to say that I identified it in my early twenties but I have several friends and acquaintances who are now beginning to feel the passing of time on their journey. They are worried that they might not ever find their talent, their passion – much less be fortunate enough to go out into the world to experience all the various degrees of it.

My advice? Chill out and realize that you have time.

There’s no expiration date on your talent (except for maybe sports-related skills or talents). I would add that people mature at different ages and just because you are 24, for example, and haven’t identified your talent/passion, doesn’t mean you won’t in a couple months or a year. A lot can change when your perspective on life changes – and that comes with maturity. Don’t force it or overthink it! Just continue to chase experiences and new views and I promise you that you will find it.

At the same time, realize that while there is no intrinsic end date on your ability to identify and then develop your talent, life tends to create its own pressures on you.

Family, career, relationships and other obligations will re-prioritize your to-do list and if you let them overwhelm you, this search will be put on the back burner.

My advice? Be patient but be hungry.

You’ll never be the smartest, best, most talented person

Hunger. I just said it. That is the intangible variable that is going to set you apart in your twenties.

I hate to break it to you, but you’re never going to be the smartest person in the world. That’s just the reality of the world. I struggled with this in college and after graduating. Throughout most of my life I was usually the most intelligent person in the room (at least from a grades standpoint). But in college and post-grad, that was hardly the case. It was an extremely humbling experience. I didn’t understand how this could be the case all of a sudden. The odds suddenly seemed to be stacked immensely against me.

If I wasn’t smarter or more talented, how could I possibly stand up to the competition? 

learn in your 20s - girl in crowd

You might not be smarter or more talented, but what you can be, is the most hungry.

I am hungry! Starving in fact. I want it bad. I want it more than you (I guarantee it).

I have accepted the fact that I am not the smartest guy, the most analytical guy, the most creative guy, etc. But I am hungry. This hunger gives me confidence that any skill set or talent might have given me previously. I am driven by this realization and I would encourage you to quickly accept this and get hungry!

PS: If you’re saying, but Case, I am the smartest person in the room! I hate to break it you, but you’re in the wrong room.

You have to give a f*ck

The call and response of my twenty something peers seems to be: learn to not give a f*ck and then you’ll be happy!

I see this so often. Don’t care what people think of you. Don’t care what others are doing. Don’t compare yourself to others... yada yada yada.

I have come to realize how utterly stupid this is!

Yes, of course I believe that you shouldn’t let other’s opinions impact you, etc. That is a given.

What I think is silly is the way that twenty somethings try to compartmentalize their efforts, goals, purpose etc. It is a self-limiting philosophy and makes you comfortable with realistic expectations about what you can accomplish in your twentys.

You have to care about your future, your goals. If you refuse to compare your efforts or your goals with those of others who are doing it or have done it, you are limiting yourself to as far as you can see or imagine (which might not be that far).

Instead, you should seek out and acknowledge people who are in the place you want to be. It will make you feel uncomfortable and will make you question your ability, but that is exactly what you need. You need that kick in the butt. So, instead of ignoring what is going on around you and “not giving a f*ck”, do the opposite. Soak it up. Let it influence you. Let it motivate you.

You have to commit

Despite what you’ve heard, your twenties is  a time for commitment.

Yes, it is a time for experimenting, for traveling, for staying up late, partying, and being wild. But at the core, it is about embracing the fact that, unlike your teens, the actions you take in your twenties have a tangible affect on your life’s happiness.

There are a lot more consequences to your actions in your twenties. When you were younger it was cool to skip school, show up late for work, cheat on tests, get high, etc.

If you cling to that lifestyle (similar to the don’t give a f*ck lifestyle), you are seriously going to hold yourself back.

Grow up!

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for having fun and challenging norms and expectations, but if you do so without have a core focus or identity, you will wake up one day look back and realize that you should have taken advantage of opportunities that passed you by and been more serious about your ability to act.

If you want to work a 9 to 5 and build a hustle on the side, then do it!

Align your sense of responsibility with your talent and purpose. Let that guide you in instances when the opportunity to slack off or go overboard present themselves.

The money is never going to be enough

You got your first real paycheck in your twenties. You made your first sale, got your first commission, your first raise, etc. What a great feeling! If only I could make $50,000 more this year, I would be set! Everything would be great!

Since graduating college, I have jumped around from job  to job, been promoted 6 times, have my own revenue-generating businesses, and I can confidently say that… you will always want more.

When I first started working out of college, I barely made above the poverty line. I thought if I could just make $75,000 that my life would be amazing. $75,000 could provide for my every need and want.

Then I started making $75,000 and guess what happened? My needs and wants simply went up. I needed more. Wanted more.

If I only made six figures this year… Yep, same case here.

I’m not sure I have a great answer for this one as it is something that I still struggle with, but if there is a takeaway, it’s that you should realize this, try to curb it with self-control, and start saving your money. At the least, just realize that money will certainly make you happy in some areas of your life, but that the others will simple be elevated based on this new level of financial intake.

You’re gonna get knocked down… and it’s gonna suck.

I used to play fight and wrestle with my brother for hours a day when I was young. We would beat the crap out of each other, come home covered in mud and bruises and out of breath. But the next day, everything was OK. Our bodies were healing and we were at peace with each other once again.

About 4 weeks ago, my buddy and I decided to have an impromptu wrestling session in his living room (long story, don’t ask). Today, my shoulder still hurts and I am still embarrassed about how quickly I got fatigued from our little tussle.

It’s a metaphor! (get it?!).

The lesson? Things are different in your twenties. You’re older and things have more consequences.

It’s not longer as easy as it used to be to bounce back from failures, stumbles and the like. If you get fired from a job, it’s not the same thing as losing your paper route. If you get in a fist fight, it’s going to impact how people view you, your maturity, etc.

I’m not saying that you should tip-toe through your twenties, I am just saying that you should have the right mindset. This is a mindset of always looking forward and committing. You have to convince yourself to keep at things when you feel like giving up.

Being an adult simply means getting punched in the face repeatedly keeping at it. Your twenties are when you start to learn this.

Written by Case Kenny

Case is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of and the host of the New Mindset, Who Dis podcast. Reach him at or @case.kenny on Instagram.

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