How should I plan my 20s

Mark Manson

I turned 30 a few weeks ago. In preparation for my birthday, I wrote about what I learned in my 20s.

But then I did something else. I emailed my subscribers asking people 37 and older what advice they would give to their 30 year old identities. The idea was that I would use the life experience of my older readership to write an article based on their collective wisdom.

The result was spectacular. I received over 600 replies, many of which were more than a page long. It took me 3 full days to read through them all and I was speechless at the quality of the insights people have sent me.

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who participated and helped me to write this article.

As I read through the emails, what surprised me most was how consistent some of the advice was. The same 5-6 pieces of advice came over and over in various forms in literally hundreds of emails. It seems there really are a few key pieces of advice that are particularly relevant to this decade of life.

Below are the 10 largest pieces of advice that appeared in the 600 emails. Most of the article includes dozens of quotes that I took from the readers. Some remain anonymous. Others added their age.


“I spent my 20s carefree, but your 30s should be a financial push. Planning for the pension is not something that should be postponed. Understanding boring things like insurance, retirement plans & mortgages is important as it is all on your shoulders now. Educate yourself. " (Kash, 41)

The most common part of the advice - so common that almost every single email said at least something about it - was to get your finances in order and start retirement planning ... today.

There were a couple of categories that go with this piece of advice:

Make it your top priority to pay back all of your debts as soon as possible.
Keep an "emergency fund" - there were tons of horror stories about people being driven into financial ruin by health problems, lawsuits, divorces, bad deals, etc.
Hide part of your salary, preferably in your retirement plan, an individual retirement account or at least a savings account.
Don't spend your money lightly. Don't buy a house unless you can afford a good mortgage with good conditions.
Don't invest in something you don't understand. Don't trust a stockbroker.

One reader said, “If your debt is greater than one-tenth of your annual salary, that's a big red card. Stop spending, pay off your debts and start saving. " Another wrote, “I should have saved more money on an emergency fund because unexpected costs really ruined my budget. I should have been more eager about my retirement plan because mine is pretty small now. "

And then there were a few readers who were just totally linked by their inability to save in their 30s. A reader named Jodi started saving 10% off every salary when she was 30. Her career has taken a bad turn and now she's stuck at 57 and still living on salary to salary. Another woman who is 62 did not save anything because her husband earned more than she did. She was later divorced and soon had health problems that used up all the money she got from the divorce settlement. She now also lives from salary to salary and is slowly waiting for the day when welfare comes on. Another man tells of a story that he supported his son because he did not save anything and unexpectedly lost his job in an accident in 2008.

The point was clear: Save early and save as much as possible. A woman emailed me saying that she had low-wage jobs with two kids in her 30s and still managed to put some money into her retirement fund. Because she invested wisely and early, she is now in her 50s financially stable for the first time in her life. Your point: it is always possible. You just have to do it.


“Your brain accepts its age behind its body at 10 to 15 years of age. Your health is going faster than you think, but it's very difficult to notice, not least because you don't want it to happen. " (Tom, 55)

We all know that we should take care of our health. We all know that we should eat better and sleep better and move more and blah, blah, blah. But just like with the old-age provision, the statement of the older readers was loud and unanimous: get healthy now and stay that way.

So many leaders said that, that's why I don't quote anyone else. Their points were all pretty much the same: How you treat your body has an overall effect: it's not that your body suddenly collapses in a year, it collapsed all the time without you even realizing it. This is the decade to slow this collapse.

And that wasn't just motherly advice to eat more vegetables. It was the emails from people who survived cancer, heart attacks or strokes, people with diabetes and blood pressure problems, joint problems and chronic pain. They all said the same thing, “If I could go back, I would eat better and exercise, and I wouldn't stop. I made excuses back then. But I had no idea. "


"Learn to say 'no' to people because activities and commitments add no value to your life." (Hayley, 37)

After being called to take care of one's health and finances, most of the common advice among people looking back on their 30 year identities is one that is very interesting: they would go back, draw stronger boundaries in their lives, and give their time to better people. "Setting health boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do to yourself and to another person." (Kirsten, 43)

What exactly is meant by that?

“Don't tolerate people who don't treat you well. Point. Don't tolerate them for financial reasons. Don't tolerate them for emotional reasons. Do not tolerate them for the sake of love or convenience for the children. " (Jane, 52)

"Don't get involved in mediocre friends, work, love, relationships, and existence." (Sean, 43)

"Stay away from miserable people ... they will consume you, drain you." (Gabriella, 43)

"Lock yourself in and only meet people who make you a better person, who promote the best of you, who love and accept you." (Xochie)

Typically, people wrestle with boundaries because they find it hard to hurt someone's feelings, or catch themselves trying to change someone else, or treating them like they want to be treated themselves. It never works. Often times that makes it even worse. Another reader has wisely said, “Selfishness and self-interest are two different things. Sometimes you have to be ruthless to be nice. "

When we are in our 20s the world is open to many opportunities and we have so little experience that we cling to the people we meet even if they haven't done anything to be clingy. But in our 30s we learned that good relationships are hard to come by, that there is no shortage of people to meet and make friends, and that there is no reason to spend our time with people who look to us will not help our life path.


“Show up for and with your friends. You count and your presence counts. " (Jessica, 40)

Conversely, while enforcing stronger boundaries about who we let into our lives, many readers have advised to make time for the friends and family members we have chosen to stay close to.

“I think sometimes I took so many relationships for granted, and when these people were gone, they were gone. Unfortunately, the older you get, well, then things start to happen and it will hit those who are closest to you. " (Ed, 45)

“Appreciate those who are close to you. You can get your money and work back, but you can never get your time back. " (Anne, 41)

“Tragedies happen in everyone's life, around family and friends. Be the person others can count on when it matters most. I think between 30 and 40 is the decade in which a lot of crap happens that you never thought could happen to you or your loved one. Parents die, spouses die, miscarriages, friends divorce, partners cheat ... the list goes on and on. Helping someone through these times by just being there, listening and not judging is an honor and will deepen your relationships in ways that you may not even be able to imagine. " (Rebecca, 40)


“Everything in life is an exchange. You give up one thing to get another and you can't have both. Accept this." (Eldri, 60)

In our 20s we have a lot of rooms. We believe we have all the time in the world. I myself remember my illusions that my website would be the first career of many. I knew so little that it took me most of this decade to be competent at all. Now that I am proficient in it and have a significant advantage and love what I do, why should I ever trade that for another career?

“In one word: concentration. You can just achieve more in life if you focus on one thing and do it really well. Concentrate more. " (Ericson, 49)

Another reader: "I would say to myself that I should focus on one or two goals / aspirations / dreams and really work towards them." And another: “You have to accept that you can't do everything. It takes a lot of sacrifices to achieve something special in life. "

A few readers have noted that most people in their teens and early 20s choose their careers arbitrarily, and just like many of our choices at that age were often the wrong ones. It takes years to find out what we are good at and what we like to do. But it is better to focus on our basic strengths and maximize them throughout life than to do something else half-heartedly.

"I would tell my 30-year-old self to put other people's thoughts aside and find my natural strengths, which are my passions, and then build a life on them." (Sara, 58)

For some people, this means taking high risks, even in their 30s and beyond. It may mean giving up a career that you built for a decade and giving up money that you worked hard for and got used to. What brings us to ...


“While most people by the age of 30 think they should have their careers locked in place, it's never too late to start over. The people with the greatest regrets that I have seen over the past decade are those who stuck with something they knew was wrong. It's a decade where the days turn into weeks and years so quickly, only to wake up at 40 with a midlife crisis because you haven't done anything about a problem you were aware of but didn't respond to 10 years ago to have." (Richard, 41)

"My biggest regrets come almost entirely from things I * haven't * done." (Sam, 47)

Many readers have commented on how society tells us that by the age of 30 we should have “figured out” certain things - our job situation, our partner / marriage situation, our financial situation, and so on. But that is not true. In fact, dozens and dozen of readers have pleaded that these social expectations of "adulthood" should not prevent one from taking some substantial risks. As someone responded on my Facebook page: "All adults just improvise."

“I'm about to turn 41 and would tell my 30 year old self that I don't have to adjust my life to an ideal that I don't believe in. Live your life, don't let your life live you. Do not be afraid to break everything off if you have to, because you have the strength to rebuild everything. " (Lisa, 41)

Several readers linked significant career changes in their 30s and were better off because they did. One has given up a lucrative job as a technician in the military to become a teacher. Twenty years later he called it the best decision of his life. When I asked my mother this question, her answer was, “I wish I had been willing to think outside the box a little more. Your father and I thought we should do thing A, thing B, thing C, but looking back I realized we didn't have to; We were very limited in our thinking and lifestyle and I regret that. "

“Your time is limited, so you shouldn't waste it living someone else's life. Don't get caught up in the dogma of having to live with the results and thoughts of others. Don't let the noise of disagreeing silence your inner voice. And above all, have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition. They somehow already know what you actually want to be. Everything else is secondary. " - Steve Jobs

“Less far. Less far. Less far. I'm going to be 50 next year and I'm learning this lesson. Fear was such a damaging driving force in my life at 30. It has affected my marriage, career, and self-image in severely negative ways. I was guilty of thinking what conversations others might have about me. To think that I might fail To wonder what the result could be. If I could do it again, I would risk more. ” (Aida, 49)


“You have two assets that you won't get back once you've lost them: your body and your mind. Most people stop growing and working on themselves in their 20s. Most people in their 30s are too busy with worry to care about their personal progress. But if you are one of the few who continue to educate, develop your thinking and take care of your mental and physical health, you will be light years ahead by the time you turn 40. " (Stan, 48)

It follows that you can still change in your 30s - and should continue to change in your 30s - so you have to keep working to improve and grow. Many readers related their decision to go back to school and graduate in their 30s as the most useful thing they have ever done. Others talked about doing extra seminars and courses to help them get going. Others started their first business and moved to new countries. Others have signed up for therapy or started meditation exercises.

A friend of mine said when he was 29 that he decided that his mind was his greatest asset, so he decided to invest in it. He put thousands in his own training, in seminars, in various therapies. And at 54, he insists that it was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

"The first goal should be to try to be a better person, partner, parent, friend, colleague, etc. - in other words, to grow as an individual." (Aimilia, 39)


“As long as you are not already dead - mentally, emotionally or socially - you cannot foresee the next 5 years of your life. It won't turn out the way you'd expect. So stop that. Stop thinking you can plan ahead, stop torturing yourself about what's happening because we're going to change anyway, and take control of your life. Fortunately, because that is true, there are more opportunities to seize and nothing to lose; you can't lose anything that you never had.Plus, most feelings of loss are only in our heads anyway - few count in the long run. ” (Thomas, 56)

In my article about what I learned in my 20s, one of my lessons was “Nobody knows what he / she is doing” and that was good news. Well, consistent with people over 40, that continues when you're in your 30's and, it looks like, beyond; and that's still good news.

“Most of what you think is important now may seem unimportant 10 or 20 years from now, and that's fine. It's called growth. Just try to remind yourself that you don't take yourself so seriously all the time and be more open. " (Simon, 57)

“Though you've felt a little invincible for the last decade, you don't really know what's going to happen, just like everyone else, no matter how confident you are. While this is disturbing to those who cling to constancy and security, it is really liberating once you grasp the truth that things are always changing. In the end, there may be times that are really sad. Don't suppress or avoid the pain. Mourning and suffering is a part of everyone's life and the consequence is an open and moving heart. Honor that. First and foremost, be kind to yourself and others, life is a great and wonderful journey and it just keeps getting better. " (Prue, 38)

“I'm 44. I remember my 30 year old self until I was 40 like my 30s were filled with stupid stuff and all sorts of stuff that is still stupid… So, 30 year old self, don't try your best Ross to rise. You ALWAYS don't know. And that's a good thing. " (Shirley, 44)


“Spend more time with your people. It's a different relationship when you grow up and it's up to you how you redefine how you live together. They will always see you as their child until the moment when you can get them to see you as an independent man. Everyone is getting old. Everyone dies. Take the time you have left to get things right and enjoy more time with your family. " (Kash, 41)

I was overwhelmed by the amount of family feedback and the power of the feedback. Family is a big new topic for me this decade because you get to see it from both sides. Your parents are old and are starting to wonder how your relationship with you will work now that you are self-employed. You also have to think about when, how and whether to start your own family.

Almost everyone agreed that in order to find a way to get along with your parents, you have to resolve your problems with your parents. One reader wrote, “You are too old to hold your parents responsible for your own inadequacies. At 20 you could get away with it because you just left the house. You're an adult at 30. Really. Go forward. "

But there is one question that plagues every 30 year old: baby or no baby?

“You don't have the time. You don't have the money. You have to have the perfect career first. Life ends before you know it. Oh shut up ...
Kids are great. They make you better in every way. They push you to the limit. They make you happy. Don't put off having children. When you're 30, it's the right time to wake up. You will never regret it. " (Kevin, 38)

“It's never the 'right time' for children because you have no idea what you're getting into until you have some. If you have a good marriage and have a good environment to raise it, it is better to make the mistake of having it sooner than later because it will be more enjoyable. " (Cindy, 45)

“All of my preconceptions about what it's like to be married were wrong. They're wrong with everyone until you're already married. Especially when you have children. Stay open to this experience; marriage is worth it, and happiness seems very much related to being able to change and adjust everything else. I didn't plan on having children. From a purely selfish perspective, what the stupidest thing of all was. Children are the most fulfilling, challenging and exhausting task you can ever ask. Ever." (Rich, 44)

The consensus about marriage seems to be that it is worth it, assuming that one is having a healthy relationship with the right person. If not, run in the other direction (see # 3).

What is very interesting, however, is that I received a few emails like the following:

“What I know now about 10-13 years ago is just this… bars, women, beaches, one drink at a time, clubs and trips to different cities because I had no other responsibility than my work, etc… I would each of these memories to trade in my life for a good woman who loves me ... and maybe even a family. Let me add, don't forget growing up, raising a family, and taking responsibility instead of seeking success at work. I still have a little fun ... but sometimes when I go out I feel like the guy who kept going back to high school after graduating (think Mattew McCanaughes's character in Confusion.) Me see people in love and dating all over the place. “Everyone” my age has been married once or twice! Constantly single sounds great to all of my married friends, but that's not the way to choose to live your life. " (Anonymous, 43)

“I would tell myself to stop constantly looking for the next best thing and better appreciating the relationships I had with sincere people who really cared about me. Now I'm always alone and it feels like it's too late. " (Fara, 38)

On the flip side there was a small handful of emails that took the other side of the coin:

“Don't feel pressured to marry or have children if you don't want to. That only makes one person happy, but not the other. I have decided to stay single and childless and still have a happy and fulfilling life. Do what you feel is right. " (Anonymous, 40)

Outcome: It seems that while family is not absolutely necessary to have a happy and fulfilling life, the majority of people have found for themselves that the family is always worth the investment as long as the relationships are healthy, not harmful and / or abusive .


"Be a little selfish and do something for yourself every day, something different once a month and something spectacular every year." (Nancy, 60)

This advice was rarely the focus of the emails, but it was in some way included in almost all of them. Almost everyone has said it in one form or another. “There is no one who cares about you or who thinks about your life and what you are doing,” began one of the readers and “life is hard, so learn to love you now, it is much harder later,” another has finished .

Or as Renee, 40, simply said, "Be nice to yourself."

Many readers have inserted the old cliché: “Don't sweat for the little things; and it's almost always little things. " Eldri, 60, said wisely, “When faced with a problem that you have identified, ask yourself, 'Does it matter in 5 or 10 years?' If not, pause in it for a few minutes, then let it go. ” It seems that many readers have focused on the subtle life lessons, simply accepting life for what it is, with all the waiting and so on.

Which brings me to my last quote from Martin, 58 years old:

“When I turned 40, my dad told me I would enjoy my 40s because in my 20s I thought I knew how everything works, in the 30s I realized it might not, and in your 40s you can relax and can just accept things. Now I'm 58 and he was right. "

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Written by Mark Manson, translated from English by Daniel Pikal