By: Rie Sheena Au Yeung

Thirty is not the new Twenty.

Your twenties are the defining decade of adulthood.

You may not realize it but your life is and will be decided by the twentysomething moments and experiences that will define your future.

I am glad that I realized this early on as a young professional fresh out of college.

I am thankful I read the book “Defining Decade: Why your Twenties Matter And How to Make The Most Of Them Now” by Meg Jay.

In her book, she warned that twentysomethings have been misinformed and were advised to “just enjoy” and that “you can have your whole life figured out when you turn thirty”.

Why Your Twenties Matter?

According to Dr. Meg Jay, these are the reasons why our twenties is the Defining Decade of our lives:

  • 80% of life’s most defining moments take place by about age 35.
  • 2/3 of lifetime wage growth happens during the first ten years of a career.
  • Most will be married or are dating or living with their future partner by age 30.
  • Female fertility peaks at 28.
  • The brain caps off its last major growth spurt.

This month I turned 29, the last year in my 20’s.

Coincidentally, this month is also my work anniversary.

I have been working for nine years this year.

I cannot help but revisit the book and I realized this is indeed my defining decade.

In this decade, I had gained several professional and personal skills.

I got married to my long-term boyfriend at 27. I had a baby at 28.

I also entered and started my life-long career as a Foreign Service Officer.

My Defining Decade is almost over.

With the end of this decade comes several learnings that I wish to share with twentysomethings to make the most of their Defining Decade.

9 Best Pieces of Career Advice You Need To Hear

Don’t Follow Your Passion

In fact, forget about passion.

There is too much pressure to find that one true passion that will change your life and make you happy.

In his book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, Cal Newport argues that pre-existing passions are extremely rare.

Instead, he argues that we should focus on gaining skills and attaining excellence in our field of choice.

With the expertise that comes from mastering your craft, you will have more motivation to work since you feel competent.

You will also have more autonomy or having a sense of control at work.

This will also help you relate more to others even to your boss.

After graduating from college, I took up a job in project management.

I don’t have any idea what this is about.

I certainly do not feel passionate about it.

However, as I gained more experience and more skills I came to realize the value of project management.

I used this at work and even in my life.

I now have a sense of respect and love for this profession that I even started a blog to talk about this topic more!

I am not saying ignore your interest or your so-called passion.

Instead, what I am advising is to stick to one profession just for a few years to learn the skills before deciding that it is not for you.

Even if you ended up with a totally different profession just like I did, you can still use the skills that you learned.

Be so Good They Can’t Ignore You

In the spirit of Carl Newport’s book, be so good they cannot ignore you.

Your twenties is the perfect time to invest in yourself and develop the skills needed to succeed in your role.

Enroll in graduate school. Take several courses both free and paid.

Read books especially self-help or self-development books. I remember a friend who told me to set aside money to buy books or to take courses every month.

He was right, the more you invest in yourself the more you can expect from yourself.

It has a compounding effect, the more skills you have the more opportunities you will have.

You will become more confident and happier as well.

”Be so good they can’t ignore you”. So, I enrolled in Graduate school.

I read books every day.

I watch videos. I listen to Podcasts.

I examine my skills to learn my strengths and my weaknesses.

I try to improve on those weaknesses by learning more and practicing as well.

I also try to gain skills beyond my pay grade.

I learned about management and leadership before I even had leadership experience.

Of course, when I had my first management role it was not easy but I assumed it would have been much harder had I not prepared myself.

Write your Career Story

Make a plan on what you want to do during your Defining Decade.

After reading the book, I realized that I should make a plan not just for my career but for my life.

I planned when I will get married and have a baby.

No, you do need to figure out everything but it helps to have an idea of what you want your life to look like one, five, or ten years from now.

You can be as detailed as you like.

Then, review your goals at least once a year.

A mentor even advised me to create a story to envision my career path better.

For example, it could be to become a certified Project Management Professional with expertise in Finance. Then, moved to an Operations role as an Operations Manager.

Create your story then make it happen.

Believe in Yourself

Since you focused on growing your skills you should know your worth.

Learn to negotiate your salary.

Ask for a promotion. Do not be shy to advocate for yourself.

Advocating for yourself is different from being entitled.

When I was younger I did not believe in myself enough.

I did not advocate for myself.

I thought doing good work is enough.

Guess what? It is not enough.

Your boss is probably too consumed on tasks that she forgot you have been in the same role for years.

Remind her of the results that you have delivered and ask for what you deserve.

Who will believe in you if you do not believe in yourself?

Perform roles before you are ready

Part of believing in yourself and investing in yourself is performing roles even before you think you are ready.

Show some initiative.

Pitch ideas. Proposed solutions to issues that you noticed.

Resolve issues on your own if you can.

Reach out to your boss and ask for bigger roles even without a promotion.

This will help you prepare for the actual role when you get it.

It will also help you in advocating for yourself.

I remember asking for my first Training Lead role which involves traveling to Malaysia for three weeks.

I have not performed the role yet and that’s the reason why I want to do it.

I created a list of roles that I want to perform and little by little perform those roles.

That’s how I was able to gain valuable skills even with a few years of work experience.

Organize your Life

Organizing your life is a skill you definitely need to master during the Defining Decade.

As more and more is expected from you, you might feel overwhelmed unless you have organizational skills.

Organizational skills would help you work effectively and efficiently.

There are basic organizing skills that you need to know such as how to manage your inbox.

It is also important to note that your environment affects your mood so being organized will also make you happier.

Make sure that you have an organized desk at work or at home.

This skill also extends to managing your finances.

Organizing my life keeps me sane and on top of things.

Value your time

You can only perform your best if you know how to manage your time.

You should know how to prioritize your tasks.

Before you know it your Defining Decade is almost over so prioritize what is important.

Learn time blocking.

Learn to adhere to deadlines. Even deadlines you set for yourself such as reading a book for at least 10 minutes daily or exercising.

By managing your time you will be able to follow through on your plans.

I admit that I sometimes waste my time doing unproductive things but what is important is to bounce back and start doing the important tasks.

Cultivate Perseverance

here is no easy way to say this but your grades at school do not guarantee you anything in life.

No matter how high it is.

Fresh out of college you will feel lost and unsure of yourself.

It’s okay to feel down what is important is to persevere.

Learn from your mistakes and then keep moving forward.

I have failed the first time I took the Foreign Service Officer Exam.

If I did not try again then I will not be a Foreign Service Officer today.

Sometimes you just need to try harder or change your approach but if you quit you will absolutely fail.

Do Not Sweat the Small Stuff

Relax. Do not sweat the small stuff.

Most of our frustrations at the moment are small stuff.

Ask yourself “Would this matter one year, five years, or ten years from now?”

If it will not matter so much. Take a deep breath.

Let it go.

I know this is hard. I feel upset too.

However, instead of focusing on the wrong things, I try to reframe them.

For instance, not getting your dream role saved you from dealing with a bad boss.

By doing so, I easily bounce back from any frustration I have.

There you have it, nine pieces of career advice for my nine years of work experience.