People say college constitutes the best four years of your life, but I have to say the rest of my 20s have given that period competition. These years can be the hardest but also the most liberating and enriching if you do what women deserve to do in their 20s. Often, the things that could help us most are also the things we're taught to avoid, which means many women, and people in general, end up missing out on the best parts of the decade.
I'm only halfway through my 20s, so this list will probably change over the next five years, and I'll probably be kicking myself in a few years for not doing certain things more. I haven't even done all the things on this list as much as I should — and that's largely because I haven't felt like I deserved to. Because women and other feminine-presenting people are taught that we need to accommodate others, we don't always do as much for ourselves as we could.
Here are a few things that women all deserve to do in their 20s. They may not be right for everyone, but nobody should feel like they can't do them.
1. Prioritize Work
I know, I'm starting with the least fun one. But as somebody who's been shamed for working outlandish hours, I need to say this: You're allowed to work your butt off in your 20s in order to build a foundation for a lifelong career. I recommend playing hard as well, of course, but if work is your priority right now, don't feel any shame over your schedule or guilt over limiting your time with friends, family, or significant others. Sometimes, we enjoy our jobs more than we enjoy time spent with people, and we should allocate our time accordingly.
2. Go On Adventures
Your 20s are not a time to say "no" to an idea because it sounds out-there. If a friend invites you to some wacky festival you've never heard of, book a trip. If you're offered a job in a cool city where you don't know anyone, go for it. Don't let someone convince you an adventure is weird or too risky unless you have good reason to believe this yourself. These are the kinds of things that will shape who you are and stick in your memory for the rest of your life.
3. Be A Little Impulsive
There's something to be said for following your gut even when your thoughts are telling you otherwise. It's liberating to realize you don't always have to justify every decision to yourself or even make the best decision possible. Sometimes, just making a decision is an accomplishment in of itself. When you let go of the pressure to always carefully consider your options and make the smartest choice possible about everything, you become a lot less self-critical and a lot more relaxed.
4. Set Boundaries
When you're a child, you depend on your parents, and when you're in college, you often still do financially. It's during your 20s that you get complete control over what your relationship with your family will be, and often, that means setting boundaries. This can also become a necessity with your friends and your work as well, as your schedule gets busy and you realize what your priorities are. It can certainly be guilt-inducing, but remember that most people would rather you spend less time with them than spend your time with them feeling resentful.
5. Take The Reins In Your Relationships
It can takes a while for women to overcome what they've been taught about relationships — that they should wait for someone else to suggest an idea, and then decide if they want to go along with it — and take the reins. I'm not even just talking about romantic relationships. I'm still overcoming the impulse to say, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" when a friend asks me how I want to spend a day, as well as to wait for a romantic interest to ask me out. Your 20s are a great time to practice asking for what you want out of a relationship, and this not only saves you time worrying about whether someone else will provide it, but also is an enormous act of self-love because it demonstrates to yourself that you're willing to do whatever you can to provide for your needs.
6. Explore Your Sexuality
A few years ago, I made a friend in a bar one night who was in her 30s, and during a conversation in the bathroom about a guy who had expressed interest in me, she told me he was probably better off as a hookup than a date. I said I wasn't really into casual things, and she responded, "That's how I used to feel in my 20s. I was afraid I'd regret getting into those situations, but actually, I only regret not experimenting more." I still believe we should never do something that makes us uncomfortable, but this conversation did lead me to ask myself when I actually felt uncomfortable and when I just thought I should. There are ways to experiment and explore your sexuality without leaving your comfort zone, and a lot of it goes back to item No. 5: asking for what you want rather than going along with what you think someone else does. If you can find a relationship that makes you feel safe, cared for, and empowered, it doesn't necessarily have to be a serious one. Plus, if you plan to have a monogamous life partner eventually, now might be the time to sow your wild oats. Even if it doesn't lead to anything, sex is pretty much the most fun thing you can do, so if you can find circumstances under which you're comfortable, why not take advantage of it?
7. Ask For Things
One of my friends spent several days playing a game called the "no" game. The objective of the game was to get people to say "no" to her. She asked people to do everything from buying her snacks to letting her stay at restaurants after they closed. And she got a surprising amount of yes responses. One part of the game was asking me to collaborate with her professionally, which is how we met. I was surprised she normally wouldn't have asked because she'd expect me to say "no," but we often assume this. This has been one of the biggest revelations of my 20s: Women are taught to be givers and not take too much, but the truth is, people want to help you. You're not usually imposing as much as you fear, and if you are, people can't fault you just for asking politely. More likely than anything, they'll feel bad that they can't help you. So whether it's a shoutout to your Facebook friends that you're looking for a new apartment, an email to an acquaintance at a company you're applying to work at, or a request for a raise, ask away. The worst you can get is a "no," and if you do, good. It means you're getting more opportunities than you would if you only asked questions that led to "yeses."