05/18/2015 04:59 pm ET Updated May 18, 2016

A Survival Checklist For Your 20s


If you've hit 20, you have entered what might shape up to be the most tumultuous, ambiguous decade you've yet to experience. And things only seem to get more confusing/anxiety-inducing with time.

At least, that's the way it was for yours truly.

I have a confession to make: I spent my 20s as one of the most insecure, unsure, conflicted people you could ever hope to meet.

Looking back, I realize that the vast majority of the way my 20s played out was my own doing.

In other words, I repeatedly relinquished power to settings, situations and people who had no business receiving it.

Make no mistake: Vestiges of those anxious years still play out (I am not all that far removed, nor do I obnoxiously claim complete control over life's ambiguity). But I've learned to think about them differently. Here are some of those ways. I consider this a short checklist to enjoy a less fraught decade than mine:

1. Do not let relatives get in the way of family. A genetic relation does not necessitate a family connection, no matter what others might say about what's "right." You define what's right. If you do not like who you become in the presence of certain people, you are the lone person with the power to change that dynamic, genetic affiliations notwithstanding.

2. Traditions are an invention of the mind. If you are interested in striving to be a good citizen, you have one job: Wake up and contribute to society productively. OK, two jobs: You also have to be kind to others. Nowhere does it say that you are required to partake in the inventions of someone else's imagination, particularly if it is a "tradition" for traditions' sake, and particularly if it's the kind of thing where you are counting the minutes until you can escape. You're an adult, and it is perfectly OK to wield your right to make decisions. (There are cordial ways to bow out of any situation; often, a person's reaction says a lot more about them than it does you.)

3. Do not let a job get in the way of your career. This is your life we're talking about.

4. Do not let the rules get in the way of your ability to have a critical thought about something (i.e., some rules are just dumb).

5. Do not let the rules get in the way of honesty (i.e., some rules are just dumb).

6. Do not let pretenses get in the way of vulnerability. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for success. Moreover, a willingness to be vulnerable enables a willingness to take risks. Taking risks can lead to success. Author Leo Buscaglio has argued that, "The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live." (I used to have this quote on a magnet. I should find it. I need the reminder sometimes.) In sum: Stop acting. Vulnerability necessitates risk-taking. Just ask Brené Brown.

7. Policies are created. People create policies. Sometimes people pretend that policies cannot be changed. This is often true, but I reject the idea that this is always true. If something needs to be changed/argued against/critiqued, then do that. Some policies are just dumb, and therefore warrant (your) critical attention.

8. You'd be amazed at how quickly people stop arguing with you when you firmly (yet diplomatically) remind them that the decisions you make about your personal life are not up for debate; that they do not get a vote. Some people might behave as though they did not hear you the first time. That's OK; maybe they didn't. Rinse, repeat.

9. Audacity is a good thing. I think sometimes audacity gets a bad rap, and I disagree with this. Tenacity requires audacity. Audacity requires tenacity. These two qualities need each other to survive if the goal is to get out of your own way.

10. Get out of your own way.

Hey! Come hang with me!