6 Things to do in your 20s to make your 30s good

Why do people spend so much time telling you a list of books to read in your twenties or a list of places to go in your twenties?  Those are actually ways only to escape your twenties. Escaping by doing that stuff just sets you up for a disaster in your thirties.

Here are things to do in your twenties to make your thirties fun.

1.  Build a career that enables you to work from home.
The best way to get control of your life is working from home, because once you’re home, then things start to shift in favor of you instead of your company.

But there are relatively few types of jobs that translate to a career from home.  Survey the types of careers that are typical of at‑home workers and set yourself up for one of them.

Almost every person who is working from home either works very hard in their twenties to build their own business or they worked hard in their twenties to specialize so that it was too costly for the company to replace them. So when they ask, it is easier to let them work from home.

2.  Women, freeze your embryos.
I’m actually a fan of approaching your biological clock head-on instead of procrastinating by freezing your eggs. That seems like you’re just putting off the inevitable realities of having a family.  Nothing changes when the eggs are frozen except that you build a bigger career that you must scale back when you do have kids.

But sometimes really bad things happen to us, like your whole family burns up in a fire and you have to go to six years of therapy, and you can’t start dating until you’re thirty-one. So for cases like this, or less extreme, it’s good to just have your embryos saved.

Why doesn’t everybody just save embryos? It’s kind of like cord blood. It’s what rich people do to avoid calamitous medical situations.

3.  Build muscle.
You already know that good-looking people get the best jobs and a wider selection of partners.

What you didn’t know is that you can kind of buy yourself some time if you’ve been lifting weights really hard-core the whole time in your twenties. Muscle just sort of lingers on so you can do mostly lame workouts in your thirties if you lifted weights in your twenties. This plan allows you a lot more flexibility. It allows you to have years when you don’t work out because you’re trying to rearrange your life, and it makes all transitions easier to know that your body isn’t falling apart when you’re doing them.

4. Go visit your siblings. 
It’s really not that fun to stay in touch with your siblings in your twenties because everybody uses that time to separate from their parents and build their own identity. And this is the time when people are in the most denial that they are like their parents and will marry someone like their parents. So a way to stay in denial as long as possible is to avoid siblings, because siblings can always tell when you’re acting like your parents.

The problem is that a fascinating study from Harvard reveals that the only indicator of who will be happy and who won’t later in life is who remains close to their siblings. So you might think that what’s really going to make you happy is to be hot enough to get into exclusive clubs, but that doesn’t last. Your siblings are what lasts. So go visit them when you have time off.

5.  Don’t stress about relocation.
It’s overwhelming to think you’re twenty-two and you can live anywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not actually true. It’s true that you can live anywhere, but it’s not true that you’re going to want to live just anywhere.

After you have kids you’re going to want to live where your family is because this is what happens: Nobody really cares about your kids. In fact, nobody even likes other people’s kids. They like their own kids. The exception to this is family. Family loves other family.

We love our nieces and nephews and grandkids similarly to our own kids, so you’re going to want to be near family. You’re going to relocate to family when you realize none of your friends actually care about your kids. You’ll know because they’re not inviting you for holidays anymore—they’re going to see family on holidays because they want someone to dote on their kids.

6. Your twenties are not practice time. It’s your life.
So don’t worry about relocation. It’s playing in the world of false choices. Meg Jay has a great Ted Talk about how people in their twenties spend too much time making dead-end decisions that they pretend don’t count. Instead, focus on using a systematic way to try new jobs and new relationships to figure where you fit. And don’t worry that things don’t feel right in your twenties because everything happens so fast. You know how people always say to you, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve grown up so fast.” Well, time speeds up as you get older, and you’re not going to believe how fast your twenties are over.

So much of what people in their 20s focus on is how they look to the world right now. It’s why Facebook rules the day, and street photographer James Maher named his photo (up top) The Pose of a Generation. But all that Facebook-induced, short-term thinking leads to depression. Take your life seriously enough to be able to share difficulties and failures.

And remember that the best decisions you can make are ones that will last into your thirties. That way, you know you are doing things in your twenties that will matter.

63 replies
  1. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I signed up for a 50 mile race for March, which is right before I plan to move to London. A guy I’m seeing right now thinks it’s great that I’m going to London, but terrible that I don’t have a plan outside of staying with my friend from college for a few weeks and looking for a job, any job. He’s a lot more sensible than I am. I’m much more concerned that I get in a 50 mile race before I’m faced with real life things and I don’t have time to run that much. But between our bickering about it I did get that guy to write the bullet points on my resume for me.

  2. Linda
    Linda says:

    Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Wish I could give this to every 20 year. I am in my 50’s damm near 60. I have always shared with young people that the first 10 years out of high school are your foundation building years for your life. Laying a foundation for your career life is important because quite often our work defines us, it’s what we spend most of our time doing. I don’t think you have to be limited. When I was in my 20’s I ran or did some type of physical activity. I truly believe that having done so has afforded me a fairly healthy life, cause I don’t do much running now. Now the people who I love to hang out and party with are my sisters and brothers. Thanks for writing this article.

    • texasmama
      texasmama says:

      Your response hit home for me as I have hit the 60 mark (ahead of you!) and I can tell you:
      1. I concur with you that exercising early in life leads to a healthier ‘later’ one. Do you find it seems to take longer and more energy to just begin a sincere, healthy life plan……I’m at the start-over point, uhmm, probably monthly…..first day is great til I miss the next, then, yuk!
      2. We cannot give up though, even if “it is the first day for the rest of our lives”, as the song goes…those days have turned into decades…..
      I find however, that if I talk to someone experiencing some of the same stuff that also wants the healthy life plan, it’s a tiny bit less of a struggle… Achieving that connection is a real benefit to the ‘let’s pump each other up” idea. TexasMama

  3. Nikki Rae
    Nikki Rae says:

    Boy, do I wish I would have not taken my twenties so seriously. I made a TON of mistakes and hid from the world because of them. Now in my thirties, I’m finally feeling happy about who I am and the choices I make.

  4. rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel.com
    rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel.com says:

    Build muscle is a very good tip and a huge investment towards not looking like crap in your fifties. I did not know about this tip, thus am trying to hang on to muscle I built in my thirties. Also, the location tip is also very good. You can always move back near your parents when your kids are born so wander around and see the world in your twenties. It doesn’t hurt at all and will widen your perspective and make you more interesting. I am making sure my fifteen-year-old reads it.

  5. Morgan Campbell
    Morgan Campbell says:

    I’m 23 and just graduated college. I started selling real estate at 21 because I knew that I wanted to be self-employed and have the ability to stay close to home when I got ready to have kids. I see my friends interning, kissing their boss’ ass and focusing totally on their resumes and LinkedIn accounts. I asked my best friend what she was going to do when she has kids and she said, “I don’t know”. She is 30 years old!!! She forgets that she is not a man and that right NOW is the optimal time for her to procreate. The problem is that she has no way to make money from home…she NEEDS her day job. What you do in your 20s does matter and being entrepreneurial now will give you more time with your family and financial freedom from a traditional job later.

    • Victoria
      Victoria says:

      Jesus christ, could you be any creepier? How are your friend’s fertile ovaries any of your goddamn business, let alone something to be butthurt enough to write a spiteful blog comment over.
      Maybe she doesn’t want kids or can’t have them. This sounds a lot like the cut-and-dry response I give to nosy moronic assholes like you.

    • pou
      pou says:

      Boy, do I wish I would have not taken my twenties so seriously. I made a TON of mistakes and hid from the world because of them. Now in my thirties, I’m finally feeling happy about who I am and the choices I make.

  6. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    Re: #2. Eggs or embryos? I think you mean eggs, but you use both terms interchangeably. Not the same, of course.

  7. D
    D says:

    Great list…wish I’d had it in my 20s. (And, boy howdy, is #5 ever true).

    One I’d add: go to counseling. Whatever dysfunctional thoughts or behaviors you’re dealing with in your 20s are unlikely to go away on their own. You might as well start dealing with them now.

  8. Emily
    Emily says:

    Yay! This actually makes me feel great about my twenties. I kind of switched strategies in the middle (from building a business to specializing) so if there’s any additional advice I’d add it’s to pick one of those and stick with it for ten years. You won’t fail. You need all that time to make a ton of mistakes though.

  9. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    I wish I had “met” Penelope 10 years ago, or that I was 22 right now instead of 32.

    Penelope, you have got to write a post – What to do in your 30s if you only got 1 or 2 things right in your 20s (I do have a work from home job, am close with my siblings, and thats it….).

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:


      But I fear that the answers for us are much more grim. Penelope is probably focusing on advice for 20-somethings because the
      potential returns are so much greater.

      In our case, we’ll just have to work on self-acceptance ☺

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Here it is in a nutshell: Get married and have kids or get something you are really really passionate about if you’re not having kids. People in their 30s and 40s either focus on their kids/family or career/passion or both. If you have neither, you will disappointed at best and an outcast at worst.

        The worst thing you can do is not get married and not have anything you’re passionate about. That’s a sign that you are scared of losing opportunities. But you have to give up walking through some doors in order to actually walk through a door and take an opportunity.

        Your 30s is about watching opportunities go away because you made hard choices. But your 30s is also a time of confidence if you understand the choices you make and you go with it.


        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          “Your 30s is about watching opportunities go away because you made hard choices. But your 30s is also a time of confidence if you understand the choices you make and you go with it.”

          ^ 100% agree ^
          This started happening to me at age 35, when a mentor told me: “If you want to make it in the art world, you’d better hurry up” and have some big shows/show with a well-known gallery. As with any image-based industry, if you’re over 40 and haven’t gotten to a certain level, you’ll never be hot (and collectible).

          Now, at the end of my 30’s, I pretty much ignore the art world and focus on doing what I’m really interested in. Last month I met my mentor and admitted I wasn’t visiting important gallery/art shows because I just wasn’t interested in it. His response? “Congrats on not being brainwashed….”

  10. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Pretty sure you mean freeze your eggs, not freeze your embryos. Embryos are eggs that have been fertilized with sperm. This is something couples usually do with IVF, not something single women do.

  11. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    Freezing your eggs sounds nice in theory. I got curious so I looked up how much it costs. Turns out we’re talking over ten thousand dollars at the minimum. If I was rich enough to afford to freeze my eggs, I’d be rich enough to just have a baby right now instead.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      If the only reason you aren’t having kids is because you don’t have $10,000, you should just have them. No one would say that having ten grand makes having kids manageable. It’s just, simply an incredibly difficult, insanely expensive undertaking for anyone.

      So I guess what I’m saying is you need to be more honest with yourself – you’re not having kids for some other reason than money.

      And I don’t mean to call you out, but I can’t believe how many women I talk to in their early 30s who tell me they have a list of things they ware doing before they have kids — like get money, get a stable career they love, etc – that really just do not need to be done before you have kids.


      • Lindsay
        Lindsay says:

        That’s ok, I like being called out. Why am I not having a baby right now? It’s not like I’m not thinking about babies 24/7. Your answer has me thinking hard.

    • Car News
      Car News says:

      Most likely Penelope got paid for that link. It’s a secret that everyone does, but nobody likes to admit they do it. I see SEO firms throwing money around at bloggers all the time.

      Lead generation for cord blood and freezing eggs is crazy profitable! :)

  12. Jack
    Jack says:

    Working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    I recommend building a career that makes you happy or makes you rich. Anything in between, you’re better off building your own business and working for yourself.

    Life’s too short to spend it in a daily grind doing something you don’t love for meh money.

    Go hard, or go homeless, either way you’ll be happier in the long run.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The luxury of choosing between a career that makes you happy or a career that makes you rich is a luxury that comes from having no kids. Once there are kids in the mix, they trump both choices. That’s why people with kids have so much trouble figuring out what to do with their career — because the kids mess up the easy choice of makes your happy or makes you rich.


  13. Holly Isdale
    Holly Isdale says:

    YES! Great advice The women (and men) who have been the most successful in having “balance” in their careers were the ones that started planning years ahead of time. They purposely chose career paths, built skill sets, or took jobs that let them have the flexibility to work remotely, to have flexible hours when they were raising a family and to have a variety of jobs that morphed over decades.

  14. Craig
    Craig says:

    I don’t know….these articles stating what steps you should take in your youth always seem to be retrospective based on the life experience of an older person. There doesn’t appear to be any remembrance of how actual 20-somethings think. For one thing, you just have to make your own mistakes in order to gain wisdom. I imagine that your average 20-something would look at this list and ignore it (or tell you to get lost).

    • Danielle
      Danielle says:

      I second this. The problem with being young is you do not have the wisdom to have foresight or “long range thinking.” This post is like Monday morning quarterbacking and hindsight is 20/20. Not that there aren’t some valid points, but most 20 year olds aren’t going to take them seriously.

  15. Christopher Quinn
    Christopher Quinn says:

    “Don’t Stress About Re-location”… that is so true for someone in their 20s!! I moved from Boston to Waikiki at the age of 26 back in ’87 and haven’t looked back since. Best move I ever made!!

    Now being in my early 50s my wife and I plan to move to Tokyo in 5 or 6 years where I will teach English as an early retirement plan!

    Good article… but I wish I was 25 again!!!!

  16. darja wagner
    darja wagner says:

    dear penelope!

    THANK YOU FOR TELLING WOMEN TO FREEZE THEIR EMBRYOS. i keep telling that on my own website, but i am a research scientist and nobody listens to us.

    there is one more important thing and it would be great if you could please mention it sometimes: women should take care of the quality of their eggs while they still have them!
    no eggs (or low quality eggs) mean no baby!
    eggs are the single most important factor ruining women’s chances to get pregnant after the age of 35, and young women should adjust their lifestyle accordingly.
    there is a lot of great research from the last 5-10 years showing that there are several ways to improve egg quallity: nutrition (mediterranean diet), supplements (DHEA, CoQ10, vitamin D) etc.
    of course, nobody can stop biological clock, but it is not that hard to slow it down for some years…because when 40es come, then even months will matter…

    eggs decline in quality rapidly after the age of 30 and smart women should (must?) take steps to counteract that.
    thank you again for encouraging freezing embryos (but please make clear that once frozen, embryos can’t exchange father any more). freezing EGGS enables to choose any sperm later on to fertilize with, but the procedure is coumbersome and women would need to freeze many to have reasonable chances to get pregnant with them some day.

    i can’t thank you enough for your clear words on this topic. hug.

  17. JieunNA
    JieunNA says:

    I’m already in my thirties. Fortunately in early thirties. Could you tell us about things to do in your thirties to make your fourties good?

  18. Ru
    Ru says:

    What do u think about a lot of lateral moves in 20s?

    If 20s is a good time to try to figure out where you fit, lateral moves means you can eliminate options by 30

  19. jen
    jen says:

    But, Hilary didn’t divorce Bill. And, look how it worked out. Their family is still intact. Her forgiveness, their restoration is partly why she has a shot at the presidency. So, Huma should stay, step aside from Hilary, be a mom, work on her family and just put her career off for a decade. Plus, I think she’s one of the few women out there who gets the worse part of For Better or Worse.

    But, for the record, I’d probably leave, too. And, hope he’d go very, very faraway from my child.

  20. cindy
    cindy says:

    This post makes me feel pretty good about things at 52.

    I was very much into weight training, running, and everything else in my twenties. I competed in a few bodybuilding contests and got best poser a few times. I exercised everyday during both pregnancies in my 30’s and snapped back in weeks. I still workout and stay active, but the base I built hard in my 20’s and 30’s is still there. I’m having a nude photo shoot in 7 weeks….It’s pretty awesome to be this fit at my age and I do attribute a lot of it to those hard workout years when I was younger. At this point, exercise is my joy, not a chore to be gotten through as some people think of it at this age.

    I’ve started working from home in my 20’s as well. I was a graphic designer back then and freelance was easy.

    Since I worked for myself, having babies in my mid 30’s was no problem. I got pregnant within weeks each time I decided I was ready and was able to “be there” for them more because I worked for myself (though I lost my mind for a few years when they were infants and toddlers – literally out of my mind with no sleep….)

    Sibs, no problem. We’ve always gotten along.

    All of this was not a “plan”, it just happened, like so much of my life.

    BUT, but, but…. I got divorced in my early forties after 25 years and felt totally obsolete because I took 7 years off to be with my kids. As much as I believe in SAHM’s for the family unit, it’s the mom’s who lose big-time if the marriage falls apart. I literally had to start over from scratch at 43, after not only losing my marriage, but my home, filed bankruptcy eventually and all of that. I had nothing. Not a good plan.

    Bullet point…..do not count on your partner to have good character when he’s done with the marriage. All bets are off. Be prepared. I was not. I trusted. Very naive of me not to plan for this possibility.

    However….I am once again self-employed and growing, loving my life. Not everything works out neatly, but when you crash and burn, you can build something better than ever….

  21. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Wish blogs like this were around when I was in my 20’s but the internet was in it’s infancy back in the early 90’s. But then again, I basically spent my 20’s in and out of therapy (didn’t quite end there). I may not have a big career but at least I did something by working through my own issues. What a person does during that time, like it or not, sets the stage for so many areas of his or her life (doesn’t just apply to careers, either).

    But the problem is that 20-somethings think they have all the time in the world and society reinforces a lot of that. There are so many important decisions to be made during that time and if you express confusion, the answer you often get is, “you’re young, you have plenty of time/will figure it out/etc.” It’s pretty refreshing to have someone out there who can be more direct.

  22. celestial
    celestial says:

    I believe the Harvard article stated much more than “the key to happiness is to remain in contact with your siblings”. The article is really an excellent one that should be read by everyone with an interest in the area of longitudinal studies of happiness. The article mentions health, freedom from smoking and drinking, relationships, and exercise as predictors of future well-being, as well as the importance of relationships, not just sib-ships.

  23. Michael feeley
    Michael feeley says:

    Fantastic post! It’s a really important topic about the decisions we or anyone makes in their 20’s. It matters, as you said Penelope.

    Totally loved Meg Jay’s TED Talk…so specific and very moving. Especially liked her #1 point – ‘Get Identity Capital’.

    You always give the most interesting and exciting links in your work. This one was spectacular. Thanks

  24. Nina
    Nina says:

    I love this article so much. Especially the part about freezing your embryos and nobody likes other peoples kids. That’s so darn true and nobody will admit it. I hate other peoples kids

  25. Emily
    Emily says:

    Great article – I’m a little confused though about how the study about how high school girls’ athletics participation shows how building muscle in your 20’s allows you to take whole years off of exercise in your 30’s. It is true that it takes several days per week to build muscle, but only about one to maintain your current level of strength. I don’t think it works that you can take a year off from exercise entirely and expect the muscle to “linger on”. I honestly hope I’m wrong, I’d love my current workouts to mean I can take it easier one day!

  26. Yasmine
    Yasmine says:

    Wow! that sentence really resonated withe me. Your 20ties are not practice ground they are your life.

    I am truly amazed that many people are not aware of that. I feel good to know that I am starting to working from home, close to my brothers and can live in any country (im now on country number 7). I am worried that I am still single and if not getting married before i turn 30 will affect the rest of my life.

  27. Allie Rowe
    Allie Rowe says:

    You are a genius. I’m 28 now and have only recently been feeling a bit more purposeful about my decisions and prepping for my 30s – this article couldn’t have possibly come at a better time. The first half of my 20s looked like something we’ve all seen before – floundering around, trying to get a hold on a career while also grabbing a grad degree and attempting to hold onto the messy social life I knew in college. Craving adventure and thinking that my 20s would last forever. Next thing you know I’m 26 and still on the bottom rung of the ladder.

    The past couple of years have been a much more purposeful and successful, with some adventure and travel involved that luckily pushed me up the ladder rather than dragging me behind. I have another year and a half before my 30s and that time will spent working on your #1 up there – a career from home is my biggest goal. Thanks so much for the motivation to make it happen sooner than later!

  28. Lily
    Lily says:

    Great list Penelope – I do agree with the comment above about the therapy in your twenties!

    Would have being so handy to have information like this in my twenties.

  29. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    Nice to see the “build muscle” point. I’m a 24 year old female powerlifter, and everyone seems to think I’m a bit weird for it. But the more research I do the more I think that I’m going to be going strong well into old age.

  30. Ziggy
    Ziggy says:

    Number 7 would have to be “Leverage the Power and Magic of Compound Multiple Interest.

    Socking cash away in your twenties and letting earned interest compound for a couple of decades doesn’t help much in your 30s, but it provides enormous flexibility and freedom in your 50s. As PT said, the older you get, the faster time rips by.

    You can only leverage compound multiple interest when you’re relatively young – unless you think you’re going to live to be 100.

  31. That guy Matt
    That guy Matt says:

    This is crap! What about college? How are you not going to recommend starting school young so you won’t regret it in the future, and lets be real. Every 20 year old just wants to get drunk at frat parties and get laid right after. It’s always been like that and it always will be like that.

  32. Casandra Campbell
    Casandra Campbell says:

    Quite an unconventional list but it really resonates with me! A lot of the ideas you cover mirror my own life in my twenties. Not because I’m planning ahead, but because I’m happiest working remotely, weight-training, and living instead of “practicing”.

    A little over a year ago, I decide to stop working towards towards living life on my own terms and just start living that way now. We actually have a lot more control over our lives than we like to believe – especially in our twenties when we can usually take more risks. Once you realize this, it seems crazy that most people don’t get it.

  33. Baseball Hitting Drills
    Baseball Hitting Drills says:

    I totally agree. I work as a coach however, I have kids to go to my place and practice. Aside from these, I have others jobs that doesn’t require my presence in the company so they’d let me do my work at home. I’m at peace at home, flexible enough to learn more things than what you can learn from the office. No hassle in transportation and you can do multiple work at the same time.

  34. Gail
    Gail says:

    This article is very insightful for a 20 something because it doesn’t have the cliche statements that Elite Daily and Buzzfeed put out there. “Don’t stress about relocation” : this is something I am constantly thinking about and I’m only 23. I want to move to London at some point in my life because I spent close to a year in school there and I absolutely loved it. I know once I get married and if I decide to have children, I may change my mind because my family is near New York City. But sometimes it feels tiresome to have grown up here and still live here; even if I have an incredible partner who I share an apartment with. I get restless about routine and the same environment and I know it’s so bad to do. Thank you for your amazing posts though. It has been making rethink my values and beliefs over. “Bad Career Advice: Do what you love” has been my favorite one overall.

  35. Mark Harris
    Mark Harris says:

    It’s really wonderful to see that someone wrote it, Finally! I’ve been waiting for an article like this. I’m in my 20’s and, seriously the point 6 describes me. It’s my life. I enjoy it, working, having fun with friends and just living my life. I’ve already made a career that I work from home for. And the Thing not to fill embryos, a “true-that” on that. Wonderful Article by the way.

  36. Daisy
    Daisy says:

    Great article! This post was shared by one of my former supervisors, and as I start laying the foundation to my professional and personal development I will keep this post handy!

  37. Derek
    Derek says:

    Enjoyed the writeup, I disagree to some extent with #1. Working from home, owning ones own biz might not be for everyone. It wasn’t for me, after 6 years, I took a big pay cut and went back to working away from home. I took something I loved, turned it into my own business and then came to hate what I used to love. Now, I go to work, doing something that is fun, get my (much smaller) paycheck go home and leave work at work :)

  38. Emily
    Emily says:

    I can’t quite relate. My career isn’t the focus of my life and I don’t want my own children. I’m settled in a long-term monogamous relationship and we’re both in our early 30’s. Between the two of us I don’t even know how many countries we’ve traveled to and lived in – but that’s what we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives.

    I think this article is good for a certain subset of people (maybe the majority in the United States?) But there are those of us that don’t aspire to be stay at home mom’s who stay in one place for the majority of our lives.

  39. Omar
    Omar says:

    Well, I think we cannot tell which things should have been done in your twinties to make you more satisfied person. Everyone has his own perspectives so there is no regret. Some people enjoy day working others prefer to work at home. Some would happily spend their life relocating aroujd the world while othere’s prefer to settle. Thanks

  40. Eunice
    Eunice says:

    I really enjoyed this post! Can relate so much since I’m nearly hitting my 30 mark. I am so relieved and also happy that I worked really hard in my early 20s. I’ve always considered every decision I made as a building block to how my life will pan out. Great read! :)

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