By Mia Casey
For most people, their 20’s is a time of huge personal and professional development. It’s when you’re at uni, building your network, making your first real steps into a career, moving out, paying taxes – all of these steps into actual adulthood. Which can be totally scary, and more than a little intimidating at times. So the question is: what skills should you focus on mastering in your 20’s, to ensure success in the future?
1. Learn to approach people
Okay, so this is definitely going to be harder for some people than others. I, for one, sometimes struggle with the strange social anxiety around talking to strangers that seems to be common in my generation. Unfortunately for those like me, connecting with someone face-to-face enables a broader range of communication, encourages an easier solidifying of relationships, and can help you impart a longer lasting impression. So basically, if you’re in your 20’s and still have not mastered the skill of approaching a stranger, now’s the time to do so.
Luckily, this particular skill isn’t too difficult to master, once you set your mind to it. For example, on my first few days at university I forced myself to arrive a bit early and strike up conversation with whoever else was waiting for class to start. Yes it was a bit uncomfortable, and some people were actively surprised that someone had approached them to chat, but every single one was friendly in turn. (I’m still friends with a few of the people I approached, and it’s been 5 years).
Now imagine how this sort of mentality could help you in your career! Not only does it let you build on your networking skills, but it gives you the opportunity to make a good first impression on your terms. And, not going to lie, acting confidently in approaching all of these new people made me feel more confident in turn. Which then makes it easier to do so again in the future. It’s like this cycle of feel-good vibes and confidence building – really, you can’t lose. So if there’s someone at your workplace, or a fellow student, whose work you admire – go and tell them so! Most people aren’t going to be upset with you for complimenting them, and you striking up conversation could be the start of a great friendship.
2. Learn to take criticism
If clichéd high school movies have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes people are just mean. But in the real world as you go through university and begin working in your chosen field, it’s important to learn how to recognise constructive criticism, and utilise this feedback in a positive way.
Some people have better interpersonal communication skills than others, so it can be hard to recognise when someone is trying to help. My general rule of thumb is:
- If they are a teacher or boss, they’re probably trying to help you improve (you’re failure doesn’t reflect kindly on them either!).
- When you’ve asked for someone’s opinion, they have no personal stake in you failing, or they’re working on the same project alongside you, then they’re probably trying to help.
- If the criticism isn’t asked for, your work is unrelated to the person (ie. they’re not involved, they weren’t asked, and they don’t have experience in your field), and there’s nothing for you to learn or improve on from their comment: then you can maybe brush off their comments as unconstructive.
Learning how to accept criticism without taking it as a personal attack is an important skill to master. Obviously, this sort of feedback is often opinion-based, so there’s no need to accept every bit of criticism you receive, but being able to separate the unconstructive from the constructive comments can be really beneficial. Listening to other people’s opinions can help give you a new perspective on your work, generate new ideas, and gives you the opportunity to learn something new. It can also help you troubleshoot the areas you are struggling with, and develop some problem-solving strategies.
3. Participate in some active learning
If you’ve been studying for a long time, the idea of continued learning might leave you feeling a little deflated. ‘But I’ve done my degree,’ you cry, ‘surely this means I can stop now!’ Err, I may have some news for you. While you might not have to study at university again, if you want to be successful in your career, you can never really stop learning.
With technology and social advancements being what they are, you’re going to need to participate in some active learning throughout your career. This means getting advice from those who have been in your field for longer, learning from colleagues (regardless of their age), keeping up to date with new advances in your industry – just being open to new ideas. If you leave university thinking that your degree means that you have learnt everything you need to know, then you’re closing yourself off from new ideas.
Active learning means keeping an open mind, learning how to listen to others, and making a concerted effort to ensure your knowledge base remains relevant. If you can master this ability to remain receptive to ideas and enthusiastic about learning new things, then you’re likely also strengthening your interpersonal communication, problem-solving and analytical skills. All of which are essential to career success.
4. Learn to work with others
As I talked about in a previous post, working with other people can be tough. Not everyone is going to be your friend. But knowing how to work competently alongside a broad range of personalities could prove vital to your career further down the track.
Regardless of what industry you are in, chances are you’re going to have to work alongside another person or two at one point in time. And while being a lone wolf can work well for some, an inability to work with others can really hold you back. So if you’re the sort of person who actively avoids group assignments like the plague, finds it difficult to appreciate others’ opinions, and takes on more work than necessary so others are less involved – you may need to think about how this behaviour would work in the workplace.
Many companies require their employees to work together in departments to achieve specific goals. If you find it difficult to work with other people, then you’re less likely to succeed in your career. Take the time to recognise whether your behaviour is conducive to positive working relationships, and remember that the people you work with have their own skills and experience to bring to the table.
5. Try new things
Your 20’s is pretty much the best time to try out new things and build new experiences. Trying out new hobbies or projects, meeting new people, taking on new experience unrelated to your career or studies – all of these are a must! Because really, you don’t want to get ten years into your career, only to try something and realise you’d much prefer to be doing that instead!
Think about what you enjoyed doing in high school, what you find yourself reading up on in your spare time, or even what your friend has recommended you try. What have you got to lose? Being open to new experiences can help encourage both personal and professional growth. It can help you establish a wide knowledge base, while promoting a mindset conducive to innovation and new advances. So go and have fun with it!
While for many of us, our 20’s involve just getting by and surviving the slow move into adulthood, it’s important to set up some building blocks for future success. You don’t have to change overnight, but even keeping these tips in mind can help!
(Lebowitz also wrote a great article on what skills to learn in your 20’s, if you’re interested in learning more.)
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.