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Top 10 things to do before you turn 30

Enjoy your youth, be wild and get it out of your system; here are the 10 things you should accomplish before 30.

Sitting here on the dark side of 30, I've been looking back fondly on my wild and woolly youth -- though some might describe it as mild and cottony. Anyway, I thought I would share some of my observations and opinions on important things to accomplish in those twentysomething years.

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The things to accomplish during your 20s fulfill a few requirements:

  • Doing your youth when you're young. There's nothing more embarrassing than some 50-year-old with his thinning gray hair pulled into a ponytail trying to re-live his youth. Get it out of your system now.
  • No regrets. If you do the silly stuff when you are young, then later you won't regret what you might have missed.
  • Good stories. Have some good times now, so you can regale your children with tales of your crazy youth.
  • Growing up. The point of your 20s is to reach your 30s -- and by then, people will really be expecting you to act like a grown-up. So, you will need some experiences to teach you how to get there.

Don't panic: You can be hip when you're older -- it's just a different kind of hip. You'll understand when you get there.

1. Drive a wickedly cool car, even if you have to rent it. "Wickedly cool" is defined as any car that turns heads on the streets. They say life is a journey and you should enjoy the ride. Well, if that's the case, you might as well ride in style at least once. The best I ever did was a 6-year-old convertible, but hey, I was riding in style in Miami Beach.

2. Date against type. Better yet, date somebody "dangerous." Waking up tied to a bed with a person who has more tattoos than brains will give you stories to regale other members of the old-age home in your dotage. Also, dating "dangerous" types will make you realize what jerks they are -- and make you less likely to pass up a lifelong love affair with someone you're really compatible with.

Or if you already tend to date dangerous, then date someone your mother would like. What the heck, she might be right.

Similarly, I recommend dating someone much older than you. My age limit was no one older than my dad. Since he was 19 when I was born, I actually came pretty close twice. I learned a bit about mature relationships, appreciated someone with life experience ... and got to go to more-expensive restaurants!

3. See the world. It's much easier to do when you're 22 and footloose than 35 with two bawling babies in your backpack. Even if you never leave the United States, you'll see a good portion of the planet. Go cheap and travel light. This leaves you open to more adventures. Youth hostels are inexpensive and, even better, you'll meet tons of other adventurers there.

Seeing the world will broaden your horizons and make you a more interesting person. Plus interesting and funny things happen when you travel -- and remember, your 20s are your time to live the stories that you'll be telling for the rest of your life.

I still talk about the three months I spent after college driving through the Southwest United States. I worked as a volunteer at a National Park, visited the Grand Canyon twice and saw Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas, slept in my car at a highway rest area. I have more memories from that short time than from the next five years of work.

4. Live in a cool place. Maybe a loft in a trendy neighborhood "in transition," maybe just camped out on the beach in your van. I'm fond of the six months I lived on a sailboat when I was 25. Just think: no air conditioning, a lousy bathroom, mildew and lack of privacy. Yet everyone thought I was living some glamorous life. Later I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and really appreciated the space. I still didn't have air conditioning but I was a 20-minute walk from the beach. Comfort isn't quite as important in your 20s as later - take advantage of that fact.

5. If you're going to drink a lot, do it when you're young. Getting sick on cheap white wine after 30 is pretty pathetic. Young drunks sometimes get away with being "cute," though you may still have a lot of apologizing to do. Get this experimentation out of your system and you'll appreciate finer spirits when you get older.

6. Take risks with your job. I've noticed that most people end up changing direction in their careers after their 20s anyway, so, take the time to figure out what you want to do. There will be time enough to be a cubicle drone later.

Aim for the career you've dreamed of doing. If you have a chance to be a model or a dancer, go for it. Get the job in the big city. Volunteer to work on the big project that could make or break the company. Start up a smoothie business with your college buddy.

Or just have fun for now. You might want to be a bartender at the hottest club in town and pick up a lot of dates. Or take a low-paying job at the zoo just because you like animals. Later, when you've got the mortgage and 2.3 kids and a time share in Cocoa Beach, fun will be the last thing on your mind at the office. My husband still talks about having worked on a railroad on Mount Washington because it was a lot more fun than sitting at a desk every day as he does now.

7. Do something physically adventurous. And do it OUTSIDE! No one will ever be remembered for playing Nintendo or watching every single episode of "Friends." Enjoy your body while you're young, push it to its limits - soon enough, you'll watch your muscles turn to flab and your rear end inflate like a rubber raft.

8. Take your parents to dinner. You'll probably have to struggle with your dad about paying the check, but this is one of those grown-up things to do. It gives you a chance to show your parents that you are an equal and that you are responsible. It's also a chance to show your appreciation for all those dinners they bought over the years.

9. Do volunteer work. You may be broke, but you can give your sweat and earnestness to a cause in which you believe. In addition to improving your world, you can allow yourself to be exposed to others in the world. Work in a soup kitchen and you'll appreciate your un-air-conditioned, one-bedroom apartment.

10. Use this decade to go to extremes. Climb the tallest mountain you can find. Picnic at midnight. Learn to sail. Talk to strangers. Road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Take a midnight drive to the beach - then stick around for dawn.

Sounds like your 20s are pretty fun.

But don't think this means the rest of your life will be a drag. My point is to take advantage of what you have: energy, idealism, enthusiasm, a willingness to experiment, a lack of encumbrances, a desire to learn and grow. Enjoy your 20s -- and you'll be better able to appreciate the next stage.

-- Updated: March 23, 2004


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See Also
A savings plan for a 20-year-old
Thrills that fit your budget
Good deeds help pay down college debt
Financial advice glossary
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