The following article may contain affiliate links or sponsored content. This doesn’t cost you anything, and shopping or using our affiliate partners is a way to support our mission. I will never work with a brand or showcase a product that I don’t personally use or believe in.
Your early 20s can feel overwhelming
From your first steps off the stage at high school or college graduation, adult life pulls no punches –– throwing you headfirst into the world of self-sufficiency and finding gainful employment.
From the start, you’re likely making tough decisions, feeling out opportunities, and trying to suss out what you’re hoping this first chapter of your career looks like. Navigating this time can feel frustrating and lonely, so we sat down to share some of the most important lessons we learned in our early careers.
What you’ll learn:
The #1 reason people leave jobs –– and no, it’s not money or benefits or lack of pizza parties
How to use networking to your advantage while still holding to your authentic self
Why sometimes the best thing you can do is change your mind
The one thing to NEVER do (regardless of your age!)
6/12/2023 Update: in this episode, Tori quotes a viral TikTok sound, “I do not dream of labor.” Many listeners attributed this quote to James Baldwin. However, this quote originated online in a tweet and has been falsely attributed.
[00:00:00] Tori Dunlap: Literally in the corner it says near record for heat and it’s 72 degrees in Seattle. Hello. Hello. Financial Feminist. Apparently we’re having near record heat that it’s, it’s May 25th when we’re recording this.
[00:00:11] Hi, I’m so excited to see you. If you are new here, welcome. My name is Tori. I obviously host this show, but I’m also the author of a book also called Financial Feminist. I am a money expert, I am a millionaire. I am here to offer you all of the goodies that you need to not only learn how to do all the personal finance things like saving money and paying off debt and investing, but also.
[00:00:33] Becoming a more I don’t know, well-rounded person, but also a more attuned Feminist to all of the issues because it all comes back to the patriarchy and money, doesn’t it? And if you were an oldie buddy goodie, you already knew that because that’s the theme of this show is how money affects women differently.
[00:00:48] So we’re really excited to see you here and excited if you’re coming back to have you back. One of the best ways to support the show, you already know this, subscribe. Post about it, leave us a review. You know the drill. It helps us continue to produce the show and we appreciate your support of not only the show, but also the movement of financial feminism and we can’t do it without your support, so thank you.
[00:01:12] Okay. Let’s talk about all of the things that I wish I knew. When I was starting my career in my early twenties. This episode is obviously for people who are in their late teens, early twenties, but also if you wanna go down memory lane like I did, this will be a good episode for you as well. I think one of the things that happens as we get into.
[00:01:36] Just our daily life and our daily grind and we forget a lot of the things that we just take for granted now of just like, oh yeah, I know that. Like I, I was thinking the other day about like how much I now know about food that I did not know. Like when I first started trying to cook for myself when I was like in my early twenties or even like late teens, I had no idea what the hell I was doing in the kitchen.
[00:02:00] I had no idea. How to like, not only make a dish that was edible, but like to put together flavors that made sense and like what flavors made sense for certain kinds of cuisine. Like I had no idea that like Ginger, of course, is a predominantly like ingredient used in Asian food and Asian cuisine, like I did.
[00:02:18] I just didn’t know any of that. And I’m 28, almost 29 now, and I look back at that and I’m like, wow, I didn’t even know that. And I have learned so much about how to put a plate together, about how to cook and, and how to like, just move my way around the kitchen of like what these ingredients are, what they’re used for.
[00:02:36] I. And I think the same can be said for our career is we just sometimes, you know, we get in the rut of it and I look back at like some of my early work and I’m just like, wow, I’ve come so far. And I wanna encourage you when you do look back and when you do reflect there, it’s easy to feel like a lot of embarrassment and shame.
[00:02:55] Like you can actually scroll back to her first under K if you ever Decide you have time to do this. You can spend the 20 minutes and scroll all the way back to her first a hundred K in 2018. And oh my God, it’s fucking crazy. It’s so crazy to see the kind of copy I was writing, the kind of graphics I was creating really badly.
[00:03:18] And it’s easy to feel a sense of like shame and embarrassment and like cringe. But also I encourage you to just be like, wow, you know what? I’ve come a long way and I was doing the best I could at that time, and I’ve learned a lot. So if you’re in your early twenties, welcome. These are all of the things I wish I knew.
[00:03:35] And if you are past your twenties or your early twenties this will be hopefully a good. Encouragement for you to walk down memory lane and reflect on a lot of the, the progress you’ve made, as well as maybe a lot of the shit you went through. That’s like the subtitle of this episode is like, the shit we went through in our early twenties.
[00:03:55] This is a career focused episode. These are the things that I wish I knew when I was starting my career, when I was getting into my first job and then second job in, in my early twenties. We are doing a more like touchy feely episode that’s not about career, but about a bunch of the things I’ve learned in my last decade of life in a little bit. So this is almost like a part one of that. Part two will come out on either on or around my 29th birthday.
[00:04:19] Something about 29 just doesn’t feel like a real year. Like 28 seems real. 30 seems real. 29 doesn’t. 27 seemed real too. I don’t know why in particular, like 29 does not feel like a real year. So as opposed to like waiting to do some sort of like splashy fun thing when I’m 30, we’re gonna do it now.
[00:04:37] And we’re gonna do it when I’m 30 cause I’m a birthday, little birthday whore. So, stay tuned for part two, which is more about like the touchy feely things that I’ve learned in my life and should hopefully be a pretty inspirational episode. Let’s talk about career today though. The 10 ish things that I learned in my early twenties that I wish I knew sooner.
[00:04:55] Number one, this is also touchy-feely about life, but also about your career. I need you to travel. I need you to go abroad and go somewhere else. I will asterisk this with if you can afford it, and I will give you a sub option if you can’t in a second. The thing about travel, I studied abroad in Ireland when I was 20.
[00:05:21] I’ve actually, I don’t think I’ve told this story publicly, or at least in a long time. I went, when I was a junior in college, I went to Ireland to study abroad. And that first month was the worst month
of my entire life. Like it was a really, really, really rough time, especially for like how much life I had lived up to that point.
[00:05:39] It was my worst month of my life up to that point. I was totally out of my element. Nothing felt comfortable. And I don’t mean like, we’ve talked a lot about comfort on this show. I mean, like safe everything was like different. It was this feeling of like loneliness, of not having my routine, of just being challenged every day when I also felt like I should just be grateful for being there.
[00:06:10] I went through this really intense period of home sickness, but also was like, you’re in, you’re in fucking Europe. Why are you complaining? And it was a really important growth period for me in my life because it was the first time that I had ever like lived alone. I didn’t really have any friends who were in the program.
[00:06:30] I like was, you know, I knew them all, but I wasn’t like close friends with them. I obviously didn’t have any family there. I didn’t know any of the teachers. I wasn’t in my normal bubble. So even when I went to college before, right, I made fast friends. I was going home on breaks to visit family. This was, I think the first time in my life that I was really, truly alone and I had to kind of, I had to figure out like, how do I navigate this?
[00:06:53] And it did build my sense of self-reliance and I was able to take everything I learned, not only about myself, but about. Traveling in a different country, different cultures, different customs into my career. I think it was one of the things that I was gonna say, it’s so cheesy, but like made me who I am, but like truly I think I was able to show up as a better person, but also a better employee because I had challenged myself in this way, had tested my own self-reliance, had learned that I could trust myself and that I could show up in uncomfortable situations, including new jobs as.
[00:07:33] Someone who was going to figure it out, right? Who was going to problem solve. If travel fucking teaches you anything, it’s the ability to problem solve. With that asterisk, if you’re like, I, I would love to go to Europe. I can’t afford to go to Europe. I would love to go to Asia. I can’t afford to go to Asia.
[00:07:51] We will link it in the show notes. We had a great episode by my friend Joe Franco, who’s a travel expert. Talk about this idea of. Travel truly is a state of mind. Like you, the Pedro Pascal like daddy is a state of mind. You know what I’m saying? Like, I’m your daddy, but that’s what this is, right? Like travel doesn’t have to be a destination.
[00:08:10] It can be just you experiencing something new and challenging yourself. When I go. 10 minutes in another direction besides, you know, my normal like route to go somewhere. I am traveling someplace new. Right? When I go to a new coffee shop, I’m going someplace new when I’m just taking a weekend vacation somewhere, right?
[00:08:31] Like two hours west, east, north, whatever. I am doing something new. I am traveling, sometimes I’m traveling literally at home, like armchair travel is a thing for a reason. I have read, I think like five books already this year that are about like life in France or life in Italy, or life in a different place.
[00:08:52] And in that way I get to taste a little bit of the travel, even if I can’t like afford to do it right now. So, One of the things I wish I knew in my early twenties is just how important those experiences would be, but also how they’re, they’re not really gonna be glamorous, like they’re gonna be certain like Instagram worthy moments, but very few of them are going to be this like, and everything you plan for is not gonna happen, right?
[00:09:18] All of these like beautiful, like things you’ve dreamt of, what this trip is gonna be is probably not gonna happen, and that’s when you grow and learn and that’s what you can bring into your career.
[00:09:28] All right, so go abroad. If you can, travel, if you can, you’re gonna learn a lot and you’re going to be a better, more, well, well-rounded problem solver in every aspect of your life, especially your career.
[00:09:39] All right? Number two, people do not quit companies. They quit leaders. I’m gonna say that again. People don’t move on from a company. Chances are they move on because they don’t feel supported in their role by their leadership. There’s actually stats out there that say that the number one reason people feel dissatisfied with their jobs is their relationship with their boss.
[00:10:04] I wrote my entire introduction of the book about this in 2018. I took a job that every red flag was telling me not to take, and I took it anyway. And I was reporting directly to the CEO who made me cry a weekend and told me she was worried she was gonna regret hiring me. Woof left after 10 weeks without another job lined up.
[00:10:26] And still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The next job interview I went on, I asked the person who would be my boss, a ton of questions about his leadership style, a ton of questions about how he chose to mentor his, his team about what it meant for him to be a leader. And I actually asked him that.
[00:10:46] I go, if you had to describe leadership in one word, what would you say? And he said, empathy. And that told me everything I needed to know. Right. And so I think it’s really important when you are finding, you know, these, these jobs and you know, trying to figure out what your career is. The company might not be the best, whether that’s just like the products unsexy or like you maybe don’t share all the morals and values of this company.
[00:11:15] That’s happened to me before. But if you like your boss, they’re going to be able to mentor you and teach you and grow you in a way that’s so crucial, especially as you’re getting started in your career. So look for a company that hopefully you’re passionate about, but at the end of the day, I wanna make sure that you are looking for the person who’s going to be able to.
[00:11:41] Put your development first and can lead by example. So when you’re thinking about finding that new career, ask good questions in the interview to make sure that whoever your boss is gonna be is actually going to nurture you and challenge you because that’s their job always. But especially for people in their early twenties.
[00:12:04] All right, number three. You knew this was coming. I need you to prioritize savings for retirement. I know you’re like, I’m fucking 21. Why would I do that? Here’s the deal. We’ve talked about it in many other episodes, so I’m not gonna give you the full, the full shebang of it, but time is more important than the amount of money when it comes to investing, and I need you to get started.
[00:12:27] If you get a workplace retirement account like a 401k, I need you to put a portion of your paycheck into it, even if it’s like 3%. And if you get a 401K match through your employer, that is free fucking money. Please take advantage of it. I can’t tell you the amount of people who have come to me at my book events voicemails for the podcast in our Facebook group who have said something like, I’m 45, 55, 60, and I really wish I would’ve started sooner.
[00:12:54] And if there’s one thi
ng I could go back and tell 25 year old me, it would be to start saving for retirement. Now, even if it’s just a small amount. So prioritize your retirement. Even if it’s just a little tiny bit of money or if, even if that means doing it inconsistently right now, I promise you, you will not regret it.
[00:13:17] I promise you, you will not regret taking care of future you. All right, number four, networking. I know you heard the word network. You’re like, I want to throw up. I get it. We, we have like, For some reason equated, I’m gonna say for some reason it’s a kind of pretty obvious reason. A lot of people use networking as like their like sleazy way to like just ask you for something.
[00:13:40] And true networking is not that. Networking is a give and take. It is a Mutual exchange of ideas or contacts or support. It is building a community. And when it comes to networking, I need you to start having conversations that are in alignment with your goals. And if you’re like, I don’t know what my goals are, great time to start having conversations with people to figure out what those goals are.
[00:14:06] We had a great episode called How to Network Without Feeling Icky. And my friend and, and one of our HK community members, Aleenah, came on and talked to us about, about finding this networking group that was really specific and that made sense for her goals. So start having conversations with people and start building that network.
[00:14:26] Now, what does that look like with Aleenah? Maybe that’s joining a particular organization, right? If you are a engineer. Cool. There’s a society of women engineers that probably practices in your city. If you are a marketer, maybe you’re joining the social media marketer group in your city. If you wanna be an entrepreneur, there are tons of Facebook groups and in-person meetups that help supporting women entrepreneurs or want to be entrepreneurs.
[00:14:54] Informational interviews are a hundred percent your friend. We will drop some links down below. An informational interview is simply you asking somebody, Hey, can I have 15 minutes of your time to ask you some questions about how you got where you are? I did an informational interview every single week of my senior year of college, and it was by far the most helpful thing I did to not only build a community and build a network of people who knew me, but also to figure out what I wanted to do.
[00:15:22] Did I wanna work at a marketing agency? Did I wanna just run social media at a company? Right? I could figure that out by having conversations with people. So start building a network. And that doesn’t mean it’s transactional, it just means getting to know people in a professional sense, just like you’ve made friends it’s just making professional friends, right? That’s all networking is and being able to create a community and this sort of relationship. Where you are offering as well as you taking. Number five, I need you to trust your gut. I need you to trust your intuition. Your intuition is never, ever, ever wrong.
[00:16:02] This is in all regards to your life. This is in regards to your relationships, your yourself, your career. You walk into a room, it doesn’t feel right. I need you to walk right back out. Again, I mentioned this already, my 2018 job that I accepted, every single thing in my gut was like, this is a bad idea.
[00:16:26] And when people asked me, Well, is the pay fine? I’m like, yeah, the pay is actually more than I was making before. Are the people nice? Yeah, I think so far is the office fine? Yeah. Well then why are you concerned? And I, all I could answer was, I don’t know. That is your intuition. I think it was Ashley Stahl and our episode before said like, your intuition is the thing that just tells you yes or no with, with like no context.
[00:16:52] Like you can’t explain why you just know it. Your intuition will tell you. If you walk into an interview and you get a weird feeling, I need you to listen to it. If you are in a job and you get a weird feeling, if your boss says something weird to you, if a coworker says something weird to you, do something about it, right?
[00:17:13] That doesn’t have to mean leaving the job, but I need you to listen. I also will tell you as someone who now owns a business, I have to trust my gut every single day, and I literally have dozens of stories of when I did not trust my gut and I could put a dollar amount on how much money that’s cost me.
[00:17:35] Like the times I have not trusted my gut. We have lost money as as a business, I have lost money. As an individual, it has caused me grief and anguish and strife, and ultimately the decision I’ve always known I’ve had to make. I just made it like six months later, and those six months, you know, would be super stressful and super costly of both my energy and my time and my money.
[00:17:59] So trust your gut. Listen to your gut. Your gut is never wrong. Your intuition is never wrong. And if you don’t know when, it’s your gut speaking to you again. We have links to the show notes to other episodes where we talk for like an hour about intuition, about gut, trusting about being able to trust yourself.
[00:18:20] If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. And if something feels right, it probably is right too. You will know it, but I need you to also act on it. Number six. Speaking of trust in your gut, I need you to set boundaries. We’re gonna talk about setting boundaries in the touchy-feely episode two, because I did not know the word boundary until probably about four years ago.
[00:18:43] Didn’t know it. Went to therapy, started talking about boundaries. I didn’t know I was allowed to set boundaries. I didn’t know what, how I could, whether that was with family or with coworkers or with this online community. I didn’t know how to set boundaries. I had no idea how to do that. Now, what is the importance of boundaries?
[00:19:03] Many, many, many things. Protecting your energy, protecting your own peace, saying no. If you, again, I get a weird gut impulse, or if you’re just like, That doesn’t align with my goals, that doesn’t align with my career goals. I think there’s this myth in your early twenties that you have to take any opportunity that’s ever presented to you, and you should just feel grateful for it.
[00:19:26] And the truth is, you have a lot of really good experience. You have a lot to offer. And if an opportunity presents itself and you’re just like, Nope, that doesn’t make sense with where I’m going or where I’m heading, or again, it doesn’t feel right for you, you’re allowed to say no. At the same time, if something comes along that feels almost too good to be true, but it is actually true, don’t sabotage yourself and say, no, that’s your time to say yes.
[00:19:53] Setting boundaries protects your energy, and I promise you, you will get better at it over time. I was very bad at setting boundaries in my early twenties, especially with people that were important to me. It was very, very difficult to do that. Set boundaries. You’re also allowed to set boundaries when it comes to literally how and when you work.
[00:20:17] Now, of course, there’s a little bit depends on the industry, depends on the company, depends on your job, but a lot of jobs are flexible to the point where you’re allowed to structure your day as long as yo
u’re in meetings and you’re getting your shit done how you want. I was the person that worked best in the mornings, so I would show up at eight 30 and leave at five.
[00:20:37] My best friend Christine, she and I met at my first job outta college. She would show up at like nine 30 and stay till seven. If that works for you and you have the kind of environment where you can do that great work when it makes sense for you and hold those boundaries. That leads me to holding boundaries with yourself.
[00:20:57] When you’re in your twenties, self-development is crucial. Becoming the kind of person you want to be is crucial. And there’s going to be times where you have this option of doing the thing that you know is gonna make you feel better versus doing something else. And sometimes you’re gonna choose something else and that’s okay.
[00:21:19] Like I’m thinking of, do I stay out late talking with my friends and having a couple drinks, even though I’m gonna regret it tomorrow? Sometimes the answer’s yes because that’s more fun. And other times the answer is no. I feel. Like shit when I don’t go to bed at a certain time and that’s gonna affect my entire week, so I’m not gonna do that.
[00:21:39] Right. Or when I collaborate with this person at work, even though I don’t have to, they deplete my energy. They’re really difficult to work with. And certain situations where I don’t have to work with them if I don’t want to, I’m gonna set the boundary that I’m not going to do that. Right. Set boundaries with yourself and keep them.
[00:22:06] All right, number seven, there is no dream job. There is no dream job. As that TikTok sound says, there is no dream of job. I do not dream of labor.
[00:22:16] The sooner you realize that and the sooner you let that sh*t go, the sooner you’re gonna be happier. Like, like there are dream aspects of a job. Right. There’s gonna be things where you’re like, great, I get unlimited PTO Fantastic. Cool. I have a boss that’s amazing. Great. I get to be compensated fairly cool.
[00:22:33] But there is never going to be a dream job because we live under capitalism. And I think one of the things that I was chasing in my early twenties was like the sexy job that would look good on Instagram. And that was like the dream. And the truth is, is that there just is no dream job. And the sooner you come to accept that, the sooner you’re realistic with yourself of what you actually want.
[00:22:55] So know that every job is, at the end of the day a job, even here at her first a hundred k. I love my work very much. There are times where I don’t wanna do it. There are times where it’s really, really hard to be the founder and CEO of a company. There are other times where that’s awesome and awesome outweighs the bad, which is why I’m still doing it right.
[00:23:20] But there are some days where I’m not gonna want to go to work, and that’s completely understandable and completely normal, and it’s also not something you should shame yourself for. Like I was talking about with Ireland, right? I was sometimes lonely and felt very homesick, but then I thought, why am I not happy?
[00:23:35] Shaming doesn’t help. You’re allowed to feel the way you feel. The other thing about the dream job thing, I need you to understand that the job you have right now is probably not the job you’re gonna do for the rest of your life.
[00:23:48] And that is statistically totally okay. That’s what we do now. We hop from job to job every couple years, and sometimes from a different career to another career. That’s a hundred percent. Okay.
[00:24:03] If there’s one thing you take away from this episode, I need you to know that the question, what am I gonna do with my life is not a helpful question. You have been asked that since you were a kid, right? Like, what are you gonna be when you grow up and you’re like, I don’t know, a doctor. Or an veterinarian.
[00:24:17] Or an actor, right? Like that question just gives you anxiety. When I was in college and I got asked that question, it was like the most anxiety inducing thing. The truth is, is none of us know what we’re gonna do with our life. That’s the point of living your goddamn life. That’s the whole point, is the whole point of life is to figure out what it is you’re gonna do with this one wild, precious life, right?
[00:24:39] The question I need you to ask yourself instead, not what am I gonna do with my life, or what is my big life’s purpose? Just what am I gonna do next? What am I gonna do next? There is no one thing that you’re going to be striving for your entire life. I don’t want you to put blinders on and miss all of the other potential opportunity because you’re just laser focused on this one thing.
[00:25:03] And I also don’t want you to stress yourself out thinking, oh my God, I need to have all of these answers to all of these questions. You don’t. I just need you to ask yourself, what am I going to do next? What am I gonna do next? Not what am I gonna do with my life? What am I gonna do next? It leads with curiosity, right?
[00:25:19] And I promise you that when you look back on your life and you have all of these fun stories and these experiences of when you followed your curiosity, your life is gonna be better for it. So there is no dream job. And instead of aspiring to this one thing, this life’s purpose, what am I gonna do with my entire life?
[00:25:37] Just ask yourself, what am I doing next? And then when things feel a little sticky again, well, what am I gonna do now? What am I gonna do next after this? Ask yourself that instead. Number eight, read the benefits packet at your job all the way through. I know you’re like, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of stuff here.
[00:25:55] Have somebody else help you read it? Maybe that’s your partner. Maybe that’s your dad. Maybe that’s somebody that you trust. Read your benefits packet. I still, still remember this story that the HR person at my first job, His name was Cameron. Literally. Hello Cameron. If you’re listening, I doubt it, but Hello Cameron.
[00:26:16] On my first day, Cameron literally teased me and he was like, I have never heard anybody ask as many questions as you did, and I loved that for you because I was asking every single question about how everything worked. There are no super questions. I just need you to get the answers that you need in order to make an informed decision.
[00:26:35] Read your benefits packet even if you don’t think you need them. I need you to know what they are and understand how your benefits play into your total compensation, because as a reminder, your compensation is not just your salary, right? It’s not just your paycheck, it’s everything you’re getting. In addition, it’s your 401K match and your health insurance and your, your, like work from home days and your pto, right?
[00:26:57] All of these things are included in that. And last but not least, don’t join an mlm. I was never tempted to join one except when I got like boss babe texts in my, in my dms. But I need you to just flag that if you have ever been told or like, yes, you should join Mary Kay or fucking, what are the other ones?
[00:27:25] Herbalife, don’t do i
t. It’s a scam. We have the stats that prove it’s a scam. Our most popular episode of this show ever is about how MLMs are a scam. So if you think it’s an mlm, refer back to number five. Trust your gut and don’t do it. You can be a hashtag girl boss in another way. Just don’t be an mlm.
[00:27:49] All right. Those are some of the things I wish I knew about my career in my early twenties. If you’re listening on Spotify, I would love to know what you wish you had done differently or wish you knew about your career in your twenties.
[00:28:01] These were just a couple things. There are many other things I wish I knew, so if you wanna part two, let us know. But ultimately, tldr, there is no dream job there is just finding what works for you right now. Trust your gut. Find mentorship and networking opportunities. This is your time to start experimenting and to figure out what you want to do, what feels good to you, and you can only figure that out by doing it.
[00:28:29] So know that we’re cheering you on every step of the way and that hopefully you’re gonna get some really good advice in the Spotify q and a responses down below of other people who have experienced similar things in their career or things that they wish they knew too. If you are not in your twenties, but you know somebody who is, feel free to send on this episode to them.
[00:28:49] We so appreciate as always you being here. We will have an additional episode of all of the things I have learned in my 29 years of life that are about just life in general, and I hope you stay tuned for that. Thank you for being here. As always, I’m cheering you on every step of the way. Your early twenties are beautiful.
[00:29:06] Time to start discovering and to start experimenting. And also, please, please know that you’re gonna make some mistakes and you’re gonna fuck up and that’s a hundred percent okay. Always, but a hundred percent. Okay. Especially right now. You’re just trying your best. You’re just trying your best. And that’s what I would tell previous, like 20 year old me, you’re doing your best and I see you and you’re, you’re doing great.
[00:29:31] So thanks for being here. I love you all, and I would talk to you soon. Bye.