20 Principles 20-Somethings Must Know To Build A Foundation That Lasts

I am less than six months away from my 30th birthday. And as I think about the journey through my 20s, one word comes to mind: roller coaster (okay that’s two words…whatever). My 20s were filled with life changes and life-altering decisions. I experienced mountaintop moments, and I dredged through difficult seasons in the valley.

This is the beauty of life for 20-somethings. This decade is one of the most formative and foundational decades of life. Just think about it.

Many 20-somethings will start this decade in college, single, and no knowledge of independent life. By the time the candle is blown out on birthday 30, many 20-somethings will be several years into a career, many will be married, and some will have a family.

With so many life-shaping decisions, many of which will lay the foundation for the next 30 or 40 years, it is important to start well. Even though the race of life can’t be won in the 20s, it can be lost. Similar to what my high school coach told us before every baseball game: “Fellas…Fellas…Fellas!” (We paid attention about half the time) “Listen here! It is vital that we start the game well. You can’t win in the first inning, but you can certainly lose.” And this makes sense, right? Give up zero runs in the first inning, you have a chance moving forward. Give up 10 runs in the first inning, you might as well hit the shower and start the night early.

So, on the heels of my 30th birthday, I want to give some advice to 20-somethings about how to lay a foundation that lasts. Here are 20 ways 20-somethings can build a foundation that lasts a lifetime.

1.) Say no to immediate gratification. 

As new opportunities arise and new doors open, avoid any decision that offers satisfaction right now. Making decisions that satisfy present desires is the baseball equivalent of giving up 10 runs (or more) in the first inning.

Sex before marriage. Purchases that drop you into enormous debt. Unethical and immoral career decisions. Avoid these at all cost. Look beyond the present. You are in a marathon. The immediate satisfaction isn’t worth it.

2.) Find mentors who will challenge you.

This real life thing is new. This marriage thing is new. This family thing is new. Don’t rely on your own wisdom. It is severely limited. Find Godly couples to mentor you through the early seasons of marriage. Find successful business people to give you advice and counsel. The wisdom of those on the other side of the curve could make the difference between a first inning goose egg (0 runs) and a first inning meltdown.

3.) Cut ties with toxic and life-sucking friends. Now.

Do not be misled, “Bad company corrupts good character.”1 Corinthians 15:33
You can possess tons of talent and unlimited potential. But if you choose the wrong friends none of it will matter. As a pastor (and a citizen of this broken world), I have witnessed more than a few people with crazy talent and potential never get off the ground because their friends sucked at life.

“Show me your friends I will show you your future. You’re an average of your five closest friends.” There is a reason these statements exist. Generally speaking, they are true.

Get rid of friends who drain life from you. Now.

4.) Reada lot. 

You are five years from now who you are today except for two things: the people you hang around and the books you read.Charles Jones
Want a cheesy, but true statement: leaders are readers. In a digital age where we speak in 140 characters or less, reading is not a popular discipline. But it is a necessary one. Read the Bible. Read books in your career field. Read books outside of it.

Reading helps you become well-rounded. It keeps you grounded. It helps you engage in conversation with others. It promotes self-control and listening. Lay a solid foundation for the future by immersing yourself in a book today.

5.) Don’t be controlled by fear. 

Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith. Don’t afraid to fail. Life isn’t found in playing it safe. Life is found in the gap between self and God. Don’t be afraid of the gap. God will build the bridge and provide a way. And never, ever equate failing with being a failure.

6.) Live at (or below) your means. 

Want to make life an uphill battle and strain your health, marriage and everything in between? Buy trinkets and make decisions that draw you into massive debt. Too many 20-somethings get in trouble because they want to live like the Joneses. But the Joneses are in one of positions (neither of which apply to you): years of work under their belt or massive debt.

Don’t believe the entitlement myth. The world doesn’t owe you anything. You don’t deserve a new car or house because you have a job.

Be ok with a modest life. Be ok with starting small. If you are patient, the house and car will come. If not, you might give up ten runs in the first inning and never be able to catch up.

7.) Be more concerned with your character than your competency. 

Your competency will take you as far as your character sustains you.Carey Nieuwhof
Your reputation isn’t built on your competency. It’s built on your character. And few things in life are more valuable than your reputation. Don’t build it on sinking sand.

8.) Be passionate, but don’t chase passion. 

Be passionate. But don’t chase passion. Here’s what I mean. Our culture says joy and happiness are found in pursuing something you are passionate about. The problem is this mindset has led to the highest rate of dissatisfaction in jobs ever. Here’s why.

Joy isn’t found in chasing passion regardless of skill, it is found in mastering a skill passionately. Passion is one layer, yes. But it’s only one layer. Find something you are good at. Connect that to helping people. Where all of these combine (passion, skill, and helping others), you will find joy.

9.) Find some core truths and values to stand on. 

Relativism is a trendy mindset in today’s culture. It is something to be celebrated. But take this to the bank: no person of influence is a relativist. People follow leaders because leaders are convicted. So, have some convictions. Start with God. Your convictions will be your filter for decisions. And when life’s winds swirl around you, these convictions will keep you planted firmly on the ground.

10.) Become comfortable in your skin.

Comparison is the thief of joy. It will suck life from you. And it doesn’t add anything to your life or change anything about your circumstances. Become comfortable with the man or women God has created you to be. Use the gifts God has given you.

There will always be people prettier, smarter, and more talented than you. But no other person in the world can fulfill the unique calling God has for you. No other person can be the parent, spouse, Christian leader, and co-worker God has created you to be. Rest in that truth. And work from it everyday.

11.) Establish healthy patterns and habits now. 

“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you could do today.” Don’t wait until tomorrow to establish healthy habits. Our lives are a product of our daily decisions, thoughts, and actions. We are organic.

Every thought matters. Every action matters. Every decision matters. They are forming us into something. They are taking us somewhere. Where are your thoughts, actions, and decisions right now leading you?

12.) Speak up, not out. 

Inevitably, a situation will arise where good ethical decisions aren’t being made. You will be in an environment where you don’t agree with the choices of those in leadership. Don’t use those times to trash-talk at lunch. Don’t use your disagreement as fuel for the next social media post. This will destroy your credibility and reputation.

In today’s world, everyone has a platform to speak out against something they don’t agree with. But speaking out is sideways energy. It does nothing to change the situation. If you want to build a foundation for success and future leadership, speak up against injustices and unethical decisions by taking action. Go to the ones you have an issue with. The world has enough people speaking out. We need more people speaking up.

13.) Don’t worry. 

“Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Write that down. In this season, many important decisions will be on the table. But don’t allow worry to have a seat. Worry adds nothing to the discussion. It is sent from the evil one to destroy God’s faithfulness. Trust God when seasons of unknown stare you in the face. He’s got this.

14.) Plan for the future, but live in the present. 

I believe God created us to live by this principle. We must have vision and a plan for our lives. But we must also live in the present. You will find yourself in a tough job or difficult circumstance. Live in that moment. Don’t wish you were somewhere you’re not even sure you will see.

In the hard times. In the good times. In the mundane times. Be present.

15.) Deal with sin (and especially addictions) now

Most of us are familiar with this question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” Well, debate over the answer if you choose, but don’t make the mistake of looking at sin and addiction in the same light. Even though you might be the only one who knows about the inconsistencies and addiction in your life, your choices will impact your present and future. Your choices will also affect those around you.

Many 20-somethings refuse to deal with sins until they are caught or until they have to. Don’t be one of those people. Deal with sin now.

16.) Don’t be controlled by expectations. 

Early in my 20s, I had expectations for friends, co-workers, and my wife that were not realistic and not communicated. When those expectations weren’t met, I was upset and hurt. My journey through the last decade has taught me to temper expectations (especially those expectations I haven’t communicated) towards others.

Don’t allow unrealistic expectations to breed unneccessary pain and disappointment. Control what you can control. Understand people are people. Live your life. Love people well. Communicate frequently.

17.) Be intentional about decisions and actions every day.

The depth to which you leave a footprint on this world is the degree to which you are intentional about your decisions and actions. Intentional people are change makers. Wake up every day and write down the things you want to accomplish. If you are intentional about the small things everyday, you will set yourself for great things in the years to come.

18.) Understand you don’t have to be a leader to lead. 

Most likely, you will not wear the “top dog” hat in your 20s. But don’t make the mistake of believing you must be the top dog to lead. Positional authority is an overrated component of leadership. The best leaders aren’t always the ones with the most authority.

How do you lead well now? Show up every day. Be a servant. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Always respect others. And stay positive (which leads me to the next point).

19.) Avoid becoming cynical. 

If you want to position yourself for a joyless, bitter life, do what most of your peers will do: be cynical about everything. No matter where you are in life, there will be positive and negative components of the people, the company, and the church. Joyful people aren’t the ones who magically find a career and a spouse without flaws. Joyful people are the ones who CHOOSE to focus on the positive.

Understand this, 20-somethings: cynics aren’t leaders and cynics don’t add anything to the world. That’s why most people choose it. It’s easy. But easy doesn’t invoke change. So, start looking at the world through God’s lens…the lens of optimism, hope, and restoration.

20.) Never settle in your pursuit of a spouse or your faith in God.

There are some areas where you might have to settle for a season (like a job, for example). But there are two areas where you can never, ever, ever settle: your pursuit of a spouse and your faith in God. Other than the decision to become a follower of Jesus, no decision shapes your life more than your spouse. Choose very wisely. Be extremely patient. Pray daily.

When it comes to faith, never allow your current or former church background to lull you into status quo. Always believe there is more. God’s power is limitless. God’s grace is infinite. God’s presence is constant. Embrace a big God who wants to do big things through you.


I write this post because I am hopeful some of you avoid the potholes I never saw. Your 20s can be an amazing adventure that catapult you into the rest of life. But it is also possible to lose the game before the first inning is over.

That seems like a lot of pressure. But God wouldn’t set you up for failure. So, grab the ball and throw the first pitch. You got this!

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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