Nine Things You Should Have Realised By the End of Your Twenties

VICE writers on the valuable gems they had to learn for themselves.
man lying in rubbish
Photo: Bob Foster

The paint-by-numbers approach to schooling doesn't work for everyone. While, in theory, it makes sense that all Year 7s should learn how volcanoes work, it also doesn't at all: forcing each and every child to follow the same syllabus leads to huge gaps in real-world learning. For instance: How to be a good listener, or why intersectionality matters, or how to be mindful and live in the moment.

It's in our twenties – once we've been released into the world – that we really start to Learn Things. Out in the wild, we fill those educational gaps with lessons learned from hard, nasty reality. Since we released a new episode of the VENT Documentary series, "School's Out, What Now", this week, we asked VICE writers to detail some lessons they learned during their twenties that they could never have learned at school.



It's tempting to spend your school and university years saying yes to as many opportunities offered your way as is reasonably safe and possible. You will never have that much guilt-free leisure time again, so why not indulge in the widest range of fun? That's how I approached uni – which meant I didn't spend much time distinguishing between the things I liked and the stuff that wasn't really me. But after I graduated, the fact I had less disposable time meant I could finally learn the joy of leaning into the people and things that I actually really like (mainly karaoke), and the even greater pleasure of saying no when the opportunity just isn't quite right. Dipo Faloyin

LISTEN: "School's Out, What Now" – a podcast about UK education from the VENT Documentaries series, produced by VICE UK and the young people of Brent.


Your twenties can be a time of super hard work and massive hedonism, with very little in between. Everything's career driven, and then you get fucked up to decompress. While I’m glad I spent some time partying, I wish I'd spent more time doing other cool things. When I was a teenager I played a lot of music, and thought I was going to be a rock star. Obviously that didn’t happen, and so I slowly fell out of the habit – because why bother if you’re not going to end up with a brief stay in the Top 100 and a drug addiction?


"What's the point of playing music just for fun?" is a question that should answer itself, and yet it's one that is implicitly posed by absolutely everything about our mercenary culture. On the other hand, you're constantly bombarded with tiresome marketing about self-improvement, colonising your spare time with the need to consume ever more culture. What this can lead to is forgetting how to put any effort into doing things just for yourself, just for the sake of it. And I do mean effort, because while it's completely legit to spend ages on the Sims every so often, if you can manage it, it’s good to be a more active participant in your own leisure time. Simon Childs

Everything You'll Learn In Your Twenties That School Can't Teach You


Throughout my teens and early twenties, I reacted immediately and viscerally to any issue right in front of me. Had a bad day at work? I would walk out. Had a problem in my relationship? I would assume the worst. Had an argument with my family? I would say things I didn't mean in the heat of the moment.

As I've gotten older, it's not that I don't feel the same rage or stress or whatever, but I've learned that it really helps to pause for a moment (a few hours or, ideally, a day or two) before reacting to anything that pisses me off. Waiting to calm down enables you to see things a bit more clearly, and you're also able to communicate in a calmer way, which is more useful for everyone. I know this sounds really obvious, but it honestly took me until at least 25 to learn how and why I should pause instead of immediately freaking out. Daisy Jones



I spent most of my teenage years in tortured, secretive relationships that only left me feeling lonely and confused. It doesn't have to be that way! If being around somebody doesn't make you feel good, you don't have to put up with it. This applies to friendships and romantic relationships alike. If you leave an interaction with someone – whether that's sexual, romantic or otherwise – and they've somehow made you feel worse than you did before, that person is probably just not for you, and trying to convince yourself otherwise will just lead to pain further down the road.

In most cases, this is nobody's fault – it's just a compatibility issue, and you will not become a Better Person by trying to change them or put up with it. There are obviously exceptions to this rule – every relationship has its own peaks and troughs, and sometimes those you love can be fucking annoying – but you deserve to be around people who don't make you want to stab your own eyes out. Zing Tsjeng


Just because something wasn't your thing at school or wasn't available at school, doesn't mean you will forever suck at it or it will come to define you. My school was terrible for sport – it basically disappeared from the curriculum in sixth form. Anyway, in my early twenties I ended up playing football in an office I worked at just to get involved and socialise with some of the hot guys. I was obviously shit, but it was really fun, and when I moved to Peckham I managed to find a woman's team and keep it up. Ultimately, the School of Life taught me that picking up something later in life isn't a terrible idea. Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Everything You'll Learn In Your Twenties That School Can't Teach You


Like everyone in school with a passing interest in Green Day and two litre bottles of Strongbow, I fucking hated PE and PE fucking hated me back. As I grew up, I thought I was dreadful at all exercise, and then just never did any at all for years. For some reason that I can’t remember now, in university I decided to give yoga a go, and realised that exercise – alarmingly – didn’t actually have to make you feel bad. As I’ve got older, I’ve had the same realisations about exercise methods from spinning to (can't actually believe this one) running. This isn’t to say that I am now one of those people who shags exercise, more just one of those people who now goes out running in the park if they have a shit day, and unfortunately tends to feel better for having done it. Lauren O'Neill

What Your Taste in Men Says About You


In my twenties I learned that pubs were better than anywhere else. I loved them. The best thing about them was that there are loads of them. I spent most of my time in them, almost 24/7 it seemed. I was never at home. I played bass guitar in them and listened to live music in them, played pool and smoked weed outside them. I ate lunch and dinner in them. It's where I hung out with girlfriends, best mates and work colleagues. I kissed, slept and fought in them. I spent all my money in them and scrounged money and drinks in them. I got career breaks from being in them and my liver and brain a bit ruined by them. And I learned so well, I carried on doing it all into my thirties. – Max Daly

Everything You'll Learn In Your Twenties That School Can't Teach You


You should buy some nice bed sheets. I know that sounds like an extravagant indulgence when you still live like a student and cannot imagine the day when you have your own place in which to put nice things; no longer beholden to a faceless landlord who thinks that a surprise £200 rent increase is "fair, given the current market conditions”" But I really feel like my life improved slightly when I spent more than I should have on a high thread-count sheet and duvet set in "Blushed Dusk Grey". It didn’t help redress the injustices that have fucked the London property market and made renting a box-room in Norwood akin to selling a kidney each month – it was just some pillow cases. But it felt good, like something a real adult would do. Phoebe Hurst


Unfortunately, living is a practice. It requires bravery and hard work and the discipline to listen to yourself as you grow. You can read every list you want on how to be a person in the world and still know nothing about how to live. Without making mistakes and learning to suffer and survive, you’ll be a shell of an individual. It’s only when we learn from our own lives that a "lesson" gets into our brains and bodies properly. I don’t know why this is the case. It seems unfair that we can’t just see our friends ruin their lives and take notes on what to avoid. Still, this is the truth. So strap in, and get ready to fuck up well. Hannah Ewens

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