Personal Development Goals for Your 20s and Beyond

Personal development is a pivotal theme for most people in their 20s. These are the years of forming your adult identity, finding your style of relating to others, and ultimately discovering what gives you meaning in your life, among other important goals. Focusing on these goals in your 20s allows you to maximize your potential later in life.

The following research-backed goals can help you to develop as a person (whatever your age), find what can lead you to happiness, and become your best self from this point on.

Uncover Your Core Values

Your core values form the foundation of your life. They help guide you into the person you want to be and how you interact with the world around you. For example, is honesty one of your more valued traits? Or integrity? How much are you willing to sacrifice to maintain these traits in yourself?

Understanding your core values early on also helps guide your decision-making process. If you know what you stand for and where you're headed, you are less likely to waste your time and energy on nonsense.

Core values aren't a simple thing to examine, but with personal reflection, the answers are there for you to find.

Action Plan

There are several ways that you can take this concept and work it into your personal goals.

  • Create a personal mission statement. Form a statement that notes what your values are and what you hold most dear. Family? Love? Artistic expression? Contributing to a cause you care about? These are all values you can put time and energy into, and values that can inform the work you do, as well as how you spend your free time.
  • Decide how you can implement your values. Write out a list of your values, and brainstorm ways you can act on them in your life. Make those actions as specific and realistic as you can.
  • Keep a journal. Examine your past experiences and cultivate the lessons you've learned in your life, and the values you hold from those lessons.

Discover What Brings You Joy

Discovering what sparks joy in your life is a great goal to have in your 20s. Not only does experiencing joy energize you, but it also makes you more resilient and helps your body recover from the physiological effects of stress.

But this goal isn't just for people in their 20s. Your sources of joy will likely shift as you evolve as a person, so you should revisit this goal as often as you see fit.

What sparks joy may change as your circumstances change. If you find that what brings you joy changes, it's important to stay up to date on what currently brings you these positive feelings.

Action Plan

Try these strategies to help find joy.

  • Remember your childhood. What stood out as exciting? What were some of your best memories? Many of those things can still bring you joy, so if you haven't incorporated them into your life now, perhaps you should.
  • Be creative. Expressing creativity often sparks joy, whether your creative pursuits involve visual or musical art, writing, or even improv comedy. Play around, try new things, and see what you enjoy.
  • Talk to your friends. See what brings them joy. Try some of their favorites with them and on your own.
  • Try something new every day. Or at least every week. Sometimes the most joy can come from the newness of an experience, and if you're trying new things on a regular basis, you're bound to stumble upon several things that truly make you happy.

Learn Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Your 20s can be a great time of personal discovery, specifically discovering your strengths and weaknesses. This awareness is invaluable because it will help you focus on the right things.

Knowing what your strengths are can help you put them to use more easily. You can pursue a career that utilizes them, for example, or remind yourself of your strengths when you need to ask for what you deserve in a relationship or at a job. On the other hand, knowing your weaknesses gives you a clearer understanding of things that may be holding you back.

Action Plan

There are several ways you can examine and explore your strengths and weaknesses.

  • Try new things. See what comes easily to you and find out how far you can go with your skills.
  • Focus on what challenges you. Without giving up, accept that these areas may always be a little more difficult for you. Then work to be proficient in these areas to the extent that is necessary, while still focusing on your strengths.
  • Look for new opportunities to utilize your strengths. This may involve trying paths you hadn't thought of before, like taking on a job or internship in a field you didn't necessarily go to school for. Or it could take the form of dating someone who isn't your type, but who may be good for you and challenge you in a positive way. Be open to new experiences and observe yourself in them.

Prioritize Self-Care

Focusing on self-care in your 20s can be as challenging as it is important. Getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, regular exercise, and the other sometimes mundane aspects of physical self-care can be difficult to do when you have a busy social, academic, or work schedule. But not taking care of yourself can make you more susceptible to negative physical and mental health consequences.

Emotional self-care is similarly important. Learning healthy ways to cope with stressful situations and effective habits for relating to others are all important in helping you become your best self. Putting these important things off can lead to greater challenges that can seem to multiply as you go.

For example, failing to learn how to effectively communicate with others in your 20s can lead to greater interpersonal conflict and more emotional baggage in your 30s. While it's never too late, it's best to take care of these things early.

Action Plan

There are several ways you can work toward the goal of maintaining physical and emotional self-care.

  • Track your schedule. Use a tool such as Google Calendar. Be sure to schedule sleep, exercise, and meals the way you would schedule any other important appointment. Adjust your other commitments if you can't make time for basic physical self-care.
  • Make time for important relationships. Be sure you spend time with those who elevate you and bring you joy. Also, know when it's time to let go of a toxic relationship. Learning to protect yourself from those who continually put you down is part of emotional self-care.
  • Find a form of exercise you truly enjoy. Because of the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, this is important to prioritize, and starting early will only bring greater benefits as you go. Try classes and workouts with friends, as well as solitary physical activities so you really know what you respond to. Then make time for this on a regular basis.
  • Learn how to approach conflict in your relationships. Focus on your own part of the conflict and change what you can. Learn communication skills and try to see things from the other person's perspective. You don't have to make everyone your best friend, but try to use your relationships for personal growth as much as possible.

Find What Brings You Meaning

Discovering what brings meaning and purpose to your life is a vitally important goal for anyone at any age. That is because this one goal is connected with happiness and personal well-being in so many ways. In fact, studies show that having a sense of purpose in life is associated with healthy aging.

Positive psychology research has shown that a meaningful life can bring the highest levels of lasting happiness and contentment. Furthermore, those who bring meaning to the jobs they have—who connect what they do to concepts that are important to them and feel that what they do makes a difference—tend to be the happiest and enjoy their jobs the most. This can be true for any profession.

Action Plan

There are several ways to bring meaning to anything you do, and the first step is to really examine your life and the meaning you can bring to it. Seek meaning in things you are already doing, and pursue activities that inherently bring meaning to your life.

  • Volunteer. Donate your time to a cause you truly believe in. Research shows that being kind and giving to others can make your life feel more meaningful.
  • Think about what would make the world a better place. Consider what you might be able to do to contribute to this solution.
  • Examine how your job may help others, even if it just makes their lives a little easier or puts a smile on their faces. Keep this in mind when you go to work—always remember that your job makes a difference.

This can be true of the way you interact with others throughout your day as well. Even a smile shared with a stranger might be the thing that brightens their day, and you never know who's had an especially difficult day.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Musich S, Wang SS, Kraemer S, Hawkins K, Wicker E. Purpose in life and positive health outcomes among older adultsPopul Health Manag. 2018;21(2):139-147. doi:10.1089/pop.2017.0063

  3. Baumeister RF, Vohs KD, Aaker JL, Garbinsky EN. Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. J Posit Psychol. 2013;8(6):505-516. doi:10.1080/17439760.2013.830764

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.