Your 20s are a bit of a tumultuous time. As you cross the 20-year-old threshold, you’re likely still in college, with your entire career in front of you, and by the end of your 20s, there’s a chance you’ll be settled into a career trajectory that will dictate your income potential and professional development until you’re able to retire.
It’s spooky to think about, right? You’re young, you’re free, and you can do pretty much anything you set your mind to — but at the same time, the decisions you make now could determine the rest of your professional life. It’s super exciting, but it’s a ton of pressure.
If you want to maximize your potential income, find out what it is you really want to do, and maintain your sanity doing it, these are the career moves you need to make in your 20s:
1. Take whatever will keep you afloat.
There’s a stereotype about Millennials that we’re all entitled and demanding, especially when it comes to jobs, and from what I’ve seen, it’s embarrassingly true. The fact is, you aren’t going to land your dream job right after you graduate. You probably won’t even land a “good” job. But if you’re humble and willing to work hard, you’ll find a job that can keep you afloat — and that’s good enough. Take what you can get; you never know what opportunities it might lead to, especially if you put in effort toward your real goals.
This is indispensable advice for professionals of any age, but especially younger generations. Networking will expose you to the radically diverse population of the working world — you’ll meet people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, who can teach you almost anything (and possibly offer you some rare or lucrative opportunities). Moreover, they’ll be impressed that such a young person is showing so much initiative. This should go without saying here, but I’m talking about real, in-person, face-to-face networking; social media’s great for establishing preliminary relationships over time, but meeting someone in person solidifies and adds a new dimension to any relationship.
Look for volunteer opportunities in your city, and find a cause you’re proud to get behind. Volunteering will help you feel more connected to your community, and it looks great on a resume, but just as important, it can serve as an amazing networking opportunity. You’ll find seasoned CEOs, community leaders, and social mavens at volunteer events — and these are exactly the people who can help get you where you want to go.
4. Invest in new skills.
You have lots of time to play with, even if you don’t have a lot of money. Now’s the time to start building up your skill sets. Take classes, especially if they’re free, and take advantage of any opportunities your workplace gives you to learn a new skill or take on more responsibility. You don’t have to stick with it forever, but even a fleeting exposure to a new skill could help you in a conversation or interview down the road. See 7 Hobbies You Can Use to Make Extra Cash for more ideas here.
5. Diversify your work.
Unless you’re making killer progress in your career, try not to remain at one location for too long. You’ll want to diversify your work history while you have time to jump around. No, job-hopping doesn’t look great on a resume, but today’s job market is freer, and working at new places will give you greater insights to the way the professional world really works. Of course, you can also supplement this with networking, by simply learning about other places to work.
6. Take a risk.
During your 20s, you won’t have much to lose. Now’s the time to take risks. Now’s the time to do something crazy. Do you have an idea for a new business? Become an entrepreneur. Do you have the urge to move across the country and start your career over entirely? Go for it. You might not get this chance again, at least not without some serious sacrifices, so don’t regret leaving these opportunities on the table.
7. Land some show-off pieces.
No matter where you’re working or how much experience you have, you have the ability to create show-off pieces. Show-off pieces are any project, asset, or achievement you can use as a talking point or an item on a resume to show off what a dedicated, skilled, and hard worker you are. Maybe it’s a marketing initiative, or maybe it’s a proposal for a more efficient process — whatever it is, it’ll make you look like a rock star and it’ll look great as a piece in your ever-expanding portfolio.
Optional “advice”: screw up.
This is my unadvertised eighth piece of advice, because you shouldn’t take it too literally: screw up. That’s right. Make mistakes. Make dumb decisions. Go with the crazier, unintuitive option, and feel a sense of reward when it doesn’t work out. In your 20s, it’s not going to matter that much. In fact, it’s probably going to help you — you’ll feel more at peace with the idea of failure, you’ll learn a lesson from the experience, and best of all, you’ll have a great story to tell for the rest of your life, and stories end up far more valuable than money or prestige could ever be. So get out there and mess up — you might thank yourself later.
You have your entire future ahead of you, and none of these moves carries a substantial risk (except, of course, the one about risk taking). These moves are all about gaining experience, learning more about yourself, and setting yourself up for a career path you can be satisfied with, which is going to help you a lot more than trying to cram yourself into a position made for thirty- and fortysomethings right away. Slow down. Figure out you. The rest will come naturally, and in due time.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
Originally published at https://www.inc.com on April 19, 2016.