Permission to Thrive in Your 20s

Permission to Thrive

I love this guest post today from Dan Cumberland. Such a freeing and important message for us to understand. Thanks Dan for officially becoming All Groan Up. 


It’s okay NOT to know what you want to do with your life.

Really, it’s totally okay. I wish someone had told me that when I was in my 20s.

Finishing college left me feeling unsure what to do next. There were so many pressures to start a career, to do it right, and not make a mistake. With all of that pressure, it was difficult for me to hold on to my sense of what I wanted and who I was.

What I was “supposed” to do felt like it was what mattered the most.

My life has been profoundly shaped by the choices I made. I wouldn’t say that I regret them, but what I feel sad about is the lack of freedom that I felt in the face of the uncertainty of starting “real life”. The primary feelings I had were fear and obligation. I wish that I could have felt freedom, adventure, and excitement about what was to come instead.

Permission to Thrive

What I’ve learned since is that you’re more free than you think you are.

I’ll argue this with you all day long. I’ll fight for your freedom, because someone needs to. There are things that have to happen and needs that have to be met, but when it comes to the questions of what your life will look like post-college, you have to remember one simple truth: it’s your life. And you get to live it the way that makes sense for you.

The life ahead of you doesn’t belong to your parents, to your professors, your old high-school rival, or anyone else. It’s yours, and yours alone. You just need to give yourself permission to have permission.

Two kinds of permission that will allow you to thrive in your 20s

1) Permission to let what you want, matter.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s selfish. I get that. It may feel that way at first, but think about it for a second. If you could let yourself make choices and based on what you want to give, would you really end up living a selfish life? Maybe, but I believe that you’re deeper than that.

I believe that you have something to offer the world.

I believe that you have something to give.

I believe that you want to work hard for the sake of a cause and an impact that matters to you.

The desires that you have are there for a reason. The experiences that have shaped you have meaning and have birthed those desires in you. Giving yourself permission to let what you want matter is for you to let your life have meaning, not just the voices of others.

If you choose to keep your own desire out of the equation, then you are choosing to believe that your experiences this far do not have meaning, and that kind of self-neglect takes it’s toll (think mid-life crisis and burn-out).

2) Permission to experiment with your work and impact.

I had a conversation with a college senior who just took a job offer for after graduation. He’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever met, and he comes from a very successful family. In our conversation about his choice to take the job he said, “I don’t know what I want to do yet. This seems like a good starting point and I don’t feel the pressure to stay for the rest of my life.” I loved hearing that permission to experiment. He’s been a “student” most of his life. This is his first experience in the full time work force. Who knows how it’s going to feel for him.

Treat your first job(s) like experiments. Stay for a while — that looks good on your resume — but it doesn’t have to be the only job you ever hold. You get to explore and try things, and as you do you discover more about who you are, how you want your life to feel, and what you want to give to the world.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments on this article or by clicking on the “comments” link below if you’re reading this via email. 

Where’s one place in your life you can give yourself permission today?


Dan Cumberland is on a mission to shake you awake to what really matters, to help you find where meaning and life intersect, and to inspire you to push into those places. He has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Inc, Entrepreneur Magazine, MSN, and Careerbuilder. He is the author of the ebook, The Meaning Manifesto: Six Foundational Truths for Work Worth Doing, which he is giving way for free on his blog. He lives in Seattle with his wife and dog. You can follow his blog at and on twitter @dancumberland.


  1. jim

    Thank you! BRILLIANT article. Hope every 20-something, 90-something (and everyone in between) reads this and takes heed.

    • Dan Cumberland

      Thanks Jim! I hope everyone reads it as well!

  2. Lucas

    I give myself permission to believe that what I am doing is, in fact, completely legitimate, and that my dreams and ambitions are not merely passing delusions or some kind of childish phase. I give myself permission to prove this to the world of doubters around me, through time and effort and unending persistence, so that one day they might look at me and think, “We were so wrong about him,” and then they too may believe.

    • Dan Cumberland

      Sounds like you’re doing good and hard work, Lucas! Keep it up!


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