When you reach your 20s, it may feel like you’re a little late in the game to consider undertaking a new skill or hobby. You’ve probably heard it said before that children have an easier time picking up languages, playing music, or training for athletic endeavours, and you may figure it’s time to face the fact that you no longer fall in that category. While it’s technically true that it may not be as easy for a 20-something to learn a new skill or hobby, it doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near impossible.
According to research found in Tara Swart’s Neuroscience for Leadership, by our mid-20s our brains have created patterns and choose the most energy efficient neural pathways. This information has led to the idea that our brains become “lazy,” and that it’s not worth trying to learn a new skill once you’ve reached a certain age. While learning won’t be as easy as it was in childhood, we do have the ability to change our brain patterns and create new connections between neurons well into adulthood!
Learning something new will always require effort, but especially as you get older. The good news is that with age comes maturity. Luckily your 20s give you the maturity you may have lacked as a teenager to stay committed to following through with a new passion. Your 20s also give you the added benefit of experience. You’ve likely faced challenges and failure at this stage in your life. You’ve been met with difficult coursework in college and come out the other side. You also likely have faced failure in the job application and interview process but have had to teach yourself how to keep going in the face of adversity. You’re old enough to realize not getting something right the first few times isn’t necessarily a sign to give up; it’s just a part of the learning process.
Rhiannon Jones, of the Medium publication The Violet Journal, lists writing as one of her favorite hobbies, and one of the best to begin in your 20s. She says, “It’s a skill that anyone can become good at with enough practice, despite what your teachers may have told you at school. Just like any other skill, the more you write and the more you learn, the better you’ll become.”
Personally, I decided to take a film photography course in my final semester of college, having no prior photography experience. I was intimidated by some of my more knowledagable classmates, but I knew processing film and making prints was something I wanted to know how to do, so I committed myself to it. It was an incredibly rewarding class, but it wasn’t without its trials. I faced technical difficulties (as is common with older technology), and I spent weekends and nights alone in the dark room making mistakes and starting over again and again to get the perfect print. It was really great to get positive feedback from my professor, but it was an even better feeling knowing my efforts had made a difference.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology links creative hobbies to better job performance. The study suggests that those with hobbies tend to deliver more creative solutions and be team players. With many 20-somethings aiming to advance in their careers, this can only be a push factor toward finally trying to learn a new hobby. It’s very common for Millennials and Gen Z to seek a work-life balance, as they struggle with their identity as the “burnout generation.” A new skill or hobby may be the work-life balance satisfaction needed to set boundaries and feel a sense of fulfillment outside of career-driven success.
Your 20s could also be the perfect time for you to finally enroll in that boxing course or get that dark room membership because now is the time you are beginning to really grow into yourself. Your 20s are about self-acceptance, which may mean self-discovery, for some. You’re likely becoming more confident within yourself with each passing day and in turn you’re likely more willing to try new things. Learning a new skill can be a huge confidence booster and also help you settle into your identity, making you feel more like yourself.
Caroline Kimbell, senior at Appalachian State University, has been experimenting with drawing, which is something she admittedly wasn’t the best at growing up. “I’ve tried practicing offhandedly every now and then, and it’s really cool to track my progress over the times that I attempt to try it,” she wrote.
Emily Tesbir, a student at Lafayette wrote about her experience with learning a new skill during quarantine. She said, “During quarantine, I picked up many new skills – and by that I mean I tried to – it didn’t always go as planned.” But, then she tried embroidery and stayed committed to it and offered some encouraging words. “I have almost zero sewing experience, and I was able to pick up stitches relatively quickly, so if I can do it, so can you! You can even make some stunning art with just a simple running stitch.”
At the end of the day, hobbies are fun! It’s a great way to spend your free time when you may not want the highlight of every week to be the tequila shots you took with your friends or the project you completed at work. Whatever you decide, you should remember that if you’re dedicated to pursuing your interest, nothing can stop you from successfully acquiring a new skill. So, buy that keyboard or pair of roller skates, or queue up some yoga Youtube videos. If you still think about picking up a new hobby from time to time, it probably means you should give it a go!