The unrelenting nature of change and the rate of exposure that youngsters get today means that they are growing up much faster than we did back in the 90's. When I look at it, I feel a little sad because ignorance is bliss and the children born today are being robbed of their ignorance much too soon. This in turn results in many of them starting to think like a 40 year old when they are 20. This is inherently detrimental to their development and their ability to achieve their potential.
Having been through my 20's and having seen the world after I turned 30, I believe that I have a lot more to learn in the future and much more to achieve. The unrelenting comparison for grades, college admission and jobs, results in every 20 year old wanting to peak at 21. They want to start at the zenith. When you do that, the way ahead is usually downhill. I did precisely that, fell and then got up again. I was a straight A students, passed out the valedictorian of my batch, refused to sit in the placement and got myself a job. I was given one promotion and 3 pay hikes in 15 months. Then I quit, to start my own venture and the world taught me lessons rather ruthlessly.
Here is my advice on what to do when you are in your 20's.
Travel - There is nothing in life that has taught me more than travelling. When you are young, you have the ability absorb a lot more. At the same time you also have the ability to adjust and be flexible. These qualities wear out as you progress through life. Travel as much as you can. Take the Europe trip on a shoestring budget, visit 20 countries in 3 months, work along the way and build relationships.
I visited 5 countries in 7 days once! Sleeping in trains by night and seeing the cities and meeting people by day. I do not recommend this!
Meet the locals, strike up a conversation, learn how they live. Learn about their culture and the basis of their culture. This will broaden your thinking and provide you greater perspective. You will no longer be restricted to the way of thinking that was ingrained by your upbringing.
Traveling will be the best investment you will make in your life and the returns it will provide will be an order of magnitude greater. You will learn more and understand the world better. You will become a more well rounded human being.
Question Assumptions - At one point of time, the greatest minds in the world said the World was Flat. Nothing is set in stone and you need not take it as given, just because someone claims certain research or cites a book. Question everything, often that is only way that we can make things better. Often times even the best theories are made with certain assumptions based on the facts available at the time. Facts keep changing. The only constant is change. You are best positioned to do this when you are 20 because...
Don't plan - If you were to look at life as a mathematical equation, it would have far too many variables for you to be able to pin down the exact details of how things are going to play out. Hence, live life. Don’t get obsessed with planning and making sure that you are saving money or shit like that. Invariably life will bring you to a point where you would not be left with a choice but to do that. But that time is not when you are 20.
Experience. Don't buy - No matter what you buy, even your dream house, you are eventually going to get over it and it would not mean the same to you. Experiences on the other hand grow richer with time. You will remember them fondly and you will enjoy them more when you think back about it. So if the choice is between buying an iPhone and taking a trip to Thailand or paragliding, take the trip, reach into the air.
Your parents probably were not right about everything - You will realise as you go through this journey called life, that your parents were not right about everything. And that is okay. They come from a time that was very different and they developed their thoughts in a different set of circumstance. Learn to identify the things that were right and the things that were wrong.
Get a mentor - You will be required to take decision that you have not taken in the past. It is always helpful to have someone with more experience listen to you and provide you feedback.
The most important thing to ensure about a mentor is that, this is a person who would provide advice but would not get upset if you do not take it.
It is for this reason that family usually cannot serve in this role. Being able to look at you objectively is critical to mentoring you well.
Work with great people - Instead of pouring a shit ton of money on useless educational degree (even if that is Harvard) work with people who are great, even if they do not pay you well. Think of it an investment in the long term. They will be able to make you realise your true potential better than any college ever can.
It takes work to make one produce their best and you are not even aware of what YOUR best is when you are starting out.
Colleges tend to treat everyone the same way and that is greatest disservice that they do to those who put their trust and money on them. There is no price that you can really put on realising your true potential, knowing great people and growing personally.