Important life lessons on how to make the most of your younger years from people that have been there, done that.
There’s currently a trend Megan Jay discussed in her TED Talk where 30 is considered the new 20, and how behind that leaves so many people when they do hit their 30s. Your 20s is the time when you can make big things happen, or you can waste them and end up way behind the 8 ball when you’re ready to settle down and get serious in your 30s. I’m not saying you need to spend every day with your nose to the grindstone and never have any fun, but it’s a good idea to balance things out. Here are some pieces of advice taken from my own and many others’ experiences that will help you not to waste a very important decade.
1. Don’t settle
Some people know what they want to do straight out of school, while others are clueless. If you’re one of the latter, a lot of people close to you will be pressuring you to work out what you want to do right this second. They’ll pressure you to just get a job, any job, so you can make some money. They’ll pressure you to stay in that job you don’t like because it’s stable. Don’t be afraid to keep trying things until you find something that really gels with you. When people settle, they tend to fall into a rut that they can’t get out of. It also means you’re doing something you don’t really want to do, so you don’t take opportunities to grow or improve. In a decade you’re going to be in the same place and if layoffs come, your head will be first on the chopping block. You might have to try a few jobs you don’t like and it might be hard for a while, but never settle. We only get one life, don’t spend it doing something you don’t like.
2. Be your own person
Everyone grows up with a certain amount of conditioning from their parents, teachers and other authority figures. Things such as political affiliation, your worldview and your work ethic will be largely the same as what your parent’s were. The biggest part of growing up is breaking that conditioning to become your own person. I was conditioned to be a people/authority pleaser, which meant I was always seeking the approval of others. It was exhausting and incredibly unsatisfying to live my life for adulation from others. When I joined the army, I began to dislike and chafe against authority. That, along with the huge culture shock completely changed who I was as a person, to the point where the people that have known be for a long time would probably recognise me as before army and after army Pete. Being comfortable in your own skin and having your own mind is actually a lot more rare than you might think, and is incredibly liberating.
3. Realise that hardship is good
Depending on what country you are in and what skills you may or may not have, you could have a really rough time finding traction with work (or even getting any work at all). You might get a job you absolutely hate. You might be struggling to make ends meet and have to move back in with your parents. It is going to absolutely suck and you’ll hate your life more than you can imagine. Rather than hating it and pitying yourself, recognise this is the crucible that will shape your future. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. If you can learn to be emotionally resilient, to make the best of a bad time and to not give up, you’ll have something that will serve you well your entire life – the ability to overcome hardship. Besides all of that, you can’t taste just how sweet success really is when you’ve never gone through any pain.
4. Learn how to learn
Learning is generally pretty haphazard for most people, because (ironically) they weren’t taught how to learn in school. They just listened to the teacher, did what they were told and that was it. When you actually know a bit about skill acquisition and learning, however, you can really hack the process to pick things up far quicker than everyone else. What comes next? Mastery. Mastery is a big deal. When you master things and become a subject matter expert, that’s usually when you level up in your career and start looking at serious money and good working conditions. Not only that, when you want to learn something you’re interested in (like surfing, for example), you spend less time being frustrated and more time enjoying it. Besides which, being good at things is an awesome part of life – you don’t want to make it to 30 and suck at everything. Check out Mastery by Robert Greene or any of Cal Newport’s books.
5. Your attitude is crucial
I know quite a few people that didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do after high school – me being one of them. Some of them went to college and dropped out, and then went from job to job. Despite this, they ended up extremely successful. The common factor was a great attitude and work ethic. If you act like a typical entitled twentysomething and go from job to job, always bitching about how you aren’t getting anywhere or that no one listens to you, you’ll end up somewhere shitty in your 30s. If, however, you show up to win every day and do more than what is asked of you, the sky is the limit. You may go from job to job, but you’ll pick up valuable experience and insight along the way whereas others merely pick up a paycheck and more cynicism, never becoming more valuable in the process.
6. Chase experiences
Experiences are what make life worth living, not material things. If you have things you want to do or try, get out and do them! Your 20s is the time, because you aren’t tied down with a spouse and kids. If you want to go heli skiing in Canada, go and do it! Don’t let other people tell you it’s unreasonable. By the time I hit 30 I’d been to several countries overseas, served in the military, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree, got a scuba diving licence, been bungee jumping out of a suspended cable car, surfed 15 foot waves, went snowboarding in Canada, trained with and been taught by Olympic judo champions, and that’s just what I can remember off the top of my head. No expensive item is worth anything close to those experiences.
7. Go on a hero’s journey
Also known as a rite of passage before we urbanised a few thousand years ago. Mine was joining the army. I grew about 20 years in maturity in the 6 years I spent there. I was pushed to my limits many times and I learned and experienced things most of the population will never have a clue about. If you can do a gap year program like they have in Australia, absolutely give it a shot. If not, find some kind of adventure and go on it. Don’t live your entire life in the city or suburbia. There are a lot of programs of this nature popping up all over the world – sure, they aren’t as hard as the military, but you also don’t have to give up 6 years of your life either.
8. Read a lot of books
Have you ever heard the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants”? That’s what you do when you read books. In any area of interest, there are thousands of books out there to help you gain more knowledge and expertise. Don’t waste all your spare time watching TV and playing games, spend some time feeding your mind. You will learn so much from books that you won’t learn elsewhere, and most successful people you speak to will be avid readers. Don’t shy away from fiction either, it will broaden your thinking and improve your vocabulary. It also offers a talking point with other people.
9. Learn how to build relationships
Because contrary to what you might think, career success isn’t just about your skills and qualifications. Your ability to build quality relationships by actually talking to people is far more important. If being in a social setting and making conversation with people is uncomfortable, it’s time to do more of it until you become comfortable. Despite what you may think you are most likely not an introvert, you just need more practice at socialising because it is a skill just like anything else. No one is becoming successful by being someone that can’t talk to other people.
10. Be smart with your money
I know people that saved throughout their teens and early twenties, bought property by the time they were 23 and are now on easy street. That approach isn’t for everyone, because it limits your chances to do what you want to do early on, like travelling. You don’t have to buy a house in your 20s, but you do need to save as much money as you can. If you’re going to blow $10k on a trip to Europe, your bank account shouldn’t be cleaned out. A big part of this is not going out and getting wasted all weekend, every weekend because it costs a bomb. I get it, you’re young and you like getting drunk. That’s cool, but you don’t need to do it all the time. Cut back on the partying a touch and use that extra money you haven’t spent to…
This obviously goes with number 5. Start investing as soon as you can in your 20s, even if it’s a small amount, because the magic of compound interest means that the amount is going to grow bigger as you get older. If you can, put $50 in a good investment account (not just a bank) per month and keep doing it for the rest of your life. The payoff at the end will be massive. Start contributing to your 401k (known as superannuation in other countries) as early as you can. I highly recommend you read Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which is written specifically for people in their 20s (I’ve read it, it’s brilliant) and isn’t dry or complicated. It teaches you exactly how to do this kind of thing. When it comes to investing, the very best time to start is as early as possible, so do it now.
12. Choose your friends wisely
There is a very important saying: “you are the average of the people you spend the most time around”. Think about what your relationships are doing for you at the moment. Are you friends with a whole lot of people that aren’t going anywhere in life? If you’re frustrated that you aren’t moving forward and getting results, there’s your reason. If you want to be rich, you need to spend your time around rich people and other people that want to be rich. Hanging around with stoners is going to hold you back. If you want a magazine cover body, hanging around with people that go to McDonalds all the time will sabotage your efforts. When I decided I really wanted to make a go of writing, I started spending more time around creative people such as other writers, producers, directors and so on, because it energises me and helps me get better. Whatever you want to get good at and succeed in, you need to find those same people and be around them.
I’d also say, regardless of what you want to do, spend time with interesting people. Bored office workers are a dime a dozen and so many people just default to talking about sports. Make friends with people that actually have exciting things to talk about.
13. Spend quality time with them
Life can pull you in a thousand different directions, many of those away from the people closest to you. Build your friendships and really invest in them, because strong friendships make life worth living. Stop interacting online with everyone, get out and do things together. Talk about real things as well, don’t just talk bullshit about the Kardashians or sports. I just gathered a group of friends, many of whom didn’t know each other but who I figured would get on very well because they are all creative people in different parts of the entertainment industry. We sat for almost 4 hours in a restaurant and would’ve stayed longer if it wasn’t closing up. When you gather interesting people together you can make incredible memories. It’s the nights like that you really look back on and think just how great life is.
14. Don’t try to put on appearances or impress people
Because they won’t be impressed. If you’re average, people will like you because you’re just like them. If you’re unsuccessful, people will like you and pity you. If you’re successful people generally won’t be impressed, they’ll often be jealous, thinking you don’t deserve it. You can’t win whichever way you go. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and do what makes you happy. Putting on appearances is exhausting, because you’re essentially living a lie. Be the real you, be the best version of you. Don’t ever be afraid of who you are. Stay true to yourself, your vision and don’t worry about the haters. You’ll pick up amazing friends along the way who are trying to do exactly the same thing you are.
15. Learn who you are
Believe it or not, self-awareness is a rare trait. Most people have this image in their heads of who they are, but it’s often very different from reality. When you really know who you are and what makes you tick, you can start to look for jobs and careers that best suit you. I highly recommend you head over to www.gallupstrengthsfinder.com and pay the $10 to do their test. It will give you a comprehensive report and offer you advice and actions to help you better understand yourself and how you can best use this new knowledge. I did it recently as part of my new job and believe me, it opens up a new world of possibilities. You’ll also learn what your strengths are and when you do, learn to work on them rather than your weaknesses. When you play to your strengths they get even stronger, working on your weaknesses all the time is frustrating and doesn’t yield the same results.
16. Stretch yourself
So many people live in a bubble. Rather than trying new things, they sit in a comfort zone and decompose from the inside out. All of the things I told you I did above were possible because at every opportunity I got out there and tried something new. Old people make bucket lists of the things that they want to do before they die. Screw that, start doing everything that you want to do when you’re young and can really enjoy it! I heard a great saying a few months back: “the only difference between a rut and a grave is depth”. So don’t spend your time in a rut. If you want to learn to surf, get out to the beach on a weekend and give it a shot. Don’t do the typical “I can’t be bothered” and vegetate on the couch when you can go and do something fun or worthwhile. You won’t believe just how much your life and your outlook can change when you decide to step out of that bubble and try new things. You should also try to get out there and do things that will really test you, that scare you. Get out of your comfort zone because it’s one of the best ways to grow.
17. Spend time with your family
Because you only get one. Don’t blow off the once a week dinner with your parents, or skip family events. Families (along with friends) are the ones who will pick you up when you fall down, who will be there when you need them most, and vice versa. Don’t ever take them for granted. Whatever beefs you might have with your parents, talk to them – they can’t fix things when they don’t know what the problem is. Don’t make them guess because they don’t have ESP. The vast majority of parents just want what is best for you and for you to be happy, but at the end of the day they aren’t perfect, they’re just people. Not all problems can be solved and not all families can get along, but don’t let that stop you from doing your absolute best.
18. Don’t take your health for granted
People leave school where they had to play sport all the time, and then they get out into the real world and let themselves go. Letting your health go is like continually spending big on a credit card – one day the bill is going to come. It might not be today or next week, but the longer you leave it the bigger the bill is going to be when it comes. Join a gym, go running, go swimming, join a local sports team, whatever. As long as you do something that you enjoy and that keeps the weight from piling on, that’s all you need. Make sure it’s something that’s fun too. If it’s fun you’ll keep doing it, but also, why would you want to torture yourself and do something you hate to stay healthy? If you can have fun while you’re exercising, that’s a great double whammy.
19. Live passionately
I saved this for last because I believe it to be the culmination of all the above points and one of the most important on its own. I mentioned that bored office people that talk about sports are a dime a dozen. I mentioned them talking about sports because when they do, they are talking about other people who are living their passion while they live a life of boring mediocrity. Do as many things as you can that make you happy and that you have a passion for, because it will open doors for you that you can’t even imagine. People love to be around positive, passionate people because they are energizing, interesting and have a zest for life. I can tell people that are passionate about life almost as soon as I meet them because they have a fire in their eyes and an intensity in their voice that reveals who they are. Listen to Tony Robbins talk and you’ll know what I mean. We only get one life, so make the most of it and love every second of it, even the down moments because they make the up moments that much better.
20. Now that you’ve read all this, don’t take life too seriously. No one gets out alive.
Originally posted on Peter Ross’ blog
Photo: Emilien ETIENNE/Flickr