I turned 30 last Thursday. Looking back on my 20s, I’d be lying if I said there were things I didn’t wish I’d done differently, but mostly, I’m happy and grateful for the experiences I’ve had. If I had a chance to go back in time and share with my 20-year old self the lessons I’ve learned in these last 10 years, this is probably what I’d say.
1. Play, Experiment, Learn
I know you want a lot of answers. The thing is, impatient as you are, some answers won’t come immediately. They can’t. They can only be bought with experience and time.
Right now, be okay with not knowing. Play. Experiment. Learn. Use your 20s to discover who you are, what you love and what you want to contribute to this world.
You will be scared, but sometimes fear will point you in the direction where you need to grow most. Don’t chase perfection, you won’t get it. And don’t confuse knowledge for experience; the answers you seek will lie in action, not endless navel-gazing.
2. Work to Learn
If you’re ever offered a choice between doing something that will help you learn but pays less and doing something that won’t teach you anything but will make you more, go for the learning. You’ll be making and losing money all your life, but what you learn will always be a part of you, and without family depending on you or a mortgage to service, you can still afford to be a little broke.
When I was 25, I volunteered for nearly a year at a place called Adam Khoo Learning Technologies Group in their personal development training programs as a coach/facilitator. Some of the programs paid (little), most didn’t. My bank account hovered between triple and double digits that year, I ate cheaply and didn’t buy a lot of things – but I learned so much there I was a different person when I left.
Looking back, I’m sure that if I hadn’t made that journey as a coach, I would still be as lost and negative as you are now, and I would never have learned to stretch myself and stay positive. Was I broke? Yes, and it was a bitch. But for what I got in return, I’d say the price I paid was worth it.
3. Learn to Make
There are two ways you can make your way in this world; you can make or you can take. Those who make create value. Those who take can only take the value that creators make.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a sculptor or an accountant, you can always find a way to create more value. Some people spend a lifetime polishing skills that only allow them to take, but they will always be dependent on those who make, and they’ll never be able to break free and gain their own independence.
The life of a maker will always be more enriching, and as you enrich the world you’ll find yourself enriched in turn. Whether it’s a photograph, dish, business, friend, sale, become a maker of things and bring new creations into the world.
4. There’s Something More Important than Failure
I know failure can be frightening. But for all you do your best, you’re going to have moments where you take a big step forward only to fall flat on your face. It happens to everyone; living a perfect life free from mistakes is just not possible.
It’s embarrassing and disheartening, I know. But to learn and grow, you have to take chances and that means you’ll win some, you’ll lose some. If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. Once you accept that sometimes you’ll fail, you’ll discover something far more important: the ability to bounce back from failure and keep going anyway.
Be willing to try despite the risk of failure. Because keeping yourself safe from failure will also keep you safe from success.
A friend of mine advised me once to never get too comfortable, and she was right. Perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned during my stint as coach at AKLTG was to stretch myself: to challenge myself to do the things that scare me but help me grow.
You must do the thing you think you cannot do, because the face of your fear is at the limits of your comfort zone – which is another name for your sphere of power. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you’ll never increase your personal power and your fear will have you. Stretch.
6. Have Your Own Yardstick
In your 20s, you’ll see some friends rise up in the world, and inevitably you’ll sometimes find yourself measuring yourself by their achievements. In addition, the world will also try to enforce upon you multiple definitions of success. A man can go crazy this way, trying to measure up to all these things.
But there is really only one true measurement you need to concern yourself with, and that’s your own – don’t waste your time chasing after other people’s dreams. Discover what’s important to you, discover what you want, and do your best to live accordingly.
7. This Way Only Comes Once
I remember what it feels like to be 20 – the world wide open and the future full of possibilities. Yet I want you to remember that this way only comes once, and you’ll never get a second chance to pass it again.
So seize the day, and don’t waste it with petty people or concerns. Stretch yourself and live as much as you can, with whatever you’ve got. The days, weeks and years will be over before you know it. This applies both to all the good times you think will last forever and the dark times you think will never go away.
8. Care for the People You Love
You will see people and friends die, and it’ll always be sad and surreal at the same time. It’s sometimes hard to believe, but it’ll remind you of the limited time you have on this planet, a fact often forgotten.
There will be those who won’t like you no matter what you do. It doesn’t matter. The people who love you and whom you love do, and they won’t be around forever. Make the extra effort to be with them and enrich their lives with your being. Work, money, and things will come and go, but the people who’ll stick with you through the vicissitudes of life are what matter the most.
9. There is No Path
For all the formulae and proven methods you’ll hear in the next 10 years about life and how to live it, there is only one truth, beautifully told by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado:
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road –
Only wakes upon the sea.
There are no crystal balls and guarantees, only best guesses and gut feelings. Don’t try to copy someone else’s path. Be true to your own heart and find your own way. Good luck.