Going through my 10-year archive of posts for the new Alvin Soon was like taking a trip back into my past.
It was eye-opening to see that I struggled with many of the same things then that I do now; lack of money, growing fatter, uncertainty about the future.
It was also gratifying to see that I have grown in the past 10 years, in ways that I would never have expected. I’ve travelled further, loved deeper, and been blessed far more than I ever thought I would be.
But my 27-year old self didn’t know all that. He was often worried and confused about what he was going to do with his life. A lot more had to happen before he felt more comfortable with who he was (and wasn’t).
If I could go back in time and give advice to my younger, 27-year old self, I’d bring back a stack of winning lottery numbers from the future. Barring that, this is the stuff I’d tell him to save the both of us time and heartache.
Don’t Put People on Pedestals
At 27, I wanted saviours, people who could show me The Way. Because of this, I put too many people on pedestals.
This prevented me from seeing them see them as they were, not how I wanted them to be. I couldn’t see their flaws and was blindsided when they acted up. I couldn’t connect because I wasn’t willing to meet them eye to eye, and accept that my heroes were imperfect people too.
Putting people above myself also meant I disowned my personal power and growth. I wanted other people to assuage the anxiety and uncertainty I felt in my 20s, instead of taking full responsibility for them.
Nobody is coming to save you, 27. Save yourself. You have power and wisdom too.
I have come to discover through earnest personal experience and dedicated learning that ultimately the greatest help is self-help; that there is no other help but self-help — doing one’s best, dedicating one’s self wholeheartedly to a given task, which happens to have no end but is an ongoing process. Bruce Lee
Listening is More Valuable Than Advice
At 27, I was pretty aggressive about giving advice. I thought the world would do better if it only listened to me. That spoke more about my youthful arrogance and insecurities than anything else.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve learned that listening with acceptance and compassion can be more valuable than giving advice. And that true listening is in such short supply, people are grateful when you can give it to them.
There’s a time and place for sharing strategy, but people don’t hear what you say when there’s no connection, and there’s no connection without listening. Often, people don’t even want your advice, they just want to be heard, and that’s enough to make them feel capable again.
Be the silence that listens. Tara Brach
Travel as Much As You Can
I never got to travel much until I was past 27, I just didn’t have the money. When I finally did, everything changed. In the past 10 years, I’ve found that nothing expands your mind like travel does.
Nothing burned my naiveté faster than looking into the eyes of a beggar boy who’d only known the streets his whole life. Conversely, nothing made me believe in people more than the kindness of strangers, who were nice to me for no other reason than they could.
The world is bigger than you can ever imagine, full of more beauty and sadness than any single heart can bear. Go see more of it, when you can.
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. Pico Iyer
Don’t Fool Yourself, and You Are the Easiest Person to Fool
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the past 10 years is how the mind can deceive the mind. Learn about cognitive biases so you can spot when you’re wrong about being right. Learn how to think critically so you can tell when others are doing the same.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. Richard P. Feynman
I read a lot in my 20s and I probably read self-help the most. It wasn’t all bad, but looking back, it was a myopic reading list.
Most popular self-help follow the trends of the year. Whatever ails you can be solved with this One Answer now, but next year there’ll be a new One Answer that will completely change your life.
History is more constant. Millions of other people have already gone through life’s trials and tribulations before us, and while civilisations change, human nature stays the same. That means you can learn a lot about life and living from reading history and biographies. There’s one caveat …
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana
But Read with a Bias to Action
I’ve been a real bookworm my entire life. Somehow, I always thought I could find The Answer in books, so I kept reading them to find them.
That led me to one big mistake; I gradually mistook the reading of something for the doing of it. Reading about push-ups, for example, doesn’t do a single thing for your body until you actually do a push-up.
So read, 27, but read with a bias towards applying what you read.
… well, if information was the answer then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs. Derek Sivers
Passion Isn’t as Important as You Think
Passion was a trending keyword in my 20s, but time has revealed that it’s not as important as people think it is. Instead, the world rewards things that are both rare and valuable, and not what you are personally interested in.
27, I’d suggest you build one or two rare skills that are so good people can’t ignore you. In other words, don’t focus on yourself so much (passion), and focus instead on becoming a useful member of society (rare and valuable).
Forget Lifehacks, Build Keystone Habits Instead
At 27, I was a big fan of lifehacks — tips and tricks that could ‘turbo-charge’ my life. It’s tempting to believe that you can instantly change your life with a few occasional hacks, but more often than not, it’s what you consistently do over a lifetime that makes the real difference.
So, forget lifehacks. Build keystone habits instead. I’d go with meditation and weight training, both of which have been scientifically proven to provide outsized mental, physical and emotional benefits. Start sooner than later, you can’t build the same kind of strength overnight that you can over years.
Choose a Direction, Not a Path
At 27, I desperately wanted my life to make sense. I wanted clear answers on what to do, specific plans to get there and optimised strategies to get it done right. I was anxious to know The One Right Way my life should work out.
I could have saved myself a lot of time and worry by accepting that there is no path.
I learned the following metaphor from the book Designing Your Life. Explorers don’t have a map with a clearly defined route. Instead, they use a compass to guide their direction. They have a rough idea of where they want to go, and they figure out the path as they go.
Use your values and goals as your compass, and accept that your path will never turn out the way you expect. Don’t stay in the lodge, insisting on a perfect map before you head out. Instead, grab your compass, hit the trail, embrace the detours and enjoy the walk.
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.
Antonio Machado, There Is No Road