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10 harsh lessons for my 20-year-old self

Are your 30s your best years? I’ve heard they are. So long as I remember these 10 lessons that’ll probably ring true.

Oh God it’s happening.

This is the week I turn 30.

I’ve been dreading this moment since I was 20. And now I’m dreading turning 40.

Nevertheless my 20s taught me a lot. Here’s what I’d Alexsplain to myself – were I to go back 10 years.

#1 Shut up and listen

Do nothing but listen.

Listen to people older than you.

Listen to people wiser than you.

Listen, listen, listen.

You have decades to talk. Decades to establish your position, or indulge in political debate. You think you’re clever, but you’re not. Just trust me on that.

Leave the talking for later. Shut up and listen.

#2 Don’t focus on success. Focus on service

Again, you have decades to be a success…

…But little time to find that sense of meaning which propels you forwards.

By age 30 you decide blissful happiness at work is probably a mirage, and satisfaction can only be gained from the benefits you provide others.

Focus on the intersection between your natural talents and the people you most want to help.

#3 Time slows down when you do cool shit

I’m sorry to tell you, your 20s move fast. So fast, in fact, by 27 you’re already starting to ponder your mortality.

By 30, you’ve discovered only one way to slow down the clock: doing cool shit. 

Travel helps. Try to pack more weekend getaways into each year.

You should also take on more projects outside your work.

When you’re 29 you complete a novel – and this has a ripple effect throughout your mood and career. Professionally speaking, 28-29 is the best year of your 20s.

#4 Arguing is a waste of time

Put a socialist and a capitalist in a room together.

You could leave them to argue 100 years and they’ll never see eye-to-eye.

Most arguments are a waste of time because the other person is just wired differently.

Other times you may have your opponent convinced, but to save face they’ll want to maintain consistency: They will never back down.

If you’re arguing with somebody who is humble and open, you should probably marry them, or at least keep them around. So do your best to stop arguing.

Think about the result you want from the conversation.

Focus on getting this result, or a compromise. If the situation is hopeless, walk away.

#5 Your vision board is mostly bullshit

You have a vision board, Alex.

Tear that up.

It turns out you don’t actually want a Lamborghini all that much. Nor do you want a swimming pool.

You realise this after staying in a few nice hotels. You jump in the hotel’s pool and swim around a bit. Then you think: ‘Well this is boring,’ and jump out again.

By 30 you want financial success, but only for the time it gives you. Your vision board has a picture of a modest house on the Nova Scotia coast. Your aim is threefold:

  1. Get this modest house paid off
  2. Get money in the bank
  3. Stop doing things you hate

#6 Don’t be a wuss

Nobody likes a wuss.

Not girls. Not anyone.

You feel at your most wussy when things are going badly. When you’re desperate for a result. This is when you must hold your nerve.

Have self-control. Don’t pander to anyone. Don’t be a wuss.

#7 Making money is simple

It’s not easy. But it is simple.

And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

As a naturally creative type this makes you feel guilty. You want money-making to be some conundrum or puzzle you have to solve.

But wanting money to be something it’s not is plain stupid.

Money is, by nature, simple.

Just find something that works. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

Use your creativity elsewhere.

#8 Rejection never stops happening

And praying for it to stop will drive you to madness.

Rejection is normality. Success is strange.

Rejection must be treated as a normal part of your day-to-day work. Life is not about epiphanies of genius, followed instantly by success.

It’s about getting up and grinding, day after day, using rejection as a compass to plan your next move.

Work unhurried. You don’t have to conquer the world before you’re 30. When you relax, your unconscious mind takes over and your very best work is produced.

#9 Your anxiety is probably permanent

Good news: By age 30 you have absolutely no reason to be anxious.

So why the occasional bouts of insomnia? Why the chest pains? Why the spells of panic?

Anxiety is probably part of your personality. It’s unlikely to go away. But, if you’re disciplined, you can control it.

During your 20s, you discover 3 ways to help control your anxiety. You must practice these 3 things continuously – every day – to avoid falling off the rails:

  1. Meditate 10 minutes a day
  2. Always have a creative project outside of your work
  3. Stay in touch with people – even when it feels tedious

#10 You lose everything you’re ungrateful for

So never stop being grateful.

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