What am I supposed to achieve with my 20s
On my 20th birthday, I got drunk and peed on an old woman's lawn. A policeman saw that and stopped me. I talked myself out of not going to jail that night. I was already under arrest, but he didn't find it necessary to ask. So my 20s started with a bang.
At that time I was aimless. I just got kicked out of music school and cut off my long curly hair. I wanted to emigrate to Texas, but didn't know how or where. Sometimes I have taught people about the spiritual aspect of consciousness and have some half-finished ideas about the theory of relativity and whether the universe really exists or not.
I was cunning, brash, arrogant and really annoying.
I will be 30 years old in three days. I'll be in Las Vegas and I'll probably go nuts when that happens. But I am pleased to report that I have become much more responsible and much less arrogant. I've changed a lot in these 10 years. I am no longer arrested and I no longer pee on people's lawns. I've founded companies, traveled the world several times, and built a career as a writer - something I could never have predicted.
In our reward society, it's easy to forget that most personal changes don't happen all at once, but as a long, gradual evolution of which we are barely aware. We hardly ever wake up and notice wild, life changing changes within us. No, our identity is slowly changing, like sand moving back and forth through the sea and slowly changing into new shapes and contours.
Only when we stop and look back years or decades later can we see all the dramatic changes that have happened. My 20s were sure to be dramatic. Here are a few of the things I learned:
1. FAIL EARLY AND OFTEN; TIME IS YOUR BEST FORTUNE
When we were young, our greatest asset was not our talents, not our ideas, not our experiences, but our time. Time gives you the opportunity to take big risks and make big mistakes. To drop everything and to travel the world for 6 years or to open a business to develop this crazy app and your friends came when you were high in one night, or just to pack all your (four) things that you had belong to move to another city on a whim and live with your cousin, you can do something like that just get through when you're young, when you have nothing to lose. The difference between an unemployed 22-year-old with debt and no real work experience and an unemployed 25-year-old with debt and no work experience is in principle more neglected in the long run.
It is likely that one will not be bound by the financial responsibilities that come with later adulthood: mortgages, car payments, day care for the children, life insurance, and so on. This is the best time of your life where you have the least to lose if you take risks on pure speculation, so this is what you should do. Because of the devastating mistakes of those years - the crazy love affair with the Taiwanese dancer that drove your mother crazy, or the entrepreneurial joint venture that someone at Starbucks talked you into that turned out to be a complicated pyramid scheme - it's these failures, who prepare you for your life without compromise. These are the best lessons of your life. Start learning.
2. YOU CANNOT FORCE FRIENDSHIPS
There are two types of friends in life: the kind who go away for a long time and come back and it feels like nothing has changed, and the kind who have been away for a long time and come back where it is feels like everything has changed
I have lived in different countries for most of the past 5 years. Unfortunately, that means I left a lot of friends in different places. What I've found out over time is that you can't force friendship with someone. It's either there or not, and whatever it "is" is so short-lived and magical that neither of them could call it by its name if you tried. You both just know.
I also found out that it is seldom possible to predict which friends you will stay with and which will not. I left Boston in the fall of 2009 and came back 8 months later to stay until the summer of 2010. Many of the people who were very close to me before I left didn't even bother to call me back when I came back. Still, some of my casual acquaintances became my best friends over time. It's not that the other people were bad or bad friends. It's nobody's fault. That's just life.
3. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ACHIEVE ALL OF YOUR GOALS
The first two decades of our lives in school taught us to focus on results everywhere. You have to find out X, Y, or Z and you either make it or you fail. If you can do it, you're great. If not you fail. But in my 20s, I learned that life doesn't always work this way. Sure, it's nice to have goals in order to work towards something, but I've found that achieving all of those goals is by the way.
When I was 25 I sat down and wrote down a list of my goals that I wanted to achieve by the time I was 30. The goals were ambitious and I took this list very seriously, at least for the first few years. Today I've achieved about a third of those goals. I've made great strides on another third. And I did almost nothing for the last third.
But I'm actually really happy about it. As I got older, I found that some of the life goals I set were no longer the things I wanted to do. And setting these goals made it clear to me what is not important in my life. A couple of other goals that I haven't achieved have learned so much along the way over the past 6 years that I'm still happy with the result.
I am convinced that 80% of our goals are for getting our bums moving and 20% for getting an arbitrary test mark. The value in any endeavor almost always comes from the process of failing and trying, not achieving it.
4. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE EXECUTIONER HE / SHE IS ACTUALLY DOING
There is tremendous pressure on high school and college kids to know exactly what they want to do with their lives. It starts with choosing a university and getting into it. Then it will choose a career and get the first job. Then there will be a clear path to climb the corporate ladder to get as close as possible to the top. Then it is time to get married and have children. If at any point you don't know what you are doing or feel insecure or fail a few times, you are told that you will mess up your whole life and spend your life begging and drinking vodka on a park bench.
The truth is, almost no one has any idea what to do in their 20s and I'm pretty sure that this will continue in adulthood. Everyone just continues to work according to his judgment.
Out of the dozen of people I've stayed in touch with since high school and college (and by "kept in touch" I really mean "spied on Facebook"), there have been only a few people who haven't been in the last 20 years Changed their job, career, industry, family, sexual orientation, or who their favorite power ranger is. For example, a good friend of mine was absolutely convinced that at 23 he would be promoted to the management of an industry. He had a big head start, did his best, and made good money. Last year when he turned 28 he just left and ran away. Another friend left the Navy selling surfing gear and did his Masters in Education. Another friend just took a job and started a career in Hong Kong. Another friend stopped working as an environmental scientist and is now a DJ.
I had little idea what I was doing. I keep getting emails from people who want to know how I started my company, when I decided to become a writer or what my first business plan was. The truth is, I didn't know any of these things. It just happened. I've looked for opportunities and seized them. Many of these options have failed. But I was young and I could afford these failures. Maybe I was just lucky enough to work in a way that I like and can do well.
5. MOST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD REALLY WANT THE SAME
In retrospect, my 20s were pretty boisterous. I started a company in a bizarre industry that brought me to some interesting places and allowed me to meet interesting people. I've been all over the world and spent time in over 50 countries. I learned a few languages and shook hands with a few people who became rich, famous, poor, and oppressed in the First and Third World.
And what I found out is that, from a broad perspective, people are basically the same. Everyone spends most of their time worrying about food, money, their jobs, and their families - even people who are rich and well fed. Everyone wants to be calm and feel important. even people who are already relaxed and important. Everyone is proud of where they come from. Everyone has insecurities and fears that plague them, no matter how successful they are. Everyone is afraid of failure and of appearing stupid. Everyone loves their friends and family and is most unsettled by them.
People are, by and large, the same. It's just the details that get mixed up. This home instead of that home. This corrupt government instead of that corrupt government. This religion instead of that religion. These social systems through those social systems. Most of the differences we believe are so important are just by-products of geography and history. They are trivial - just different cultural currents of the same all-encompassing humanity.
I've learned to judge people not by who they are, but by what they do. Some of the nicest and friendliest people I've met have been people who shouldn't have been nice or kind to me. Some of the most disgusting assholes were people who had nothing to do with me. The world makes all kinds of people. And you don't know who you're dealing with until you've spent enough time with someone to see what they are to do, not what they look like, or where they're from, or what gender they are, or whatever.
6. THE WORLD DOESN'T MATTER YOU
The thought that is so frightening at first glance - "Everyone doesn't care?" - becomes very liberating when you process what that really means. As David Foster Wallace said, "You stop worrying what others think of you when you realize how seldom they do it."
You, me and everything we do will one day be forgotten. It will be like we never existed, even though we did. Nobody will care. Just like now, almost nobody cares what you say or do in your life.
And that's actually really good news: it means you can get away with doing a lot of nonsense and people will forget about it and forgive you. It means that there is absolutely no reason not to be who you want to be. The pain of inhibiting you will go away and the reward will be for a lifetime.
7. THE POP CULTURE IS FULL OF EXTREME, EXERCISE MODERATION
My life immediately got about 542% better when I realized that the information we consume online is composed of 5% extreme views and that 90% of our lives actually happen in the middle ground in which most of the population actually lives. If anyone reads enough on the internet they are bound to think that World War III is imminent, that communities rule the world through conspiracies, that all men are rapists (or at least complicit), that all women are lying and horny whores, that white people are victims of reverse racism, that there is a war against Christianity, that all poor people are lazy and want to overthrow their government and so on.
It is important to sometimes withdraw to the quiet 90% and remember: life is simple, the people are good, and the abysses that emerge to separate us often collapse.
THE SUM OF THE LITTLE THINGS WEIGH MORE THAN THE BIG THINGS
I remember reading an interview I read with Dustin Moskovitz, who was a co-founder of Facebook and who was a roommate of Mark Zuckerberg in college. The interviewer asked Dustin how he felt to be part of Facebook's “overnight success”. His answer was something like, "If by 'overnight success' you mean that I've stayed up every night for the past 6 years and written code, then I feel really tired and stressed out."
We tend to assume that things just happen as they are. As outside observers, we tend to see only the outcome of things and not the strenuous process (and all the failures) that were part of getting the outcome. When we are young we have this idea that we just have to do this one big thing that will turn our world upside down. We dream so big because we don't yet realize - we are too young to realize - that this "one big thing" actually consists of hundreds and thousands of little daily things that have to be done quietly and without further ado every day. And that for a long time without much praise. Welcome to life.
9. THE WORLD IS NOT A TERRIFIC PLACE THAT PURSUES YOU
It is said over and over again, but basically it's true. I've been to a few shabby places in and outside of the US. And when they got the chance, most of the people were nice and helpful. If there is one piece of practical advice I can give any 20 year old, regardless of their situation, it is: find a way to travel and if you are in doubt, talk to people. Ask them out, get to know them. There is no disadvantage and major advantages. Especially if you are still young and impressionable.
10. YOUR PARENTS ARE PERSONS TOO
And finally, perhaps the most sobering realization in your 20s: No longer seeing your mother and father as omniscient protectors as you did as a child, and not as the disgusting and totally uncool authority as you did as a teenager, but as Colleagues, simply as two flawed, vulnerable, struggling people doing their best even though they often don't know what the heck they are doing (see number 5).
Your parents probably screwed up a lot during your childhood. Pretty much everyone does this (as my mother likes to say, “Children are not born with instructions for use”). And you will likely realize all of these mishaps when you are in your 20s. Growing up and maturing to the extent that you understand it is always a painful process. It can cause a lot of bitterness and regret.
But perhaps the first duty of adulthood - true adulthood, not just age adulthood) - is to forgive parents for their mistakes. They are only human too. They do their best, although they don't always know what is best.
Written by Mark Manson, translated from English by Daniel Pikal
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