A few days ago my friend Bogdan wrote “Twenty things people in their twenties should stop doing.” This has left millions of people stunned and confused, for now that they’ve stopped doing the things on his list, they simply don’t know what to do! How tragic! Alas, fear not, because I am really nice and figured I might help.
The twenties are probably the most vital decade in your life. You will likely get your degree, start your career, open your business, get married, or even settle down at this time. You will form lifelong habits and begin to discover who you are. This is the most crucial personhood forming decade you will ever experience, and you are probably going into it like I did, completely clueless, vain, naïve, filled with lofty-but-unrealistic ideals and fantasies. Here are some things I wished I learned at the beginning of my twenties.
1. Learn to make cold calls
Our contemporary post-internet age is filled with laws, rules, algorithms and axioms. If the job application is online, we intuitively fill out the form and sit down quietly in the corner, quivering and waiting for a phone call that never comes. Stop waiting and go carve out your path, you make the call. Go talk to local businesses and ask for a job. If you want your business to grow, go out and sell it. Walk into your bosses office and ask what you can do to get a raise. Ask store managers for discounts. Request things not on the menu. You don’t have to wait for things to come to you, instead you need to seek them out. Never be afraid to politely ask or inquire.
2. Learn a trade, or something you are good at
Here is a heartbreaking truth: you will be treated as nothing in this world without a trade, or “something that you are good at.” I cannot stress this strongly enough, grow or develop a trade or some skill-set that you can show! If you don’t know what, find a large company, get hired at the bottom, work and observe the different skill-sets, pick one and learn it. Vague degrees or obscure tendencies don’t work in the real world. You must learn some real, tangible, money-making skill, and learn to market your ability, otherwise you will spend a lot of time on this website.
3. Learn to look ahead but live now
Most of us commit a huge existential fallacy: we either live in the now, oblivious of tomorrow, or we are obsessed with the future, as the present slips away. The only escape from this trap is to do both at once. Make sure to plan ahead, always be forward-thinking, but don’t let your life be consumed by planning and preparing for a better tomorrow, one that may never come.
4. Learn about personal finances
(The love of) money may be the root of all evil, but money is still what makes the world go round. Everything from the health, freedom, and pleasure of you, your family, and people around you depends on money and how well you can earn it and manage it. For goodness sake, buy a few books on personal finance and study these like your life depends on it. It does.
5. Don’t be slowed by the fear of failure
Societal norms are disseminated through television, literature, media, formal education, and through your culture/friends/family. Put all that together and you have a toxic mixture that includes “expectations” of what you should be in order to be valuable in other people’s eyes. When you fail to meet these “expectations” you may be paralyzed by fear and give up, or think you are not normal. Stop living to meet societal expectations of wealth, normalcy, success, or prestige, these will only serve to make you arrogant if you achieve, or full of despair if you fail.
6. Travel as broadly as you can
The world is bigger than you think and there is so much out there that will help you understand who you are in it. The classical era of western education for the elites of society culminated in a “Grand Tour” (1) around Europe which would expose educated young men to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. In essence travel was seen as senior project or thesis because those who embarked on journeys around the world acquired valuable experience and immense intellectual stimulation. It still does this today.
7. Read paradigm shifting books
Reading is quickly becoming a long lost art, perhaps in part due to the large increase of authors and books, as well as the introduction of many other forms of media. Often the only books that are read are trifle trashy novels. Instead, you should look through one of the many “most influential books ever written” lists (2, 3, 4, 5), find a book that sounds fascinating and read the whole thing. It may take time, you may be so busy that you can only do 30min a day at lunch, you may disagree with the books thesis, but after you get through it the way you think will be forever enriched.
8. Write out your thoughts and feelings
Writing is not just something that you do (groan) in college or (boring) if you are a blogger. Rather it is a miraculous skill (one that a vast majority of humans in history did not have access to) that enables you to transform a transient jumble of conflicting ideas into a coherent and lasting format. You can literally take whats in your head, and put in before you, and look at it! That’s magic! Write out your ideas, because this helps you refine them. Write out your because, for this helps you define them. One of the best ways of learning who you are, what you think, and how to make sense of everything is by writing.
9. Engage in stimulating conversations
The Bible says “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Pr 27:17) If you are the average person in your twenties, most of your conversations go like this “great game, right?” and “yea totally, that guy is a beast!” or “those nails are so pretty!” and “yea, aren’t they just darling!” Now I love football and nail polish just as much as the next… umm…. strangely girlish guy, but you need to engage in more intellectually stimulating dialogue, or you might become like that 30 year old Justin Bieber (6) or “EmoDad.” (7) Conversations can literally change lives, but first you must change the type of conversations you have.
10. Start saving money
I know what it’s like to be a poor student; it sucks. One year in college I had literally no eating out, no Starbucks coffee, no going to the movies, no new clothes, no new gadgets or toys and etc. I know saving is not easy but the truth is, you don’t need most of the junk you have. Go look in your closet and around your room, there is probably a lot of rubbish there. Simply enough, stop buying things you don’t need, stop eating out when you shouldn’t, and start saving around 10% of your paychecks as a “rainy day” fund. Trust me, five years down the road, you’ll be really glad you didn’t buy the OneDirection discography.
11. Learn to cook
I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’m a terrible cook. I have trouble making an omelet without ruining it (honestly I couldn’t even spell the darn word, kept writing omlet and getting angry at the spell check!). I’m also married to a wife who can cook, so I will survive. But you might not be as lucky as I am. Eating is so vital, but oft ignored. We eat every day. We need to eat in order to survive! And if we eat the wrong things, we will get die. And face it, if you do get married, at least one of you needs to learn how to cook. In fact, in case your spouse decides to go vegetarian, learning to cook your own “real food-as-opposed-to-freaky-green-leaves” is a good skill to learn!
12. Finish up the junk food, start going healthy
You are still in your twenties, your metabolism is the best that it will ever be, so if you want a giant quadruple cheeseburger with Twinkies, now your best shot. Try that at fifty, and you’ll be dead in a heartbeat, if your heart can even beat after eating that. Yet, be aware that this is also the time to start forming healthy habits (sigh, yes I know, life sucks, hello existential nihilism, erm, I mean diet.) This is the time where you must learn to exchange your pizza hut membership for a gym membership and start forming healthy habits to carry you through the next few decades.
13. Build good credit
I was once told to never open a credit card because it is all an evil, horrible, vile scam. That is certainly true, but it was still the worst advice I followed. You need at least one credit card unless you are a millionaire that will not be buying a home on credit (in which case, please call me and we can discuss your generous love offering to my new charity: SaveTheYuriy’s). When it’s time to buy a house, the most important thing is your credit history, if it is good, you will pay less monthly, if it’s poor or nonexistent, you will end up paying more money to the bank. Do not ever use your credit card to buy stuff you can’t afford with money you don’t have, but simply have it to build credit history which is increasingly used as a score of your responsibility with money.
14. Challenge your inherited thinking
Stop thinking that everything is true because you think so. Some traditions or ideologies you inherited may be great, others may not be, and the sooner you realize this the better. If you were born in the American South in the last few centuries, you would have inherited an quasi-religious elitist attitude towards human beings of African descent. You would assume they are worse, and you are superior, more sophisticated, and deserve more. Sure now we think its silly, but millions who lived and died defending that stupid ideology didn’t think so. Think, challenge your thinking, and don’t ever assume you started off having 100% truth, instead make your life a genuine effort to pursue what is true, for this is truly a worthy cause.
15. Have many advisers, don’t settle for one
I know this will be like kick to the teeth, but let me break the news to you: you are not the smartest person in the world. You just aren’t. And if you listen to lady gaga or watch MTV, knock down another 50 IQ points. It was really tough for me to realize I was somewhat naive and ignorant, but there is a positive flip side, there are plenty of smart people around you. If you add the internet, media, seminars, podcasts, and etc, you have tons of “advisers.” Listen to them, not one of them, but many of them. You don’t have to base all your decisions one person’s advice, instead learn to listen to many views and and sift through this mixture for gold.
16. Experiment, try many new things
Once you are older and settled down, with bills to pay, mouths to feed, and a habit to conform to, you will not have the freedom of experimentation. For example making career switches can be hard; a 40 year old schoolteacher cannot decide to be an Olympic athlete. Also when you are older, you will be more inclined to stick with patterns you have learned without realizing something newer and better awaits. As long as your definition of experimentation doesn’t involve drugs and debauchery, encourage yourself to constantly try out new things, perhaps you are only becoming a nurse because your parents want you to, and if you tried it, you would utterly adore programming?!
17. Put down “People” and pick up the “Times”
You live on this thing that some scientific experts like to call “the earth.” This “earth” is (surprise) filled with more than boy bands, souped up BMW’s, celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, and fantasy football teams. There are these things called “other countries” and really crazy things happen there that actually affect you, maybe even more than Kanye West’s next new-shocking-but-totally-expected-crazy-act. Read the news to be informed about the world that you live in, it’s the only one we’ve got.
18. Learn to make new friends
Besides money, the only other thing that makes the world go round (well, besides gravitational forces) is people. Many things about your life are defined by the people you interact with and those whom you call “friend.” The job I currently have, was mainly achieved because of my having a friend who worked here (and my recent promotion was thanks to #1 in this post). That said, learn to make new friends, you will lose nothing by being a friend, but you can gain immensely rewarding benefits.
19. Invest money into retirement
This is a really hard one to conceive of. If you are a young twenty-something, saving money for retirement is the last thing on your mind (or second to last, right after making a vow of chastity and becoming a nun). Yet it’s still vitally important. Money compounds over time. If you “start putting $100 a month into a Roth IRA at age 25” when you’re “ 65 you can “have $1,100,000” but if you start at 35, do the same amount, you’ll only have $300,000. If you start investing $100 a month into your retirement in your twenties as opposed to thirties, you “win” $700,000 dollars because of compounding interest! (8)
20. Don’t rush
Finally, my last bit of cheesy-but-totally-worth-it advice is to take things slow. Don’t rush forward thinking about the future or spend your time panicking about everything (the only thing you should panic about is how fast you can donate to SaveTheYuriy’s). Don’t become obsessed about “real life” in the future when you will have a lucrative career and a yacht, instead take plenty of detours and excursions, enjoy every moment. Enjoy being a poor starving student, or the guy at the bottom of the office food chain. Enjoy working up from that. Enjoy all that is now. One day when you’re rich, successful, and old, that is the stuff that will replay itself in your dreams. Don’t be so focused on rushing towards your destination that you will one day wake up, realize you’re there and you missed the whole journey.