Glasgow, Scotland, UK • May 2016 • Length of Read: 9 Minutes
Two years ago, on my 23rd birthday, I wrote an article on the 18 pieces of advice and wisdom I would share with my eighteen year old self. Despite being more of an exercise in personal reflection and to measure how much I’d developed and grown over that 5 year period however, it also proved to resonate with a large number of readers.
Fast forward, and last week I celebrated my 25th birthday: the quarter-century; the quarter-quell; and, for a growing number of people, the quarter-life crisis. At 25 you really start to worry about where you are heading; your status in society; your position on the professional ladder of success; and all those things you thought you’d have accomplished by now but which remain dreams. Following-on from the advice given to my 18 year old self, here are 20 pivotal life lessons that I’ve learned during my 25 years on this planet we call Earth:
1) Almost everybody is making it up as they go along
This is the most important realisation I’ve made to date. I used to be of the mind-set that everybody else knew exactly what their life purposes were, and whilst I was floundering around they were all walking single-track paths to greatness. Reality check – even those people who appear to have it all figured out are flying by the seat-of-their-pants on a regular basis. Life more resembles an obstacle course than an open highway. An obstacle course with myriad different finish lines. You may have an end-goal in mind, but there will be all sorts of unpredictable pitfalls and challenges along the way. Conquering obstacle after obstacle, you’ll soon realise that this original end-goal may no longer be what you want after all, and that a complete change in direction is needed. This is normal.
2) Stop trying to impress people
Remember that person you met at a party who, when politely asked what they do, recited a memorized life story that listed all their achievements from the primary-school handwriting prize to their PHD in astrophysics? Chances are you thought they were an asshole. The more you try to impress people, the more arrogant and egotistical you will look, and, paradoxically, the less impressed they will actually be. It’s great to be proud of your accomplishments, but don’t go shoving them down peoples’ throats like hot dogs at an all-you-can-eat competition. They will just end up choking on your narcissism.
3) Nothing is as serious as it first appears
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. When you do something undesirable, your brain starts to invent all manners of far-fetched outcomes; inflating things out of proportion into an enormous balloon of anxiety. In reality however, nothing ever comes of these concerns. The truth is most people are too self-absorbed to even register these events, never mind having any interest in them. Best put by Mark Twain: “I’ve had lots of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” Next time you have an ‘Oh my God, my life is ruined moment’, ask yourself: Am I going to prison? Has anyone died? Has the world stopped turning? Unless you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to any of these three questions, then it’s probably not a big deal.
4) Filter your sources of information
Most of what is written on the internet is bullshit. You might even think that this article is bullshit. If you do, then stop reading now. I urge you. Go and give your mother a call and ask her how she’s doing. Go and fix that broken door hinge you’ve been putting off repairing for the past month. In this digital age we are constantly being bombarded by information that is irrelevant, time-wasteful, or agenda-specific. Do yourself a favour and learn to filter out the crap. If you do feel that my advice here is beneficial however then keep on reading; and don’t forget to hit that Facebook ‘like’ button when you’re done.
5) Take trusted persons’ recommendations on-board
If a friend raves about a new band or artist they are obsessing over, take the time to give their new album a listen. If a close acquaintance can’t stop beaming when giving you a synopsis of a movie they recently saw, then make a note to watch it at some point. At worst you’ve spend a couple hours of your life being bored, but the enjoyment and further understanding you could gain is immeasurable.
6) Learn basic DIY skills
I’m not just taking about painting and decorating here, although these are also extremely useful skills to have. I’m more broadly talking about anything that you take an interest in. Love cars? Then teach yourself the ins and outs of how an engine and carburetor operate. Love computers? Then learn HTML coding and simple programming. Love art and design? Then take a sewing; flower arranging; pottery; [insert interest here], course. This will further your passion, education, and overall enjoyment for it.
8) Save specifically for your dream goal
Whether you want to buy a house; save for a wedding; or, like me, travel the world, have a separate bank account with the sole purpose of saving specifically for this dream goal. Then, whatever you do, don’t touch it for any other reason. This will allow you to keep a more accurate track of your finances whilst removing any urge to spend it on a short-term benefit that will only hamper your larger aspirations.
9) You will see your best friends less and less, but that’s OK
When at school and University I saw my best friends almost on the daily. As I got older, took on additional commitments, and pursued different things however, I probably now only see these friends once a month. Those friends I used to see once a month I may now only have an annual catch-up with. When I do now see these friends though we spend better quality time together than ever before. We go on adventures; try new experiences; have uninterrupted-by-technology discussions, and, as a result, still feel just as close.
10) Prioritise your family
During the past year I lost my two remaining grandparents – it was a shit. As this branch fell from our family tree however, a new limb sprouted when my eldest cousin got married. These emotionally conflicting events brought our family closer than ever and truly made me realise that it is our duty to look out for, and help, our relatives through both thick and thin. You are never too busy for your family – end of discussion.
11) Stand by your own principles
Have your own personal boundaries and stick to them. If something doesn’t feel right in a relationship, then speak up; if a business decision doesn’t seem logical based on your experience, then challenge it; if someone tries to coax you into doing something you don’t agree with, don’t bow down to ‘peer pressure’ - you’ve not a twelve-year old in a playground anymore.
12) Don’t compare yourself to others
Trying to keep up with the Joneses didn’t get anyone anywhere. Have role models who you look up to and mentors who can help guide you, but don’t ever try to become a copycat of someone else. Be original.
7) Break the rules
So what if 7 doesn’t sequentially come after 12? Whoop-tee-doo. If life doesn’t follow any particular sequence then this blog post doesn’t have to either. Don’t feel the need to conform to societal norms and conditioning. As long as it’s not illegal then feel free to do whatever you want.
13) Own less shit
“The things you own end up owning you” – wise words from Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. Material possessions provide short-term enjoyment which ultimately leave us under-satisfied. How many people do you see with flashy cars; designer clothing, and all the latest gadgets, but carry the facial expression of someone who’s just found a human turd on their lawn? Rather than spending your hard earned dollars on more shit and clutter, put it towards experience and personal development. As The Minimalists advise: “Don’t focus on having less, less, less; rather, focus on making room for more: more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment, more freedom.”
14) It’s OK to do things on your own
When you were a kid it was seen as being uncool to do things on your own. People would call you a loner and a loser. Ironically however, it’s the things that you do on your own that throw you furthest from your comfort zone, help you develop, and are the bedrock for success. I’ve been to many concerts on my own and had an absolute blast; I spend hours reading and writing with nothing but my thoughts and it is sheer bliss; Hell, I’ve even gone travelling alone to different continents and had some of the best experiences of my life. Also, you know the age-old adage that it takes 10,000 hours to mastery? Most of this is behind-the-scenes grafting that nobody witnesses. They see someone whom they regard as ‘successful’ and think of them as being cut from a different cloth. Bullshit. Yes, some people may have hidden advantages (see Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell), but nothing trumps hard work and commitment. And while we’re on the topic of success…
15) There is no set definition of success
In his award winning podcast series, entrepreneur and investor Tim Ferriss interviews people who are experts in their field of practice; from Oscar winning movie stars, to Olympic athletes, to billionaire businessmen. A recurring question he asks his guests is: “when you think of the word ‘successful’, who is the first persons that comes to mind?" What really struck a chord with me was that nobody answered with the £bn net-worth ‘Richard Branson’ or EGOT winning ‘Whoopi Goldberg’, but instead with ‘my mother because she was a great role model’, or ‘my best friend Dave and his wife because they have a wonderful and happy family’. Success cannot be quantified and has a different meaning to each individual.
16) It’s not failure if you learn from it
The educationalist Sir Ken Robinson speaks about the importance of failure in the process of learning and succeeding. He argues that “By the time most children become adults they have become frightened of being wrong. We run our companies this way, we stigmatize mistakes, and we are now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” Having obtained my University degree and left the education system behind, I can testify that the fear of failure likely prevented me from achieving certain things and most definitely hampered my creative thought process. I’ve since removed that word from my mental dictionary altogether. After all, is something really a failure if you learn from it? As Thomas Edison said prior to creating the light bulb: “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work. But just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do, doesn’t mean it’s useless.”
17) Make a habit of the important things
Once something becomes routine then it no longer feels like a challenge or chore. I’ve manage to build meditation, exercise, and language learning into my daily routine so that they have now just become the norm. No longer do I have to drag myself down to the gym or slap myself awake when learning Spanish verbs, and the processes are more enjoyable as a result. However, although it’s great to stay driven and hard-working, don’t forget that…
18) It’s OK to chill out once in a while
Crack a beer, hang out with your friends, relax, and laugh your worries away. Some of the best days of my life was when we were all simply wasting time.
19) Keep track of all the cool stuff you want to do
You know all that really cool stuff you want to do in your life? It’s not bad idea to write it down. I keep a bucket listt which aids in planning my next experience or adventure, is motivation to get off my ass and do something worthwhile, and hopefully inspires others to do some really awesome shit as well.
Love. Love. Love. Always