When I think about my life as being broken up into decades, I realize just how different each decade of my life will be.
My first decade was all about learning the basics: how to walk, how to talk, how to read, how to write, and simple life skills. Looking back, it was pretty nice having zero responsibility and being able to live in a world filled with imagination and curiousity.
My teenage years were a growth stage to adulthood. I grew taller and stronger, developed my own peer group, and learned about the political, social, and scientific skills that would help me survive and thrive in modern society.
My 20s were really a test of what I learned in those first two decades of life. I became responsible for my own well-being including my own food and shelter, career, and overall direction in life. I definitely made a few mistakes along the way, but as I enter my 30s I feel like I have accomplished a lot and set my life in a good direction for the future.
Now, without further adieu, 20 things I learned in my 20s:
When I was in my teens, it was hard to understand the value of hard work. My peers were in the same situation as I was regardless of how hard we worked; we all lived at home, spent weekdays at school, worked minimum wage jobs, and had a lot of spare time for sports or to just hang out with friends.
In my 20s, I realized that my personal situation was dependant on how hard I was willing to work for it. Parents are no longer around to pay your bills, make your meals, or drag you to dental appointments and my quality life became my own responsibility.
As I aged from my early 20s to my late 20s, I began to see how my peers with a strong work ethic and drive moved on to better jobs, houses, and cars than those who were lazy and remained satisfied to just coast through life.
Similar to realizing the value of hard work, my 20s taught me the value of an education. When I was a teenager, my position in my peer group was not really affected by my grades. Regardless of how well I did in school, my lifestyle was similar to those who did poorly. Regardless of whether my peers had report cards full of A’s or D’s, we played on the same sport teams, drove the same crappy rust buckets; and worked the same types of minimum wage jobs.
I received my first office job in my third year of University when I was 21 years old. That is when I realized how much it sucked working for minimum wage. I had painted houses, sold sports equipment on commission, and did back-breaking golf course construction all to make $5-$12 per hour. Suddenly, I was making multiple times more than that without the physical hardship or long hours of my physical labour jobs and I realized how much easier it is to earn money with your mind than it is with your hands.
Even with the realization that working hard is financially superior to not working hard, I also realized that working in an office is not a lot of fun. When I first started my career, it was tolerable as there were plenty of new people to meet, new things to learn, and new opportunities to strive for. Unfortunately, after the newness wore off, I began to understand how political an office environment can be, how draining a daily commute is, how boring packed lunches are, and how unnatural it is to be trapped under fluorescent lights in an cubicle or office staring at a computer screen all day.
Fortunately, working in an office internationally has provided just enough positives to outweigh the negatives and the sacrifices I have made working long hours in hard conditions have afforded me wonderful lifestyle and travel opportunities.
Eventually, I hope to have the financial independence required to chase my own entrepreneurial visions and turn my hobbies into a career, but until I can comfortably take that risk, I will continue to have to suck it up and grind it out!
When I was in University, I hated the fact that many of my peers who went directly to the work force were driving nicer cars, renting nicer apartments, and taking better trips than I could. Between the cost of tuition, books, car insurance, gasoline, and other basic living expense, I was broke in comparison.
By my late 20’s, I realized that being broke when I was young was going to page huge dividends when I get older. While my peers who started working straight out of high school were still making basic wages with possibly small annual increases, I was exponentially increasing my salary as I gained experience and built upon my university education.
I am not saying that one must have a university education or work a white-collar job to be wealthy, as numerous entrepreneurs have shown that is not the case; I just learned that making financial sacrifices when you are young can open up much better financial opportunities as you get older.
The best advice my parents gave me as I grew up was to stay out of debt. It saddens me how many twenty-somethings have to learn this the hard way. I spent a lot of time in my 20s learning about the time value of money, stock markets, investment strategies, tax laws, and retirement planning and by my late 20s that knowledge already began to pay off.
I know many people who thought they could spend money they did not have while relying on the expectation that they could easily pay it off when they were older. While some debt can be good (loans for education or leveraged investing), debt is far too often used for discretionary spending and luxury goods. Taking on debt for cars, jewelry, sporting equipment, or travel is a recipe for future hardship and not enough people seem to realize this fact until it is too late.
If you are forced to take on debt in your 20s, make sure you are smart about it. Credit card debt is usually the worst form of debt as the interest rates are extremely high. If you must take on a financial liability, assess all of your borrowing options and determine the cheapest way to do so and figure out how to pay it off quickly.
When I was in my teens and early 20s, more money meant more ‘stuff’. I wanted designer clothes, a nice car, a bigger house, a better TV, a new snowboard etc. etc. etc.
In my late 20s, I realized that I hate stuff. While I am a big fan of money and certainly want more of it, I no longer want it for ‘stuff’. I have realized that a bigger house means more to clean; A fancy car means more stress and cost to maintain; A better TV means more sitting inside and doing ‘nothing’ with my time.
As I get older, I realize that I just want money so I can enjoy a good lifestyle. I do not want to have to question my bank statement before I go on a trip or order an extra appetizer, but I also do not need the latest and greatest gizmo or gadget. For me, the goal is simply to be financially independent and be able to enjoy my life without worrying about how I will pay for it.
Everyone will have different things that make them happy, and sometimes it will be a material item that leads to a wonderful hobby or social life. Racing cars, golfing, and skiing are all examples of wonderful experiences that depend on a material good, but I believe the pleasure comes from the activity rather than the stuff used for it.
I bet skiers were having just as much fun in the mountains 40 years ago on wooden planks as we have now on carbon fiber parabolics. Of course technology has offered us better performance, faster speeds, and more comfort, but my point is simply that the adrenaline that runs through my veins after a good downhill run remains the same regardless of the skis I have strapped on.
Everyone will take this point to different extremes. I have gone as far as selling my house, car, furniture, and most of my belongings and it has been incredibly liberating. Of course, having few possessions suits my nomadic lifestyle, but I believe that even those with firm roots in the ground need to consider minimizing the amount of ‘stuff’ they have to deal with.
Everyone has different shopping habits, but I learned a lot about shopping for clothes in my 20s. In my teens and early 20s, my clothes were all about the latest trends and brands and labels. This led to constantly buying new shirts, jerseys, shoes, and jeans as styles changed which meant a closet full of clothes. Despite having hundreds of clothing options, I would still always wear the same old favourites that fit well, were comfortable, and I ‘just liked’ for one reason or another.
In my late 20s, I realized that having a closet full of clothes was silly and that I needed to focus my wardrobe on nice things that I would consistently wear.
I replaced the drawers full of old clothes reserved for painting and house work with one pair of coveralls. I replaced 40 off the rack dress shirts with 10 tailored dress shirts from Vietnam. I replaced a dozen pairs of jeans with 3 pairs that fit well. I tossed all of my worn dress shoes and sneakers and replaced them with a few pairs that would look good for a decade rather than a year.
When I walked into the goodwill store with 5 boxes of clothes, some of which had never been worn, it felt great. Not only had I cleared out a huge amount of space in my closet, but I also knew I was helping out the local community.