Turning 27: Lessons so far

Credit: Tyler Mullins via Unsplash

Saturday 4th June, 2016

I looked into the mirror this morning and I was 27. Twenty-seven. Though I look no different from yesterday, and not even so different from 5 years ago (I’ve pretty much had the same face since I was a toddler – blessing/curse?), there has been a lot of growth and learning in my twenties.

I thought I’d write a list of 27 things I’d share with my younger self (there are hundreds of them – these are the ones that first came to me sitting here after a long day at around 11pm), and to other “younger selves”. Here are some of those most significant breakthroughs/lessons learned in the last 1-3 years:

1. Love is really important

From parents, siblings, family and friends. It’s such a basic need and transcends pretty much everything else. As The School of Life tells us, “next time you see a guy driving by in a Ferrari, don’t think it’s someone unusually greedy, think it’s someone with a particularly intense vulnerability and need for love.”

“It’s said that we live in materialistic times, but it’s more poignant than that. We live in times where emotional rewards have been pegged to the acquisition of material things.” — The School of Life: Status Anxiety

2. Self-acceptance is really, really important

We all have flaws, imperfections, things about us we’d like to change – usually because we’re so damn intent on comparing ourselves to others and dwell on the negatives and what we don’t have, in comparison to having working limbs, a nice smile, etcetera. But self-acceptance is more than just the physical, but also about our personal characteristics and perceived “flaws”. Again, work in making positive changes, but focus on your strengths and the good stuff too.

3. Quality over quantity when it comes to relationships
At school, I used to wish I was less geeky and more popular and better with the opposite sex. Over a decade later and the same can often apply. With the media (celebrity), social media (“friends”, “followers”, etc) it’s so easy to believe that having the most friends, the most connections, the biggest network is what it’s all about. And despite writing this, I keep getting fooled into thinking that’s the case. Until I have a great evening with a small group of friends (e.g. my Monthly Mastermind group), or an amazing 1-on-1 conversation with someone, or, like today, a really nice family day out.

I’ve come to realise that there’s no harm in knowing lots of people (in fact it has all sorts of benefits having a diverse group of relationships), but fewer, stronger social relationships are far more fulfilling, and better for wellbeing (and less overwhelming to manage – especially as an introvert!).

4. There are many different types of intelligence (with schools/educational institutions only focusing on 1 or 2 forms at best; there are many more)

5. Being different beats being dull/boring/“normal” (whatever “normal” even means!)
It’s the “different” ones which stand out, whose weirdness causes them to see things from a different point of view, and perhaps even inspires them to change the world.

6. No one has their sh*t totally together or life figured out
I used to think that there was a magic age at which you became adult/grown-up and just had everything figured out, job, kids, where you lived, everything. No one has it all sussed, and often just has to go through with it and deal with it as best as they can, no matter what it might seem like on the surface. This is both extremely reassuring and terribly frightening at the same time.

7. We all need to open up more … or be given the platform to do so (once given “permission”, it’s amazing how open we are)
Mental-health wise – we all go through really sh*t, terrible periods. And that’s whether we have/are diagnosed with mental health conditions or not. This is what I loved about Positive Psychology, and (partly) why I quit my job to do a year-long Masters in the subject.

8. The quarter-life crisis is a thing
For some reason, a whole bunch of us in our 20s and 30s have gone through/are going through it. Lots of debt, being told we could be anything we want to be, having high expectations, expecting a family, job and mortgage by our early-mid twenties like our parents/the generation before us, an increasing desire to do work that we care about, lack of jobs due to the economy/the generation before us living for longer/retiring later…. Whatever the reasons, it’s happening, and it almost has been silently for lots of us. I felt like an anomaly when I had my own, which culminated in quitting my job, beginning a Masters, and using that year for self-exploration. It’d have been nice to have known I wasn’t “alone” when doing that, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to connect with so many likeminded people. It turns out they were there all along.

9. There are so many more career options that I knew of back at school (and they are becoming more common too)
Unfortunately, the “careers advice” of today is generally stuck in the dark ages.

10. Even introverts need interaction!
Again, social relationships – high-quality and close – are so important for our wellbeing.(PS. Discovering I was an introvert in the first place was a significant breakthrough — thanks to Susan Cain — it’s all about where you get your energy from, not how shy/outgoing you are).

11. Growth really does happen outside the comfort zone
As cliched as that sounds. Feeling the fear and doing it not feels really satisfying afterwards (short term benefits), but also leads to personal growth (medium-long term benefits)

12. Career transitions are scary but exciting at the same time
There’s no right answer. Both frustrating and beautiful at the same time.

13. Your 20s really should be about exploring and experimenting
You can’t be expected to commit to a job/career when you’ve got no sense of what “working” is like; and you don’t know what you enjoy until you’ve tried it (and like it/discount it). On another note, I think it’s incredibly risky to choose a career path where you’re investing a lot of time/money up front to get there – especially given the world we live in today and all of the options available.

14. In the 21st century, we no longer have to choose
A job isn’t a job for life, and it’s predicted many of us will have several jobs even at one time (freelance economy)

15. Some (many) of us are naturally generalists/multipotentialites/scanners, rather than specialists.
Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk and blog have been eye-opening.

16. Money determines happiness/wellbeing only up to a certain extent, however…

17. Money does buy happiness…
In the way that it affords freedom from stress about paying bills/mortgage/etc (and a bit left over to spend on the right things is good too). As Gretchen Rubin says, “Well, money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can buy lots of things that contribute mightily to happiness”. The Money vs Happiness relationship is certainly a complicated one.

18. Money is better spent on experiences rather than things
Event better, on shared experiences with the people who matter most. (You look forward to it, dwell on it afterwards, and it has the double effect of combining the “social relationships” element – so lots of good for your wellbeing/happiness)

19. Minimalism is really interesting and probably good for us
And there are plenty of millionaires (and even 1 or 2 billionaires) who opt for a simpler, less-materialistic life and seem far happier for it. (Less paradox of choice when it comes to your wardrobe, and your life in general, too; hence the reason Steve Jobs wore the same jeans & turtle-neck sweater every day).

20. The pursuit of more and more stuff, in isolation, is empty.
We get used to those shoes, that car, that house, and need bigger and better. And then the same again. It’s a never-ending pursuit. Stuff like the richkidsofinstagram page is utter crap and damaging for impressionable young minds. Richard Layard writes about that, and even George Lucas has spoken about it – referring to “pursuing pleasure over joy” (from 8:10 in this short video).

21. “Work hard, play hard” doesn’t have to be the way
It connotes doing work you don’t particularly enjoy/put up with, only to drink heavily at the weekend as an escape. Better just to “live well” all the way through (doing “work” you enjoy, so you don’t necessarily have to “play hard” away from work)

22. In the western world, the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is becoming more important
Probably as we are more materially abundant than ever before, thus the bottom layers are sufficiently met, but leaving us increasingly deprived of the upper layers.

23. “You are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with”
A famous quote by Jim Rohn, which also happened to be one of Scott Dinsmore’s all-time favourites. Find your tribe. Consciously choose who you want to be with. (It takes self-awareness and understanding to first know who you are, and then find similar people with the same values, beliefs, mindset, etcetera; I’ve only really started doing this in the last year. Before that, I used to hang around with mostly anyone who came my way, whoever I worked with, whoever was in my class/group, etcetera).

24. “Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t do us any good”
Economist Richard Layard said something along those lines in his book. We compare ourselves with our peer group, and our intrinsic self-worth gets defined by what we “do” for a living, and what our status/earnings are with others around us. Being aware of this can make us be more mindful/accepting/realising of how these things don’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things, and we mustn’t let them take over our life/self-worth! Otherwise it keeps us from living how we want, doing the work we love, and even staying stuck and earning (and spending!) more than we really need to.

25. Societal/cultural/parental/school/external/all expectations can be felt MASSIVELY, but…
That’s all they are, expectations. Live life how you want to live it, and not defined by others. Easier said than done.

26. We’re all human beings and we really aren’t so different from one another.
Some of us are male, some female, some younger, some older, some western, some eastern, some business owners, some teachers, some short, some tall and yet… fundamentally we’re all the same and have the same needs. e.g. love, belonging, social relationships, purpose/meaning and so forth.

27. The best is yet to come
Life tends to get more beautiful the longer it goes on as you grow and develop as a person. At least it has for me, and long may that continue…

young me
This post also featured on Medium.

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