Life Lessons I Learned at 25

Today I turn 26. I get oddly depressed and introspective every year around my birthday. There’s something heavy about having the clock tick off another year. As my 20s wane, I’ve become worried that I haven’t been learning or developing as much as I should. So in an effort to determine whether I learned anything in the last year, I sat down to write to me from one year ago to tell him what it is he would learn at 25. Some of the lessons are things that other people have picked up earlier in life, but they’re things I didn’t internalize until this past year. While these lessons are deeply personal, one of the big lessons I’ve learned is that should I share interesting learnings with people. So now I’m following my own advice to myself. It’s really meta.

I originally wrote this to myself in my journal, so the voice here is a bit crude, That’s how I speak to myself. I hope it’s not unhealthy.

Hey dude,

You’re turning 25. Congrats. You’ve come a long way, but you have a long way to go. Think about your entire life history. All your memories and experiences. You get two more of those life-times if you live to the expected age of 75. Crazy shit, right?

25 is going to be a dope year for you. You’ll get bored, get heartbroken, and lose people you care about. But you’ll also do a ton of exciting things. You’ll make cool new and more attractive friends, and you’ll learn to simply keep going. It’s going to be a challenging year, so make sure to take some lessons from it. Here are some of the things you should figure out.

Own Up to the Cool Shit You Do.

Dude, you have a horrible habit of downplaying everything you do. Cut that shit out. It’s good to be humble, but give yourself some credit for once. Otherwise, you’re not going to achieve anything else in your life.

You picked up this habit of downplaying your accomplishments back when you were doing easy things and those things came easy to you. But then you started to work hard and accomplish some legitimately cool things and you kept that stupid habit of saying it wasn’t a big deal. Saying that your accomplishments aren’t a big deal doesn’t make you look humble. It makes you look pretentious and out of touch.

If you really want to be a cool dude, then maybe you should accept that you’ve done some cool shit and help others who are trying to do the same. What’s a better use of a compliment? Saying, "Aw shucks, it ain’t nothin’" or saying "Fuck yeah, this is cool, and here’s how I did it."

I’d say the second.

Also, if you keep up with this exaggerated humility BS, you’re going to lose all sense of confidence and agency. Now that you’re not on a pre-set career track, you need that confidence more than ever. You didn’t get here by pure luck; you’ve worked for it. You need to keep working and stop attributing it to luck, because you’re fucked as soon as you start to wait for luck to take you anywhere.

You Have to Work Smarter and Harder

When did you get so lazy? You’re always looking for the most efficient way to do things. "Diminishing returns are the devil, and it only makes sense to do the bare minimum, blah, blah, blah." That’s a cool story, and sometimes it works, but sometimes you have to work hard to get what you want.

You do the whole biohacking thing and have gotten in decent shape exercising only 2-3 time per week. But you’ve never been as fast or strong as you wanted and you have never looked exactly how you wanted. And you say you want those results, but you’ve never put in the work. 

No combination of shortcuts is going to get you what you want, and the only way you’ll get that 5 minute mile and the abs is by working hard. You don't even know your knees could sweat. Surprise, motherfucker! It’s coming. You’ll know what it feels like when your heart is physically exhausted, and you'll know not to be afraid of it. 

A Moral Victory is not a Real Victory

You take too much pride in being a nice guy, and while your circumstances have made it so that being a nice dude generally works in your favor, you need to learn when to stand up for yourself and for the people and things you care about.

I’m not saying you should be a dick. The line between “dick” and “noble” is not very fine. The things you think are “not nice” are probably totally normal and not mean. Do what’s right for you, not what makes you feel morally superior. Moral victory points aren’t going to make you happy or protect your loved ones or pay off your student loans. And it’s probably more fucked up to bank your moral victory points than to protect the things you value. Sure, sometimes the good guy loses, and sometimes it’s okay to lose. But other things are not worth losing and not worth being nice about.

And so what if you win something you don’t feel you totally deserved? You’re your harshest critic, so you probably deserve more than you think you do. It’s like that Kanye line: "Would you rather be underpaid or overrated?” Trust Yeezy on this one. 

Things Will Only Get Better if You Make Them Better

Stop waiting for progress and make progress happen. Maybe it’s because you were in school most of your life, but you act as if the next accomplishment or the next success in your life is just going to present itself with a wink and a spank. Guess what, bud? You’re out of graduations. You no longer have any programs invested in your development. You are your own Head Start program and your own grad school and your own HR department.

If you want to achieve things, you can’t just show up and do the same thing every day or wait for other people to make those achievements happen for you. You have the responsibility to assert yourself and make those opportunities for yourself now.  Figure out what’s important to you and create your own goals for once. And set up some goals that are going to take real work and effort, otherwise you’re only playing at progress to keep yourself deluded that you’re making something of yourself.

And again, put in the work. Success isn’t going to come by surprise, and it’s not going to come by accident

I don’t know what 26 is going to look like, but if I learn half as much as you do over the next year, I’ll be pretty happy. We’ll see what 27 says about this in a year.

Peace, man. You’ll find it.

The banner image of the candles came from Joey Gannon  on Flickr by way of the Creative Commons license.