Today I turned 30 and I begin to reflect on the lessons learned in my 20s. I’m actually the first out of my friends (because I was often the oldest in my grade growing up). Many friends who are still in their late 20s are worried about turning 30.
How do I feel today?
Overall, I feel happy and appreciative. I don’t have major regrets about my 20s (actually maybe a few which I write about later). Of course, I did make a number of mistakes, had some failures, but I learned alot and tried a hell of alot of things.
Dropping Out… And Blazing My Own Trail
I think I had an unconventional decade of my 20s. “Unconventional” in the sense that I DROPPED OUT of a degree that I hated doing. I DID NOT want to be a Lawyer! Unlike others, I DID NOT then go on to get a graduate job and work in a stable job for the remaining years of my 20s. I didn’t do any of that.
Instead, I left the comforts of my home in Sydney, Australia, volunteered for the United Nations in Bangladesh for 2 years, lived in Thailand and Taiwan for a few years, created 2 businesses, lived in rural Australia for 6 months, expanded my business to Latin America, and lived in Chile and Ecuador for a few years more.
Reflecting back on it, it’s as if I lived about 5 or 6 different lives in my 20s. There was a “university” version of me that lived in Sydney, worrying about exams and getting involved in university clubs and activities. There was the “humanitarian volunteer” me who lived and worked in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
There was an “international blogger” and “digital nomad” version of me that chilled out in Thailand and Taiwan. Then there was the “social entrepreneur” me who created and built 2 businesses out to change the world back in Australia and then in Chile. Then after the winding down and sale of our Latin American operations, we stayed in Ecuador, and there again was the “retired” me, trying to rediscover myself again.
I’m happy and appreciative of all of those “me”s. There were different languages and cultures and experiences in all of those places that I lived throughout the world in my 20s. Yet, the core of me still remains the same. Here are the 4 lessons learned in my 20s.
1) Decide Who YOU Want to BE
When I was 20 or so, I remember being so lost with my life and trying to figure myself out. I was lost and confused and uncertain about what I wanted out of life. “Other people” seemed like they were so with it, and so clued in on what they wanted to do with their lives. As for me, I wasn’t sure. Maybe other people actually were just as lost as me, but no one sure wanted to talk about it, and no one seemed to want to question the path that everyone else was being steered towards.
In my confusion, I began to seek out biographies of successful, influential people and books about self-discovery. I consumed those books like I was starving for their knowledge and experience. They seemed so relevant to me and I thought that perhaps I could follow them.
Many of them pointed out that the purpose of life is a life of purpose. The “purpose” was actually up to you to choose. As humans, we have that gift of free will, and as part of that, we have the ability to choose who we become and what we do with our lives.
In my early 20s, I made up the purpose of my life and I wrote it down. To this day, I reflect on this purpose regularly, and it actually has not changed much since my 20s. Of course, there have been some developments and changes as I’ve matured in my 20s and I have discovered some new and interesting aspects of my personality and gifts.
Of course, writing out your life’s purpose can seem like a daunting task, but even if you feel you can’t do it for yourself, the overall point is that you have the power to choose your own path.
2) Take FULL Responsibility for Your Life & Everything in it
Another major thing I learned in my 20s was taking full responsibility for my life and everything that happens to me. This was one of the biggest life lessons I learned. You must take full responsibility for your life, and every aspect of it. If you don’t like the way your body looks, then that’s your fault and you should take responsibility of it and do something about it.
If you don’t like your job, then again that’s your fault and you should take responsibility of it and do something about it. Of course, I can’t change everything in this world, but I can change and control how I react and respond to certain situations.
Take 100% personal responsibility for your life and everything in it. I have had to develop this skill more and more throughout my 20s, and this mindset is what led me to create my own businesses.
3) Take Risks
In your 20s, you don’t have as much “baggage” or financial or family responsibilities as you will in your later years. You will still be very naive in many things, and this can actually be a good thing, because you will not be weighed down. Therefore, take BIG risks while you’re young.
Start that business you always wanted. Get into that career you’ve always dreamed about. Try it out. If you find out it sucks, then try something else. If you fail, get back up and pivot and try something else, because you still have time and energy. It won’t harm you in the long-run, and you will have learned so many lessons along the way.
I took this attitude, and took some massive risks. Some worked out, and some were stupid. For example, dropping out of law school was a smart move because I wasn’t happy doing it and ended up finding what I truly loved: entrepreneurship and innovation. On the other hand, a stupid risk I took in my 20s was expanding my business too fast and taking on more investor capital than we needed, but now I’ve learned lessons about the power of perfecting processes and focus before expansion, which I’ll be taking with me in my 30s.
As part of taking risks, I think it’s important to embrace failure. Of course, you don’t want to always fail, but what you do want is to learn from each failure so that you become better and eventually succeed.
4) Travel. ALOT!
If you can do it, I strongly suggest you travel as much as you can in your 20s. You’ll be a better person for it. I have travelled across Asia, Europe and North and South America – all in my 20s. My view of the world has drastically changed. Watching the Incan ruins on TV or seeing photos of the Eiffel Tower is just not the same as living it and seeing them for yourself. Listening to audios of Spanish language learning materials is just not the same as forcing yourself to talk Spanish to the local grocer in Cuenca, Ecuador, so you can buy a bag of quinoa and avocados.
I’ve totally expanded my mind, my world view because I’ve seen and lived in different countries around the world. By observing and immersing myself in the customs and traditions of others, I’ve had to question my own habits and daily life patterns. I think it’s also grown my patience and understanding and tolerance of others, which is a good thing.
I think my creativity has been expanded because I no longer think in a certain way. I no longer live and think in a box, with the pre-made scripts of the daily grind that I grew up. By travelling, I have been able to get out of the box and observe people and their lifestyles, and by doing so, I have been able to challenge and then design my own lifestyle.
Apart from that, traveling is just so darn cool. You get to see human architecture at its best. You get to live a piece of history. You can appreciate the beauty of natural wonders that the world has to offer. Oh, and don’t forget the delicious and varied food around the world. Not to mention, meeting and talking with people from different cultural backgrounds… How fascinating!
Some Regrets: Neglecting My Body & Some Relationships
One of the regrets that I have about my 20s is that for the last few years, I have been letting myself go in terms of my physical body and health. I was so focused on building and growing my businesses as well as travelling, that I neglected my body and often just ate myself to fatness (although I did indulge in exotic and unique foods along the way). BUT, I want to change that for my 30s. I want to live healthier and control my eating and exercise daily. This will be especially important for me as I have my first child and I want to be healthy enough to play and take care of her.
Another regret that I’ve had is that by focusing on my self-discovery in my 20s, I often neglected some very key relationships in my life. Particularly neglecting certain friendships and family members. I know I needed the selfish time in my 20s so that I could figure myself out and to be my own person.
I hope my friends and family can understand this. I feel I can offer more to my friends and family now that I’m a much more confident and empowered man. For my 30s, I certainly want to spend more time going home in Sydney to spend time with my extended family and friends, especially as I now have my daughter, and I certainly want her to get to know and love her family.
So I take full responsibility for neglecting these 2 aspects of my life in my 20s, and I’m proactively doing something about it right now so I can live more fully in my 30!
Live everyday like it matters.
I wonder if one day my children will read this article. I wonder if my advice for them will still be the same as it is right now on this milestone of turning 30. I certainly want them to travel, take risks, take personal responsibility and to consciously decide who they want to be to be happy. So, actually I think my future self will still agree with my 30-year-old self.
If you’re still in your 20s, make the most of your time in your youth. “20s” still sounds like you’re young! Hopefully my life lessons in my 20s can help you. If you’re in your 30s or older, hopefully this can still help you, because I know different people develop at different rates. There’s still time, and every single day is an opportunity to improve and be awesome. Heck, I still have some catching up to do with my body!
Reflecting on it and the lessons learned, my 20s went rather fast. Even though I know I did so much in that time, the time still flew by. Life is so precious but it is limited. So limited.
Live everyday like it matters. Because it does.