At this point, we've all probably heard of Bronnie Ware's Top Five Regrets of the Dying:
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
That's just a summary. If you haven't read about this, go read the whole post or get the book. It really is worth it and if nothing else, makes you think. At the same time, it had me thinking what could I add and would I have cared about the list when I was 20?
Just for the record, I am 38 but am quickly approaching 40. I've never cared about my age and feel anything but "old". Likewise though I am hoping that it's midway through a good life. I don't care to live forever but I also want to take the most advantage of my time here, on my terms. Do I have regrets? Sure, there are some things I would of have done otherwise but I'm quite happy with what I've done to-date. Nevertheless, there are a couple things my almost 40-year old self would tell my 20-year old version to keep any eye out for or to downright avoid:
1. Never do it for the money.
It is so tempting to be driven by the amount of money you make verses by what you actually do. Especially if you go to college, are burdened by debt and don't necessarily come from wealth. Even worse is when you actually were really good at school, did a lot of the right extracurricular things and are being offered really tempting salaries of 50k, or 70k or even 100k (all starting salaries depending on what you do.) My advice: optimize for salary only after optimizing for the role you get. Always go for more responsibility verses more money. It's great to drive a Porsche or rent an awesome apartment in your 20's but you aren't making enough anyway to really save on the side and no one really gives a shit about your car. Most importantly, if they do, do you really care?
2. Always seek challenges verses the "easy route".
This coincides with 1.) on this list. If you optimize for responsibility you will repeatedly be challenged. This is what makes you better at what you do and gets you your 10,000 hours of experience which allow you to really become the rockstar you want to be down the road. Just "cruising" along can initially be tempting and combined with money can be really compelling. Yet there is no faster way to rot and lose your edge than to pursue this route.
3. Surround yourself with people who are better than you.
Especially when you are young, you tend to avoid the competition. You may prefer to be the big fish at times in a small pond. Or you simply believe you can't compete. Screw it and go for broke. Go where the best are and compete. Sure, you may fail but at least you tried verses "coasting"....see 2.) above. Family, friends and significant others may try to keep you "home" or nearby. Get away and go to where the competition is while you are young if you have to move. You can always come back after making it elsewhere and you return with experience. It's much harder to pack up and relocate in your late 30's or early 40's. This doesn't mean it's impossible but be flexible and mobile while you are young.
4. Focus on health.
It's so easy while you are young to think you can address health later. Sorry to tell you but damage done in your 20's is still "damage". Sure, you can start focusing on health later on in life but why. Think twice about all the alcohol, cigarettes and drugs that pass your way while you are young. Don't get me wrong....you can go to extremes and have zero fun. That's not the point and I'm the last person to say go cold turkey on everything. At the same time, consider how much harder it will be to change things once you've been at it for 10 or 20 years verses slowing down while it's easy. Party and stay out late but trust me.....every time someone said "let's go get one more drink" or "let's have a last shot or whiskey" or "there's one more club to hit".....never was worth it.
This is one of the points that most lists tend to leave out. I am not writing anything new in the first few points above. Yet most times when people try to give advice, somehow saving is always left out. Put money aside as soon as you can. Always have a "cushion". The start-up world always talks about "fuck you money", referring to a huge exit where you put 10 or 20 million aside and can always say "fuck you" to anything because you are set. It's a pipe dream. Having a year's salary set aside is "fuck you" money. You can always quit whatever it is you are doing and make a change. Having two years or three years salary is true "fuck you" money. You can quit your job, continue making your mortgage payments and get back on your feet along the way with time to make choices verses "having to" do something. It truly is freedom to not have to stay in some horrible role because you are financially stuck. Skip the Porsche. Take one less vacation. Eat out once or twice a week verses every night. It's little things but the savings you can put aside give you so much freedom.
Did I screw up on all these points? No, I was always a good saver and was crazy enough to seriously have retirement in mind when I started delivering newspapers at age 11. I've been quite healthy after my teen years, having been "the fat kid" during my youth. At the same time, I did take some positions for the money and should have thought longer about the role. I also cruised at times where I should have been more proactive about making a change.
This is not a list of regrets. It's simply some advice I would have definitely given myself. The list of top five things that the dying referred to seem all like things that I will start thinking about now approaching 40 and thereafter. Let's be honest...just like you, I would have never cared about those points when I was 20. Death and "old age" were simply too far away. Let's just say I am going for a balance between the two extremes. Do with it as you will.