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Four Things That Wasted My 20’s

Your 20's can be a time of confusion, but if you focus on personal development and developing critical skills, you be in the top 1% by 30.

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Advise I Would Give to a Younger Version of Myself Not too long from now, I’ll turn 35, and I feel like this is a good time to reflect, derive some lessons, and impact those who are behind me. It’s sobering to think that my parents were the same age when I was born.

Before I proceed, I should start with a qualifier: my life is already better than 99% of the people who are alive today, and 99.9% better than all the humans that have ever lived. I have never experienced privation, starvation (except self-imposed- I’ll explain below), and I have never known life without running water, electricity, and I barely remember life before the Internet.

Having said that, mistakes were made. I grew up in a white, middle-class suburb and I had a lot of advantages that other teenagers didn’t have. My parents were able to afford college which is where I went immediately after graduating high school. There was no excuse to make the mistakes that I made.

My first two and a half years of college were promising: decent grades, no trouble, stable employment, and no serious issues in my life. But it was those last one and a half years that haunted me for the next decade.

When I was 20, I got really interested in health, nutrition, and fitness. I got obsessed with triathlon. I started spending whatever money I had on triathlon gear, expensive groceries, and a new bike. I signed up for a few races and even took time off to go race them. I did this despite the fact that I was making $10 an hour at Whole Foods Market.

My health suffered as a result. My initial intention of eating healthier ended up making me less healthy: I lost muscle, I became anemic, I was always lethargic, and my testosterone collapsed. I also dealt with a couple of stress fractures on the way.

After two years of this, things only got worse. I started to chew and spit my food. This nasty habit progressed to binging and purging, then binging and fasting, then binging, and then 10 years of eating disorders. That initial decision to eat healthy when I was 20-years-old was the gift that kept on giving.

I finally regained control of my behavior, stopped focusing on hobbies, and restored my health. During all this I managed to get through physical therapy school and then eventually launch my own business helping others with the same problem.

If I could go back in time, here is what I would tell 20-year-old Kevin

1. Don’t spend too much time or money on hobbies. Hobbies are enjoyable, but they are have a place in our lives. When you’re in your early 20’s, you don’t know where you’re going, who you are becoming, or what you want to be. It can be a confusing time. Like many young adults, I was dealing with an identity crisis. In other words, you’re immature. Hobbies are a distraction at this point. You have school and work, and you need to develop yourself personally.

If you want to have hobbies, make sure they’re cheap and don’t take too much time. Remember, you’re not making much money at this point. Don’t take up expensive hobbies like triathlon (not a bad sport, but it does cost a lot) unless you expect to win and get paid for it. The chances of you doing that are zero. Find another hobby that doesn’t cost you so much.

I spent so much of my free time on triathlon and my personal fitness, that I never made time for social life, extra-curricular activities, or personal development. I was chasing something that didn’t matter, didn’t make me smarter, and didn’t make me richer.

Focus on generating enough income that you can live on your own and develop tangible skills before you take up expensive hobbies.

2.  Focus on personal development. There is never a bad time to grow, and the sooner the better. I waited until I was 29-years-old to start focusing on personal development. That’s when I first read Think and Grow Rich, the 10x Rule, and How to Win Friends and Influence People. I never even considered these books when I was 20 or 21, nor did I know they existed.

Had I read those books when I was 19 or 20, who knows where I would be today. I could have learned then what I didn’t learn when I was 30. I read books in college, many of which were non-fiction, but they didn’t improve me. Many of those books had to do with fitness (below), exploration, science, or history. I didn’t read much that would improve my life. Reading was a hobby, but it wasn’t something I used to improve myself, obtain knowledge, and learn new skills.

When you’re in your early 20’s, focus on books that have a high return on investment. These books can return dividends the rest of your life.

3. Worry less about your weight, body image, and fitness. I could spend a lot of time on this one. I’m not denying that fitness and physique are important, but it is never the most important thing. Even now that I’m close to 35, I don’t think my fitness is my most important asset. After a certain level of fitness, you don’t need to get fitter, unless it’s your hobby and you value your fitness. In your early 20’s, you should be able to deadlift 1.5x your body weight, do 25 push-ups, 5 or 6 pull-ups, and run a mile in 8 minutes. You don’t need to have 6% body fat, run a mile in less than 6 minutes, and bench press 300 pounds. Have enough fitness, but not so much that it distracts you.

Speaking of body image and weight, I was obsessed with this in my early 20’s. I never cared before I was 20, but when I turned 21, I was terrified of gaining more weight. I thought that if I gained weight I would never be able to lose it. I didn’t want a dad bod, and I didn’t want to end up in poor shape like many middle-age men. It was that fear, among other factors, that drove my behavior.

I bought my first scale when I was 22 and I used it every day after that. I even brought it with me when I lived in Mexico for several months. My weight and my diet were always on my mind, and it was a constant struggle each day to adhere to my strict diet and keep my weight down. I weighed food, counted calories, and used apps to calculate macros. It never made me healthier, only more neurotic and obsessed.

It’s okay to be fit and healthy, but don’t take it too far. If it’s costing you too much time, money, and energy, it’s probably not worth it. It’s definitely not worth it if it’s an obsession and it’s affecting your mental health. You don’t need to be obsessed and neurotic to maintain a healthy weight. You need to follow some basic principles and learn the basics of a healthy diet.

Only go to College with a Purpose

We send too many young adults to college. It has become a right of passage, but not necessarily a place you go to learn or turn into a better person. I went to college because that was the expectation. I wasn’t going to the military, and in the area where I grew up, the expectation was that you go to college.  

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started college. I originally chose criminal justice as my major. I have no idea why since I never had any intention of going into law enforcement. That was the first mistake. Don’t declare until you have some idea which degree you want.

Had I gone to college at all, I would have gone when I was 19 or 20 and worked for a couple of years after graduating high school. Going to college without purpose is a waste of time and money. Don’t burn time and money on a degree you don’t want or don’t need just because your family and teachers expect you to go to college. Go because you have a purpose and you know you need to be there.

Conclusion

If I were 20-years-old, I wouldn’t be spending my time to get a degree with questionable value, if I went to college at all. I wouldn’t focus on hobbies that cost me a lot of time and money. These hobbies only eat into time better spent developing myself as a person. I would spend more time reading books that change how I think and how I behave. My poor decisions in college cost me several years of my life and affected my life for many years to come. What happens in college doesn’t stay in college. The effects can last for years.

Finally, I wouldn’t be so solopsistic and self-centered to believe that my physique and my weight determine who I am. That wasn’t true then and it’s not true now. Fitness matters, but it shouldn’t be an obsession.

You have so many years ahead of you, and if you play those years right, you can get a tremendous advantage. While many 20-year-olds are at frat parties, going out, sleeping too late, procrastinating, getting degrees they don’t need, and spending time on trivial hobbies, you can be absorbed in great books, improving yourself, and learning skills and ideas that many people never encounter. By the time you are a 30 (30 is closer than you think), you could be in the top 1% of any field you choose. Don’t squander those years.

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