Navigating the twenties could be a true test of character — as you go through life at University and graduate, start a career and begin to truly explore and experience life on your own. But what it also does is build character, as you get thrown into a whirlwind of plots that life mysteriously creates for you, often catching you off guard. One moment you are celebrating the joy of a new beginning and the next you are navigating a seemingly endless challenge.
For me, the twenties really set the stage to navigate the 30’s. All those silly mistakes, failures and hardships, which seemed catastrophic at the time, now seem beyond trivial as I hit the 40’s. Looking back, I feel grateful for what I’ve learned from all those moments of joy and despair.
So here’s my list of top 7 lessons in hindsight.
Be fearlessly independent
For me being fearlessly independent meant I was in charge of making things happen for myself. This provided an enormous sense of freedom and also a sense of responsibility towards myself. It also meant that I had to trust my instinct, go out of my comfort zone, develop new skills and even become street-smart. But the best part of becoming fearlessly independent was learning not to blame externalities for how my life unravels — knowing that I am my own creator.
So, stop waiting for others to make things happen for you…Because when they don’t, you won’t just feel disappointment (which you will eventually get over), it will also stall your progress in life. If you don’t keep a tab on it, depending on others could also become a habit that could emotionally paralyze you.
Life is an adventure
The 20s for me was a cultural roller coaster as I relocated from one country to another for studies, for work and to be with my family. Relocating to three countries within a decade meant a lot of adjustments — both physically and mentally. Making new friends, settling down in a new home and trying to navigate a new culture could all be quite daunting at times. But instead of moping and feeling home-sick, I’ve forced myself to focus on the adventure — the excitement of becoming part of a new culture, making new friends and exploring the unknown.
In a deeper sense, it’s about feeling excited about life, diving straight in without holding back and enjoying every moment of it. This is a fantastic approach to adopt, whether you are in your 20’s or 50’s.
Take a few risks
I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker. During those moments when others hesitated, I would dive right in…maybe because when others see risks, I see opportunities and excitement. While it has paid off many times, it also meant I’ve burnt my finger way more than others. But for me, those have been invaluable moments of learning.
Yes, you will drag yourself into trouble. You will meet people who will betray your trust. And you will fail. But don’t allow those fears to hold you back from taking risks, doing something new, going beyond your comfort zone and challenging yourself…because every one of those experiences will be an important moment of learning that will alter your course of life. They are the moments that teach you how to readjust, realign and get up and try again.
Make a few sacrifices
Sleep is probably the biggest sacrifice I’ve made in my twenties. There were many days when I only got around 2 hours of sleep. The private university education that my parents paid for, the part-time job that paid my bills, voluntary work that I absolutely loved and the seemingly endless social life were all top priorities for me. I was excited about life and sleep was the sacrifice I made to have it all.
Long-term gains often require short-term sacrifices. This may mean giving up on things that provide us with comfort, ease or short-term pleasures. Whether it’s about letting go of a big salary for a job that can create opportunities to learn and gain exposure, or working 24/7 to launch a new project, you need to be prepared to make a few sacrifices because there are no easy wins.
Work hard and play hard
I learned the value of hard work and discipline at a very young age growing up in an Asian family. These habits naturally extended into my twenties, while social life hit a peak during University days as for any other student. So learning to balance work and play became an important skill to have the best of both worlds.
In a sense, this is also about never losing sight of my priorities, knowing how to strike a balance no matter how tough it gets and learning to unwind when it’s needed.
Fake it till you make it
As I relocated to a new country in my early 20s, there were many moments where I was thrown out of my comfort zone and have felt intimidated, frightened or unsure. Putting up a brave face has been the only option available.
So for me, ‘faking it till you make it’ is not only about hiding your fears and insecurities from others, it is more about hiding it from yourself for a while, giving you enough time to prove to yourself that you can achieve whatever you set your mind on. It’s about pretending to be confident until you gain confidence.
Learn from every experience
This to me is the most important lesson from my twenties. Life throws many things at us that are joyful and distressing, encouraging and deflating, exciting and uncomfortable. It’s very easy to get distracted with the emotions they bring and miss out on the big picture and the many learning opportunities attached. Learning from our experiences is also about staying positive about life and what it brings you, and stepping back and seeing things as they are.
So treat every situation as an opportunity to learn and realign. Because it’s not going to matter in another 10 years’ time, only the lesson will.