Here is a list of valuable life lessons I have learned so far in my early 20’s.
1. There’s an inverse relationship between how impressive your life is on social media compared to your real life. This is a lesson I have learned purely from observation. The people I know from college who post most frequently on social media, with perfect lighting and filters, with hundreds of likes and thousands of followers, are focusing so much on social media that it negatively impacts their real life.
Ryan Holiday says “the relationship between talk and work is that one kills the other.” This applies directly to social media. The more time you spend talking on social media, updating your profile, posting pictures of recent concerts, parties, and trips, the less time you’re probably spending building your skill set, reading books, and honing your craft.
I personally only know a handful of people who have experienced some real victories in their 20’s. The few that I know who have successfully started their own business or published their own work spend very little time on social media. They don’t go out of their way to attend public events just to document it on Facebook. They work hard, live life, and couldn’t care less how many likes (which essentially mean nothing) they get on their posts.
I’m no longer impressed by social media profiles. I’m more impressed by the young people who spend their 20’s developing an untouchable work ethic, learning new skills, and building a meaningful foundation for the rest of their life.
2. The fruits of effort are always delayed. No matter what you aim to do in life – make a blog, start a business, build an app, learn a skill, land a job, publish a book, get in shape – the fruits of your effort will be delayed. You will gain valuable skills and experience during your first attempt, but you won’t visibly see success right away.
I went on to build three more websites in college, all of which were complete flops and made no money. But each of these micro-failures improved my coding and writing skills. The only reason this blog is my first successful attempt at making money and building an audience is because of the skills gained through my past failures.
First attempts at anything are all about skill acquisition, not end results. For anyone in their early 20’s the focus should be on gaining skills and knowledge, not about being visibly successful immediately.
3. Working towards goals is much more fulfilling than actually achieving them. When I was an undergraduate student, I constantly thought Once I get my bachelor’s degree I’ll be so happy and life will be wonderful. I earned my bachelor’s degree, but so did most of my peer group. It didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment.
Then I thought, I just need to land my first corporate job, then that paycheck will put me over the moon. I landed my first corporate job. The money was nice, but all of my coworkers had infinitely more skills, experience, and knowledge than me. I felt inadequate.
I figured Once I get a Master’s degree I’ll feel fulfilled. I got the degree. It didn’t give me as much of a rush as I thought.
I began to think Once I make $70k per year I’ll be truly happy. I landed a job with an $80k salary. I’m happy I make good money at a young age, but I don’t wake up each morning overflowing with happiness and bliss because of my bi-monthly paycheck.
All of these seemingly important “markers” of success I thought would bring sustainable happiness didn’t bring much of anything at all. They were just milestones.
The real joy is found in the trenches, in working towards a goal. I find more joy in figuring out a difficult piece of coding than actually finishing a financial app. I find more satisfaction in working through writer’s block and entering a flow state than actually publishing a blog post. The process of trying to accomplish something is where I find the most satisfaction.
The joy is in the work itself, not the end result. I no longer expect milestones to make me happy. I’m learning to enjoy the journey.
4. Comparison is the root of all unhappiness. Never in my life have I compared my own blog to another personal finance blog and felt good afterwards. Never have I compared my life to people I know on Instagram and felt happy about it. Whenever I actively compare some aspect of my life with someone else’s, I always find something to be unhappy about.
That blogger has more page views, that person earns more money than me, that guy is more successful than me at a younger age.
Comparison brings discontent. I have found that focusing on my own life brings much more joy. This is why I turned off the ‘Stats’ section of WordPress so I can’t even see my page views. It’s why I stopped using Instagram and deleted my Snapchat. These things encouraged me to compare myself to others, which made me unhappy.
As much as possible, I’m learning to focus on myself instead of others. I focus on what I want to achieve, what kind of wealth I want to have, what type of lifestyle I want to build, what type of person I want to be. It doesn’t matter where I am on the totem pole of success compared to other 20-somethings, as long as I’m happy with my own progress.
5. Self-reflection can solve nearly all problems. Three habits that have massively improved my life have been nightly journaling, meditation, and Wim Hof breathing.
Journaling lets me put my thoughts on paper and put my so called “problems” in perspective. There’s something deeply therapeutic about journaling that always puts me in a better mood.
Meditating lets me observe my own thoughts and see just how crazy I am.
Why on earth am I creating an imaginary argument with my coworkers in my head? Have I really been thinking about that rude cashier all day and snarky things to say in that situation that has already passed? Why am I thinking about the stock prices of $VYM over the past two years? I can’t control any of this stuff, let it go!
Wim Hof breathing (look it up on YouTube) helps me stay focused throughout the day.
I find that when I do some form of self-reflection, the solutions to the problems in my life become more clear.
Thanks for reading 🙂
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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