“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
― May Sarton
As I celebrated my 30th birthday in February, I reflected back on the valuable lessons that I learned in my 20s.
Here are my biggest takeaways.
1. Be 100% Unapologetic
This is the most important lesson that I learned in my 20s.
Being myself was difficult as I did everything I was supposed to according to society’s expectations.
To makes things even more difficult, I was trying to be someone else.
Wanting to be liked by everyone, I put everyone else first and did everything to please them.
While meeting everyone’s wants, I wasn’t meeting my wants.
Deep down inside, I felt resentful and angry.
I was inauthentic.
Thinking that there must be a better way to live, I did the complete opposite and focused on my wants.
That’s when I became happier and started living my life aligned with my values.
In the process, I identified my real friends.
All the fake friends started to disappear as they didn’t value my time.
My circle of friends got smaller, but those who stayed recognized my value.
By being authentic and 100% unapologetically me, I attracted people who respected and valued me for who I truly am.
Life became easy because I was simply being me.
I wasn’t pretending to be someone that I’m not.
Too many times, I see men who put on a façade pretending to be someone that they’re not.
Motivated by their hidden agenda, they act and behave in supplicative ways wanting something in return.
Not getting what they want, they feel resentful and bitter.
By not being the real you, you’re lying to everyone that you interact with.
The truth will come out one day and your relationships will suffer because of it.
Living a life of lie is no way to live.
You might get what you want, but others will feel cheated.
More importantly, how do you feel internally when you deceive others to get what you want?
Life doesn’t have to be as difficult as you make it be.
It becomes challenging when you do exactly what you’re expected to do because it’s typically not what you truly want to do.
But when you know what you want to do, it becomes easy and natural.
Love and care compel you to do that very thing.
You don’t need to force yourself to do it.
2. Focus On Experiences Instead of Things
During my college years, I put a lot of emphasis on schoolwork.
It was my sole reason for existence.
While schoolwork is important, a few less As and some more Bs and Cs will not harm me as much as I think they will.
My intelligence is not depicted by my grade point average.
Work experience far outweighs my grades because that’s what companies look for.
Instead of dedicating most of my time in schoolwork, I should experience life by doing things.
Instead of spending my Friday nights studying for that physical chemistry exam that I’m never going to use, I would go watch a stand-up comedy show and work on my social skills.
Rather than taking abstract and theoretical classes for my general education requirements, I would have taken more practical classes such as public speaking, auto shop, or an acting class.
At the time, studying abroad in a foreign country sounded intimidating, but it was an adventure in disguise.
How much fun would I have had studying abroad?
What about the cool and interesting people who I would have met?
Pushing myself out of my comfort zone would have been the best thing for me.
What about the invaluable lessons that I would have learned.
After graduating from college, I jumped straight into corporate America.
Having a job was great because it provided money to fuel my lifestyle.
But instead of saving for that nice car, I would have spent it on new experiences by learning a new hobby, attending music concerts, or traveling to new places.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo
Traveling never crossed my mind after graduating because money was my only focus.
I was living my life according to society’s definition of success, that money equals happiness.
But thanks to the fortunate opportunity of work-travel, I discovered the benefits of traveling.
This served as a great reminder that there’s much more to see in the world.
Breaking away from the cultural bubble that is my neighborhood, I saw and met people who had different life perspectives, behaviors, and appearance.
After living in the U.S. most of my life, I had forgotten how many more places there are to see.
Because I was born and lived in rural China for my first nine years, I began to miss it and reminisce about those carefree childhood days.
Now I love traveling because I get to visit new countries, cities, and places.
Having a new perspective, knowledge of different cultures and gratefulness are some of my benefits gained from traveling.
My biggest growth were times when I traveled alone.
Forcing to face challenges alone, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone by communicating in foreign languages, eating alone, and making new friends.
Getting comfortable with myself with my own thoughts was one of the most difficult things that I had to do.
Truly not caring what others thought was the second most difficult.
Vividly, I still remember the first time I ate by myself at a full serviced restaurant.
Feeling uncomfortable by the countless stares from the people around me, I continued to eat and enjoy my meal.
Initially, it bothered me a lot.
But I wasn’t foolish enough to let others’ opinions prevent me from eating.
The saying that kept on repeating itself in my head was this:
“What others think of me is none of my business. I can’t control what they do, but I can control what I do.”
Now, I love doing things by myself and see it as a treat.
Not feeling the need to always have someone by my side liberated me.
Traveling alone has also allowed me to meet lots of amazing people whom I still keep in touch with.
Not having anyone to fall back on, I’m more receptive to meeting new people.
Now I have adopted this mindset even when I’m not traveling.
Viewing my hometown as a tourist, I find beauty in the mundane streets that I walk on every day and meet people whom I normally wouldn’t engage with.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
In my 20s, I was in a great position to experiment new things and take risks.
That’s the part of my life when time was still on my side.
If I were to make any mistakes, then I would still have ample time to make up for it.
This concept comes from financial investments.
When I’m young, I can afford to take more risks in my investments.
Even if they don’t do too well, I can make adjustments and allow time to compensate for the losses.
The plethora of “failures” that I have had in my 20s taught me many invaluable lessons as I figured out what worked and what didn’t.
Viewed as feedback and opportunities for growth, failures forced me to seek alternative solutions and ways for improvement.
Therefore, I grew as a person and became more valuable by acquiring new skills.
Experiencing quick success wouldn’t have taught me those important lessons.
It’s in those failures that I learned and grew the most.
Now, I don’t want instant success because I wouldn’t know the first thing about sustaining it.
I wouldn’t have the grit, knowledge, and resilience to keep going when the odds are against me.
Mistakes are great teachers, so make them and make them often and early.
4. Know Thyself
In my early 20s, I put a lot of emphasis on superficial things.
Working hard at my job, I had the end goal of using the money to buy materialistic things such as a fancy car and expensive clothes.
My bank account and my possessions were my definitions of success and self-worth.
On the surface, I seem “successful” but I didn’t feel successful.
What I think I wanted wasn’t what I truly wanted.
Now, I define success and self-worth in a completely different way.
My contribution to my growth and society is my definition of success.
As for self-worth, it’s based on the true value that I can add to the world.
It comes from within and it’s not depicted by society.
It took many experiences and tribulations for to me to discover what I want and value in life.
The more I experienced, the more I got to know myself.
By trial and error, I determined what I liked and what I didn’t like.
My set of values and what I want in life changed dramatically in my early 20s to now.
5. Do It For Yourself
Focusing on women thinking that they’re the ultimate prize, I spent my early to mid-20s chasing them.
My parents put tremendous pressure on me to find a good woman whom I can start a family with.
Everything that I did was to ultimately get the woman.
As I later discovered, that type of thinking is invalid.
The main reason for everything that I do should be for myself.
Because the better I become, the better I can serve everyone, including the woman who I choose.
My purpose in life is what drives me.
That’s the thing that excites me and wakes me up every morning.
Although the woman will never replace my life’s purpose, she would still be very important in my life.
To know what I want in a woman, I had to date lots of women.
I even dated women with traits that I didn’t like just to confirm that I don’t want those traits in a woman.
Often times, I was able to identify traits that I want in a woman from my female friends.
But those traits are usually mirror reflections of who I am.
My type of women started showing up when I started doing the things that I liked.
Meeting them was a byproduct of pursuing my hobbies.
I didn’t have to go out of my way to meet them.
Become the best person that you can be by doing things for yourself.
Your type of women and people will show up in your life.
“Your mind is a magnet. You don’t attract what you need or what you want; you attract who you are. And I love who I am!”
― Carlos Santana
And if you don’t know what you want in a woman, then start dating a wide spectrum of them.
The only way to know if you like something is to try it out.
Knowing what you don’t want brings you closer to knowing what you do want.
You’re the only person that’s responsible for your life.
All your results in life are because of your hard work or lack of hard work.
Remember life is a fun game and you’re the main character.
You get to write your own script by creating your own rules.
Level up your life and become the best that you can be.
You will attract those who share similar values as you.
Enjoy the beautiful journey that is your life by creating lasting memories and great companionships.
Go to your grave with battle scars knowing that you lived life to the fullest.
Empower yourself with choices that you make knowing that you lived life by your terms.
Please share this article with anyone who you think may find it valuable.
If you have any questions and/or comments on my top lessons, please leave a comment below or send me an email.
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