I am writing this while sitting on a flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt. I entered this plane as a 29-year old, and I am leaving it as a 30-year old once we land. Considering what an incredibly important role traveling has played throughout my 20s, I can’t help but smile about how humorous this circumstance is.
I really don’t want to be one of those obnoxious guys who writes a piece titled “20 things I learned in my 20s,” just in the hopes of making it to Medium-fame for a few days before I fade into oblivion, but I would like to share some of my thoughts, perspectives and feelings about the past decade and the one ahead (hint: none of them are suicidal).
Looking back on my 20s
In the very first post that I posted on this blog, I talked about the 20s as possibly the most important decade in a person’s life. I believe this today more than when I wrote it back at the age of 26.
It’s the time when a girl becomes a women and a boy becomes a man. We move out of parents’ homes, we discover our preferences, our sexuality, our joys in life. We learn what and who makes us happy, and what/who doesn’t. We understand who we are and who we are not. We take risks, we get disappointed, we learn and move on. The 20s really form a strong foundation for everything that follows.
And to be honest with you, there is a part of me that feels bitterness. Not the “I just bit into a lemon"-bitterness, but more the “dang, the show is over already? How did that happen so quickly? I wish I had made better use of my time”-type of bitterness. A more nostalgic one.
Believe me, I actually think sometimes I should have made better use of my time.
I look back on my time in Dublin when I was 22 and wish I didn’t hate that place that much. I look back on my 25 and wish I had been a little less depressed after my way-too-emotional break-up. I look back on my 27 while I was still lurking at Google and I wish I had left a little earlier to pursue other opportunities.
Truth to the matter however is that all that time is over. I can’t change any of that. The stories are written and the chapter is closed. But what is in my power is how I am going to recount the stories that are written in the chapter.
You know, it’s easy to be hard on yourself. It’s easy to look back and beat yourself up. But instead, I want to focus on the positive. Yes, being 22 and living in Dublin sucked, but gosh I met so many incredible people that really changed my life for the better. Yes, I felt a lot of pain at 25, but if I wasn’t that broken, I could have never rebuilt myself into the person I am today. And yes, I sometimes think my last year at Google was one that I could have spent differently, but I was able to get a work-sponsored Green Card that year which is now giving me so much more flexibility to do that I want post-MBA.
I want to move away from bitterness about all the things I didn’t do, but give myself credit for the things that I did do. It just makes for a better story.
Looking forward on my 30s
I think it’s super easy to write off the 20s as the prime time of our lives and then say that everything after that is just meh. Like as if the 30s were just the boring long tail of your super exciting 20s. For far too long, that’s actually how I thought of the 20s (oh yeah!!!) versus 30s (oh no!!!). More recently, I have started to change my thinking around this.
You know, at this point in life I look back on those ages 22, 25, and 27, and I really wish I could relive those years. Maybe it’s because it’s something that I simply can’t have back or because being confronted with its transitoriness makes me feel old – whatever it is, there is a feeling of “I wish someone could give me my time back."
In an effort to get myself excited for the next decade ahead – about the 32, 35 and 37s that I will hopefully get to experience – I visualize myself on exactly this day, 10 years from now (possibly sitting on an airplane again, but this time on my very own private jet, eating caviar). And given how predictable we humans tend to be, I will most likely be looking back on 32/35/37 the same way how I look back today on the 22/25/27, thinking “I wish someone could give me my time back.”
Having realized this, I feel super motivated to make the most and best out of the next decade ahead. If I know that I will retrospectively wish I had those years back, why not appreciate them more from the beginning? And sure, the 30s will have a have a different taste, but there is no reason why they can’t taste better, right?
Dealing with Failure and Rejection
A friend asked me recently what the number one thing is that I want to change from the last decade to the next. Without hesitation, I responded “my discomfort with failure professionally and rejection personally.”
I know that this discomfort with both failure and rejection have deeper roots in the past, but looking back on these past 10 years, I can see how this discomfort has expressed itself in a low appetite for risk. And I am not taking about the “hey, let’s go explore North Korea”–type of risk that I have sufficiently taken throughout my 20s. I am talking about the “I can do anything I want and nothing or no one can can stop me”–type of risk.
Professionally, I often wondered if I should have started my own venture during my 20s. If I was a little too comfortable on the career path that I was on. Going forward, I really hope to be more comfortable with risk – even if that means that I won’t go back into a perk-filled corporate job but embark on an entrepreneurial journey of uncertainty and unpredictability. I am pushing myself each day to build that comfort. It's a journey, but I know where I want to be.
Personally, I look back on my 20s and can’t help but realize that I am leaving them just as single as I entered them (maybe even a little more single if you subtract all the heartbreak and drama). I think there were a number missed opportunities where I didn’t always act on the feelings I had. I shied away and chose the path of least resistance. And that is something I hope to change. Take more ownership, step up, put myself out there – undeterred yet determined.