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Reflections on Turning 30 - 3 Profound Life Lessons from My 20's
Life advice from a Millenial to Gen-Z
Birthdays give me anxiety. Every time my birthday rolls around, I start to question all my life decisions.
“Did I squander my youth?” I wonder.
“Am I living my best life?” I ask.
So when I turned 30 recently and meditated on the question, “What are my biggest learnings in my 20's?”, I had a mini-panic attack when I couldn’t answer this question in 2 seconds.
As I reflected more on my birthday, I realized I had 3 main life lessons from my 20’s that I wanted to carry with me into my 30’s.
I hope these lessons will help you live a better life as well.
Lesson #1: Let Balls Roll Down Hills
The biggest learning from my 20’s is a lesson called “letting balls roll down hills.”
Whenever you have to make a tough life decision, ask yourself:
“Does this feel like I’m pushing a ball up a hill? Or letting a ball roll down a hill?”
And in life you want to let as many balls roll down hills as possible.
I made my 20’s more difficult than it had to be by constantly trying to push balls up hills.
When I tried to become a PM at Netflix for 2 years and failed, my 27-year old self would’ve said that felt like “pushing a ball up a hill.”
When I tried to change myself to fit into certain friend groups, this also felt like “pushing a ball up a hill.”
But when I started writing online, it immediately caught on fire. This felt like a ball rolling down a hill.
When I focused on those who cherish me, this was yet another ball rolling down a hill.
“Letting balls roll down hills” is actually a law of nature.
If you look at electricity, electricity always takes the path of least resistance.
It will never push a ball up a hill if it doesn’t have to.
We have to be like electricity.
We have to let balls roll down hills.
So as 2022 comes to an end, here are some year-end questions for you to reflect on:
What felt like pushing a ball up a hill this year?
What felt like letting a ball roll down a hill this year?
If anything feels like you’re pushing a ball up a hill, could it be because you’re on the wrong hill? Or pushing the wrong ball?
Lesson #2: Follow the Seasons of Life
Life has seasons. Childhood, high school, and parenthood are all seasons that we may pass through at some point in our lives.
Your 20’s is also a season.
Just as how you can only snowboard in the winter or surf in the summer, each “life season” opens up opportunities to do things that you can’t do in other seasons.
For example, I realize how much easier it is to pack your bags and move around to different cities in your early 20’s versus when you’re 30.
At this point, I can still move, but I have far more possessions and a larger network rooted in a single location than when I was still in my 20’s, making the opportunity cost far greater.
When you’re in your 20’s however, you can try out different cities during internships, you’re more willing to live with roommates, and your standards of living probably aren’t as bougie as mine at this point, so you have more freedom than I do.
So to maximize each season, you want to focus on doing things that you can uniquely do only in your current season of life. Because when this season passes, those opportunities may become less available. Or your interest in them may fade as well.
Part of my decision to leave behind a high-salaried job at Netflix at age 28 was that I noticed that my late 20’s was a particularly unique season of life.
At 28, I have more skills, experience, and savings than students just starting their career in their early-mid 20's.
But I also had fewer obligations than many in their 30’s who have families to support. Every decision they make affects their children and their spouse. They can’t just think about themselves any more.
I realized that I had this window of opportunity where I could take some risks without having it affect me or others significantly in the long-term even if I failed.
This opportunity wouldn’t last forever.
So I quit.
Some further questions for you to ponder as 2022 winds down include:
What season of life are you in right now?
What can you uniquely do in this season that you can’t do in others?
How can you spend more time doing those things while this season lasts?
Lesson #3: Don’t Sacrifice (too much) of the Present for the Future
We can learn a lot about life happiness from luxury car owners. Surveyors once asked them whether their car gave them joy. All of them said yes.
But then they asked them, “How much joy did your car give you today?” And they’d say not much. “Then how about yesterday?” Not much. “The day before that?” And so on.
So this begs the question, “How can any of these car owners say that their car has given them joy if it didn’t bring them joy on any individual day?”
We can apply this then to living joyfully in our 20's. How can we say we lived a joyful 20's, if our individual days were not joyful?
The lesson here is that making the most of your 20’s means making the most of each individual year. And making the most of each year means you have to make the most of each individual day. So to live a good life in your 20’s, focus on collecting as many good days in your 20’s as possible.
Sacrificing too much of the present day for a better future just means fewer years to enjoy your life.
I think one of my biggest mistakes in my 20’s was sacrificing too much of the present in hopes of a better future.
In high school I said I would delay happiness till I got into college.
When I got into college, I said I would delay happiness till I got my first job.
When I got my first job I said I’d delay happiness till I owned a house.
With this logic, I could end up delaying happiness…all the way to the grave.
Delaying happiness for the future is actually extremely risky.
First of all, your better future might never even come. A freak pandemic, an accident, or an unexpected life-threatening health issue could derail your plans.
Second, even if you do make it to the better future, it might not be what you thought it would be. Netflix was a dream job for me, but that luster only lasted 2 years before I had thoughts of moving on.
Sacrificing my 20’s for a dream job is like trading 10 years of my life to enjoy 2.
Don’t sacrifice too much of your 20’s with the hopes of enjoying a better life later. Enjoy your 20’s and your life now because:
The future is just another moment like the present.
Final Reflections on Turning 30
I may not know what I did right or wrong in my 20’s, but celebrating my 30th birthday with all my friends made me realize that I clearly did something right in my 20’s.
Although I was feeling anxious about turning 30, I’m grateful for even making it out alive. I feel my best times are still ahead.
Cheers to my 30th birthday. And cheers to an even brighter “season of life”, enjoying the present more, and “letting balls roll down hills.”
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