‘You’re Not Lost, You’re Early’ and Other Important Life Lessons

8. You Should Treat Life Like An Experiment

Your 20s hit you like a fish to the face. It’s not a nice feeling, it’s a shock to the system and it leaves an after taste. The training wheels are off and all of a sudden we are riding the bike, we’re wobbling all over the place and we’re not totally sure where we are going but it seems, somehow that we’re going forward.

Sometimes we stop and look around, that’s when we start to get worried that we’re not doing this right. We might not have our career figured out, we might have 0 savings and we might not know what the right notebook is to take to a meeting.

We feel lost.

If you’re reading this and feel lost, carry on — it might help.

1. You’re Not Lost, You’re Just Early in the Process

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.” — Thomas J. Watson

You can feel frustrated by now ‘arriving’. You could be 5 years into something and feel like you haven’t made a dent in the surface. You are nowhere near where you want to be.

That is normal.

That is how this works.

You have many years on this planet, just because something didn’t work the first, second or even 19th time, doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you haven’t tried hard enough.

Failure isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply an indicator that it’s not the right thing.

Fail often, fail honestly, fail hard.

If you’re 25 years old and haven’t found what you want to do with your life, you’re exactly on the right path.

2. Social Media is an Edited Version of the Truth

“Have more than you show, and speak less than you know” — William Shakespeare

Unfortunately in the world, we live in today, we are overwhelmed with information. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if that information was remotely useful.

Some of it is.

A lot of it isn’t.

Just because someone is telling the world that they’ve are overwhelmingly happy with their new 4-bed detached house, doesn’t mean you’re a failure for not owning a home yet. Or ever.

Life is mostly a Wednesday morning washing the dishes and what I mean by that is the amount of time we spend at milestones is small. It’s very small.

  • Buying a house
  • Getting promoted
  • Buying a puppy

Those are all life milestones but they don’t happen that often, let’s say milestones cover 1% of your life. So it’s fair to say the majority of life is spent doing the other stuff.

  • Washing the dishes
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Picking up dog poop

But do we do most of? It’s the boring stuff that we spend our life doing — yet you’ll never see a picture of the washing up that needs doing on Instagram.

Social media is a view that people want you to see of their lives, it’s not the real thing.

Don’t be fooled into envying something that is created for your entertainment.

3. There is Total Joy in the Little Things

“Wherever you are be all there.” — Jim Elliot

Life is the little things. Whilst there is joy in achieving your dreams, doing the big stuff in life, that’s not how you’ll spend the majority of your life. Because that is true you need to learn to enjoy the little things.

The wind blowing, the sun shining, a good meal, a great film.

The little things make up this thing we call life. If you learn to enjoy them you’ll live pretty happily.

4. You Don’t Need to Have it All Figured Out Yet

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” — Erol Ozan

You might think that at 25 years old that your life is doomed if you don’t have it all figured out yet. You could be tricked into thinking that if you don’t have it figured out now, you never will.

That is simply just not the case.

When you are young, you have the world to explore. The whole concept of the world is novel and intriguing.

As you progress you learn the things you like and the things you don’t like but that stuff takes time. You need to learn to give yourself the time you need to explore the world.

You don’t need to have it all figured out just yet if you did, life would be pretty boring. It’s okay to not have a 5-year plan, a 2-year plan, a next-week-plan. Life changes anyway.

Take the pressure off and recognise that you are exactly where you need to be.

5. You Are Someone You Should Be Learning About

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” — Aristotle

Investing the time into learning about who you are, what you stand for, what you want and what your needs are, is the best use of time. A lot of frustration in life comes from a misalignment between what we do and who we think we are.

When we experience this mismatch we feel like we are doing life wrong.

Learning about who you are is the best way to avoid such things or encounter them and learn so you don’t encounter them again.

You can do that in several ways:

  • Journal your thoughts
  • Recognise the themes to your thoughts
  • Be cognisant of your unhappy moments

Once you start to use your emotions as data points you can then understand trends in your moods, then you can learn how to optimise for your happiness.

6. You Also Won’t Stay the Same

“To find yourself, think for yourself.” — Socrates

Your hopes and dreams today will change. You might feel like you want to take on the world today but 10 years down the line you might have a family and feel like you want to slow down a little. Equally the opposite could happen.

The point is that learning about yourself is a lifetime commitment. You won’t learn very much by listening to yourself for the next few weeks and then concluding you know everything so stop.

As you experience new things in life you learn more about yourself. You will continue to learn and grow and thus you will continue to evolve.

Committing to learning about yourself is a lifelong one.

7. The Only Competition You Have Is You

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms.” — Zen Shin

Social media has paved the way for us to be able to see what everyone is doing at any one time. It means you can check on everyone. Because we are all humans we tend to use that one similarity and conclude that we are comparable creatures.

What we forget though is that we are different in many different ways.

  • Upbringing
  • Culture
  • Parenting

As well as:

  • Goals
  • Personalities

We try and compare someone our age with ourselves simply because they are the same age as us. We tend to forget the fact that they may have a totally different upbringing or have completely opposing goals to us.

Just because someone is successful doesn’t mean you need to envy them or compare yourself to them.

Success isn’t a finite resource.

8. You Should Treat Life Like An Experiment

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong” — Richard P. Feynman

Experimentation is really how we understand whether what we think is true. We all have assumptions about ourselves. What we think we would like, how we think we’d behave in a given situation. It isn’t until we test those theories that understand what is true and what is not.

Experimentation is accepting the fact that the thoughts you have are merely assumptions — a best guess. It’s about knowing that you are okay with that guess being true or false.

Sometimes we don’t test the theories we believe about ourselves and spend our lives half full.

You can use experimentation to understand what career you like, what hobby brings you the most joy, what life you want to lead.

Write down your hypothesis, create your experiment conditions, test the hypothesis and analyse your data.

If it’s good enough to make the biggest discoveries in history, it’s ample to help you understand about yourself.

9. Investing in Your Habits is the Most Sustainable Way to Effect Change

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle

Habits are the things we repeatedly do. It’s the way you make your coffee, it’s the order of which you put your clothes on, it’s the exercising you do or do not do.

You could be tricked into thinking that you don’t have any habits. False, your lack of habit is your habit. I.e. if you don’t exercise, that’s a habit.

Habits are something to really pay attention to. Because they are what we repeatedly do, they become part of our automatic system i.e. we do them on autopilot. It’s the reason you can drive to work and not remember the route — it’s become a habit.

This small, but monumental fact changes things. What we are basically saying is that there is a system that exists, within you, that allows you to do things automatically.

Imagine if you exercised automatically. Ate healthily automatically. Pursued your goals, automatically.

It means that you don’t have to spend (much) time or energy thinking about it, it just happens. There was a study whereby a chap, unfortunately, fell ill with dementia. He, among other things, would always walk around his local area every single day. He had done for years. Now he was losing his memory, it was presumed he would no longer be able to walk around the local area because he’d get lost.

To the amazement of the physicians, he no longer knew where he left his keys, but he walked the same walk he had done for years with ease. It had become a habit.

Habits, in my opinion, are the most sustainable way to change your life. After all, we are what we repeatedly do.

10. Success Does Not Happen Over Night

“Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in” — Bill Bradley

The news will have you believe that every 20-something in Silicon Valley is landing multi-million dollar deals and that you pale in comparison. Forbes under 30 would have you believe that you are a complete failure and your life is doomed for total underwhelm.

It’s not.

These 20-somethings that in the news are the exception, not the rule. More to the point, these news outlets will miss out the fact that they were coding since the age of three and that it took them 16 years to get to this point because that’s not a good story.

The idea that you can click your fingers and get a 7-figure deal sells.

Even if the reality is 18-hour days, tears, breakdowns. We tend to skip over those bits. The grind is good for a minute but what people are really interested in is a big success. Show me the money.

The reality of success is that it’s a long journey. Sure there are people that are there at the right time and they make a fortune but the likelihood is that they’ve been working a while to hone their craft, or they’ve had a leg up. And yes, I’m sure there is someone out there that had an idea on Tuesday, created an app by Thursday and got a deal for 7-figures by Saturday.

But that is the exception — that is not the rule.

Success takes time. That’s a good thing. It should take time. If you are asking the world to be in the 1% you need to do what only 1% of the world is willing to do. And that’s put the work in.

11. You Can Influence Your Choices

“If you want to get somebody to do something, make it easy. If you want to get people to eat healthier foods, then put healthier foods in the cafeteria, and make them easier to find, and make them taste better. So in every meeting I say, make it easy.” — Richard Thaler

If you haven’t read the book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler, you should. Essentially the book is about decisions. We make decisions every day. In fact, we have several thousand to make in a single day.

Whilst that might seem an extraordinary number, humour me for a second. Choosing your breakfast is a decision. Choosing to get up when your alarm sounds is a decision. Choosing your coffee, when to drink some water, what to wear, what to say, who to ring, when to leave. Those are all decisions.

We have a lot of them to make.

Thaler argues that there are things making our decisions easier that we don’t really notice. The book argues that if we were all rational folk there would be no decisions to be made about eating healthier, whether to exercise, whether to text and drive. We simply would look at science and say:

“Eating healthier is likely to make me live longer so I’ll eat healthier.”

“Exercise will reduce my likelihood of getting ill and make me feel better, I’ll go for a run every day.”

“Texting and driving is likely to increase my chances of having a crash, I don’t want to die, I won’t text and drive.”

Yet what really happens is the complete opposite. Whilst we might know all these things. We fail to do what we know is right, what is more likely the case is:

“I know I should eat healthier but one doughnut won’t hurt.”

“I know I should go for a run but the thought of going outside in the cold makes me not want too.”

“I know I shouldn’t text and drive but my friend has just texted and I want to know what she’s said”

And that is because we are, as Dan Ariely puts it, predictably irrational. I.e. we know what is rational (the first three sentences) yet we all know we’ll do the opposite (the last three sentences).

If we know that we can change things, we can make our decisions easier and favour what we actually want to do.

  • We can put our gym clothes next to our beds so we wake up and see them
  • We can get rid of anything unhealthy in the fridge
  • We can put our phone in our bag in the boot of the car

Make your decisions easier by knowing how irrational you are and favouring irrationality.

12. Effort Creates Reward

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value” — Albert Einstein

We often fear failure. If we’re really honest with ourselves we don’t try because we think that if we try and fail that’s worse than not trying at all. What results is brilliant musicians becoming admin workers, gifted writers settling for a corporate job, incredible entrepreneurs sticking with that 9–5 that they hate.

It’s because not trying is easier than trying and failing.

But what if we consider a new way. What if we think that effort creates value. Why does IKEA furniture feel so gratifying to assemble? We could just buy a pre-assembled version and save ourselves the pain (and the arguments). But yet IKEA is super successful.

It’s because value comes from effort. How much do you get out of a gym session that you’ve worked your arse off in? How much better does it feel when you buy that coat that you’d saved for 2 months to get? How great do you feel when you finally get promoted after working your butt off for the last 9 months?

Effort creates value.

Don’t be scared of hard work it could be the very thing that makes you value whatever you achieve.

13. That Happiness is Both Pleasure and Purpose

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life — to be happy. It’s all that matters” — Audrey Hepburn

We’ve been told a myth.

“The purpose of life is to find happiness.” It’s not. Happiness is a combination of purpose and pleasure. It’s the exact mix of both these things that lead to a happy life.

Paul Doolan, the author of Happiness by Design, wrote: “happiness is the experience of pleasure and purpose over time.”

I can’t think of a better definition. When we finely tune the amount of pleasure we get out of life with the amount of purpose we need, the combination creates happiness.

The things that create pleasure are the things that make you smile, a good book might bring you immense pleasure but there might not be many purposes to it.

The purpose on the other hand, well that’s about feeling like you are giving something to the world like there is a point. That can come from your work, your hobbies, your talents. Volunteering, for example, would have a high level of purpose associated with it.

If you want to find happiness, assess how much pleasure and purpose you have in your life. Understand how much you need. And make up the difference.

14. You Tell Yourself a Story Every Single Day

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right” — Henry Ford

Is there such a thing as reality? If both you and I can have the exact same experience and tell the story completely differently, who is right, who experienced the reality? If both sides are different it’s probably more likely that we both experienced our own reality.

With that in mind, it’s important to be mindful of the reality you are experiencing. You might tell yourself after every meeting that you were useless and didn’t say anything of value. If you tell yourself that enough time you will think it’s true.

You could alternatively tell yourself that you only speak when you feel like you need to and your silence makes people value your opinion.

No one is going to tell you you’re wrong if the conversation is happening in your head.

Be careful of the reality you are telling yourself. You can be whatever you want to be. You start by telling yourself the right story. Your story.

15. No one is Thinking About You

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

We all go around worrying about what people think. That people don’t think we’re smart enough, put together enough, confident enough.

But really if everyone is worried about what each other is thinking, no one actually thinking about your not smart enough. They’re too busy thinking you think they aren’t smart enough.

Think about how often you think about other people. When someone is speaking in a meeting are you busy thinking about how silly they sound or are you think about how you don’t want to sound stupid. I’d argue it’s the latter.

Everyone is too busy thinking about themselves or what you think of them. Don’t waste any time worrying about what think of you.

If you like yourself, that’s enough.

16. Everything Is Scary Until It’s Not

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? — T.s. Eliot

We spend our lives worrying. Worrying about the ‘what ifs’ of life. What is quite apparent is that once you try something, all the fear sort of fades away. Public speaking is scary until you’ve done it 40 times. Writing an article is scary until you’ve published a few. Chasing your dreams is scary until you start to run and realise it’s not scary at all.

It’s usually the prospect of something that is scary rather than the action of it.

Don’t waste time worrying about something, you are likely to regret the things you didn’t do over the things you did do.

And who cares what other people think anyway. Do whatever you want to do -it’s your life.

Being in your twenties is probably one of the most confusing times of your life. Or at least it feels like it. All of a sudden you are met with trying to learn who you are, what you want and how you should live your life. Juxtapose that with the blessing that is social media and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, if you are 20-something and reading this please know that you are not lost, you are just early.

Millennial Career Health is a hub for everything millennial and career-related. Check out www.millennialcareerhealth.com

Written by

BSc Biomedical Science, studying MSc Behavioural Science. Essays exploring a happy self. www.millennialcareerhealth.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store