Sunday, 1 March 2015

Sunday Reads: A Guide To Your Early 20s (How I Failed So You Can Succeed)

I couldn't help but laugh to myself when I saw this book in Urban Outfitters, Admiralty (Hong Kong). 

I can't say that the 20s age bracket is something that I would rave about to anyone. My 20s have been characterised by many uncertainties, disappointments and lost opportunities. More experienced people tell me that, that's great that I've had these experiences earlier on because they'll ultimately make me a better person and leader later in life.

But who cares about results that will only show years from now, right?

I want instant gratification! That's what your 20s are about, right?! Fast life, baby! At least, that's how I imagined my 20s.

I'm now in my mid-20s and, to date, I haven't experienced anything instantly gratifying. 

Ironically, I saw this book immediately after celebrating my birthday at the Island Shangrila and can you just imagine me bitterly laughing to myself?!
I really wish I had a proper mentor when I turned 20. Someone who gave me practical and emotional guidance for how I needed to think and act in order to thrive in my 20s. I've learnt that your friends and parents aren't always in the best position to fulfill this role. I would have loved one of these books just so I could organise my thoughts on the social, economic and emotional changes that happen to you once you turn 20. 

Alas, I never had one. 

Truthfully, things started getting better around late last year. It was a major turning point and it's made things a whole lot better - infinitely better. It hasn't given me an extensive epiphany for how I should live out the rest of my 20s but it's made me less terrified of the future. 

Dare I say that I am actually optimistic about the future and that, no matter what, I will try to maintain this level of enthusiasm?  

There are a million and one Guides For Being In Your 20s but here is some advice that I wish I'd heard and taken in my early 20s. 

1. CAREERS: Follow your dreams but bring your head with you
This is especially for those people who dream of the road less travelled by others.

People around me always emphasise the importance of doing what you love because work takes up such a significant amount of our time. But, up until now, I've never been practical about my dream career. In the past, I loved what I loved so much that it was 'all or nothing'. That level of determination (or stubbornness) is something that I am actually proud of. Even now, I still note this as a strength and not a weakness. 

But I can recognise that my determination actually hampered my career progression, as opposed to helping it a long. I spent a lot of time waiting around for things to happen and 'waiting for my time to come'. I lost a lot of other opportunities because of this.

I also dreamt incredibly big but didn't act accordingly. I had a clear picture of where I wanted to end up but the journey towards it was poorly planned out and rarely executed with precision. I let a lot of my emotions control the way I approached my career goals.

So the advice here is to dream big but have a fairly planned out idea of how you're going to get to where you want to go. Recognise that time is of the essence, so there's not enough time for you to wait around. Be proactive. Face the setbacks head on and don't spend days and weeks wallowing in self-pity. That time can be used for preparing yourself for the next big opportunity. Give yourself checkpoints - periods of reflection where you can ask yourself whether you're doing it right, need to change courses or if it's time to move on. 

For crying out loud, don't listen to other people's negativity. There will always be someone (or at least a dozen) who will tell you that it's impossible, implausible and that you can't do XYZ. If you know in your heart that you are right, then don't worry about them.

No one knows your version of happiness - only you do.

2. FRIENDS: Quality over quantity
It's true when they say that the older you get, the less friends you have and the harder it is to meet new ones. Dad always tells to me that there's a Chinese saying that states that one can die happily if they've been able to chance upon one true friend in life. 

While it sounds a bit too melodramatic for your early 20s, I think it's important to understand that friends will drift apart. Everyone is so busy fulfilling their own life goals that it actually takes a lot more effort than before to maintain a friendship.
For me, the older I got, the less connected I felt with a lot of the friends I grew up with. Everyone was working in different industries, wanted different lifestyles and had different values. We just grew apart and that was really tough initially. For a long period, I blamed myself for not being to maintain old friendships.

But at the end of the day, when it comes to friendship, I've learnt that even if you're in a room filled with 20 'friends', you can still feel incredibly lonely and not have a good time. This is especially true when you have nothing in common and nothing to have an extended conversation about.

So don't worry, people change. So does your circle of friends.

3.  FAMILY: Your family will not be around forever
The older I get, the more I make a note to spend more time with them, be nicer to them, actually be in the moment with them...

After a few incidents, I recognised that my family will not be around forever. My parents will not be around forever and my brother and I aren't always going to live under the one roof. Mum and Dad are starting to show signs of aging, and the parents I know are changing. I'm a practical person when I need to be and, if there's a problem, I'm instantly thinking up a solution and trying to execute it. But aging isn't something I can say, 'Okay don't worry. I can fix this'.

This is the one thing in which, regardless of how intelligent you are, you can't stop from happening.

When I was in my early 20s, my family was largely prohibitive of a lot of things I wanted to do with my life. They were one of the negative sources in my life. But slowly that's changed and, alongside that, so did my view of them.

Be good to your family and take care of them. They were good to you when you were young, be good to them now that they're in their later years.

Your life only gets busier hereon in. You might not have enough time for your family now but you'll likely have even less time for them later on in life.

So schedule in time for your family, whether it be once a week or twice a month. When you're older, you won't regret this time spent with them. I promise. 

4. RELATIONSHIPS/PARTNERS: Find Someone Who Supports Your Goals
A friend of mine lived by the idea that your early 20s are a good time for you to shop around and to learn which type of guy you want to settle down with when you hit 25. 

Not going to comment on that but I thought I'd just leave that there. 

Don't waste time on the good looking, rich guys. This is true unless he is someone who understands where you want to go and is willing to support you emotionally and intellectually. At the same time, be prepared to support your partner's goals. Do not get in a relationship with someone who you aren't able to believe in and encourage.

Don't waste time on assholes who put you down. Some guys are just plain arrogant and, on the inside, know less than you do. Don't let someone like that influence your life or how you perceive yourself.

Even more importantly, don't get into a relationship because you're lonely. Learn to be comfortable living on your own. Silence can be a killer but it's always a great tool for learning about yourself and the world around you.

5. HEALTH: It starts now
Yes, your early 20s are filled with late nights out and early starts but who cares? As long as you're having fun, right?


Have a regular sleep pattern where you are able to sleep early at least 4-5 nights a week. Limit your alcohol intake. Wear your sunscreen. Do a yoga class or go out for a run. This will help take care of your physical health. I slept incredibly late for the past decade and I started wearing sunscreen only recently, and it's all showing on my skin. I look haggard and much older for my age. 

If you're having mental issues, whether that be self-esteem problems, anxiety or depression, see a doctor. The earlier you receive medical guidance, the quicker the recovery. A mental health issue is not something to hide from but something to get better from or at least learn to manage. 

I feel incredibly strongly about this because there were people around me in my their early 20s who experienced some level of distress, anxiety or depression. A lot of them blamed themselves for not being resilient enough to overcome difficulties. But the truth is, disorders like anxiety or depression, are signs that you've been strong for too long. 

Get the right help before it starts to interfere with your life.

What were some of the things you learnt in your early 20s? 
What advice do you wish you had of received?


  1. Oh Valentine, I agree with every single recommendations you have made in this post! I am too in my mid 20s, I find temporary gratification most of the time.. I feel exactly like your emoticons, crying on the inside! haha, especially now that i'm speeding towards 30 T_T my legs hurt after a 3 hour concert and I need to stretch outside the concert hall lol.

  2. Oh, let me give you a hug! When you're in your teens, you really aspire to be in your 20s and dream up how awesome it's going to be. But it's really not! AHAH.

    You're not the only one. My bum and hip area goes numb if I sit for too long, and I get this shooting pain down my leg into my big toe. Pretty sure I should get that checked out but I'm too busy going, 'I'm fine. I'm ONLY in my 20s...I'm sure I'll recover!'.

    *crying emoji*

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I'm not in my 20's anymore (*inserts the crying emoticon*), but the values mentioned here are not limited to any age group.

  4. Ohhh no need to cry! It's a stage everyone will pass through! But yes, you're right. The more I think about it, the more I believe that these points can be a general guide for how to live life.

  5. I took a class a few years back about....ancient religions around the Mediterranean Sea (LOL) and I had one of the best profs I had ever had in undergrad. Every lecture he'd give an insightful 'life lesson' and one of them was devoted to the importance of mentors and though I find the idea not for me (I hate asking people for help), but just hearing sound advice from other people is just so nice. Anyways, I'm not sad that some of my friends have drifted apart. I'm content with that, and for those that do matter in my life, I do have an annual Christmas dinner where we all get together and catch up. And as for dating....I'm 23 this year and I've yet to date LOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLL WHATTA JOKE.

    I hate changes in my family. My brother is moving out for school in May and I'll miss the occasional 12am pizza/McDonald's run :(

  6. Ahah I also have one of those lecturers in my undergrad. I still remember that one of the last things he said to us before we left was 'Dum Spiro Spero - As long as I breathe, I hope'. It's a pity that I can only recall this line when things are going well and in situations where I can go, 'Oh yeah. I can definitely see the truth in that phrase'. But I absolutely have problems bringing this line up when everything is falling apart! LOL.

    I used to be one of those people who hated asking for help too! Then everyone around me started achieving a lot more things than me and it seemed the only difference was not that they worked harder than me, but that they had people (unofficial mentors) who guided them through a lot of opportunities and life experiences.

    23 is not too late to date! It may sound/feel like it but it's really not. At least, it gives you more time to concentrate on yourself!