I celebrated my birthday this month.
I am somewhere around the middle of my third decade on this earth and I must say that this has been a most peculiar decade. It is a decade as different from the previous two as it is possible for any two things to be different. It feels like only yesterday I was 20 years old. Where did all that time go? Why does time seem to be moving so much faster in this decade than in the previous two?
These days whenever I contemplate the passing of time I shudder. It has not always been so.
In the old days of childhood and adolescence, it was pure bliss. I lived in the present. I did not strain my mind with thoughts about the future. I did not live outside of the perimeters of a single day (except perhaps when Christmas or some such festivity was approaching.)
But those days are gone now and I am almost a man. This is generally the period in almost every young person’s life when they experience the most agitation. Or what is generally referred to as the Quarter-life crisis.
It is a very delicate period in a person’s life, ranging from their early twenties to mid-thirties. A period in which we are at crossroads in almost every aspect of our lives. During this period, our minds are an intricate tangle of delicate emotions, thoughts, and anxieties about the future. They go something like this:
Am I on a promising career path? What direction is my life taking? What rhythm am I dancing to? What do people think of me? What do I think of me? Do I even know who I am? What I really want out of life? Do I have friends I can boast of? Are my relationships with family and friends healthy? Are they sustainable? Have I made my parents proud? My friends are all moving abroad and making fortunes. The few that remain home are all getting married and settling down. I am doing neither of those two things. Everybody seems to have their shit together — everybody except me. I feel like I am getting left behind. I am running out of time. I have to make some big, scary decisions and I have to be fast about it; and whatever the consequences, I would have to live with them for the rest of my life.
Wow, that is one heck of a paragraph, and I’m sure it doesn’t even cover the whole spectrum. It is very scary, as I’m sure almost every young adult will tell you. These doubts and uncertainties are very real. Forget whether they are true or not, their grip on most of our lives is strong, unrelenting, and in some cases paralyzing.
How then do we approach these thoughts and anxieties?
Before I share my thoughts, I want to make one thing clear: I am only a young adult myself. I do not presume myself an authority on the subject. So take my ideas with a pinch of salt.
First of all, I think society is constantly shoving outrageous ideas down our throats. One such idea is how it defines success in life: Lavish home, fancy cars, latest gadgets, a white-collar job, fame, high social status, six-figure bank accounts, and above all, having someone to share all of that with.
Not only does society make this a one size fits all definition for success, it subtly implies that anybody who doesn’t have at least one or all of these is a failure. Or that even if they have it and it is not bigger, better, richer than their peers’, then they’re still not successful.
I’m not against creating wealth or anything like that. On the contrary, I regard it in many ways as a moral responsibility of every individual. What I am more critical of is the motivations and ambitions behind creating it, and most importantly a person’s disposition when they don’t have as much of it as they’d love to.
As young adults, it is probably less than a decade ago since we left the shelter of our parents to be exposed to the real world where we have to fend for ourselves. We haven’t yet had enough time to understand ourselves enough to form healthy personal principles and values by which to operate.
Most of what we believe about ourselves is only the opinions of others and these do not always correctly represent who we are. That is why the journey to self-discovery is so important. Self-discovery is a big, fancy word so let me put it this way: Start investigating what your strengths are and leveraging on them. Incline more towards experiences and ideas that create joy, meaning, and value to your life and the lives of as many people as possible.
If you don’t know these things yet, I recommend you apply Tony Robbins’ advice: take massive action. Try as many things as you possibly can — anything you can get your hands on. Have a healthy amount of spontaneity in your actions and decisions. Try things you have never done before every once in a while. Engage the world and the world will engage you.
At first, this might make you feel like a confused moron who doesn’t know what he is doing, but believe me, this is not necessarily a bad thing. You are not doomed if by this age you don’t yet know what to do with your life.
Some of the best things that have happened to me are not the things I planned ahead of time; instead, they are the things I stumbled on while dancing one confused dance or another.
It is extremely common nowadays to have very smart people who lay their skills to waste in inaction because they are planning, strategizing on the best plan for their lives; or who see failure as something only losers get. Many smart people write themselves off to certain opportunities without ever having given it at least a try. Einstein said that “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”
When you try many things, you will eventually find one that you are good at; one that adds value and meaning and joy to your life and the lives of many other people. At this point, you can focus your energy on optimizing that particular thing.
The good thing about vigorously engaging yourself in action is that all those worries we talked about earlier will fall away; or at least, they won’t be at the forefront of your mind and therefore won’t hinder you working to address them.
Worry, anxiety, self-doubt, envy, loneliness, and all the other paralyzing thoughts and emotions will have a harder time weighing you down when you are actively doing some meaningful work.
If you have any advice/ideas you want to share or any comments on the article, feel free to leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading!