10 Things I've Learnt In My First Quarter-Century
Turning 25 is a milestone - a quarter of a century. Here’s what I learnt.
I recently turned 25 - I am now the most 'mid-twenties' I'll ever be. Here are some things I've learnt in my first quarter of a century on the planet.
1. Don't Worry About What Other People Are Doing
What was once the most powerful tool to connect with people, has devolved into a social boasting platform. OK; not quite. But its not far off. Facebook used to be a way to connect with your friends, but as more people have joined the site, and it has become ubiquitous - with potential implications on your relationship with employers - along with confusion and rapid updates on privacy controls, people have been a lot more cautious on what they post to the site.
This can unfortunately mean that your news feed is constantly packed full of people you know holidaying in luxury, drinking sparkling wine out of champagne glasses in the sun, getting a cool new job, celebrating an achievement, Instgramming their luxurious meals, or getting married and having children. This can be a factor for Social Anxiety disorders which can occur when people are constantly comparing their lives to those around them, or in their virtual networks.
Your life is yours - as is your definition of a successful life. Don't worry about measuring up to what others are doing as long as you are happy doing what you're doing.
2. Indulge Your Passions
Growing up you are bombarded with the idea that the only way to success is;
- Go to the right school
- Get high grades
- Go to the right University
- Get the right degree
- Get a high paying career based on that degree
While eduction is undoubtedly important, it is not the be all and end all of your life. I did my degree in Mechanical Engineering - and I am hugely passionate about engineering but I made the choice to do my degree in Engineering at 17 years old. Should you really expect a decision you made at 17 to determine the outcome of your life? Of course not. I'm not the same person as I was at 17 and my interests and passions and hobbies and skills have changed in the following 8 years, and I'm sure will continue to evolve over time. I am hugely passionate about music and technology and spend a lot of time indulging in these interests and I find that satisfying.
Make your decisions based on what you care about and have an interest in. Passion and a willingness to learn far outweigh experience.
3. Stop Caring What Other People Think
Say you are walking down the street and you slightly trip up. You feel awkward and embarrassed. What if someone saw? What will they think of me?
Switch this story around so you are the 'viewer'. It is maybe a little amusing for about 10 seconds and then? You totally and utterly forget about it.
The truth is, other than your friends, most people don't care about what you do, who you are, the successes you have, or conversely, the mistakes you make. People are interested in their own lives for the most part, and so generally why worry about what other people think?
It has been said that in any situation 1/3 of people will like you, 1/3 will hate you, 1/3 won't care. If 2/3 of people will either hate you or not care regardless of what you do then why stress yourself out worrying about what they think?
The best thing about this idea is that in any given situation 1/3 of people will like you - no matter what you do. Spend your time with these people.
4. Being Nice Is Not The Same As Being A Chump
Until I went on a corporate training course early last year - the word 'Assertive' had equalled 'Aggressive' in my mind. This word has been hijacked in modern vernacular. Assertiveness is not aggressiveness. Its having confidence.
Most of us are too worried of what people's reaction would be if we say 'no' to a request. So we say yes anyway, even if we are busy/have no experience/disagree with the objective, for fear of being seen to be unhelpful. Assertiveness is the art of having the confidence to be able to say no.
Extend this idea to the principle of 'being nice'. I like the idea of being nice. I think, on the whole, most people do. Assertiveness is usually associated with the workplace but effectively you can apply the same principle to life. You don't always have to say yes to be nice, especially when it negatively impacts on your own life. There will be times where you can not commit to a request - and that is OK.
Don't let yourself get taken advantage of. If in doubt, develop a 'code'. Most people have one of these - even if they aren't aware of it - and it influences every action and every decision you make. For an example of this - think of political affiliations. The party you associate with has a set of policies that align, or closely align, with your 'code'.
If you consciously think about what your code is, it can help to steer you in the right direction and you will never let yourself down or feel disappointed in yourself as long as you stay true to your code.
5. Find The Positives & Learn From Your Mistakes
However hard you try to avoid it, at some point life will through challenges at you. Some you will have control over, others you will be totally helpless in.
The most stress inducing, frustrating and difficult challenges are those you have no control over. You don't know what the outcome will be and you have no mechanism to influence it. This kind of stress can be crippling but a way to avoid it is to change your outlook - lots of things may go wrong, but try to look for a positive spin on any effect or outcome.
An inspiring example of this is Stephen Sutton. If you haven't heard of Stephen - Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January 2013, however, has used his experience as a springboard to raise a phenomenal £3.2 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust at the time of writing. (If you want to donate or read more about his journey and fundraising take a look at his JustGiving page).
The other challenge is one you can influence. These can be stressful. 'Am I doing it right?', 'Have I made the right decision?' You may spend hours debating or working on something and then, on occasion you make the wrong choice, wrong decision or wrong action. It is so heavily programmed into people that failure is a bad thing.
This isn't true. Follow the famous, and heavily quoted, entrepreneur's mantra of 'fail fast, fail often'.
The reason entrepreneurs love this phrase is because through failure you can learn so much. Take what you can from an experience and use it to inform your future. If you're worrying about what other people think of your failure remember no one will care or remember.
6. Caffeine Is Your Friend - But So Is Sleep
I have always used caffeine as a crutch. During my teenage years, energy drinks were booming and I was a happy customer. I used to drink so many of these drinks in a day, thinking I was invincible. Of course I could get by on little sleep, after all, that is the cool thing to do, and caffeine kept me functional. I was like a super energetic, jumped up Superman, without any of the awesome powers.
Except I wasn't. One day at University I ran out of energy drinks. My body totally fell apart. I couldn't think, I couldn't stay awake. I couldn't function. Years of caffeine abuse and minimal sleep suddenly caught up with me. So I kicked the habit, and I felt. So. Much. Better. My sleep improved, which help my memory, which in turn made me more naturally energetic. On top of that I saved a ton of money.
That said though, caffeine can bring many health benefits such as increased alertness, increased metabolic rate, reduced risk of Parkinson's and more. So I built it back into my daily routine. Now I have one good quality coffee at breakfast and then drink green tea throughout the day to keep the caffeine topped up at a sensible level.
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do. Which is why it is a shame that in modern life we seem to pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible. Sleep improves your memory, sparks creativity, increases life expectancy, reduces risk of obesity amongst other things. If you have trouble sleeping then work hard to improve it and try reading up on sleep hygiene.
7. Take Care Of Your Body
I, like most people, didn't worry too much about my general health during university. My attitude to food and drink was appalling. This led to me being unfit and overweight. I used to scoff down multiple takeaways in a day, drink lots of energy drinks and soft drinks like Coke (it was OK because it was Diet - right?) and I barely exercised - even walking between my local newsagent and my flat was more effort than I could ever really be bothered with.
It got to a point where I wasn't happy, so I took control. I dumped the energy drinks, cut back on soft drinks, changed my eating habits and exercised. It's often said, but until you experience it you won't fully appreciate the changes to your health and well-being these lifestyle changes bring.
I feel happier, healthier, clearer in mind and I genuinely enjoy exercise and healthy eating. Nutrition is a tough nut to crack but once you look at what you eat and the physical effect that it has on you, the easier it is to eat healthy food, that makes you feel good.
The other most important thing is water. We all know we should drink water, but the benefits are so great for doing so. One of the weirder facts about water drinking that I've found is that if you drink plenty, then it can actually help to reduce the appearance of fat around your stomach, as your body releases the water stored there when you are properly hydrated.
8. Think Like A Child
Everyone knows that young children are constantly asking 'why?'. This curiosity about the way the world world works allows children to learn, because learning is actually fun. Then we go to school. The education system is not really about learning but about making sure that you can pass the tests. This constant hoop-jumping makes you bored and stunts your excitement and curiosity.
Curiosity and inexperience allow children to be incredibly creative and as we grow up and give in to negative perceptions, other people's laziness and 'can't do', 'always been that way' attitudes we ourselves lose our creativity.
Do you know why so many companies have graduate schemes? Because fresh-out-of-university graduates aren't quite as jaded and can bring fresh ideas into a business by questioning the status quo. This ability is important for innovation and exploration. Never lose this ability, always remember to think like a child.
9. Listen To Podcasts
I recently discovered Podcasts. I wish I had done it years ago. They are the easiest, most enjoyable way to learn new things. No matter what your interest, there will be a podcast for you (and even if there isn't then you can make your own).
My favourite was from LifeHacker, which sadly came to an end recently (however, has been superseded by Supercharged from an ex-Lifehacker writer Adam Dachis - definitely worth a listen). I've also really enjoyed the Stuff You Should Know Podcast which touches on such diverse subject matter that you always learn something new.
10. You Won't Always Know What You're Doing
At some point you knew nothing about anything. But you learnt to walk by trying it over and over again. At some stage we were all beginners. I'm a novice at writing but I'm learning (and hopefully) getting better at it. At first it was scary, but I enjoy doing it and I try to remember 2/3 of people will never like it anyway so as long as I enjoy it and 1/3 of the people out there enjoy it then I'll keep going and learning something new.
Take chances, and experience new things. It makes you a more rounded individual. Its usually fear of failure that stops us in our efforts to try new things but remember "fail fast, fail often". The more you try, the more you fail, the more you learn, the better you'll get.
I've learnt these lessons over the years through my experiences, and I'm sure your list is probably very different. As Mary Schmich wrote in 'Wear Sunscreen' - "Advice is a form of nostalgia" - I'm simply dispensing mine.
Most importantly though, make sure, whatever you do, that it makes you happy.