It’s Perfectly Fine to Waste Your Twenties

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

In 2012 I kind of became online famous. It was the year when I released my first book, got my first twenty thousand readers, and fell in love with a beautiful and talented artist.

I knew what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it, and how to do it.

There was nothing quite like it. Clarity of purpose, financial purpose, love, the admiration and respect of countless strangers from around the world.

Then I lost it all. March 2014. Worst month of my life.

Struggled with some health issues. My grandfather died. My girlfriend left me.

After that, I’d break down repeatedly from time to time. It was difficult to focus. People don’t often talk about that; how difficult it is to focus when you are depressed or grieving or feeling lost in ways you cannot define or analyze.

In 2012 I knew what I wanted: to become the best writer/blogger possible. I wanted to write as many novels and short stories as possible.

Post March 2014, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I read a lot about psychology, self-help, hypnosis, NLP, cognitive behavioral therapy, Gestalt therapy, and about a million other things.

I’d write short motivational essays and cry myself to sleep at night.

My income was comprised 99% of me begging for donations on my blog and 1% dumb luck.

I’d struggle to pay the rent, the bills.

Even watching a movie was an excruciating experience. There was this restlessness filling my veins. I wanted to snap out of it. I wanted a way out, but couldn’t pull myself to find a way out.

One of the things that rarely get talked about was the fact that we often prefer known hells over unknown heavens.

And, yes, I knew the way out of hell. I just couldn’t get myself to walk out of hell, because wallowing in self-pity felt like the only reasonable thing to do.

How it feels when you are single, broke, and lazy, and everyone around you is not.

The universe has a way of testing our resolve.

One of the bitter truths of life is that you can give it your all and still fail. Life’s not just a game of momentum. Sometimes little by little, a little does not become a lot.

You don’t get better every single day of our lives, even though we might be focused on becoming better each day.

So, here I was, twenty-something, trying to understand what was it that I wanted. Trying to find a way out of hell.

Single, broke, tired, unmotivated, countless health issues.

And it felt like everyone else was the exact opposite.

Our twenties are supposed to be the decade to make all our dreams come true, aren’t they?

The most successful companies on the planet were founded by folks in their twenties.

How could someone become successful so soon, so fast, and I was struggling to stay afloat?

Of course, the universe doesn’t work the way you wish it would. There are countless factors at play. There seems to be a requisite for success: you have to lose your way for a while before you stumble upon success.

Those who had reached extraordinary levels of success at an early age did so because they had paid their dues. They had sacrificed more than I ever did, in ways that I or anyone else who stands on the sidelines could never comprehend.

You have to rattle the bars of your cage.

“People only get really interesting when they start to rattle the bars of their cages.”

– Alain de Botton

One thing that did not help me at all was the fact that I was certain that after 30, my energy levels would drop significantly. That I’d feel less motivated to try new things, to take risks, to engage with others, to build relationships.

I’d be less patient, too. I’d feel like I’ve become all that I’ll ever be.

They say irony is the song of a bird who has learned to love its cage.

They also say that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who believe themselves to be free.

We all live in a cage. We all perceive the world around us as limiting. The bars of the cage are all the people who tell us to be realistic, to be this or that, to aim lower, to please others.

To make one compromise after another.

People who tell us that we’ll never make it.

But the truth is that we can always find a way out of hell. We can always figure out a way to use our wings.

Your twenties are a time of experimentation.

Experience is what we call the mistakes we have learned from and vowed never to repeat.

I have lost a lot during my twenties. I almost lost my will to live. I have spent most of my time in hell, thinking that I’d never find meaning and purpose in my life.

I was wrong. So, so wrong.

Everything I did because I wanted to claw my way out of hell has helped me on my journey towards success.

We often think of success as being single-focused. After all, the wildly successful among us, the Steve Jobs of the universe, were those who knew what they wanted and why.

But… didn’t Steve Jobs feel kind of lost when he quit college? When he stumbled upon a calligraphy class?

Of course he was.

He needed to be lost for a while in order to connect the dots. In order to find his life’s purpose, to figure out what it was that he wanted most from life.

I needed to wander for a while, too. Even though I thought I had it all mapped out. I needed it. I needed the trauma in order to wake me up, to realize that life is not a game of completion, but one of progress.

Life is a game of progress that never ends. A game of experimentation, of connecting seemingly unrelated dots, of failing, again and again, on your way to success.

Your twenties are the only years when you get to try to do everything you want.

You’re not reckless anymore as you used to be as a teen, and you are not tied down by responsibilities yet.

You can be brave.

You can fail, over and over again.

You can try many different things, all at once.

You can build emotional resilience by being a jerk and getting your heart broken. And then you can write a book about it.

And, yes, I know that as you approach thirty, you feel like the doors are closing. That the endless list of possibilities becomes a list of what ifs.

Life is passing you by.

But the truth is that none of that matters, because, to paraphrase Steve Jobs and Kurt Cobain at the same time, you can only see how the dots connected when you look backwards, and that’s when you will notice how much you needed it all. Even the tragedy. The heartbreaks. Being broke. Feeling lost. Struggling to find meaning and purpose.

Looking back at my twenties, I can say that I do not regret the fact that I wasted them. Not one bit.

Looking back now, I cannot think of a more tragic thing than waking up one day, when you’re forty, and realizing that all that you thought mattered to you doesn’t anymore. Realizing that you have built yourself this wonderful cage, and you no longer want to escape it.

That you haven’t built the emotional immunity to overcome failure and depression and heartbreak.

How terrible would that be like? How terrible would it be to spend your twenties and thirties with the love of your life, and then they’re gone? And it’s the first time you have to overcome such a loss? Or spending the same two decades working at a business that goes bankrupt? What then?

So, yes, it’s perfectly fine to waste your twenties, because you’re going to crush it later on it life.

Originally published on Medium.

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  1. Excellent frame on experience. Heck, mistakes are OFLs — Opportunities For Learning. Everything I ever did wrong, well, superficially, depthfully, brilliantly, stupidly, stupidlier-than stupidly. Every iota of every one brought me to right here right now. And, lots of chaff has blown off the wheat in the wind so to speak. Moltings and rites of passage like the snake its skin shedded, the snake its skin not missed. And, nonetheless I’m here.

    Thank you for sharing your path and the cairns and the deflating false summits along the way. Powerful and real.

    I remember as I approached 30, I was out climbing with some friends, and one said, “DOOD. I just realized. You are the ONLY one of us who hasn’t said a single contrary-to-popular-belief-God’s-last-name’s-not-dammit thing about turning 30. We’re all whining, moaning, and bitching about it, and you’ve said nada. What gives, Man?! What gives?” I started laughing, bellowing laughter echoing off the canyon walls laughing. “DaFuq was that? What’s so funny?”

    “Well, what’s so funny? What’s funny to me is that for a long long time, I mean, like, get this, for almost 30 years I’ve been getting closer and closer to 30. And, you know what? Soon, I’ll be getting further and further away from it. DOOD yourself, Man. It’s a false summit, not a peak. Why get excited to pity party and crisis monger it? Wasn’t it you who taught me not to blow it racing to what appears to be the peak when it’s just a false summit? That coming over the crest of the false summit you see the REST of the 1,500 vertical feet more to go and all the energy just leaves you? That that is dangerously deflating, which above treeline is dangerous in itself, never minding the 600 foot drop-off somewhere over to the left you might groc in the lax and lazy state caused by your frustration?” He started laughing, too. “How do you do that shit, Man?”

    Then 40. Then 50. My joke now is I must’ve skipped the decimal point class, zeroes have no value, and I turned 3, 4, and 5 again. I just lean into Einstein’s expression that repeating the same things expecting different results is one of the definitions of insanity.

    “So, yes, it’s perfectly fine to waste your twenties, because you’re going to crush it later on it life.” YES! Rockin’!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post. It was very inspiring. I know some of the things you are writing about very well – I’m in my late twenties myself, and I have my share of painful experiences and mistakes. Failure and feelings of being lost can be excruciating, but in that suffering we can develop something valuable that we understand only later.
    Some things cannot be measured in ordinary indicators of success, like money, degrees, and fame, but are much more important.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Very true words. I especially like this phrase:

    “Prefer known hells over unknown heavens.”

    Many people will continue down the same destructive or static path just because it’s familiar and they fear change even if that change will benefit them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a very timely post, Cristian! Thank you so much for this and I am way too happy for your growth.

    Lately I’ve been having a dilemma about letting go of my dream (becoming a doctor) for now and work on the things I can do to help me reach that dream. I want to earn money by doing what I love, save for my tuition, and go back to medicine since I still want to become a doctor in the future.

    It was too hard to admit this since I was looking at how far I had already went. I guess experimenting on my twenties will be the best decision I’ll ever make. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I wonder of your writings, how you are writing so seamlessly, it’s on the flow, have to learn from you, thanks for the post, and thanks for your persistence in posting….. It helps me a lot

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for this post, it’s very reassuring. I’m 32 and going through this process myself, of looking back and not liking too much of what I see… But I believe something can still be made from it.

    Liked by 2 people

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