My 20’s through the lens of the early 30’s. Lessons learned.

Life at 25

Life was so tough at the time this picture was taken. (Or at least it felt so at that moment).

During my Master studies I was an active member of STAR, the study association of the Erasmus University (RSM), and together with a group of other members, we organized a study trip to India for our fellow colleagues.

At the time of the trip, June 2012, I was in the middle of my Master thesis and mentally preparing myself for a new chapter: life after university.

As a result of the many job applications I had sent, the career fairs and the in-house days I had visited, I had luckily already secured my first job – a one-year traineeship programme at Vodafone.

At that time I knew that I would spend the summer behind my laptop finalizing my thesis. I also knew that I would join the Vodafone B2B marketing team and commute from The Hague to Amsterdam for 5 days a week. Besides this, there was not much more I could say with certainty about my near future.

This is most probably the best way to describe the ten years between the 20’s and the 30’s:

UNCERTAINTY.

 

Everything seemed so big and complex when I was in my 20’s: too many decisions to make; too much pressure to act as wisely as possible; too much comparison and competition with the people my age.

The following questions were running through my head with the pace of a high-speed train:

Which university to apply to? Which country to choose for my exchange semester? Which courses should I take next term? Should I go for a Master degree directly after my Bachelors? Should I apply for another internship or look for a job? Should I buy a house or not? Should I get married or not?

 

How the hell should I know what’s best for me?!?

Lessons learned

Looking back through the eyes of my early 30’s, there are many insights I would like to share with you.

But as there are already numerous articles written on this topic, instead of listing all the insights my mind can come up with, I would rather focus on just two very practical ones that I wish I had known when I was in my 20’s.

Hopefully, the following two insights will be somewhat useful to you, too.

Insight #1: When it comes to your skills invest in your strengths

Have you seen Jay Shetty’s video called The 100 Hour Rule? (Don’t worry, the link is available again at the end of the article).

According to this video, research amongst the most wealthy and successful people in the world shows that they would invest most of their time in what they are good at and not more than 20% of their time (if any at all) in what they are average or bad at. Surprised?

I wish I had known this in my 20’s when I was trying to be perfect in all areas of my life.

My strategy was to spend more time on what I was bad at because the things I was good at didn’t need so much attention anyway (or so I thought).

This conviction made me take additional courses in Finance, Accounting, and Statistics, for example, knowing that these were clearly not my strengths. I chose for projects and departments I had zero affinity with, just for the sake of expanding my skill set.

Contrary to my expectation, I became even more confused as I was doing so many different things. On the one hand, I forgot what I was actually good at. On the other hand, I was neither improving my weaknesses nor my strengths.

Only after I started narrowing down my focus to developing the skills I was good at and brought me joy, I experienced real success. Or even better said, I started feeling true fulfillment.

If someone would have told me that I would become a full-time project manager who would also have various volunteer roles such as a Holland Career Ambassador, a member at the Toastmasters public speaking community, and who would publish articles for fun, I definitely wouldn’t have believed it.

Perhaps had I been even more true to myself I might even have ended up being the best professional surfer in Bali or the most zen yoga teacher in India. Who knows… 😉

By investing our time in our strengths we can excel at them and become unbeatable.

So, instead of feeling miserable about all the things you are terrible at, why not focus on the one or two things you are good at and excel at it?

 

Insight #2: Trust your own judgment and intuition

Each choice you make will help you get to know yourself better.

Relax.

Don’t spend too long to think things over and don’t put too much pressure on yourself that you need to make the right choice the first time. There is no right and wrong.

The best you can do is simply weigh the pro’s and con’s and do whatever seems most logical or feels right for you at that moment. What doesn’t feel good for you will be painful and will drain you anyways.

It is not a failure to admit to yourself that you are not at the right place and to move on. I suffered a lot when I quit my first two jobs. Even though I felt that the working environment was not a good match for me, it still felt like a failure to not stay longer and prosper, like many of my friends did at the time.

It took me one internship and two jobs to finally figure out what is important for me in a working environment.

Many of us, Millennials, are too naive to expect that we will simply wake up one morning with our clear life purpose in mind. Some of us are lucky to know theirs early in their lives. (And to be honest, sometimes I envy them for this).

For the rest of us, it will most probably take us our whole lives to figure out who we are and what our purpose is. This is already a nice challenge in itself. And even when we know our life purpose, there will still be times when we’ll need to review our priorities and goals.

No one knows better than you how you feel and what is best for you. So, whatever your parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, neighbors and whomever you might think of right now, are trying to convince you of, dare to listen to your own inner voice.

There is nothing wrong with changing jobs, cities, countries, rethinking our relationships, acquiring additional degrees or completing professional/personal development courses.

People change, preferences and opinions change. We learn and grow.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, they will help you learn faster.

After all, you rather make your own choices and suffer the consequences, than let someone else pull your strings.

Life at 31

Six years after my study trip to India, I feel much more settled.

I know myself much better and I can differentiate what is important to me and what not. I have a few years of experience and I feel confident in my job.

I am happily married to my high school sweetheart (I hate how cheesy this sounds but that’s the very reason I am using this expression) and we own (well, hopefully in 25 years from now we finally will) a wonderful apartment I am proud to return to after each amazing holiday.

There is always some uncertainty in life, but as you can see its level has dropped down quite a bit.

I can proudly say that I don’t miss my twenties. And yes, I do realize that I am probably one of the few people who would say that.

However, these “rollercoaster” years certainly have their charm. I wouldn’t have been the person I am today if it weren’t for all the experiences and lessons from the past ten years.

 

How about you?

Dear 20-year-old’s,

By sharing my personal story I hope that at least some of you would be able to better understand your mixed feelings and emotions.

What are your challenges and dilemma’s?

Do you recognize parts of yourself in some of the examples?

Dear 30-year-old’s,

Do you share similar experiences?

Is there something you would like to add or share with the younger generation?

 

Please use the comments section below. Let’s share and learn from each other!

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