Inspired by recent movies on time travel, I often think about what I would tell my 20-year-old self if I could. Aside from lottery tickets, or investment opportunities, I would tell him the lessons I have learned.
Do you know if you can’t time travel, what the best way to time travel is? By learning from people that have ‘been there, done that’. So let me share the best advice I would tell my past self.
Building a habit of saving and investing money
Save and invest money early, even if it is only a few dollars a month (or less). It’s not the amount of money that is important, it’s building the habit early on of spending less than what you earn. The habit of saving and investing money, and then seeing it grow without doing anything on your part is extremely addictive and even if I had started earlier, I bet I would have wished I could have started even earlier than that.
Dating is like practice for a relationship
I wasn’t very successful in trying to approach people at bars or at clubs. After university, it was hard meeting other people. I found the best way to meet people was to join social groups you would do even if you didn’t find anyone suitable to date. So if you like playing scrabble, join a scrabble club and if you meet someone, that’s a bonus.
I tried online dating for a while and had a few dates, but things never panned out. Nothing wrong with that, but until you start dating someone, you won’t really know what you like or dislike in a relationship. I found being in a relationship as a skill you can learn, and you can’t learn unless you are in a relationship.
Exercise and eating healthy gives you more energy
I would like to think I’m quite healthy nowadays, and I try to exercise 3-4 times a week, but I could always do more. This focus on my health came from when I was in my 20s where I watched what I ate and exercised regularly. Again, it’s not how much I exercised or how many vegan days I had, but the habit of doing this that was ingrained into my sense of identity that is important.
Work ridiculously hard in your 20s
I don’t think I worked as hard as I could have in my 20s. Seeing where I am now, and comparing myself with others (which you shouldn’t do because it’s never an apple to apple comparison), I find myself wondering where I would have ended up now if I had worked stupidly hard in my 20s – to the point where I had no work-life balance.
I believe the work you do in your 20s and 30s sets your direction for your career. Work super hard, build a great network, find that path up into management and you will be high up in the ranks later. Don’t work as hard, have an average network, and find yourself with only one or two promotions, and you will be eclipsed by others working twice as hard and who also know how to play the game.
Avoid debt if you can
Perhaps I wasn’t strong enough to speak for myself, but I was convinced by my parents and by friends that housing was a good investment. It certainly might be, but would I rather have a mortgage to pay off or money in hand to invest? I think I would rather have a large chunk of money to invest. Knowing what I know now about investments and index funds, I would likely be in a much better financial situation now if I didn’t have a large debt to pay off – that’s not to say that mortgage is bad debt and that it’s not for you, just that it can limit or reduce your future options (moving to another country, starting your own business, etc.).
Building a library and a reading habit
What is a better investment than an investment in yourself? I love the personal library I have built, but if you can’t afford it, use the library. There are lots of great resources available, at a low cost or even free. Books have opened up all sorts of opportunities for me – whether it’s chiming in with an answer to a work problem, co-hosting a podcast, writing books, speaking opportunities and more.
Even better is to read and re-read books with timeless wisdom. How do you know it has timeless wisdom? They have been bestsellers for a long time. Think ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ or ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. My personal recommendation? Yes or No by Spencer Johnson. It’s a book on making better decisions and since we make hundreds or even thousands of decisions a day, making better decisions can change our trajectory for the better.
Focus on developing a few key skills
Aside from developing your knowledge in whatever area you are in (if you’re a business analyst: business analysis; if you’re an accountant: accounting, etc.), there are a few key skills I think have accelerated my career:
- Communication skills – this includes presenting, speaking, writing, video and any other communication medium you can think of. Communication skills multiply your existing skills.
- Decision making – when you improve how you make decisions, you won’t see any impact on your day-to-day activities. But for those big decisions in your life, you will learn how to think through a decision and make a better, or even the best decision you can, with the information you have.
- Selling – we’re all sales people in some shape or form, whether we are selling goods or services to others, selling yourself to a future employer, selling your companionship to a potential mate, etc. Learning how to sell means you can also avoid being sold.
- Networking – recently read The Long Game by Dorie Clark and I like how she approaches networking: by approaching it with an infinite horizon. There’s no immediate benefit for you nor any immediate benefit for the person you are networking with. You build a relationship by providing value through ideas or other contacts. And that’s it, you don’t expect anything in return. Ever.
Travel more because you learn a lot by learning about others
Everybody wishes they could travel more. I enjoy travelling because not only do I get to learn about another culture, people, food, language, etc. but it’s like looking at yourself in a funky mirror. You change how you perceive yourself. You realize what you have and you are grateful. And you learn something new about yourself (at least I always do when I travel somewhere).