For as long as I can remember, I was the ‘early kid.’ I started working (and making money) when I was 14. I built my first (unsuccessful) startup when I was still in high school and pitched it at the Russian Chamber of Commerce. My family told me they were proud of me, and that I am ‘one-of-a-kind.’ My friends told me they envy me. My girlfriend said she likes the fact that I am not like those ‘other jerks.’ And it seemed — for a long time — that I was doing everything right. The conventional wisdom is that I should be on a path to becoming a millionaire by 25, a billionaire by 30, and a gazillionaire by 35. This was how to live your 20s to the fullest. Right?
That’s what I hoped. That’s what I thought I wanted.
But even though I was doing everything ‘right’ by other people’s standards, deep inside, I always felt unfulfilled. I felt empty. Exhausted. Worried. Constantly worried.
I would wake up at night in terror. I would have panic attacks. Paranoia. Depression. I would cry. Break plates. Get irritated. Curse. Smoke. Drink.
My life would be great, but deep inside, I would feel as though I didn’t live, but existed.
I would lay in my bed at night, stare at the ceiling and wonder, “Is this it? Should I just exist until I achieve ‘success’ and then start living?”
Sometimes I would look at my friends (also in their twenties) having fun and think, that maybe having fun while you’re young is not as bad as I though. Not bad at all.
Maybe, just maybe — your youth exists not to be hyper-productive, but to explore, to discover, to learn, goof off, have fun, play, and enjoy life?
Maybe I should waste time for a change?
But then I would get an email notification from Fast Company, Entrepreneur, or some other Silicon Valley-success magazine with a headline, “This 19-Year-Old Makes $100M…” and I would feel jealous.
I would remind myself, that Steve Jobs had already launched Apple at my age, Bill Gates had Microsoft, and my dad’s friend made his first million when he was two years younger than me. Maybe this isn’t how you live your 20s to the fullest.
That’s the way I lived for a long time
Balancing between wonder, nostalgia, remembering how much fun and freedom I had when I was 16 and jealousy, motivation, ambition, the desire to succeed and prove the world that I mean something.
I would get angry, and I would clench my teeth and work harder. I would tell myself something stupid like, “No pain — no gain” and continue being the obsessed type-A personality that I am.
Then I would get more panic attacks, and the cycle would repeat itself.
But recently, I had enough. I started to feel the change. This change didn’t start happening suddenly, instead it accumulated for a long time, and now it began to show for itself.
In just three days, I:
- Almost had a nervous breakdown
- Told my old business partners to fuck off (something I wanted to do for a long time, but for some reason waited)
- Told my dad everything I wanted to say for a long time
- Discussed with my girlfriend that maybe we should slow down a little bit because our relationship is getting too serious too fast (something I used to think only infantile jerks said)
- Made an internal decision to stop prioritizing money, and live my life as if I was a billionaire on a 2-year sabbatical
Two people helped me:
- Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired Magazine.
- John C. Parkin, the author of the book Fuck It! — The Ultimate Spiritual Way.
It’s not the people that helped me per se, but rather the concepts they describe in their work. They helped me crystallize my thinking and understand the internal struggle that I had been going through all this time.
Kevin Kelly said, “Get Lost!”
And he meant it.
When he dropped out after his first year of college to go travel across Asia for a few years, he had no money and no prospects. As he said in one interview, in retrospect, it was one of the best decisions he made.
Too many young people (me included) don’t spend enough time being unproductive. We get good grades at school. Some of us get internships. We get jobs. And that’s how we lead our lives.
When Kevin Kelly saw young interns coming to work to Wired, his immediate reaction was, “What are you doing here? Don’t get a real job! Go around and play, get a ‘real job’ later!”
Productivity is for the middle ages.
Most twenty-year-olds don’t take time to do nothing, to explore, learn about life, ourselves, and the world. We grow up too quickly (to paraphrase Kevin Kelly, optimize prematurely).
The young discover so much only because they have so much time to waste.
We don’t spend enough time inventing ourselves.
“I have a son, who’s graduating next May. And all throughout school he got good grades, did internships and all of that. My advice to him graduating was to goof off. Have fun. Imagine you’re a billionaire and on a 2-year sabbatical. Live off minimal wages, eat beans and explore the world…”
The key to finding something is to stop looking for it.
If you look at most biographies of highly successful people, they all had a period of being lost and looking for themselves.
I realized that when you’re young, you owe that time to yourself. And you owe it to yourself to live your 20s to the fullest.
John Parkin said, “Fuck It!”
And life became much better.
Many people feel down because they think they don’t have enough meaning in their lives. John Parkin says that most human problems result from us having too much meaning. Our lives are too ‘meaning-full.’
Meaning means attachment. And in Buddhism, attachment = sin. When things that matter to us start bringing us pain (like wanting to become a millionaire and killing yourself with work or wanting to go out with that girl and tormenting ourselves with anxiety), it’s time to say ‘Fuck It.’
When you say ‘Fuck It!’ to things, you relax and sit back. You let go of the tension. You let go of desires, aspirations, pain, anxiety, and worry.
Your perspective shifts, and you realize that there wasn’t much to worry about in the first place.
You let go.
How to Live Your 20s To The Fullest
I am not a big believer in the ‘roaring twenties.’ I mean, I go to bed at 9 PM every day, and I like it. When people talk about ‘roaring twenties,’ they usually talk about drinking, partying, and being irresponsible.
But then there is another extreme. People, who don’t roar, people who work their asses off in their twenties and put themselves into a prison of high expectations. It’s the people who feel jealous, motivated, and ambitious — people who want it all and want it now.
It’s the people who set themselves stupid goals, like ‘getting a millionaire by 25’, not yet knowing that in 99% of cases such goals will break your heart.
But high expectations are toxic. Goals are poison. They make you attached, obsessed, unhappy, and neurotic.
These people don’t realize that if they let go — and say, do nothing for 1,2,3,4 years — nothing terrible will happen. They’ll wake up at 25–26–27–28 still young as fuck and full of energy to go and achieve whatever they want.
When it comes to how to live your 20s to the fullest, here is what I think an ideal twenty-something-year-old lifestyle should look like:
- Building a platform. Whatever that is for you. The secret to success is tocreated a foundation for it. A platform is something that takes a lot of time to build and develop, and it can give you a lot of opportunities later on. For me, my blog is my platform, and I believe that attention is more valuable than money in today’s world.
- Traveling as much as possible. Seeing all the places you wanted to see. The world is beautiful. And you don’t need a lot of money for that. I’ve heard too many stories of people in their retirement age traveling, seeing young couples backpacking across Europe, and saying, “I wish I had done that.”
- Reading all the books you want to read. The older you get, the more commitments and meaning you build into your life, and the harder it will be to have time to yourself. Read all the books you want to read now. Read whatever is interesting. Once it’s not exciting, get rid of it and get another book. Don’t finish books. There are too many great books to waste time trying to finish something you dislike.
- Learning as much as possible. About yourself. About the world. And about human nature. Learning means trying, risking, and experimenting. It means building skills. It means learning to play that game that takes 50 hours to learn. Right now is the time to do that.
You do all of these things instead of trying to ‘make it.’ And you do all of these things now, instead of leaving them until you ‘make it’ or until you retire.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, you’ll enjoy them more that way. And your 30–40–50-year-old self will thank you for having these fundamental formative experiences.
This is something I want to talk about more. It matters. I believe there are a lot of people in their twenties who push themselves too hard. I feel more young folks will benefit from examples of people living their own lives, rather than fulfilling somebody’s expectations.
And I realize that in order to be that example, I have to live this way myself. James Brown was right. You can’t teach others if you’re living the same way, so make a start, and live your 20s to the fullest.