“Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.” – Van Wilder
It seems like the prevailing advice today for anyone in their twenties is to live their lives free of any commitments and as independent and undirected as possible. As a workaholic entrepreneur since I finished school, it never really resonated with me, but even I have found myself prioritizing based on the fact that my 20s are unique time I can do things I wouldn’t be able to any other time in my life.
A friend recently recommended I read The Definining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them now. After reading it, I realized the importance of my twenties to a degree I never had and it has changed how I plan to approach the last few years of my 20s.
Written by a clinical psychologist, the book hits on all the key aspects of your life: Work, Love and your Body. There are many great takeaways, but the 3 biggest that have stuck with me are:
1) Your 20s lay the groundwork for success in the rest of your career.
Whether you’ve spent too much time as a bartender or waitress or in tech living in your parent’s basement as you “work on your startup”, you could be preventing your life from moving forward in a way that will make you successful and happy in the future.
Maybe Starbucks is enough to be happy now, but can you raise a child with that pay? More importantly, do you want to be doing exactly what you’re doing now in 10 years? If not, does your current job get your foot in the door? If you aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, maybe you should think about how to build a career in a startup as opposed to being a young, fledgling founder forever.
No one starts at the top. It starts with a dues-paying low level job where you excel and get more and more opportunities. I had a master’s degree and still had to start with a part time internship to get my foot in the door in tech. That internship led to the person I interned for getting me a full time job at a startup they were on the board of. The founder of that company then introduced me to Hiten Shah as a mentor and now I run product for his company, KISSmetrics. This is how most successful people I know have built their careers, and it always starts small.
Lesson: Don’t put off starting to build a career. The sooner you start out in an industry and role you like, the sooner you can grow into a satisfying career.
2) Statistically, women need to have all their children by 35.
According to the author, a woman’s ability to get pregnant plummets starting in her mid-thirties. To make matters worse, the odds of a miscarriage for a woman over 35 is one in four. This is a scary statistic that brings images to my mind of a couple struggling to get pregnant only to lose their child during pregnancy. No one wants that.
The thought of a family has been far from my mind all through my 20s. I’ve put my career goals ahead of everything else. At the same time, I’ve known I do eventually want to have a family. Realizing these statistics has led me to better understand the choices I make and the time I’m working against. It now makes a lot more sense why there’s so many founders in their early 30s that have started families.
Lesson: If having a family is part of your life’s goals, you probably have less time than you think. If you’re a guy that wants to marry a woman relatively the same age as you, the clock is ticking on you just as much as it is for her.
3) Your brain finishes forming in your 20s.
I always thought your mind was formed as a child and that by the end of your teens your brain was probably what it was going to be until the decline began in your 30s or 40s. As it turns out, your frontal cortex goes through great change in your 20s before it is set more permanently in your 30s (imagine wet concrete hardening). Per Wikipedia,
The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.
As a person whose goal is build a massive company, I realize I need to develop as many of the skills I need to lead such a company now, because in a few years it may be difficult or almost impossible to grow in the ways necessary to handle the role. As I hear about founders that can’t (or don’t want to) run a company once it reaches a certain size, I think about the challenges of scaling yourself and the development required.
Lesson: Whatever your career and life goals, realize that the skills you develop and the personality you forge in your 20s will determine many of your abilities the rest of your life.
Few books I’ve read have led to as much personal introspection as reading this one. If these concepts interest you, I highly recommend you check out: The Definining Decade: