I’ve given this question a lot of thought, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to answer it… and have the chance to compose my ideas on the subject.
I think there are things that I could have done in my 20s that would have put me light years ahead in my 30s and 40s.
If I could go back in time and talk to myself, I would have some suggestions and I’ll share those with you.
I spent most of my 20s having an extended childhood.
I dropped out of college because I was taking courses to impress my parents.
I was the manager of a comic book store, because I loved comics and all my friends hung out there. Then I figured out there was no money in comic book stores so I got a “real” job and found out there wasn’t really much money there either.
My nights were filled with visits to clubs, hanging out with friends, playing video games, and just enjoying life.
I had a lot of fun in my 20s, but near the end of the decade I realized that I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do. Somewhere along the road I took a detour and I needed to correct my course.
Turning the corner
Approaching 30, I finally started asking some questions about who I was and what I wanted to contribute to the world—and that’s when things started to fall into place.
I did a mental exercise where I imagined what my perfect life would be like in 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years. I didn’t just figure out my ideal job, I thought about where I would live, what my day would be like, the friends I would have, how I would look and anything else that would make my goals as real as possible in my mind.
Then I started working backwards to figure out what I had to do to get to that ideal self.
It’s not enough to imagine all of those things; you have to write them down.
The act of writing your goals and dreams do a couple of things for you. It forces you to nail down what’s really in your mind, and it gives you a tangible record that you can refer to over time.
Writing in a journal will pay off in ways that you couldn’t possibly imagine.
Your ideas will buy your future.
Habitual writing will ignite your mind. If you’re not capturing your thoughts, you will work twice as hard and achieve half as much.
Writing is also an exceptional skill to have in your quiver. It’s a dying art, and one that will separate you from the crowd.
By the way, writing quality answers here on Quora is excellent writing practice.
I eventually went back to college, and the second time around I found myself a regular member of the Dean’s List. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re taking the right courses.
When I got out of college I realized that there was still so much I didn’t know. While they taught me about film, video and photography, they really dropped the ball on business, life, and success.
So, I became a voracious reader.
I engaged in a campaign to educate myself on any subject that inspired me. One book led to another. Over the years I’ve learned ten times more than I ever learned in high school or college.
I’m still learning, and it’s given me an advantage over other people who think they have it all figured out.
Ready to get started? Here are three excellent books about crafting your life:
- Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, Gary Vaynerchuk
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated), Timothy Ferriss
- Choose Yourself!, James Altucher, Dick Costolo
What makes you unique?
Whether you’re in a 9-to-5 job or you work for yourself, you will benefit from discovering what sets you apart, and broadcasting it to the world.
In my 20s, I made the mistake of trying to be many things to many people. I wasn’t very good at anything in particular.
After all the introspection I did, the writing and reading, I had an excellent idea of who I was, what I valued most, and where I wanted to be. I set myself apart by finding a niche that backed up what I discovered.
Clearing away all the distractions and focusing on your specialty will accelerate your learning. It’s also going to help you build a reputation in the field.
The next step is to practice good personal branding. Write down what makes you unique and be consistent about putting that out there. Put it on your resume, your social networking sites, your own website, your business cards, and any other place that you interact with the world.
Once I nailed down my personal brand, magical things began to happen. Connections and opportunities came to my door with increasing regularity. I became the go-to guy for my niche, something that continues today.
Putting it all together
What I regret most about my 20s is not figuring out what I should be doing earlier. While I had a lot of fun—and I think your 20s should be fun—if I had worked on crafting my life at the beginning of the decade, I would have found happiness earlier.
I’ve got two final thoughts on this subject.
It’s never too late to start designing your life. This works if you’re in your late teens, your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond. In fact, I know many people who retire and have to go through this process to discover what they will do with all the free time they have.
If your life is not moving in the right direction, fix it.
Finally, don’t get trapped by thinking you have to stick with your plan if it’s not working. If your new life and your brand is not what you imagined, then go back to step one and figure out where you got off course.
You deserve to live the life of your dreams.
It took me a little under ten years to become the guy in this photo. The life I created was close to what I imagined a decade earlier.
I’m still working to create my perfect life, but I feel like I’m on the right path and that I have the tools to get me there.
“What should one do in their 20s to avoid regrets in their 30s and 40s?“ originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and access insider knowledge. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google. More questions: