I turned 25 earlier this month, on Sunday 11 September 2016. Twenty five years isn’t a very long time, to be honest, and I can hardly claim to have seen much. Still, here are some things a quarter century of living has taught me.
1. Choose yourself
Possibly the most important thing I’ve learnt, and how I wish I had learnt this much earlier. In life you have to be a little selfish. In almost all cases choose yourself. This also happens to be the title of an awesome book by James Altucher.
2. Value your Relationships
No man (or woman) is an island, we all live in societies and interact with hundreds of people and possibly thousands online. These relationships are very important. Value them.
Try to be on the best of terms with your family. You cannot choose family and at some point you will need them. Do not create unnecessary drama. And there is nothing like a beer with a sibling/siblings and uncles, aunts etc. It is priceless.
More importantly, I think, are your friends. After college it becomes increasingly difficult to meet new friends. Sure, there’ll always be a colleague or two from work or the bar who you can have a drink with or discuss the weekend’s games but that saying about old friends being like wine Is true.
These old friends know you, they’ve been there since day one. I’ve found that my best friends, the most reliable, all weather friends are those I met as a kid and when I started high school. I did meet a couple at varsity but these are few. Cherish them.
I cannot say much about girlfriends/boyfriends but I guess the same applies.
3. Be healthy
I’ve mostly been healthy- barring a bit of weight gained here and there- so I have always taken health for granted. However as I get older I see how important it is to be in shape.
Beyond the immediate, selfish reasons of looking good in clothes and to women (and men), being healthy is very important. Your mind functions better, you feel better. It boosts confidence and self-esteem and keeps you away from the doctors and possibly an early death.
4. Educate yourself
Regardless of the extent of one’s formal education, there is always room for improvement. There are always books to absorb, blogs to read, crafts to learn, languages to learn, skills to acquire and cultures to explore.
Learn to code, play the guitar, learn French, build robots, enroll for an arts course or design websites. It is truly never too late. I remember sitting at the same table with a 62 year old undergraduate at the University of Zimbabwe years ago. I didn’t get it then but I now do.
Read, write, learn, build. At the very least it’ll make you a more exciting person and make you appreciate the true extent of your ignorance- itself a vital stage of learning.
5. Express yourself
Never conform to societal expectations or keep silent just because you are afraid of offending people. Be yourself, conformity is the enemy of progress. However don’t be rude.
It’s perfectly fine to believe there’s no God, to believe there’s God, to support Inter Milan or Wigan Athletic. Do not let the noise of the world drown you.
6. Stand for what you believe in
Often I have found myself defending unpopular views. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right, but at all times I will stand for what I believe in.
Be it gay rights, the death sentence or democracy, do not be afraid of stating your position. Attend those rallies, wave your banners, tweet the struggle.
There is no trivial battle if you truly believe. There’s no cause too small. Of course you should always accept that sometimes your views are wrong and need to be changed.
7. Say no
Saying no is underrated. Often we agree to things without thinking about them much. A colleague invites you to their party and you offhandedly say yes only to realize that you got stuff to do that Saturday.
Saying no is better than not keeping promises. Say no to things that you cannot do, events you cannot attend and tasks you can’t complete.
8. Wander a little (and create memories)
When you are young you often do not know what you want to do with your life. I didn’t too, and I still think I don’t.
I wanted (and want) to become a teacher, a journalist, an architect, a politician, a writer, a pool champion, a millionaire and hundreds of other things. I know I cannot become all these things but I can learn of them what I can. I can travel, teach, read economics, meet new people and do a whole lot of other things.
There’ll always be people steering you to their goals and what they think is good for you. Sometimes you need to give them the middle finger.
It’s your life. You can wander a little, change your degree, and decide to move to Morocco or Kazakhstan or study the languages of Brazilian tribesmen.
As Tolkien would say, “Not all who wander are lost.”
9. Don’t be afraid of trying
There’s so much in that nursery rhyme: If at first you don’t succeed, Try , try, try again. No matter the odds or circumstances, do what you believe is worth it. Give it your best shot.
Approach the pretty girl, enter the half marathon, apply for the scholarship. Showing up is huge. Because most people never do, just showing up may be enough.
Failure is not the end. Rather it is a lesson, a chance to improve. And I’ve learnt that failure is much better than regret- that endless what ifs.
Anomander Rake (A great fictional character) advises in Book 8 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen- Toll the Hounds: “There is no struggle to vast, no odds too overwhelming, for even should we fail- should we fall- we will know that we have lived.
10. Do not compete, Improve
In the world of social media it is easy to constantly measure oneself against the achievements not only of one’s peers but also against the whole world. You will see twenty years olds who have made millions, teenagers living dream lives in the Mediterranean and twenty somethings that are already retired.
This can make the best of us bitter and cynical. We’ll lose hope and think little of our worth. What I’ve realized is that there will always be people who are richer, better looking, smarter and more popular. It shouldn’t matter.
Rather the goal is to improve oneself. Always.
Bonus: Be happy
OK, this is quite generic and all but seriously be happy. Don’t give too many f%£&s about the world. Forgive, forget, drink a little, be stoic, don’t let the world ruin your beer.
I like this statement by Obama: “All of us, we make mistakes,” he said. “And at times we are lost. And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things — not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.”
Respond to the world like a boss.