Why You Should NOT Soul Search in Your 20s

by Alexander Heyne · 23 comments

“Wake up! If you knew for certain you had a terminal illness–if you had little time left to live–you would waste precious little of it! Well, I’m telling you…you do have a terminal illness: It’s called birth. You don’t have more than a few years left. No one does! So be happy now, without reason–or you will never be at all.”

- Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Lone Tree

If I hear one more person in their 20s say that “your 20s are for soul searching, partying, and traveling” I’m going to start kicking puppies.

Throughout my travels and adventures, I often meet a lot of 20 somethings (and 30,40,50 somethings) trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

And I very often meet one particular kind of person: the person who says “we’re gonna live to 100 anyway… 20 is the new 30, so I’ve got plenty of time to figure my shit out.”

…Except it’s not true.

And most of these people I meet end up saying the same thing for one year, then five, then ten, then twenty. Many of the ones I’ve met haven’t progressed much in their lives, are no closer to figuring out what they enjoy, and are no sooner going to be living the life they want.

The people I usually meet with this mindset have lives that looked the same at 18 as they do now at 35. No growth. No progress. No change.

The other day I heard a fantastic talk by Meg Jay, called “Why 30 is not the new 20.” And, in case you haven’t heard her talk (I’ll link to it below), this woman is spot on.

Let me share some points that will blow your mind.

What Do You Think Happens When You Say “You’ve Got Plenty of Time” To a 20 Something? (Jack shit.)

Dr. Jay says something along these lines in her video – that the most damaging thing you can ever possibly say to a 20 something is “Oh, you’ve got plenty of time, you don’t need to figure it out now.”

And what happens?

We just stall further. We avoid asking ourselves the hard questions in life (One of the biggest life mistakes you can make in your 20s).

We put off the important stuff.

We take shitty jobs that don’t matter.

We date shitty partners because “we’re not going to marry them anyway.”

We tell ourselves “there’s no rush.”

But I’m here to tell you something way different.

It is urgent that you figure out the life you want to live now, as soon as possible, not later.

URGENCY.

This talk sort of re-fired up one of the main principles I want to encourage all of you to follow: figure your shit out now!

Life goes by fast – really fast – you don’t have time to spare. None of us do.

You’re 25 now, and tomorrow you’re 35 with two kids, a spouse, and not enough money – and no time to pursue stuff you’re passionate about.

You’re 25 now, and tomorrow you’re 55 having your midlife crisis because you never focused on the important stuff when you were young… and now you have to figure it out when you have fewer resources, time, and poorer health.

But there’s one other big problem which is…

Avoiding Asking The Hard Questions Now = Getting Shafted by Life Later


Dr. Jay brings up a really interesting scenario, that goes something like this:

20 something doesn’t want to get a real job. “I don’t want to get stuck and chained to a desk.”

20 something takes a part time job, or an entry level job. “I want my free time.”

20 something remains under-employed, barely making enough money for self. “I want to just enjoy life and not work so hard, I can figure out what I like later.”

20 something becomes 30 something… meets a nice man or woman, and settles down.

30 something no longer has enough money, and is forced to find a job that will provide that money.

30 something no longer has time to “find his/her passion” or start a career over.

30 something now has kids, and is further bound financially.

30 something realizes he/she hated this job for the past 10 years, but can’t take exit plan because he/she has a family and kids.

30 something becomes 50 something – and because she is having a midlife crisis, she doesn’t feel like she is in the life she wanted, feels like it’s all a dream, and she’s tired of it all.

Following me?

All this because she avoided the important stuff when young. But once she hit her 30s or 40s she got crunched by trying to solve several huge life problems at once: finances, relationships, kids, purpose, meaning, passion, etc. And at that point, she couldn’t afford to address them all.

So Here’s What You Should be Doing…

It doesn’t matter if you’re 18, or 60.

Focus on working your ass off for the life you truly want. Many of you already know what that is. If you don’t, begin the road to experimentation.

Start today.

Find or make work you enjoy, that pays you enough for the lifestyle you want.

Live the life you want to read about in books and stories.

Start doing less in life, and start doing more stuff that is meaningful.

Do a flow test for a month – eliminate the shit you hate, do more of the stuff that makes your life worth living.

You Have a Terminal Illness – It’s called LIFE.

“Wake up! If you knew for certain you had a terminal illness–if you had little time left to live–you would waste precious little of it! Well, I’m telling you… you do have a terminal illness: It’s called birth. You don’t have more than a few years left. No one does! So be happy now, without reason–or you will never be at all.”

- Way of the Peaceful Warrior

I’m going to leave you with this quote I found in Way of the Peaceful warrior.

None of us have lots of time. We just think we do.

The more you put off the hard questions, the harder you make your life later. Do the hard work today.

30 is not the new 20.

So stop wasting your time on work, people, and activities that don’t matter, and start pursuing the shit that does matter.

- Alex

P.S. Here’s the talk I was referring to. Listen when you get a chance. I suspect the talk will be polarizing – many of you will love it, many of you will hate it.

Image credits: Freedigitalphotos.net

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

val the great February 4, 2014 at 4:21 pm

well i just turned 30 and i’ve learned so much about myself and where im headed. here’s the thing though that i find conflicting,. we all have different destinies so maybe no matter which path you’re on, you’re on the right one regardless if its good or bad, theres always something to take away from the experience. This is a great article. I did throw away a lot of time away in my 20s thinking i had all the time in the world to figure my life out. Although i have the basics covered and my health, im now ready to get organized and start aiming for the things i love with a clear head. im glad im doing it now though cuz i feel more confident with myself and am beginning to learn who i am. that is part of the growing up process. A 20 year old is still testing the waters of life and when you go out into the world after high school/college wanting to conquer the world and you get spit back out, thats when the hardcore reality starts to set in. Becoming more aware and expanding on the things you love in life will be the ticket to freedom. i love this site.

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Alexander Heyne February 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm

“we all have different destinies so maybe no matter which path you’re on, you’re on the right one regardless if its good or bad, theres always something to take away from the experience.”

Great great great point Val. I couldn’t agree more.

“A 20 year old is still testing the waters of life and when you go out into the world after high school/college wanting to conquer the world and you get spit back out, thats when the hardcore reality starts to set in”

You are spot on. This is wisdom right here.

This was a very hard time for me (as it is for many others). Reality does indeed chew you up and spit you out… and THAT is when life begins. That’s when you learn what you’re made of, you know?

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db21 February 4, 2014 at 5:29 pm

After listening to Meg Jay’s TED talk a few weeks ago, I decided to read her book “The Defining Decade”. And I believe she does a great job figuring out how 20 year olds behave based on situations they’ll encounter. It’s definitely worth a read.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Defining-Decade-Twenties-Matter-And/dp/0446561754

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Alexander Heyne February 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Totally agree DB! I read it recently myself.

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N. Smith February 4, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Oh, wow. This entry is kind of like a bucket of cold water straight to the face. :)

Sends me into even more of a “time panic” than I’ve been in over the last several years as I’ve tried to figure out what I really need to do to get myself on the path to my right life. This reminds me I’d better think less, and do more.

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Alexander Heyne February 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm

N.

YES! Think less do more ;)

Don’t let it panic you. Let it FOCUS you.

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Daisy February 4, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Dear Alex,

I’m glad I clicked your website last September . I was a junior student in college having an internship in a Titanium metal company. I hated my job because I didn’t understand myself and my personality type. I’m the type that I guess I won’t fit for a office job in my all life. Then I started seeking some other kind of jobs and seeking truth about myself by reading some books. Your articles are truly are enlightments and inspirations to me. You definately help me a lot. Now I totally have a clue what I want to do with my life. And I made some conclusions from my experiences too, I’m couching other people right now . I wrote articles like ‘how to become confident’ ‘how to manage your time’ stuffs like that . I got more than 6000 like it and 2000 people followed.
Sorry for my bad English if I made mistakes. I’m a Chinese. I know you have came to China before. Thank you. Alex. If you ever come to China again. Please let me treat you.

sincerely grateful
Daisy

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Alexander Heyne February 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Hi Daisy,

That’s awesome, congratulations on figuring out what you really enjoy doing and what you should be doing. Keep going :)

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Shannon B February 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Alex…good thoughts here. I overall agree with the sentiment of your post, but I have a couple reactions.

1. I disagree with the phrase “your 20s are for soul searching, partying, and traveling”, but for a different reason. I think this leads to a structured, black-and-white view of “how life should be lived”. I don’t think (or maybe I just haven’t seen it in my life) that it tends to lead to people squandering time. On the flip side, I think it leads to a maniacal haste to “get things done” according to a timetable that has been largely invented by our society. And this haste in adhering to the timetable leads to adopting societally-born ideals which do not benefit said citizen in a deep or profound way. Which leads me to…

2. Despite agreeing with the overall premise of your article, I think there are undertones present derived from that ‘urgency’ provided by society in general to “get things done on time”. I know that what you’re referring to here is different — Hey, take control of your life, actualize, get the show on the road — whereas the overall sentiment put forth by society is more like, ‘Hey, take control of your life by marrying and having a child by age XX, personal happiness be damned’. That IS a difference, but I think your article inspires the same societal pressure, which can be interpreted by our subconscious minds in the same way: “Oh shit, I’m doing things wrong, I’m behind” etc.

And I bring this up only because while I believe people SHOULD get their personal show on the road as soon as they are able — like you said, whether age 18 or 60 — sometimes that winding road through the 30s and 40s, all the way to the mid-life crisis, is NECESSARY for individual people to come to this realization because that’s all it is, their own life path.

You can’t force someone to get their show on the road until they have the necessary life experiences that lead them to that revelation. And that may happen at 18, or 60, or on their deathbed. But making them feel behind the game, or pressured, or rushed, doesn’t facilitate the learning experience.

Great article, keep up the good work!

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Alexander Heyne February 5, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Hey Shannon,

““your 20s are for soul searching, partying, and traveling”, but for a different reason. I think this leads to a structured, black-and-white view of “how life should be lived”. I don’t think (or maybe I just haven’t seen it in my life) that it tends to lead to people squandering time. On the flip side, I think it leads to a maniacal haste to “get things done” according to a timetable that has been largely invented by our society.”

Very very good point. And I agree with you – there is a fine balance. I want to instill a sense of urgency, but I don’t want people to feel like this means they need to settle down and have babies PRONTO. You’re totally right that this is a pretty black and white ideology.

” Hey, take control of your life, actualize, get the show on the road — whereas the overall sentiment put forth by society is more like, ‘Hey, take control of your life by marrying and having a child by age XX, personal happiness be damned’.”

You’ve got me all figured out :D

“But making them feel behind the game, or pressured, or rushed, doesn’t facilitate the learning experience. ”

Another good point. BUT I think some people do need the kick. Some people fail to try and gain insight into their own lives for whatever reason, they (we) make the same mistakes over and over, they (we) fail to grow after years or even decades. And they (we) continue to flounder for that reason. So for those people that are dilly-dallying and wasting time, this is what I hoped they’d read !

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Wlad Huber February 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Hey Alexander, again a really great article, keep doing it. Also very glad that you recently announced that you want to start offering personal coaching. You are on the right path.

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Tammy February 6, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Hi Alex:

Great point you made with your scenarios of moving from 20s to 30s and then getting overwhelmed with too many tasks. The older you get the more priorities you have and find yourself living to please others or meet their goals or have too many financial responsibilities. I like this ‘Doing the hard work today does make life easier.’

Unfortunately too many companies focus on encouraging workers to sit in one job even when you have outgrown it. Likewise, family and friends when persons to stay in your comfort zone. It really takes a lot of reading of articles like yours to remind us that we can do much better.

Thanks for the link to ‘begin the road to experimentation’. Keep up the great work :)

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Alexander Heyne February 6, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Hey Tammy,

Totally – people can get convinced or seduced into staying in one spot. Don’t fall into that trap if it’s not the life you want to live.

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Polly Owens March 14, 2014 at 5:03 pm

So much real talk, wisdom and sanity all in one page and blog! If I read one more unapologetic, you should “find yourself” useless Thought Catalog-type article, I’m gonna lose it. That kind of advice may sound good, but for some reason just always left me even more confused about life and the direction I’m headed. I realize this: How can you “find” yourself if you’re walking around with no direction or purpose? How can you have a “self” to find if you’re not developing it? Our identities aren’t fully formed and buried deep in the dirt like an archeologist’s bounty, but have not been created yet and must be built from the ground up.

I’m 21. Perhaps as a female with a ticking clock, I’ve got even LESS time before needing to settle down, because I decided I DO want a family someday, just not before I’ve developed my potential and life. Your site is very motivating and a powerful wake up call to someone to who too, admittedly, thought that way, planning to travel aimlessly indefinitely and not really thinking of much else. Now, I’m thinking of the skills I can start building and choosing the career and life I want, instead of getting tossed around in my delusions.

Thanks! Keep the great content coming–the world (or at least our adolescent culture) needs to hear this!

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Alexander Heyne March 16, 2014 at 10:45 am

Hey Polly,

I’m 21. Perhaps as a female with a ticking clock, I’ve got even LESS time before needing to settle down, because I decided I DO want a family someday, just not before I’ve developed my potential and life. Your site is very motivating and a powerful wake up call to someone to who too, admittedly, thought that way, planning to travel aimlessly indefinitely and not really thinking of much else. Now, I’m thinking of the skills I can start building and choosing the career and life I want, instead of getting tossed around in my delusions.

Thanks! Keep the great content coming–the world (or at least our adolescent culture) needs to hear this!

You both have plenty of time, and not much time :D As far as I see it, you should always instill a little bit of urgency in your life…without it making you feel stressed, if that makes sense.

So what’s the next step for you?

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Polly Owens March 16, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Definitely–it’s possible we have even less time than we can imagine. That’s one of the biggest takeaways I got from Meg jay’s 20s book.

Next steps? Finish college in a week (early completion) with a liberal arts major and explore career paths that can be fulfilling and allow me to make an impact. I’m really interested in social entrepreneurship and how technology can be harnessed to solve humanity’s problems. Working on Portuguese, know Russian and Spanish so I’m hoping to land an opportunity abroad within the next few years–the US doesn’t seem all that appealing right now.

Have you heard of the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport? Shifted my whole thinking of the job search and my career. Going into it like many people, I asked–What can the job do for ME? Without of course taking into account that I have virtually no skills or experiences. I should be asking–what can I do in terms of bringing value to something (that will in turn allow me to grow?) The beauty is that you can both become an attractive candidate and come to love the job through hard work and experience. Newly grads expect, instead, to waltz in there loving the job immediately and quit when that’s not the case.

Perhaps it’s a matter of balance between the two perspectives. I’m very curious to hear what you think?

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Alexander Heyne March 18, 2014 at 11:00 am

Hi Polly,

Yep! I’ve heard of the book.

I agree with much of his book – but some aspects of it I don’t. Especially if you’re working a job for someone else, it’s a lot harder to just show up and “find a job you love.” It takes really conscious direction.

“Going into it like many people, I asked–What can the job do for ME? Without of course taking into account that I have virtually no skills or experiences. I should be asking–what can I do in terms of bringing value to something (that will in turn allow me to grow?)”

This is very important – not just for work, but for life in general.

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Polly Owens March 20, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Some food for thought down here, although I agree with you–a business can be a very rewarding path especially if you’re unhappy working for someone else, but the way it’s thrown around these days, people make starting one and being successful at it sound easy (cough cough Tim Feriss)…One thing to do is to seek out awesome employers! (perhaps interesting and “fun” startups, nonprofits, cool consulting firms that send you across the world to work on some interesting project…)

http://dontstepinthepoop.com/5-reasons-to-have-a-job-and-not-start-business

I guess the whole lesson is that everything has a downside, or just another side to it, and unless we curb the little voice inside our head that constantly thinks the grass is greener…well, then I don’t think we could ever be content. Not just for working either, but for decisions like marrying this person vs. staying single, childfree life vs. having a family, etc., living in this coast vs. that one…

Sometimes we’ve just got to chill out and appreciate it all, ya know? And find some kind of higher meaning/purpose greater than ourselves.

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Alexander Heyne March 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

I guess the whole lesson is that everything has a downside, or just another side to it, and unless we curb the little voice inside our head that constantly thinks the grass is greener…well, then I don’t think we could ever be content. Not just for working either, but for decisions like marrying this person vs. staying single, childfree life vs. having a family, etc., living in this coast vs. that one…

Sometimes we’ve just got to chill out and appreciate it all, ya know? And find some kind of higher meaning/purpose greater than ourselves.

Polly you’re absolutely right. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Starting a business is not right for the majority of people – It takes an unusual hustle and amount of perseverance in order to make it a reality.

I agree that you do need to appreciate it all, and find a higher meaning/purpose. But you also have to HUSTLE hard to make dreams a reality.

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Elizabeth May 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Great article.

Here’s to Gen Y working hard now, so we can have the power of knowledge through experience to make the choice of how we want to be awesome when we reach “adulthood”, whenever that is for each of us.

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Reg June 21, 2014 at 1:34 am

Your idea of soul-searching could be completely different than another reader. You should probably change the name of the article. Maybe the idea of asking life’s important questions, finding passion, organizing one’s life, etc. (all that good stuff) is someone’s idea of soul searching. Your title is completely misleading. You told people not to soul-search, but in a way you contradicted yourself. You wrote,
“Find or make work you enjoy, that pays you enough for the lifestyle you want.

Live the life you want to read about in books and stories.

Start doing less in life, and start doing more stuff that is meaningful.”

To me, that’s “soul-searching”. Figuring out one’s passions, reading books that encourage motivation and doing things that you can look back on and deem plausible.

Maybe we have different connotations of what soul searching is, but I still think all you did was tell someone to soul-search in more words.

No offense. Just something to think about.

Maybe consider entitling it, “Why You Should Ask Life’s Big Questions in Your 20′s” or “How To Avoid Getting Shafted by Life In Your 30′s”

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Melissa July 12, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Hey Alex!

Great article – I read another of yours and really enjoy your perspective on things. I feel like there is a lot of push these days for traveling while you’re young, but not many people ask the question before taking that leap, “But what comes after?” I personally cannot wait to be able to do some things I’ve always dreamed about (certain travel destinations, volunteerism), but I also realized I need to build a life for myself that I want to come back to, and not something I always want to be leaving. I decided to put those things on hold for a bit longer and focus on taking steps to build my career, so that once I am able to travel I will also have a life to come back to.
Honestly, it’s a bit hard to keep my spirits up getting through more school/internships while hearing about so many people dropping everything to go abroad. But I think (HOPE!) in the end this will have been the right choice.

Thanks for your wise perspective! :)

Melissa

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Alexander Heyne July 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Melissa – as long as you understand that, chances are, you’re going to come back and will need some kind of stability, traveling will be a great thing! The only problem is that I see many people shooting themselves in the foot for their future stability.

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