Let’s be honest, all of us mess up shit in life. Especially in our 20s.
And almost all of us wish there were certain things we could do over again, whether it’s something in the relationship sphere, financial sphere, travel sphere, or kids sphere.
Today, I want to share one of those corny “10 things I wish I knew” articles – because they’re habits and success principles that could’ve 10x’ed my enjoyment and success by the time I reached 30.
Lesson #1 Start Sooner on Your Dreams
I did plenty of shit wrong, and a few things right. The biggest thing that I did wrong was put off doing the one thing I had always wanted to do as a kid: study Chinese medicine. It took a few years to realize what I truly loved, but I mostly ignored that inner calling.
I waited until I was twenty-five to try my hand at entrepreneurship and it took me until I was almost twenty-nine before I was gainfully self-employed in a business. If I had started sooner, going into college at eighteen for example, I could’ve been self employed after making those rookie mistakes much sooner.
All of this would’ve helped me avoid a really painful, long process of figuring things out. What I find, reading the biographies of some well-known people in history is that many of them also took years (or decades) to find “their work.” I regret not starting sooner. It also takes years to figure out what you even want from life – in relationships, where to live, what kind of work you like, and so on.
I wish I started sooner in all of those aspects of my life.
Most of all, I wish I starter sooner on my one dream.
Fact is…Mozart “found” his craft when he was just a few years old (actually, he was groomed by his father). So by the time he was my age – 30 – he already had 25+ years in his craft. If I plan on being remembered as a savant in my profession (Chinese medicine), that’s unlikely to happen before I’m 40.
Thankfully, I’ll probably outlive Mozart, but can you imagine if I followed my calling even when I was 22? That would’ve give me an eight year head start to get in my first 10,000 hours. And more importantly, it would be more time doing what I love.
Lesson #2: Ignore Every-Fucking-Human (Besides Your Own Gut)
Anyone who has graduated college has encountered the mindless zombie herd of the world.
“Don’t go build that business, because businesses are risky.”
“Don’t go travel, you should get a good job and settle down.”
“Go get married girl, what are you doing, you’re almost 30!”
The reality is that you’re going to have to deal with a lot of bullshit in your 20s, and if you don’t have self-confidence or enough data to bet on yourself, you can easily get talked out of doing the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Lesson #3: Think More About Work…Not a Life Free From Work
Inside my book, I talk about the first time I tasted true freedom. I was sitting on a beach in Thailand with my girlfriend, and even though I wasn’t making a lot of money by any stretch, I was making enough to travel when I wanted, wherever I wanted.
And I felt empty, and depressed.
That experienced confused me for a long time, because I couldn’t quite figure out what went wrong with my mental model of happiness and freedom. For so many years, that’s all I wanted – to just travel!
It took me another year to realize that I was trying to create a life without work, rather than trying to fill my life with work I loved. It took me a while to realize that I (in particular) am much happier when I work more, but on work that’s been consciously chosen as fun, creative, and aligned with my goals.
So much of my 20s I spent trying to create a life without work, thinking that I could be happiest doing “whatever the fuck I wanted” on some beach somewhere. But when it happened, I quickly realized that this wasn’t true – at all – and that most of us are unhappy without work.
As the saying goes, “A man without work is a man without a purpose.”
What I wish I would’ve done was what I started doing around twenty-six – start trying to figure out how you want your work life to work. People in their thirties and beyond consistently talk about regretting not focusing more on their work, and financial regrets are some of the biggest across the board as we get older.
I wish I had taken the time (sooner) to figure out how I planned on feeding myself, traveling, and having a family all in one.
Lesson #4: Always Think in Terms of “And” And Not “Either/or”
I used to hate this one narrative I heard constantly as a kid.
“You can’t be rich and happy, or a good person. Rich people are dicks.”
Now, the quote wasn’t a direct one, however it was the implied meaning. People around me (strangers and family) seemed to have a lot of narratives about what could or could not be achieved.
For many years, I just assumed that it was an epic battle like good vs. evil:
Okay Alex, you can either do work you love, or be successful and not worry about money.
Later I realized how complete this fucking bullshit was. These are the same people with a mile high of limiting beliefs about what’s achievable, and possible in the world. And it wasn’t until I later started reading every book on success, every biography of the greats, that I realized that you can make whatever the fuck you want to make in life.
Elon Musk is sending people to Mars and has self-driving electric cars.
Nicola Tesla had harnessed wireless electrical charging a few hundred years before it’s even coming into common practice (now, in 2017).
… And you think you can’t do work you love and get paid 100k, 400k, or a million dollars a year? Stop bullshitting yourself. If people are going to be sent to Mars in our lifetime, I’m pretty sure you can figure it out.
Still believe your bullshit story? Find people that prove the narrative wrong.
Lesson #5: Think About What You Want. Then Think About it Some More.
Some of the people that I see getting into a lot of trouble are the people who don’t think about what they actually want from life. They don’t think about their work life, romantic life, or business life, and as a result, these things never come to fruition.
Or, they come to fruition and the person ends up thinking, “Hmm, this isn’t what I thought I would get! I wanted something different…”
When I was in my early 20s, I had a disjointed feeling of time – finally! Done with this bastard college, now I can go do whatever I want (like book a one way ticket to China). So I did.
I felt like I had an infinite amount of time, because I had my whole life ahead of me, as people were often telling me. The reality is that you do have a lot of time, but you also don’t. You have very little time. And it’s going to go by quickly.
The painful reality I’ve realized from writing here for years is that most often, the people that get what they want, constantly think about what they want. Whether it’s Einstein thinking only about Physics (at the expense of everything else – which he messed up), or it’s you thinking about living in Paris and being fluent in French.
THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT.
Every. damn. day.
The more you think about what you want, the more you’ll start course correcting or changing your habits in order to bring you closer to that goal.
This implicit belief that “things will just work out” is the same delusion as an obese person assuming they’ll just lose 50-100 pounds one day when it’s convenient. I promise you I did not build a successful business by fucking chance.
I built it by working on it 7 days a week, for over 3 years, with a full-time job. I built it by thinking every goddamn day how sweet it would be to own my company and work on whatever I wanted. I built it by spending hours per week on learning business strategy, sales, marketing, content creation, storytelling, product creation. I spent it by investing hours per day learning shit I hated, and how to get better at shit I loved.
The reality is that most of your dreams will not “just happen” without an action plan.
Can you tell me what you want to happen by the end of next year? Now can you tell me what you want to happen by each quarter of the year? Now can you tell me what you have to do today – your exact habits – to reach each of those goals?
This is what I hear so much about from people over forty and fifty – they woke up one day and realized,
“Shit. How did I get here? There were all these other things I had wanted to do, I figured they would’ve happened by now. I didn’t want to be here…”
If you don’t think about that dream guy or girl, and about what you like and dislike, chances are you won’t magically find a relationship that works out.
If you don’t think about your dream work – and every detail about it – it won’t materalize.
If you don’t think about the travels and trips you want to take, they won’t magically happen in your life.
Think about what you want, constantly.
Lesson #6: You Can Figure Anything Out – You Just Have to Know What You Want (And Sometimes You Don’t)
When I do coaching with people, some version of the same thing always seems to come up.
“How am I supposed to: figure out my business idea, learn how to take this course in Paris, travel the world indefinitely…”
There are so many questions that come up, and it can get frustrating because we assume that these questions are supposed to magically be delivered from the gods. In reality, most of the people that I know living great lives just figured shit out.
Don’t know how to build a business? You can figure it out.
Don’t know how to speak French? Figure it out.
Don’t know how to improve yourself and get a girlfriend? Figure it out.
Don’t know how to code a website?
FIGURE IT OUT
… And the corollary, part B.
You can figure it out. You can figure anything out. And often, becoming the kind of person who figures things out is the hallmark of a person who will be successful. This was a personality trait that I did not have before I became an entrepreneur, which now is a daily asset.
When you ingrain the philosophy that I can figure anything out, you become a person who is unstoppable.
Lesson #7: Start a Side Hustle… Sooner.
Okay, this one was brutal.
I can confidently say that starting a side business, with a full-time, and building it until it was successful, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Easily.
The reason why it’s so hard isn’t because of all the tactics and strategy, but is because of the inner game. Dealing with ten hours a day at a job already, and then coming home to put in another three hours – and then doing that for 3 years – absolutely sucked shit.
I only saw my girlfriend on the weekend for the first three years of dating. And that’s because she and I agreed that we should mutually “eat bitter” to equally focus on our career lives and relationship.
The hardest part was fighting that demon inside saying that I should just quit, I deserved some shit because I was <insert random reason your mommy told you you’re special>. The hardest part was comparing myself to other friends who had it way easier, and as a result built their businesses with 1/100th the stress, and five times the time every single day.
The hardest part was telling myself not to quit or drive into a fucking tree on purpose to stop the struggle.
This lesson revolves around starting sooner – because if you start soon enough, maybe you’ll get in a few failures before a certain age. If I had started at 16, or 20, or 22, maybe I could’ve had a successful business by 25, in which case I would’ve never had to juggle multiple jobs for multiple years.
The sooner you start, the sooner you realize you suck, and the sooner you become an A-player and get your shit together to really win.
Lesson #8: Fail at Your First (and second, and third) Side Hustle… Sooner.
You should try to fail more, faster.
Fail at dating.
Fail at travel.
Fail at work.
Fail at writing your first book.
If you’re actually trying shit out, then you’ll also be failing.
But if you’d rather be comfortable and have a predictable, easy life, you might not be taking any risks, trying anything different, or failing at all.
Because if you think about it, many of us want to be settled, and maybe have kids, by thirty or thirty-five. If you fail once per year at writing a book, and it takes a few tries to get it right, look at your timeline.
If you fail starting at twenty-five, chances are, you can have a successful book in five iterations by thirty. If you fail at thirty, it might take until thirty-five, And if you start failing at thirty-five, it might take until forty (or later, since you’ll have commitments).
Ultimately, there are no guarantees in business or in life, so the only thing you can really control is the fact that you are trying. For me, it took four or five interations of testing out businesses, business ideas, and business models to find one that worked for me.
If I started at sixteen, maybe I would have been self-employed my entire life because I would’ve failed from sixteen to twenty-one, and then figured out the lessons I needed to learn. But since I started at around twenty-four, it took me until I was twenty-eight to twenty-nine to be fully self-employed and actually making an income doing what I wanted.
Lesson #9: Build an Audience
In a recent interview on Tim Ferris’s podcast, Seth Godin said that one of the five best things he ever did for himself was the following:
Write daily on his blog.
That let to numerous books, numerous programs, numerous opportunities, and more than anything, building an audience of people that follows what he does. He could’ve never predicted where that audience would have led him – to thought leadership, NYTimes bestsellers, his unique MBA program, and more.
But the reality is one thing: he built the audience.
Years ago, in 2011 I think, I started writing here for one reason only: I just moved back from China, and I didn’t know a single person who did not give up on their dream. I couldn’t find anyone who was hungry. Starving. Who would do whatever it took, as long as it took, to live their dream.
So I started writing about it.
Here’s what ended up happening over the intervening years from writing on my little blog:
- I ended up creating an online business in the health industry that changed a lot of lives and gave me financial freedom
- I wrote and self-published two full-length books (whose royalties make more than my last full-time job did)
- I’ve made friends all over the world (who follow my stuff)
- I’ve had people email me to say that they decided not to kill themselves after reading an article
- I get to directly talk with, help, and inspire my readers – which is the best part of having an audience-based project
The reality is that if you build an audience now around something you are passionate about, not only can you help other people, you can change your life in massive ways you can’t even predict now.
Lesson #10. Goals Take a Long Ass Time to Accomplish (Longer Than You Think)
Recently I went to an online business conference in Phoenix, Arizona, with over a thousand people in the room. Like most conferences, around 90% of the audience did not have a business yet, or was not generating revenue.
That’s fine – but what surprised me was how many people (after leaving the conference) thought that they could generate six figures their first year in business. They literally thought that they could just buy a domain name, and then they’d magically be doing $5k a month within three months, and then $8k a month within a year.
The reality is that most people I know (that are successful, including in my own business) it took three, five, six, or seven years to build an online business, with high leverage, working 3-5 hours a day, and then to reach six figures (without a coaching-based business).
Building a real business that stands the test of time, takes time. And a business that is built from community takes even longer than a traditional business, because there’s often no “foot traffic” for a solid year.
Writing a book takes time too. From the outside, people who don’t try things seem to think, “oh yeah, I can do that.” And you can! But very very few people realize just how hard it really is. Very few people have a clue what it takes to write a book, market, and sell it, or build a truly successful business. It’s shocking how few truly know.
People seem to think that the best NYTimes bestsellers, or Harry Potter, were just magically written in an inspired mood while sipping cabernet somewhere in Italy. The reality is that most successful people I know work hard – and even if they do work they say is their calling, they still work hard as hell.
Most of the time, the goal takes longer than you think. The business that earns you your freedom might take you five, seven or ten years, instead of two or three. And that’s okay. Because your freedom is worth that.
The book you want to write might take you two to three years, instead of the six months you had envisioned the entire time.
Always think about playing the long game – which means five or ten years – and not what magically happens (or doesn’t) in the next six months.
Bonus: Do The Things You’ve Always Wanted to do – Someday – Today.
One of the most powerful reminders of being a human, and being mortal, came around this time of the year two years ago. I had recently (through some cosmic circumstances) met a friend who quickly became the first “best friend” I had had since childhood.
It was one of the people where (within a few weeks) you know you are going to be friends for the next 60 years. It was one of those friends where you just knew you’d both become uber successful at your chosen craft, and your kids would play together, and life would be cool.
You just knew your (in our case, future wives) would be friends, and we’d take family vacations together to Aruba and talk shop – like all that cool stuff in the movies.
That’s how we thought it’d be, until one evening around Valentine’s day he committed suicide.
It made me realize that the things we want to do one day are just as fragile. It made me realize that life, and humans, is extremely unpredictable, and that nothing is guaranteed. Any visions we have of the future – we have to control and act towards. And I’m surprised by now (at thirty) how many of my friends thought they’d be further in life than they already are.
I’m surprised by how many people thought they’d be making a million dollars a year, or writing that book they always wanted to write, or in that dream job, or traveling every year – and they aren’t. And they’re clueless as to why not.
“The fuck. Life shortchanged me.”
The reality is that if we’re waking up in a nightmare, rather than paradise, we failed to be conscious about the life that we want, and we failed to reverse engineer our daily habits in alignment with those goals.
If I want to write a book in a year, you better damn well believe that something on my schedule today should read:
Spend one hour writing.
If I plan on traveling internationally each year, there better be automatic payments going into a savings account for $100 a month for that trip.
I just see the lack of deliberate thinking, living, and action to back up this. We often think the great life magically falls out of the sky into our laps.
Someday in my own personal lexicon is now code for “today.” Someday I want to learn salsa. Write a book. Do an expedition in search of sages in Taiwan. Get married to an incredible wife. Live in Los Angeles and New York. Become a world-class physician of Chinese medicine.
And now, thankfully, I know.
Someday is today.
Are you doing the things you’ve always wanted to do?
Are you being the kind of person you thought you wanted to be one day?
Are you cultivating the little, daily habits to guarantee you build the future you daydream about?
There are seven days in a week, and “some day” isn’t one of them.