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10 of the Most Important Life Lessons I Learned from My 20s

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On my 20th birthday, I got drunk and peed on some old ladies’ front lawn. A cop saw me and stopped me. Fortunately, I talked my way out of going to jail that night. I already had an arrest record, but he didn’t bother to check. My 20s started out with a bang.

At the time, I was aimless. I had just dropped out of music school and cut my long, tangly hair. I wanted to move out of Texas but didn’t know how or where. I would sometimes lecture people about the spiritual aspect of consciousness and had a number of half-baked ideas about the theory of relativity and whether the universe actually existed or not.

I was smart and audacious and arrogant and really annoying.

Three days from now, I will be turning 30 years old. I will be in Las Vegas and probably completely out of my mind when it happens. But I’m happy to report that I’m far more responsible and far less pretentious these days. I’ve changed a lot in these 10 years. I don’t get arrested anymore and I don’t pee on people’s lawns anymore. I’ve built businesses, been around the world multiple times, and managed to create a career for myself as a writer — something I never could have predicted.

In our instant gratification culture, it’s easy to forget that most personal change does not occur as a single static event in time, but rather as a long, gradual evolution where we’re hardly aware of it as it’s happening. We rarely wake up one day and suddenly notice wild, life-altering changes in ourselves. No, our identities slowly shift, like sea sand getting pushed around by the ocean, slowly accumulating into new contours and forms over the passage of time.

It’s only when we stop years or decades later and look back that we can notice all of the dramatic changes that have taken place. My 20s certainly were dramatic. Here are some of the things I learned:

1. Fail early and often; time is your best asset

When you are young, your greatest asset is not your talent, not your ideas, not your experience, but your time. Time grants you the opportunity to take big risks and make big mistakes. Dropping everything and traveling the world for six years or starting some company to build this crazy app you and your friends came up with when you got high one night, or randomly packing up all (four) of your belongings and moving to another city on a whim to work and live with your cousin, you can only get away with these things when you’re young, when you have nothing to lose. The difference between an unemployed 22-year-old with debt and no serious work experience and an unemployed 25-year-old with debt and no work experience is basically negligible in the long run.

Chances are you aren’t strapped by all of the financial responsibilities that come with later adulthood: mortgage payments, car payments, daycare for your kids, life insurance and so on. This is the time in your life where you have the least amount to lose by taking some long-shot risks, so you should take them. Because its the disastrous failures of these years — that crazy love affair with the Taiwanese dancer that made your mother lose her hair, or the entrepreneurial joint venture some guy in Starbucks talked you into that turned out to be an elaborate pyramid scheme — it’s these failures that will set you up for your life successes down the line. They are the best lessons of your life. Get learning.

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