A few days ago I was discussing with a friend how quickly life passes after college. It seems like we were just there, roaming the dorm room hallways seeking out new friends and finding exciting new adventures to go on everyday.
After that the speed of the real world crashes into you like a tsunami. The transition was like nothing we had ever experienced. I always thought there should be a post college transition class that preps people for the trauma that is getting your first job and leaving your schooling behind. Starting different levels of school is nerve-racking but it is also exciting, leading to new experiences that we can remember for the rest of our lives (and they actually prep you for these transitions). This does not happen for the real world.
One year into my first job I realized I had nothing to show for it, nothing memorable happened. Sure my savings account increased a bit, but looking back, those 365 days blurred into one monotonous day. I drove to work the same route everyday, viewing the same buildings and scenery, I sat in the same cubicle staring at the same screen and then I drove home, ate and went to bed to do it all over again.
The days were dreadfully long, but that year felt remarkably short. The worst thing about this was everyone I know said the exact same thing.
And I knew that the longer we waited, the quicker life would pass us by.
Everyone should make a point to explore while they are young for two reasons:
- Hopefully these actions evolve into habit so you can continue exploring and trying new things for the rest of your life.
- If not, at least you can look back and reflect on the freedom and empowerment your youth provided.
Here are 5 things to do while you are still young so your later years can be more fulfilling:
1. Travel to other lands
Even if you travel to another state or province, you will be better for it. Speak with locals and explore what makes them different. Don’t be a tourist, but an adventurer.
Take a road trip.
Whether you are with friends, family or by yourself, everyone should get in a car and just drive. One friend of mine backpacked through Europe by himself, while another took a road trip from Illinois to Glacier National Park by herself. I, myself drove from Chicago to Los Angeles and back. Surprisingly we all said the same thing. It was pure freedom. Freedom from money, from organization, from media and the clutter of everyday life.
Saying you can’t travel because of money or a job or relationships screams one thing: fear. Fear of leaving the comfort of your life.
It’s the most uncomfortable parts of life that make us the strongest. So pack and up and go. Trek through the deserts of the Outback, soar to the top of mountains in Switzerland or watch a pig race at the Indiana State Fair. Whatever it is, your legacy will be more exciting.
2. Take Risks
Taking risks is actually the most practical point in this post. It is the part of life that separates greatness from mediocrity. Even when setting up an IRA, 401K or investing in the stock market, any financial advisor will tell you to take more risk when you are young.
This should apply to all facets of life.
Go on dates with people or in situations that make you uncomfortable. Start a business. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or any billionaire for that matter, did not opt for the safe route, and they changed the world.
Even something as small as trying a new restaurant for lunch or dinner provides an adventure in itself.
Trying a new food and getting food poisoning is like starting a new business and failing – you tried something and learned from it. But the person who went with their usual restaurant again and felt just fine is the same person who went to their boring job for the umpteenth time in a row.
It’s not a good story, no one is interested, you didn’t learn anything and you aren’t stronger for trying something and failing. Most importantly, that child inside of you, the one that always craved greatness in life, settled for mediocrity.
The person who went to a new restaurant and got sick experienced a new part of town that he or she didn’t know about before, maybe met some new people at the restaurant, learned something about the restaurant (or about their allergies) and had a comedic story to tell friends.
Taking risks makes us more interesting, well-rounded people.
3. Do Something Good With Your Money
There seems to be two common views on how people should handle their money when young. I’m going to call them Safety Nets and YOLOs.
- Safety Nets – People who preach savings. Managing your money wisely, opening up a retirement fund and a savings account to live a more fruitful life in the future.
- YOLOs – You Only Live Once. A recent mainstream acronym commonly used by young people after doing something regrettable.
I don’t get either. Saving money is important, I agree, but the idea that every dollar you make was earned by you and shouldn’t be shared is pure arrogance.
Money is a privilege and should be used for good.
The YOLO side is a bit easier to argue against. This idea usually is stated after someone does something regrettable. Spending too much money one night, drinking too much alcohol, or having an undesirable sexual encounter.
Why is the term YOLO never preceded by an act of kindness like giving a dollar to the homeless man who’s ignored by everyone, going to a soup kitchen or visiting elderly relatives. Why don’t you hear, “Just brought gifts to the local children’s hospital for Christmas, YOLO.”
Why is living your life to the fullest only when you do something really stupid?
Hoarding money for yourself or spending it frivolousness on questionable acts displays a youth of selfishness.
Save enough to provide for yourself and treat yourself occasionally, but remember that none of this affects others in any way. A new TV, a souped up car or constant weekends drinking with friends won’t leave a mark on the world, but buying a cheeseburger for a homeless person or bringing gifts to a children’s hospital during the holidays most certainly will.
Document your life, blog about what you love or just write a journal or diary. Writing is like a time capsule, you can always come back to it and reflect. Writing also provides therapy for tough times in your life.
If you don’t feel the need to write then your life needs a shakeup. Please refer to point 2.
If writing doesn’t suit you, find something you love doing. Learn to play an instrument, teach yourself another language or take singing lessons.
Passions are what define our lives, not professions.
5. Be Active
For your body and mind’s sake, get out and do something active. If you can’t get yourself to exercise or go out and be adventurous now, it will never happen as you get older. Everyone has different chapters in their lives and I noticed that proactively we go through stages as well.
When I was in high school I played football and baseball, lifted weights and ran everyday. When I went to college I couldn’t do that anymore so I played some intramural sports and occasionally went to the gym. After college none of the organization was there anymore, no one is there to tell you to be active, and chances are you don’t have the physical ability to perform some of those activities anymore.
As for me, my work schedule made it difficult to join a football league and from what I could see there weren’t many post college baseball leagues going on, unless you went pro. So I started an activity I had never tried before, rock-climbing. I’m a pretty big guy (so I wasn’t very good at it) and rock climbing was new to me, but it kept my body in shape, introduced me to new people and forced me into an uncomfortable situation that eventually made me stronger.
So take advantage of the youth that you still have and embark on a travel adventure, try something new and use your money for something other than yourself. Document your experiences or find another passion that defines who you are as a person.
But I’m not young anymore.
Engaging in these activities will be more difficult, but being older allows you a rare opportunity:
The ability to make an even bigger mark on the world, by sharing new experiences with your family, especially kids, or to rekindle old relationships with friends. It may be more challenging, but isn’t that how we grow? It’s never too late to learn and grow for the better.
Let me know in the comments what else we should all do while young.