20 Pieces of Advice I’d Give My Younger 20-Year-Old Self

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Who doesn’t cringe when looking back on their 20-year-old self? I know I do.

I’m 33-years-old now. I’ve lived on this earth long enough to have seen some shit. You could fill an entire encyclopedia with the things I wish I’d done differently.

I don’t live with many regrets, however. The way I see it, my past idiotic mistakes were part of life’s growing pains. I went through them to be better.

But, if I could hypothetically sit the 20-year-old me on a comfy chair and give him life advice, here’s what I’d say…

#1. You don’t know anything

You think you know what you’ll be doing a year, five years, or ten years down the road. You think you have it all figured out. The world is your oyster, right?

Well, sorry, you don’t know shit.

Your career goals, relationships, and who you think you are as an individual — these change constantly.

I can’t believe how sure I was of myself as a 20-year-old. This isn’t all bad, though. If you’re not asking, “What the hell was I thinking?” at younger versions of yourself, you’re not evolving.

#2. Make coffee from home

Your $3.50 daily Starbucks coffee is a huge ripoff.

Do your wallet a favor and make coffee from home. Here’s how much you can save for the month:

  • $3.50 Starbucks x 30 days = $105.00
  • $0.20 home-brewed coffee (thanks, Graham Stephan) x 30 days = $6.00

That’s a total savings of $99! Every dollar of savings counts, especially when you’re not ballin’ and earning thousands of dollars per month. Plus, can you really taste the difference between Starbucks and coffee from home? I didn’t think so.

#3. Don’t compare yourself to your friends

“Wow, he makes way more money than I do.”

“His job is much more interesting than mine.”

“I’m such a loser compared to [insert friend].

As you and your friends enter adulthood and start careers, it's natural to play the “Who’s better off?” game. But, let me tell you, measuring up against your friends is a road that leads to nowhere.

You must realize you and your friends are different from each other. You have your own definition of success and path to accomplishing your goals.

So, instead of being a resentful asshole, focus on yourself. Be happy about your friends’ achievements. Wouldn’t you want the same support from them?

#4. Money isn’t everything

Money is a necessity for survival. You need money for housing, food, and saving for retirement. However, I know it’s cliché, but money doesn’t buy happiness. Money only affords you more opportunities and choices in life.

My priorities changed as I’ve gotten older. Being my own boss, pursuing creative endeavors, quality time with family —I value these more than my net worth.

Money is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

#5. Experiences trump material objects

Your new car. Your new 60" HD flat-screen TV. The latest and greatest iPhone. Use the Marie Kondo method, and ask yourself, “Do these material objects spark joy?”

Be honest. After making these purchases, your excitement lasted maybe a day, a week, or a month tops. Once the joy quickly wears off, those material items just become “stuff.”

Investing in experiences is much more worthwhile. The trip to Thailand. Camping on O’ahu’s North Shore and drinking beers with friends around a bonfire. The incredibly delicious Tsukemen meal you had in Kyoto.

Your experiences turn into memories, and memories last a lifetime.

#6. Work a crap job

You’re about to graduate from college. You plan on landing a six-figure corporate gig and think you deserve better than grunt work.

Well, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Don’t worry; there are benefits to working crappy jobs:

  • Teaches humility.
  • It gives you the motivation to find your unique career path.
  • You build character and develop grit.

The world would be a better place if everybody worked a horrible job at least once in their life. You learn pertinent life skills no cushy job could ever teach.

#7. Show your parents appreciation

Your parents have given you everything in life. They’ve given you food and shelter. They’ve paid for your college tuition. They’ve raised you the right way.

As I’ve gotten older and more mature, I’ve realized how big of an asshole I was as a kid. Nevertheless, my parents were patient, and I’m surprised they didn’t want to strangle me half-to-death.

Show them you’re grateful. I’m not talking about only gifts on birthdays or holidays. I’m talking about spending quality time: Treat them to dinner, go seeing a movie, plan family vacations, etc.

They’re not going to be around forever, so be as good of a son to them as they were at raising you.

#8. Live below your means

Living below your means boils down to distinguishing your wants from your needs.

  • Needs: Housing, utilities, food, and clothing.
  • Wants: Boujee first-class plane ticket, a souped-up Tesla Model 3, and the fancy espresso machine.

Blowing every single one of your hard-earned dollars on stuff you want is the quickest way to financial debt. Trust me; I’ve made my fair share of boneheaded money mistakes.

If you’re frugal and mindful of your spending habit, you’ll be in a more stable financial position than I was in once you reach your 30’s.

#9. Sleep is important

Here are a few benefits of getting enough sleep:

  • Better productivity and concentration
  • Lower weight gain risk
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • More social and emotional intelligence
  • Preventing depression
  • Stronger immune system

Because you’re young, you think you can survive on four hours of sleep every night. Sorry, you can’t. The lack of sleep eventually catches up to you and negatively impacts your daily performance. According to the CDC, you need to be getting seven or more hours of sleep per day.

Additionally, since you’ll be spending a third of your day sleeping, invest in a quality mattress, pillow, and bed frame. Of course, you can choose to cheap out on many aspects of life, but your sleep shouldn’t be compromised.

#10. Don’t care what other people think of you

Wolves don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.

As a self-employed person who hasn’t had a “traditional” 9–5 job for years, I hated when strangers asked me, “So, what do you do?”

Responding with I run an Airbnb, am a food delivery driver, or make YouTube videos— I felt embarrassed.

I’ve realized two things, however. Firstly, people really don’t give a shit and are too self-absorbed to care about what you do. Secondly, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of yourself.

If people have questions, let them have questions. If they judge, let them judge. Be secure in yourself and let the detractors fall by the wayside.

#11. Be nice to service people

If you’re on a date at a restaurant, is there no bigger turn-off when the guy/girl you’re with is rude to the waitstaff? I don’t think so.

Service industry jobs are often low-paying and unglamorous. However, the benefit of having one is it teaches you empathy. You’ve been in their shoes and have dealt with many “Karen”-type customers yourself.

Don’t make their job any more difficult and treat service people with the utmost respect.

#12. Tip well

Don’t be a cheap ass. Tip well.

I had a friend who’d decrease the tip percentage for every nit-picky detail that went wrong with his restaurant meal. If the food came out 5-minutes longer than expected, that’d be docked from the tip. If the food were sub-par, he’d tip less. The server didn’t have an upbeat attitude? “Sorry, no tip for you, Missy.”

At restaurants, unless the staff spits in your food or gave you a wet willy, tip at least 20%. Give excellent tips to your Uber driver, pizza delivery guy, valet attendant, etc. I know first-hand these jobs don’t pay much, and tips are a good chunk of their income.

Don’t be that douchebag who skimps on the tip.

#13. Take failure on the chin

Adversity is something you inevitably have to deal with. From childhood throughout your teenage years, you had a solid upbringing and never encountered much hardship. Be prepared for some in your 20’s.

You’ll have dead-end jobs. You’ll try numerous side-hustles, which turn out to be complete duds. You’ll make poor financial decisions. Instead of hitting yourself upside the head with a full water bottle in utter disbelief of your stupidity, chalk your failures up to learning experiences.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone. Without getting out of your comfort zone, you can’t grow as a person.

#14. Learn how to cook

Cooking meals at home will save you a ton of money.

According to a study, the average restaurant meal costs about $13, and the average home-prepped meal costs $4 for groceries, which is a total savings of $9. If you forgo eating out twice a day for making your own meals, you’ll save $126/week and $504/month.

You don’t need to be chef Bobby Flay or David Chang to be a decent cook. All you have to do is make three to four dishes you enjoy and perfect the hell out of them.

#15. Pursuing your passion is overrated

I’m passionate about a lot of things. I love basketball, movies, and coffee. Does this mean I should pursue these passions as a career? Of course not. I’m self-aware enough to know I’ll never be Lebron James, Martin Scorcese, or a world-renowned coffee expert.

When figuring out what you want to do in life, the key is finding the intersection between your interests and what you’re good at. For myself, and I’m sure is the case for many people, this is a lifelong pursuit.

To find your perfect intersection, you must go down different paths and experience failure to know what works for you and what doesn’t. The alternative is not doing a damn thing and sleep-walking through life like a zombie. Who wants that?

#16. Travel slow

Rolf Potts, the author of my favorite travel book, Vagabonding, sums up why you should travel slowly:

Vagabonding is not like bulk shopping: The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — and the slow, nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries.

A few years ago, my fiancé and I booked a two-week vacation to Southeast Asia, visiting Thailand and Vietnam. Though I had a memorable trip, I regret not spending more time in each country.

We visited Bangkok, Koh Tao, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Ninh Binh between Thailand and Vietnam. Since we didn’t have an ample amount of time, we wanted to squeeze in every possible experience we could.

This frantic go-go-go mentality, however, is a horrible way to explore a country. You can’t understand the true essence of a country’s culture, food, and people by traveling at a breakneck speed.

Travel slow. The time you spend in a place will be much more rewarding.

#17. Invest in a retirement account

You’re 20-years-old. Why the hell would you be thinking about retirement now? Let me drill down how much money I left out there on the table by not investing at your age.

If I maxed out my Roth IRA contribution ($6,000 as of 2021) every year since age 20, here’s how much I’d have by age, assuming the historical average stock market rate of return of 10%:

  • Age 30: $60,000.00 (total contributions); $39,931.93 (total interest); $99,931.33 (end balance)
  • Age 40: $120,000.00 (total contributions); $239,129.61 (total interest); $359,129.61 (end balance)
  • Age 50: $180,000.00 (total contributions); $851,421.66 (total interest); $1,031,421.66 (end balance)
  • Retirement Age 60: $240,000.00 (total contributions); $2,535,174.07 (total interest); $2,775,174.07 (end balance)

Now, let’s look at the stark difference contributing later at my current age of 33-years-old:

  • Age 40: $42,000.00 (total contributions); $14,923.03 (total interest); $56,923.03 (end balance)
  • Age 50: $102,000.00 (total contributions); $141,268.22 (total interest); $243,268.22 (end balance)
  • Retirement Age 60: $162,000.00 (total contributions); $564,599.65 (total interest); $726,599.65 (end balance)

My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” — Warren Buffett

In the above example, when I hit the retirement age of 60, I’ve contributed a small difference of only $78,000.00 between ages 20 versus 33. However, due to the magic of compound interest, waiting 13 years cost me $2,048,574.42 in interest.

Do yourself a favor, and invest in a retirement account.

#18. Take care of your health

How you treat your body has a direct correlation both with your energy and productivity levels.

In my mid-20’s, I hit an I don’t give a fuck phase of my life. I didn’t exercise and ate whatever I wanted. I subsequently ballooned to a full-on dad bod — it was the most depressed and unmotivated I’ve ever been.

I get it. Exercising and eating right sucks. I try to take care of myself for my mental clarity and get the most out of my day-to-day. You should feel the same way, too.

#19. Don’t spend so much time on social media

A 2020 study states the average internet user spends 2 hours, 24 minutes on social media. I’ve lived a significant portion of my life on social media. Other than the odd YouTube tutorial, inspirational Instagram post, and cute cat video, however, I can safely say I haven’t received any benefits from it.

From my experience, there’s way too much fakeness, showboating, and animosity that all the social media platforms share. The negatives far outweigh the positives that come from them.

Today, I don’t have Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram. I’m still alive, aren’t I?

Also, instead of being on social media, think of what you could do with the extra 2 hours, 24 minutes? A long nap sounds good.

#20. Work hard

You’re soft. I know this is a tough thing to hear, but you are. You were given all of the advantages in life and wanted for nothing.

Well, you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to realize nothing worth achieving comes easy. It requires sacrifice, determination, and a strong work ethic.

For example, you want to be a writer, correct? Then write. You can’t sit back on your laurels and expect words to appear on the page magically. You need to show up every damn day and do the work.

This sounds simple, but you’d be astonished how long it took me to figure all of this out.

Final Thoughts

Here’s a summary of the life advice I’d give to my 20-year-old self:

  • You don’t know anything
  • Make coffee from home
  • Don’t compare yourself to your friends
  • Money isn’t everything
  • Experiences trump material objects
  • Work a crap job
  • Show your parents appreciation
  • Live below your means
  • Sleep is important
  • Don’t care what other people think of you
  • Be nice to service people
  • Tip well
  • Take failure on the chin
  • Learn how to cook
  • Pursuing your passion is overrated
  • Travel slow
  • Invest in a retirement account
  • Take care of your health
  • Don’t spend so much time on social media
  • Work hard

With the life experience I have now, I’d kill to travel back in time and be 20-years-old again. But, alas, I can’t. I must live with the results of the good and bad choices I’ve made thus far and move on.

I wonder what advice my 70-year-old self would give me? Whatever it is, I’m excited to live long enough to find out.



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