7 Peculiar Lessons I Learned in My Twenties

I’m now thirty two. It took me two years to fully accept the fact that I’m already in my thirties. But now that I’ve embraced it, I kind of realize how much I’ve grown. I’m not sure if I’m wiser but a decade does give you time to better understand yourself, work, and life. Here are some of the best lessons I’ve learned throughout my twenties.

Courage is more important than intelligence.

I used to think that only intelligence mattered, but I’ve found that you also need courage to make things happen. I’ve worked with smart people who have good ideas and good plans, but when faced with opposition, they’re unable to fight for their vision. If you can’t fight for your ideas, how can you innovate, create new things and push the envelope?

All categories are arbitrary.

You might have been taught that there are seven colors in the rainbow, five kingdoms of living things, two genders, sixteen personalities…you get the gist. Well, I’m sorry to tell you but none of these categories are true. I mean to say that they don’t exist in reality.

We like putting things in boxes because it makes the world simpler. It reduces our cognitive load. But you don’t have to. You can free yourself by realizing that all of these categories are man-made based on patterns and similarities.

Dig deep.

Surface level stuff is unsatisfying. Theres’ a lot more to discover underneath the basic “truths” that you have been peddled. I find myself questioning the most basic assumptions that they taught us in our childhoods. I find myself going back to the knowledge I was taught in school and reexamining them, taking them apart and putting them back to see if they are indeed true. Albert Einstein made his great discovery by re-examining basic assumptions about time and relativity.

Go beyond the best practices. I used to accept best practices at face value. I thought that if they worked so well, why wouldn’t they keep working? But it turns out that the world isn’t so simple. Context is everything. Situations change. There are so many factors that affect the outcomes of anything. Practices work perfectly if you have the same exact situation. Same market, same industry, same time period. But in the real world, you don’t have that. Generalizations are mere guides, something you can use as a starting point. But it is your responsibility to dig deeper and look for your own solutions. Stop looking for answers and help generate the answers.

Logic isn’t everything.

Coming from a Computer Science background, I thought that you could live life with only logic and rationality to guide you. But emotions evolved for a reason. They allowed our ancestors to escape danger, care for one another, and free up higher thinking for longer term planning. Humans are emotional creatures, whether we like it or not, and we have to work with that. In fact, when they studied people whose emotional facilities were dysfunctional they found that they were unable to make decisions. How then can you achieve anything if you turned off this powerful resource?

Emotions have power. In my sales and digital marketing work, I learned how perceptions affect buyers’ decision making. I also learned how important it is to consider the psychological dimension in designing user interfaces and how understanding how people behave leads to well-designed products.

Only intrinsic motivation lasts.

Money is nice. External rewards like money can give you a boost…for a short time. Then it’s gone. In its place is emptiness. What I’ve discovered is that the old cliches are true, after all. It is impossible to sustain anything that does not line up with your natural motivations. In my case, it was building and designing software, introducing new tools and processes, and communicating how technology can improve people’s work that gave me energy. The rest was blah. Even if you gave me tons of money to do other types of work, I wouldn’t be able to persist because it wasn’t in line with my natural inclinations.

Don’t be a hero.

Being busy gives you a feeling of importance, that the world will stop operating without you. You have a perverse sense of pride in people being dependent on you. But this isn’t healthy. It doesn’t allow other people to grow and it will burn you out. So don’t be hero. I learned that the hard way by getting burnt out.

Define and keep refining your mission.

It won’t come easy but having a mission is more important than anything. When you can frame your experiences according to an overarching meaning or purpose, everything becomes easier. Annoyances fade into oblivion. You get stronger. It makes it easier to make decisions because you only have to ask yourself whether something fits or doesn’t fit your mission.

The universe is a symphony and you play an important part. May your every action help you fulfill your purpose and may you take your rightful place in the music of life.