The other day I came across one of those advice blogs that are so ubiquitous on the web these days they probably number in the millions. This one, on the Pocket website, was titled “The Biggest Wastes Of Time We Regret When We Get Older.” Most of these blogs I just waltz right on past, but this one hit home because:
A) I wasted a whole s**tload of time as a young adult; and
B) I am getting older.
Do I have regrets? Oh, a few. But then again, too few to mention…..
I regret not treating certain people kinder. I regret not choosing tennis over baseball as a high school athlete. I regret not becoming a better trumpet player. I took cornet/trumpet in school and had an uncanny genius for sucking at it.
That pretty much covers the regrets.
I’m not sure these represent wastes of time – other than wasting my time playing baseball for a monumentally inept and indifferent high school coach who was more concerned about chasing down foul balls to save the athletic department money than coaching, but never mind, never mind.
Regrets are not like mistakes. Mistakes, I’ve made plenty of. We all do. Live and learn. But really, I don’t have any complaints. I feel like I’ve won the life lottery. A quarter-century ago maybe I had plenty of regrets, but around the age of 40 I took proactive steps that led to the life I ended up living, and would not change a single thing since then.
Anyway, the aforementioned Pocket blog. It highlighted the following four wastes of time we have as younger adults:
· Not Asking for Help
· Trying to Make Bad Relationships Work
· Dwelling on Your Mistakes and Shortcomings
· Worrying Too Much About Other People
I would agree that these all involve negative energy better spent elsewhere. I’ve had experience with all of them to some extent – and chances are you have, too. If I were to rank them in personal order, they would look like this:
- Dwelling on Your Mistakes and Shortcomings
- Not Asking for Help
- Worrying Too Much About Other People
- Trying to Make Bad Relationships Work
The last two let’s just toss out. Worrying about other people and getting stuck in bad relationships – that’s just part of the growing experience. You almost have to go through them to learn how to not go through them. It’s like a toddler falling down and learning how to get back up again. We have bad relationships so we can learn how not to have bad relationships. We worry too much about other people so we can learn how not to.
But the first one strikes a chord, and the second one I would simply change the wording.
I will only share my own experiences here, but I’m sure many others can relate.
I probably spent the first decade of my adult life worrying too much about my shortcomings. I was a Real Nowhere Man Living in a Nowhere Land, bouncing from one crap job to the next, twiddling my thumbs in the same old places, constantly broke, professionally rudderless, personally clueless, wondering why I could not find a higher gear to take me to a different place in life when so many others could, and deciding there must be something wrong with me. I cannot tell you how much I thought about this in my 20s and even early 30s.
I think a lot of people go through this kind of thing in their 20s. Then again, I think a lot of people don’t.
What I decided later, as an older person who managed to turn things around, was that it wasn’t my shortcomings that held me back. I had the skills, tools, resources, and training. But I had failed to plot out a course to get from Point A to Point B, and that turned out to be the biggest waste of time. So I would replace “wasting time by not asking for help” with “wasting time by failing to plan.”
When I graduated from college I had aspirations to get a newspaper job at a city daily, and sent out dozens of resumes that got rejected immediately. I took that as a rejection of me personally, which was a mistake.
The problem was, I didn’t know very many people in the business, and didn’t know how to network. This was at least a decade before the rise of the internet and social media sites like LinkedIn, or job sites like Indeed. You either had to make phone calls or type out query letters.
What I didn’t do – and should have done – was plan better. If I wasted time, it was in not planning. I had no plan. I had aspirations, but no strategy to get there. I had ambitions, but no road map to achieve them.
If I were to offer advice to younger people, it would be to come up with a plan. It doesn’t have to be anything too detailed. It doesn’t have to focus too much on individual steps. It’s not something you should feel welded to. It can be a living thing, adaptable and open to change. It could just be an outline of where you might want to find yourself in five years, or 10 years.
Maybe you want to live on a farm and raise children, or join a CPA firm and make partner, or have your paintings shown in a gallery. In all cases, you should jot down a plan.
If I had written down a plan many long years ago, it might have looked like this:
- I want to land a reporter’s job at the Washington Post in five years. It is a highly competitive job, and I lack the experience and qualifications to get it right now.
- I need to aim lower – but aim close to Washington.
- I need to research every newspaper within 70 miles of Washington (this was back when there would have been dozens of them).
- I need to type out cover letters and resumes, line up references, and gather the best clips from my newspaper work in college and elsewhere.
- I need to find the right contact people at every newspaper within an hour’s drive of Washington.
- I need to research what those papers specialize in, and educate myself on what is most important to readers in the community.
- I need to save money and travel up to the area around Washington – Maryland, northern Virginia, southeastern Pennsylvania.
- I need to personally visit every newspaper I have contacted.
- I need to convince them that I will work twice as hard for less than what they usually pay, and tell them about potential coverage areas I have researched.
- I need to be hired, work hard, establish a byline, and get my articles seen.
- After I am hired, I need to meet people at the Washington Post and start establishing contacts there.
Well, I never did that. I should have. So should everyone, to different degrees.
Maybe you just want to backpack around the country, live a life free from deadlines and commitments. Good for you! But you still need to eat, you still need shelter from time to time, you still might require healthcare. These things require money.
So: What is your plan? What kinds of side hustles and temporary work can you take on, and where, and how much can you earn?
Which brings me to what I believe is the second-biggest waste of time as a young adult: believing that money is an unnecessary distraction, something other people might need but not you, because you’ll get by fine on your wits and the earth’s bounty.
Sorry, you’re wrong. It sounds great, but….
You will not get by on your wits. You will not get by on the earth’s bounty. You might pull it off for a year, even two, but eventually, you will find that money is your friend. Not your best friend. Not even someone you would invite to your wedding. But a friend nonetheless, who will solve a lot of problems when everyone and everything else is long gone.
The one thing I believe I did well as a younger adult was recognize the power of money. I often didn’t earn enough, or have enough. I sure as hell wasn’t a slave to it. I often wasted it. I was often reckless with it. I didn’t manage it well. But deep down, I knew its importance – that it would bail me out of some tough jams. So, I would make a point to save. Just a little. But still save.
You have no idea how liberating this can be – saving money, a little at a time. Money gives you choices. Money gives you freedom. It gives you breathing room, confidence. If there is one lesson we want to impart to our daughters, it’s that they need to save money and be financially self-sufficient, to not ever have to depend on anyone but themselves for their lives and livelihoods.
Many people might think focusing on money is a waste of time. That’s true all the way up to the point when they need it. Then you would do anything for it, as many desperate people have.
Write down a plan, young readers. For every dollar you earn, set aside a nickel or a dime. Don’t waste time worrying about your shortcomings, or dwelling on your mistakes, or choosing baseball when you would rather play tennis.
May you one day scale the heights I have – and even, dare I say, beyond!
But seriously. Make a plan. And save some money.
Note: Image is from TimeHackHero.