Ten Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20s

I’m a millennial dad in my 30s. I’m mostly still figuring things out as I go, but here are a couple of “life tip” things that I wish I’d known in my 20s.

  1. Making more money will almost always be a better solution to your budget woes than changing your lifestyle (within reason, of course). Don’t chase money for its own sake. Money is freedom. Think about and use it as such.
  2. The most effective way to increase your income and accelerate your career is to switch jobs, usually entailing moving to a new company. This is true across most industries. Industries that discourage people from doing this tend to be stagnant, stifling, and not really based on talent in the first place. Avoid them.
    • The same goes for any workplace that stresses “team equity” in compensation. While we all empathize with fairness, your value as an employee shouldn’t depend on someone else’s negotiating ability.
  3. Future-you is real. Very, very real. You will probably be 50 or 60 or 75 years old one day, and when that day comes, you’re going to need both money and your health. Plan your life right now to set up future-you for success. This requires real psychological work, because as humans, we are mentally hardwired to think in exactly the opposite terms. Thinking of future-you as real will change the way you approach your day-to-day life in some important ways.
  4. The greatest single investment you can make is in your own health. Spend time and money protecting and nurturing it. This means:
    • With the exception of cutting out hard drugs or cigarettes, getting enough sleep is the most impactful one thing you can do to improve your health. Cancer, Alzheimers, dementia, diabetes, and much more are directly linked to not getting enough sleep. Do not make skating by with 5-6 hours a night a part of your lifestyle.
    • Preventative health really does matter. Make exercise a priority. Drink water. Don’t drink tons of soda or booze. Clean up your diet. Eat more veggies.
    • See a doctor once a year. Your health plan probably covers it. Get a checkup and the routine maintenance appropriate to your age/gender. I get my blood checked too, just for kicks.
    • Go to the damn dentist. I know you hate it. Get over it. Go to the dentist at least once a year, and probably 2x. If you don’t, in the name of everything that is good and holy, I promise that future-you will live to regret it.
  5. You should be putting aside at least 15% of what you earn, and probably more, into some sort of retirement plan. At least get your company’s 401k match, if one is offered.
    • Many of us have poor mental examples of this, because a lot of the Boomers didn’t need to think too much about their retirement (they had pensions!). That didn’t work out too well for them, though. Millennials, we are on our own! Save!
    • The first thing you should save up is an emergency cash cushion of 3-6 months of basic expenses. Save that and then chuck it into an easily-accessible, interest-bearing account, and don’t touch it.
    • After you have your emergency fund, then turn to retirement. Your annual 401k contribution limit is about $18k, and your IRA limit is $5,400. Do some math and figure out how much of that you can set aside every month. It’ll save you on taxes and future-you will be very thankful.
  6. Properly calibrate your perception of wealth. Median household income in the U.S. is around $60,000. If you make a lot more than that, you’re “rich” to “most” people. Enjoy it! Be careful not to peg your expectations on some nonsense you see in TV, movies or social media.
  7. If you’re married and/or have kids or other people who depend on you, consider term life insurance. If you’re healthy, a million dollars in coverage is not expensive, and will make it easier for your family to adjust if something were to happen to you.
  8. Mix up your media. Netflix/Hulu is great, but try to read something too. I personally learn more and derive greater satisfaction from finishing a book or longform written piece than skimming digital news or Twitter. (You should probably just quit Facebook.) Since beginning podcasts, I’ve discovered they’re an incredible resource too. Venture out and try some new ones.
  9. Have a project. Big, long projects are hard and trying (I wrote two books last year – believe me, I know), but the sense of accomplishment is unique and long-lasting. Dream, then think, then plan, then do. Penny is one such project for us now. The new house is another. I have more writing ideas. And other stuff, many still in the “dream” phase.
  10. Invest in friendships, particularly close ones. Most people – particularly men – lose most of their close friends as the years pass; yet tons of research shows that close, personal relationships are one of the biggest contributors to personal happiness, as well as overall health, in old age. Investing time with the people who mean most to you is time well-spent.
    • In my opinion, any time where one or both parties are frequently checking their phone while together does not qualify as quality time.

Bonus: Be an active citizen. Voting is just the absolute, bare minimum responsibility you have as an adult in a democratic country. As they say, you may not take an interest in politics, but eventually, politics will definitely take an interest in you. Be informed and engaged, or you’re really just a child.

/dismounts soap box


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