How would I describe the last decade of my life? In the wise words of 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo, “It’s brutal out here”. But hey, I learnt valuable life lessons from surviving my 20s.
I can never truly understand the concept of time (who does, anyway?). But as I inch closer to my 30th birthday (in a month’s time), it’s made me reminisce about the past decade, aka the last stretch of my youth. Yes, I was one of those carefree 21-year-olds who thought people in their 30s were senior citizens. That thought hasn’t changed much but I have.
The last decade has been a blur. As cliche as it sounds, it was like a rollercoaster ride and sometimes I didn’t have my safety harness secured – more on that later. While I’ve been feeling nostalgic for my youth (yes, youth!), I’m ready to enter my 30s with confidence and a great sense of optimism. But that wasn’t the case in the past 10 years. There wasn’t really a turning point. Instead, it was a string of big, small and in-between moments that moulded me into the person I am today.
Life lessons I learnt in my 20s
1. Travel the world
Let me just say, I’m glad I’ve been to my dream destinations – thanks to my grandma (for context, see point 4). For those who think you can always travel later, here are two trains of thought. A: Hello, the pandemic proves travel isn’t something to be taken for granted – or anything in life, for that matter. B: Your 20s are when you’re at your prime. You’re single, fit, healthy and don’t have any actual adult responsibilities. Sure, you can devote your time to work and travel later, but the experience will be different compared to when you’re young and full of energy. Imagine going on a bender and taking a morning flight to your next destination – ‘cause I for sure can’t do it now.
That’s not all. There’s more to travel than checking out the hottest bars and restaurants, or exploring the usual tourist spots. You’re opening up to new cultures, meeting new people from all walks of life and your perspective naturally broadens when you visit new places and cities.
2. Start saving asap
I feel like a total adult saying this, but start saving when you can. I used to spend all my allowance, right down to the last cent. Looking back, I think my parents were really generous with my allowance and I could’ve easily set up a nice little honeypot even before starting my career.
When I started working, my attitude towards money didn’t change either, living from paycheck to paycheck. It was only during the circuit breaker that I started saving… unconsciously. After a month or so of staying at home and practising social distancing, I noticed that my savings started to grow. That was the motivation I needed. Since then, I’ve always made it a point to save. All it took was a pandemic. No biggie. So if you have the means, I’d implore you to invest your money in cryptocurrencies and stocks. But of course, please do your research before diving into the world of investment.
3. Build a good support system
Your friends are the only ones who’ll understand what you’re going through. Why? ‘Cos they’re probably experiencing the same thing. Over the years, especially in my late 20s, I’ve realised how important it is to have a strong and reliable circle of friends. Not all friendships are meant to last, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That said, it can be tough to move on. But think of it this way. Sometimes, people are in your life for a certain time to help you grow and learn. In a way, those friendships have taught me valuable life lessons. I cherish the memories and still have mementoes from friendships that were once very dear to me.
4. Your loved ones are getting old
When life gave me lemons, I always thought I had my grandma to turn them into sweet, sweet lemonade. I come from an above average household and as a kid visiting my grandparents, it was utter joy. I recall being enamoured by the grandeur of their home and all the lavishness. A three-storey bungalow is truly a paradise for kids. My cousins and I would go crazy, running around in the backyard, finding great hide-and-seek spots in the house and playing the latest video games. My grandma never said no to anything I wanted when I was growing up, from snazzy designer clothes to fancy-schmancy meals to the latest tech gadgets. Simply put, she spoiled me to bits.
Apart from the superficiality, we had a close bond and I’d like to think I was her favourite grandkid. We’d talk on the phone for hours, I’d give her English lessons (she could only speak Tamil) and she’d share what Singapore was like in the 60s and 70s. My grandma was always there for me. Especially during my teenage years when my relationship with my parents was strained. Despite the language barrier, she always listened to me and I truly felt she understood me, even when I found it difficult to explain teenage angst in my mother tongue.
As I grew older, I got caught up with adulthood (read: work and partying with friends) and spent less time with her. I remember telling myself I should spend more time with her, but it was a little too late. She passed on unexpectedly the day I was supposed to go over for dinner. It’s been five years and I don’t think I’ve fully processed it. I find myself wishing I can turn back the hands of time to have just a few extra days with her. As you get older, don’t forget your parents and grandparents are getting older too. Spend as much time as possible with them ‘cos they aren’t going to be around forever. And grandma, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re proud of me and I love you!
5. Life is precious
If anyone knew me then, they’d know I was a glass-half-empty kinda guy. And I’m pretty dramatic. My natural reaction to any minor inconvenience (like spilling my iced coffee) is “I feel like death” or “I literally want to die”. Now, I’d like to think I’m pretty optimistic for a pessimist (yeah, that’s a Paramore reference).
Okay, back to the story. It was one of those there’s-no-hope-on-the-horizon days and I was pretty content just staying in bed. But my friend had other plans in mind. She’d just gotten her license and wanted to head out. So being a really good sport, I got dressed and waited for her to pick me up.
I sat in the back, with my friend and her sister in the front. I plugged in and closed my eyes. It’s strange how I can still remember some details of the incident. I was listening to Move Along by The All American Rejects, and the next thing I knew, my body was propelled to the front and I lay in between the two front seats upside down.
The car had crashed into a divider on the highway. My friend and her sister were fine because they wore their seat belts. Moral of the story: wear your damn seatbelt! That aside, it really made me wonder how things could have easily gone south. Luckily, I came out of the accident unscathed. Just a day in the hospital for monitoring and a sore rib or two. Ever since then, I’ve come to appreciate life. While I’m still dripping in sarcasm, I’m aware of how blessed I am despite the minor inconveniences I face in life.
6. Learn to love yourself
Body positivity, self-love and mental health are buzz-worthy words now. But a decade ago, these concepts were scarce. It was the era of Tumblr where pages were filled with emancipated male and female models alike. Do names like Abbey Lee Kershaw, Ash Stymest, Cole Mohr and Yuri Pleskun ring a bell? I admit: I was never a fat kid, but I never liked what I saw in the mirror.
It all started when I hit puberty. My confidence was thrown out of the window, and I became more introverted. I thought if I lost a few kilos, I’d be happier. In hindsight, it was the most foolish thing I’d ever done (picking up smoking being the second). I started eating only half the food on my plate and then progressed to skipping meals. I did lose weight, but I found myself stuck in a vicious cycle.
After getting professional help, I eventually got better. It’s a long road to recovery but I was lucky to get the help I needed. I’m not gonna lie, there are days where I feel like sh*t and nitpick all my flaws. But I’ve learnt to accept them and I’ll hopefully learn to love them in the near future… baby steps.
You’re stuck with your body whether you like it or not. So the best thing you can do is treat it like a temple, and it’ll thank you when you’re pushing 50.
There are no hard and fast rules to live by. Take it as my humble advice from a fellow millennial. I’m looking forward to making the most of my 30s. And maybe a decade later, I’ll have a few sagacious life tips to offer!