Having been a therapist for twenty years and heard the life story of hundreds of clients, themes emerge on how to mess-up your life. When I was asked, “What are 3 mistakes people make in their 20s that guarantee they’ll have a hard life?”...I could give some confident answers.
One: Marry and have a child with a disastrous choice of partner; you will be bound to them for the rest of your life via the child and will pay dearly for this mistake.
The problem with this mistake is, it takes considerable time to reap the ‘rewards’ of your bad judgment so, you may never learn from your mistake in time to prevent it from happening again. This is one that you want to learn from advice rather than experience.
There are some really obvious qualities of a disastrous partner like; someone with an addiction, someone very immature and dependent, someone with a very different background in education or culture, or someone who shows early signs of aggressive or manipulative tendencies. The truth is, these qualities are almost always apparent right from the start...I ask my clients to describe their first few weeks or months with a bad partner and it’s always there from the start. The problem is, because they’ve become attached to the person, they make excuses and keep tracking down a path to disaster just to avoid the upset of ending the relationship. All they’ve really done is delay that ending by 15 years, multiplied the pain by 10,000, plus losing a house, hurting children, and years of divorce strife. And, as my clients in their 40’s attest, they are forced to stay connected to this person via the children...someone they now wish they could never see again! It stains their future, especially new relationships; great potential partners will avoid you if your ex is a nightmare...a nightmare you were warned about 15 years earlier!
I cannot emphasise enough that a couple months of heart-break at 20 is a small price to pay versus the hell of most divorces. If you’re not proud to show your relationship to everyone for scrutiny at 20, you might be hiding something dangerous from yourself as much as everyone else. Use this advice to cut-short boyfriend/girlfriend relationships too - the romantic partners of your youth should be teaching you how to be happier and happier, not a way of learning how to tolerate suffering and accumulate resentment.
Two: Settle for a mediocre job/career and become dependent on spending all the income instead of understanding the power of money.
There is no magical job where you’re joyfully ‘living your passion’ 24 hrs a day without any boring, tedious, stressful, annoying parts. However, you can easily discover your talents, natural tendencies, skills, preferences and strengths, and find work that acts like a stage on which you will shine. It’s an old-fashioned notion that work needs to be unpleasant to be valid...it comes from a time when people were forced into unpleasant work for economic reasons and the best way to cope with this was to ennoble their suffering by admiring it.
Start by finding your talents, which means researching the concept, and getting feedback from people who know you. It may take a few weeks or months to get your head around your unique abilities. Then explore the ideas of Tim Ferris, Cal Newport and Seth Godin to get guidance on satisfying work.
Once you have some direction and start a career, harnessing the power of the money you will receive will be a brilliant choice you make or a missed opportunity you’ll regret. I’m no expert on money so, do more research about that topic (avoiding the temptation of get-rich-quick merchants) but, I can tell you that people who see money as a life force to harness have a better life than those who see money as tokens to exchange for goods. It’s fashionable to eschew money as an unimportant vice but, if that were so, all the rich people in the world could easily give-away their wealth in exchange for virtue...and they don’t. Money is like the magical powers you wished for as a child and the older you get the more you’ll wish you opened the spellbook a long time ago.
Three: Focus on meeting outward demands instead of cultivating character through education, introspection, therapy, and personal development.
Ignorance of your inner motivations leaves you a slave to the training you got as a child which is geared toward satisfying others instead of empowering and fulfilling yourself. Even if you had the most benevolent parents, you were manipulated; they approved of you when you cooperated with their expectations and disapproved of you when you didn’t. Why do you think it’s so hard to ignore what other people think of you? Your parents (and school) trained you this way for about 12 years. Then your peers joined-in the indoctrination with social acceptance or rejection so that you’re are nicely socialised to focus on meeting external demands. This is good so that you don’t become a pain to society but, some of your uniqueness was also sacrificed.
So many people can’t identify their goals, aspirations, talents, or personal taste. Without a personal preference, the pressures of the crowd take-over and your efforts will be harnessed by others. Realising you are either in the driver's seat or the passenger seat of your own car is the moment you begin to have a choice about how much control you want and which direction you want to go in.
The field of personal development and the practice of therapy/counselling are open to help you explore the inner world that exists inside your mind.
Self-determination and self-actualisation is the true universal purpose we all have...or can have. And, if you start young, it’s just easier (because you’re more flexible) and you have more years (during your finite life), to experience the richness and joy you’re capable of.
All of us who are worth anything, spend our [adult]hood in unlearning the follies, or expiating the mistakes of our youth.
Thanks to “Andrew P” for asking me to expand on this question. I hope it’s helpful to him and others reflecting on how they plan to live. The take-away is...there are long-term consequences of your choices so, take care of the things that will take care of you; there are forces in life you can harness or be harnessed by.