For all the things I’m proud to have done and places I’ve gone to and experiences I’ve had, there are a couple things I wish I knew when I was 21 and if I had to do it over again or if I had the opportunity to slap myself, here are 10 things I would change.
1. Never getting a store credit card and paying that monthly instalment on a simple $500 credit card
Now that I’m older and not that much wiser, I’ve managed to travel and do most everything without a credit card, unfortunately it is becoming harder and harder to travel without the security and convenience of a credit card. The independence of a credit card was borne because for a couple years, I couldn’t actually get one because of stupid teenage decisions made when I first came to Canada. So if I could slap the 21 yr old version of me, it would be to pay the minimum payment on anything and on time. Those offers of credit cards at the student union, and in exchange for filling out an application, they gift you a Mars bar, bag, trinket or a fart in a jar? I was broke! Sign me up! Yeah right, to this day I’m paying for that lesson.
2. Degrees and studying are overrated. No one will care about your MBA, M.Sc, PHD or XYZ-ABC with Honors in 5+ years.
Seriously! I was consumed with getting the most degrees and certifications to prove how smart I was. As if the measure of my worth was based on how smart people thought I was. So silly! School helps, degrees will get you in the door, since there is no other objective way to differentiate ourselves in this western “meritocracy” that we live in. However what makes you successful isn’t that paper you have but the combination of desire to be better, emotional/social intelligence, some work ethic and a bit of luck that comes your way, when you have the combination of the first three.
3. Find something you are passionate about and work at it.
This is the one lesson I learned when I was 21. Over time, your focus changes, your interests change but that passion is either there or not. In general, I’ve observed that the successful people I meet are passionate about what they do or what they believe.
4. Money is overrated … seriously.
For those who have little of it, this can be a severe hardship, but most people don’t need vast millions to enjoy a comfortable life. We’re sold something by advertisers and the media … we live in a highly consumptive society, where the perceived worth of someone is advertised by the material assets they have. Yet over the last 8 years, no one has ever really asked me about where I live or what I drive but rather where would I go next or “How do you do it?” or I wish had XXX dollars to travel like you. My response is invariably, money doesn’t buy happiness, only you can control your happiness.
5. Travel really doesn’t cost a lot … at all.
You don’t need to save $20,000 to spend a year overseas. When you’re young, stupid and fearless … you will eat anything, drink anything, sleep anywhere, dive off anything and probably sleep with almost anything. There are so many resources for the enterprising traveler (Couchsurfing, Hospitality club, Hostels, Camping, sleeping in the park).So if you’re willing to sleep anywhere – one of the biggest costs of traveling is automatically reduced. Finding discount flights, brochures and promotions has never been easier. When I was 21, I thought that I required vast sums of money to see the world – how stupid of me. Now I always negotiate, I always ask for a discount and I always expect a better way to do things.
6. Safety nets are for wimps – you don’t need it. You are more resourceful than you ever think you are.
Experience is greatest teacher you can ever have. There is nothing like it … no book/movie/guide/holy scripture will teach you how to eat jellyfish, climb a mountain, walk into a burned out house to get your filthy clothes, pick up a stingray with your bare hands or let you get to the top of Europe in a pair of short and vest. A fear of failure is a fear of experience and consequently a fear of knowledge. I would slap that 21 yr old upside the head and tell him to grab 1000$ and go backpack in Laos/Thailand – 10 years ago, it was much cheaper … hell most places were much cheaper.
7. There is NO better time to travel – you’re carefree, single-ish, and guilt-free
There is no point to waiting until you have more money, because if you’re waiting for that state, then it will never be enough. As time passes, everything gets more complicated: financially, emotionally, mentally. As one gets older, most people have to think about kids, wife, forwarding mail, getting a friend to pet sit, pay bills remotely … blah blah blah.You also don’t have to justify yourself to your peer group and deny the existence of a prolonged adolescence – as if that was bad thing. Those people who wait till they’re older to travel … only realize then, that it was a mistake to wait while they are climbing Mt. Fuji on creaky knees.
8. You’re not jaded and small stuff excites you.
Today, I could care less about my job or working. It is a means to an end, it is what allows me to be free and travel, yet the constraints of a job mean that you aren’t ever truly free.
9. Learning multiple languages is THE most useful thing to do in school
Employers can teach you skills, you can teach yourself work related skills. Learning new languages is like unlocking new universes within your own reality. My 21 yr old self would be adding Spanish as a major or doing grad school in another language.
10. Time does matter; Use it well
Time flies by so quickly, one tends to forget the events or people that shape you. It’s always important to reach out and remind people that you haven’t forgotten them