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8 Things I’d Teach My Future Children About Their 20s

A year ago, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life; I chose to end my marriage of six years because I was unhappy.

Unless someone has actually gone through divorce, or has been directly affected by divorce, you don’t really know how soul crushing and painful it is to go through — even if you are the one choosing. I’m fairly certain even some of my oldest friends don’t quite grasp what a year it has been.

For my case, it was particularly hard because my family wasn’t on my side when I made the choice. Eventually they came around, but making the choice, holding on to your own conviction, getting through that first month of the process was incredibly painful — and in a way changed me and my relationship with my family forever.

Why did it change me? Because through that whole period of time, having to stand alone and make such a huge decision alone — forced me to rethink a lot of my core beliefs that I had around family, friendships, and what is “right.”

With a clean slate and only the pieces of my broken heart to mend, I embarked over the last year on deep self-reflection on how I spent my 20s, what happened with my marriage, and who I am as a person.

It forced me to ask tough questions like: why did I get married at the young age of 25? If it wasn’t working, why did I stay with it for so long? And even worse, when it was abundantly clear that I was unhappy, why weren’t people closest to me saying something? These days, I hear so many times from old friends: “You’re like the old Tawheed I used to know again..” I never know what to say to that.

The whole experience inspired me to rethink how I spent my 20s, and it lead me to re-define what I value as a person. I did all this while being CEO of a venture backed company (which just had a stellar year).

While it is impossible to articulate all that I have learned through this year of self-reflection, I did distill it down to 8 pieces of advice I would give my own daughter or son, as he or she navigates her 20s — the type of advice I wish I had gotten when I was going through my 20s.

Religion

Embrace spirituality. Avoid dogma, and avoid religion. All religions at it’s core boils down to a simple concept: Do the right thing, be good to others, and make something of your life.

Layered on top of every religion are forced choices you have to make that almost always make you go “us v. them.”

So, I say, Be a good person. Be spiritual. Believe in a higher power, respect it, embrace it, go to it when you are sad, say that you feel blessed when you are happy — but don’t subscribe to religion that is fear driven, constricting, and forces you choose: us v. them. Because at the end of the day, we’re all made of the same thing.

As you explore different philosophies of living life, if you do find a religion that rings true to your soul, then embrace it; but then again — don’t practice dogma onto others.

Money

Most 20-somethings get the advice to get a great paying job and save. Then they are given the advice to buy a house, a car, get married, and have kids. That advice, in my opinion, is misguided. It is misguided because it focuses on making more money, and spending more money and entering what I call the reliable hamster-wheel of life.

Instead, in your 20s, focus on keeping your burn-rate incredibly low. Live cheaply. Spend nothing. Whenever you’re faced with a decision that will increase the amount of money you need to live on, avoid it.

You see, your 20s is all about maintaining optionality. Optionality to not work. Optionality to skip town. Optionality to go to grad school. Optionality to do a study abroad. Optionality to go volunteer somewhere for a year. Optionality to start a company. Optionality gives you the ability to take risks. And your 20s is all about taking wild, gross, hair raising risks. A car payment on the other hand, says “keep working, and just enjoy yourself on the weekend.” – You have the rest of your life to opt into that kind of life.

The best way to maintain optionality is to keep your expenses super low – so you never have to choose between making money to pay bills (because you have a certain lifestyle) vs. doing something that excites you, gives you experience, or prepares you better for life.

The financial system I have in place in my 30s is the one I should’ve instituted when I was in my 20s. All incoming dollars gets split up into four bank accounts: one for savings (10%), one for travel (20%), one for my investment allocation (10%), and then the rest to pay bills (in that order of importance). Note that your percentages may vary.

In summary, most 20-somethings are told to just “save money.” That’s shitty and un-actionable advice. My advice?

  • Keep your burn rate low
  • Have a bank system so your incoming funds get split up into distinct goal-driven bank accounts
  • Focus less on saving, and more on spending your money consciously on things that will either bring you excitement, give you experience, or prepare you better for your life.

Career

Don’t get that “great” job. You know what great jobs are? Great jobs are cushy jobs, jobs that pay you more than they should be paying you, and jobs that are going to get automated in the next 5 years. Great jobs are dead end jobs wrapped in shiny gift paper to make it look like you’re spending your 20s wisely. You’re not.

Instead, get a job that has a ton of grunt work. Get the job that doesn’t pay as well, doesn’t have that fancy title, but by doing that job you’re getting the experience and learning a core skill that no one can ever automate away and no one can ever take away from you.

Your 20s is all about developing a skill that you are passionate about, that you’re good at, and that no one can ever take away from you.

For me, it was coding. I honed my coding skills like a bad ass through my 20s — even if it was writing soul crushing code for financial services. The important thing is I got damn good at it.

Today, I spend 0 hours coding as the CEO of my own company. But if things ever go south, I know I can always walk into any software company, ace a coding test, and get a job that will pay me and put food on the table.

In your 20s, don’t get the cushy “great” job. Get the job that develops a skill that no one can ever take away from you. Work on it for 8 to 10 years; become badass. And then build on top of that.

Making Friends

The best friendships you will have in your life isn’t going to come from weekends out, Thursday happy hours, or house parties.

The most meaningful friendships in your 20s will not develop from “exciting” stuff — it’ll develop from the times you’re sitting utterly bored with people doing benign activities, it’ll develop when you go away on a trip and you’re stuck at the airport, it’ll develop when you’re not actively engaging another person, but instead sitting side by side and watching life happen.

So spend your money on having more of those moments, because as you get older, life gets busy, and those idle moments never come again – and it thereby limits your ability to forge new meaningful relationships severely.

If I were to do my 20s again, I’d have spent way less money on going out and way more time on travel and in exploring the world with the friends I care about.

Keeping Friends

This is probably on of the things I’m worse at. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few life long friends that held on to me and always put in the extra effort to stay connected even when I was bad at doing so.

My advice? Figure out a few that are really worth holding on to, and always make time for them — no matter what. When it comes to friendships, I’m a true believer in quality over quantity.

I’d rather have one best friend that truly gets me rather than 50 acquaintances that come to my birthday party for the open bar.

Losing Friends

This is hard for me to say, but it’s important to point it out. You will lose friends as you move through your 20s. Some friendships will just fade away little by little. Some will have a hard end. Some, will just plain break your heart.

The thing about your 20s is that if you’re doing it right, you’ll grow as a person at immense breakneck speeds.

As you enter your late 20s, you’ll come to terms with one very difficult thing in life: not everyone will grow as fast as you, and some will grow faster than you. And when this happens, it inevitably means that you’ll lose friends.

My advice? Be conscious about it. Some friends you’ll get together with and realize you have absolutely nothing in common with. Some friends you’ll get together with, and you’ll find that you’re incapable of making any new memories with them — you can only laugh about times passed. While others you’ll meet and you’ll find that they push you. They push you to new levels, they push you to think deeper and harder about things, and they push you to become a better person.

You will have to make important choices about how you spend your time. But know that it will shape who you become and what you accomplish through the rest of your life.

Love

When I was growing up, my parents were extremely against dating. On top of that, they were also adamant that I should marry someone “Bangladeshi and of the same religion.”

I still dated through my 20s, but not openly. Nevertheless, the restrictions still shaped my approach and view of relationships — and in retrospect it made me have a very unhealthy view on relationships.

My advice? Don’t limit yourself.

Acknowledge that you’ll most likely have numerous relationships through your 20s. I did. Through each relationship — I know both myself and my then significant other walked away with a better understanding of what we wanted out of life and who we were — no matter how bitter the pill may have been at the time.

The key to your 20s is to explore the world, explore yourself, and figure out who you will become. And part of that is to figure out what kind of person you want to have as a life long partner as you navigate the journey of life.

So: Date.

Don’t just date people exactly like you, date people that can complement you, challenge you, make you better, give you insight into parts of you that you don’t know about. Date so you can be a better person, so that you can make the other person a better person, and so that you can learn what makes sense for you.

But, don’t date senselessly. There is a huge difference between meaningful relationships and connections and senseless hookups. Dating can be both a beautiful thing, or a careless thing. Just know that there are people’s feelings in play and be cognizant of it.

Marriage

I wish someone gave me this advice when I was 24: Don’t get married until you are 30. Don’t get married before you’ve figured out who you are. Don’t get married before you’ve figured out your career. And most importantly, don’t get married to someone until that person has figured out who he or she is either.

Even today, I think of marriage as an incredibly beautiful institution. The idea of being in love with someone and building a life together with a family still brings a tear to my eye. I would sincerely consider my life a failure if I don’t get to enjoy the joys of that.

But at the same time, so many people look at Marriage as a checkbox right next to getting an MBA, or getting a 30-year mortgage. It’s not a checkbox; it is probably one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life: financially, personally, spiritually — everything. So don’t make it till you’ve had at-least a decade of independence as an adult.

In Conclusion

I wrote this blog post as a way to process myself what I’ve come to value in my life and the way I want to live. I wanted to write it down for myself, for hopefully my future children, and for anyone in their 20s or 30s that are looking to live a growth conscious life.

I will end with this: Perhaps the biggest meta-lesson I’ve learned is that there is no one way to live your life. The things above may resonate really well with you or it may not — use this as a way to ask yourself what is important to you.

Because if you don’t decide on the things above for yourself, chances are someone else is deciding for you and that is no way to live.

I’ve turned off comments to this post for personal reasons. If you want to share your thoughts with me, email me at: tawheed kader at gmail.