You Are Going to Live Too Long
You do not need to know what you are going to do forever in your 20s… and other life mistakes you will make because you will live too long
No one is prepared for how long you will live today compared to past generations. By 2030, life expectancy will surpass ninety years old according to a BBC report by James Gallagher, and how do you prepare people under thirty years old today for the possibility of living over forty years longer than people just a hundred years ago?
Life planning was simpler when you died young. In the early 1900s, the life expectancy in America was only fifty-eight years old. You retired when you were in your early fifties, died about six years later, often stayed married your entire life to the same person, and usually stayed in the same career for all the years you worked.
Should you really expect to find a life partner in your twenties that will be with you for another sixty years? Can you be expected to finish college then commit to one career for fifty years or more?
One hundred years later we have a life expectancy of seventy-nine years as of 2020, which makes most of the rules your parents believed in about how to live and prepare for the decade of your twenties obsolete.
The mistakes you make under thirty are ones of commitment, or failure to evaluate and take risk. Shorter life spans meant you had to get going earlier in life committing faster to the big things that might pass you by if you didn’t move quickly.
You married when you were eighteen, started that preplanned career, then started working your way up when you were just twenty-one. Eventually you bought the perfect house and started the family as quickly as you could.
But is any of this reasonable today? Is forcing yourself to be an “adult,” as defined by an older generation, the right way for you to live your life?
The last few generations have suffered through parents obsessed raising the perfect child. These parents arrange tutors and coaches for kids under ten, activities geared to get you into the finest schools, always pushing toward the hardest courses in high school, doing the extra credit work, joining the right organizations that look good on a college app; all things that happened in your life before you were twenty.
All of this forced activity takes away your life. You never have time to dream, to explore, to make mistakes that define you as you get older
Our society has created a generation that has never had time to breathe or experience life without structure, one forced to make decisions and commitments today that determines who you are for a long, long life.
Forcing things to work in your life creates mistakes. Pushing yourself, or worse, getting pushed, into being someone you are not ready to be rarely ends well. You end up doing work meaningless to you, find yourself in relationships that have no hope, and wasting your talent chasing dreams belonging to someone else.
Here are a few of the mistakes I find my clients making. I have been a personal business and life coach for several decades working with thousands of people who have come through my workshops through the years.
Most of the ones who are miserable make the same mistakes, again errors of commitment or the understanding of what risk means to them.
Don’t worry about the last step, worry about the next five years
You commit too young and live too long. The decade of your twenties should be yours to explore, to try new cities, date lots of different people, get a sense of what career you do want to pursue, but commit to little.
You should not worry about what you will do with the rest of your life. When you are twenty-five, can you really see your life at sixty-five? Instead, think about blocks of five years at a time. Worry about the next step and stop worrying about the last step.
When you think of your career, think of it as a small block of time that keeps you fed and entertained now, but it may not be what you do forever. If you love what you do, then mentally commit to another five-year block and keep going.
This even works in relationships, although this is advice no one wants to hear and seldom takes. It is not realistic in today’s culture to think getting married when you are twenty-three has much chance of lasting a lifetime. People grow and change, especially when you will work and live for another sixty years, and they seldom grow more together.
If you find your special person, then try it and see if it works, but the advice is to stay together but do not get married until you mid or late thirties when statistically you have a better chance of surviving together during your later years.
Living your life in five-year blocks takes much of the pressure away that comes from the false need to know to today what you will do for the rest of your life. Many people worry so much about what they will do for the rest of their life that they end up not having a life.
You won’t save money now because there is always next year
It is easy to feel invulnerable when you are living in the decade of your twenties. You usually have your physical years, yet any bad habits haven’t caught up with you yet.
Sitting a desk for a few years doesn’t do the damage that sitting at a desk for twenty years will do. Late nights, little sleep, and raging weekends are badges of honor earned one too many drinks at a time, but while those habits may slow you down a little, the long-term accumulation of all those endlessly lost nights of sleep do compound and will catch you, and punish you, later.
This feeling of physical powerfulness also affects your financial mind. If you feel you are invulnerable, at your peak physically and feel you will live forever, then you also believe you always have a tomorrow to worry about money. It is easy to just put off any saving or financial planning until “somewhere” in the future since there is no perceived urgency.
It is also easy to believe you are only one big hit away and everything will be taken care for you financially for life, but while this does happen, hope for the best but prepare for the worst day you might ever experience.
What we forget are the normal changes of life. Turn thirty and you often do the kid thing, buy the big house, and start that phase of your life. We saved nothing when we are in our twenties, assuming we will start maybe when we are in our thirties, but we never expected it will cost you a lot more to be you in those years.
Saving four hundred per month over thirty years, at about six percent interest, and a few thousand in starter money, and you end up with about five hundred thousand. Not a huge amount of money, but compared to the average savings of the Millennials, born between 1981–1998 at $2,430 dollars or the Gen Xers who were born between 1965–1980 with $15,780, a half a million dollars is substantial.
You don’t take enough risk
What have you got to lose? Go for the dream job. Work your way through Europe. Write the big novel. You try, if it works, you win and if it does not work, then you still won.
As you age your tolerance and willingness to accept perceived risk declines, but why not chase the big dreams when you have so little to hold you back or to lose?
One of the bigger late-night conversations I have with my clients is about regret, usually beginning with, “I should have….so many years ago.” Failure shapes you, usually leaving you in a more experienced place, now with a life adventure that becomes not just who you are, but who you will be in life. Few regret the failures, but most regret never trying to see if you could be that person, and all failure means is you were not that person that day and has nothing of how you will progress during your next adventures.
Most people are afraid to admit what they really want in life
Getting clients to admit what they really want is one of the hardest problems I encounter in my work. Unless you sit, buy a few glasses of wine, and continually poke at the client, he or she just continues to tell you what they think they should do and seldom what they really want from the experience of their own lives.
It is easy to live a life of “I should do this,” rather than creating a life of “I want this for myself.” Living a life of should come from the pressure and guilt of living up to someone else’s dreams. Parents, spouses, close friends and strong mentors can often take you into their wants and dreams totally ignoring what you really want to be doing with your life.
“What do you want from the experience of being you?” maybe the hardest question ever asked, and would you have an honest answer if asked this?
The failure comes from denying what you want so long that your dream dies. If you take risk and chase your dreams when you are in your twenties, no matter the outcome, you will learn taking risk is nothing more than giving yourself permission to live your life as you want to live it. Developing this ability early will serve you well later since tried and learned, compared to those who never risked then find that as you age your willingness to get uncomfortable seeking what you want will diminish.
You don’t believe you are the one
I think this is the biggest of all these mistakes. You believe everyone around you is more talented, more deserving and better prepared than you are to get what they want… and you are wrong.
Making strong decisions in your twenties, the ones right for you and only determined by you, are hard because most of the people around you end up working against you, not by harmful intent, but by believing they are keeping you from harm.
Parents often subtlety ruin your dreams by telling you that what you want isn’t you, it won’t work, you will get hurt, it will set back your career, or you should just get married and settle down. They often base these questionable suggestions upon their own fears and have nothing to do with you.
I had a client who was starting his own business in his late twenties, but hesitated because his father told him, “Why you? Your brother is older and has nothing. Why do you think you deserve this when he doesn’t?”
The client eventually opened his business, a personal training gym, and was financially successful, but it took several years before his family would acknowledge he did the right thing for him.
Your peer group can also hold you back. When you seek to live your life, by moving away, taking a crazy job, write the big book or anything else you choose, many of your friends work to keep you as the same person you were. If you rise, and they don’t, the pressure shifts to them and many of your old friends resent that fact you had the courage to change and they didn’t.
Nothing changes in life until you change but changing is a solo adventure where you often end up going it alone. The mistake you make in the decade of your twenties is that you don’t believe enough in yourself and don’t believe enough in your personal value.
Until you believe you are equal to, and just as deserving as anyone else, you will never live up to the potential of your own life. The old adage might still apply here: Respect everyone in life but be intimidated by no one.
This means there might be people further down the path than you financially or in their career, but no one is better than you, he or she is just in a different point of life.