Most 20-year-olds go through the motions: school, college, internships, a job offer straight after graduation. You’re not allowed to stop even for a moment and breathe, as if the world is going to collapse if you do.
But by living this way, you are depriving yourself of the best your age has to offer: getting to know yourself.
I truly believe this: If you are in your twenties (which I am), you need to stop hustling and rushing towards success. You need to start wasting time, do nothing, and understand how you want to live.
You might discover that it’s not what you first thought.
Most of my friends graduated this year. I watched them post updates on LinkedIn, eager to try out the adult life, make money, and become free. Some (but not all) of my friends went to college not because that’s what they wanted but because they didn’t want to enlist in the Russian (obligatory) army. But almost all of them think that they need to make something of themselves as soon as possible.
That’s the problem with our generation: We rush too much.
And yet I’ve seen so many older people with regret because they jumped into something too early: a relationship, a job, a business, a career.
We don’t take time to sit still and do nothing without external stimulation. We can’t afford to lose time because we’re all entrepreneurs of our lives and the ROI of doing nothing is 0.
Our whole culture screams, “Hustle!” without explaining why. Or at least, why now.
But it’s in wasting time, taking a break from life, and doing nothing that so many breakthroughs happen.
Maybe, if you stopped and looked around, you’d realize you’re not doing what you want.
Maybe you’d see that you chose the college you didn’t want to go to but were too afraid to upset your parents.
Maybe you want to live simply and don’t aspire to become the huge success society is pushing you towards.
Maybe you’d realize you’re living someone else’s life.
You Can Get Away With It
Think about it. There are 7.8 billion people on this planet. Soon we’ll hit 8 billion. There was nobody like you ever before in all of history. And there never will be in the future. It makes sense to assume that we’d have 8 billion crazy different lives because of how different we all are.
And yet, most of us live surprisingly similar lives.
We do the same things, have similar goals, live in the same way in the same cities, consume the same Netflix shows, and make the same amount of money doing similar jobs.
While yes, there are obvious differences—you can be an entrepreneur, an investment banker, a lawyer, a freelancer, what have you—there is still not enough diversity in the way we live.
Half of the population just can’t want to do investment banking, right?
I remember sitting in my college dorm room four years ago. It was about a month before I decided to drop out for good and move back to Russia to start a business. I was 18. I was reading some guy’s blog online who was living in Thailand and doing freelance work.
My first thought was, “OMG, you can actually do that?”
As in, You can actually live however you want—among palm trees and coconuts—and ‘get away with it’?
And this is how most of us think.
There’s no career counselor in the world who would tell you to ditch the 9-to-5 and go “find your passion” in Thailand. They have 10-20 professions on the job list, and you get to pick one. But if we think about it, it’s not their job to help us find our calling. Nobody can decide how to live for you.
It’s the process of discovery that you have to go through yourself.
And yet so many 20-year-olds are busy filling out job applications.
It’s A Broader Question
I am not just talking about careers. If you think about it, the whole concept of a career— a life-long path of employment in one particular area—is almost archaic now, similar to the ranks and statuses of the medieval ages.
I am talking about life in general.
How do you want to live? Where? What time do you want to wake up? What kind of weather do you want? What kind of food do you want to be eating? What languages do you want to speak?
It’s literally impossible to know what you love and how you want to live without exploring it all first. Without getting to know yourself first. If you jumped into a codependent relationship straight out of school, you can’t feel yourself well enough to answer those questions. You need to go on an adventure. Alone.
Maybe you’ll discover that you are obsessed with surfing and decide to live in Bali. Or that Prague’s little, beautiful streets appeal to your artistic tastes.
You can’t answer these questions unless you break free from the prescribed path.
How To Do Nothing
When Kevin Kelly (the founder of Wired magazine) was hiring new staff, he looked at a bunch of interns and said, “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to live and waste time and do nothing?”
And he meant it. In an interview with Impact Theory, he shared the advice he gave his college graduating son to goof off, waste time, and live on minimum wages.
He said that young people are the ones who make the biggest breakthroughs because they have so much time to waste.
It’s true: If you look at most successful people’s biographies, almost all of them had a time when they were lost. Sometimes to find yourself, you need to lose yourself first.
We rush because we’re insecure. We think that while our friends are doing something productive, we’re just wasting time. And what happens when we hit 30? Oh god.
I propose we embrace FOMO (fear-of-missing-out).
Let’s purposefully seek the time to miss out and waste time. Let’s postpone working hard. Once the pandemic is over, go on a solo trip around Europe and live in cheap Airbnb rooms. Spend a month in Vietnam. Volunteer.
Open up your “dream box” (where you collected stuff to do “someday”) and try everything you see in there.
Whatever you do, the goal is to stop productivity for a while and seek exploration instead. Leave productivity for the middle ages.
You might think you’d do all of that after you “make it”. But I doubt you can make it anywhere if you don’t know yourself well. All the extremely successful people you know all have one thing in common: extreme self-awareness.
When, if not now?
I worked really hard last week. So last Saturday, I told myself I’d waste a day. Do nothing at all. Not work, read, write, but just do whatever feels good. I disconnected from the world completely for 24 hours.
It was hard at first. Considering that I write every day, I fought with a large dose of FOMO. But I needed that time, so I pushed myself. By the evening, I had 5-7 different new ideas about what I wanted to do (e.g. learn Spanish). I didn’t know I had these ideas.
It turns out, you can only hear yourself when you stop. And listen.
As they say, silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.
I make it sound like I’ve got it all figured out. There’s no such thing. I rushed for the majority of the past four years, chasing money and success and hustling myself to the bone. Now that I am trying to reconfigure my life and decide what’s best for me, I see that it’s not working anymore.
It’s in making use of my twenties.
I remember when my father’s friend said he envied me. I asked why. He said because I have an ability—at the age of 22—to shrink my lifestyle down to a bare minimum. To plunge into projects on a whim, travel, and dream about life. He said he can’t do that anymore. Not like that, anyway. He has too many obligations, taking care of his family and all.
He said he regrets not taking the time to explore, because you can always be productive later in life.
We can all learn from nature. It never rushes, yet everything is accomplished. Seasons change and everything comes at the right time. There will be a season for productivity, for building.
If you’re in your twenties, now is the time to explore.