3 Things 20-Somethings Need to Do to Avoid Regret in Your 30s & 40s

Max Phillips


I must confess something: I’m 22 years old. If that’s offputting given the headline, then so be it.

I must confess another thing: I am not a time traveler.

What I have done is grown up around and heard of plenty of adults in their 30s and 40s who’s lives are going backward.

Of course, I don’t know what their 20s were like, but as I make my way through them, I can make some judgments on what not to do. Think of this as speaking to my current and future self — predictions for what not to do. If he’s reading this, then I hope he is paying attention.

Anyway, enough of the time travel talk. Here are five things 20 somethings need to do to avoid regret by their 30s and 40s.

1. Don’t focus on your goals

Succeeding in your goals will make you happy, right? Well, you’d think so, but no.

I thought I was happy when my first article was curated. For a time, I was. Then I had a miserable four weeks. Nothing got curated, and I felt my writing was rubbish.

Honestly, I was looking at it the wrong way. Goals are an unreliable form of happiness. They fluctuate throughout your life.

Say you have a goal of becoming the chief software developer at your firm. In five years, when you eventually get the role, your passion and desires might have changed, and you no longer want it — five years down the drain.

Sure, goals can be a motivating factor in your life, but using them to quantify your success will only serve to drag you down. Research has shown that we often set unattainable goals, which we then put ourselves down for not reaching.

Instead, analyze your life as it is at the moment. Calculate your current trajectory and go from there. That way, your future is right in front of you, and you don’t need to shoot for the moon to get there.

How do you do it?

You stick with the process.

Anything worth having takes time. Money, relationships, happiness, career success. All of it.

Though I’m only 22, I feel like I am continually chasing something imaginary as if the time were running out. The truth is, it isn’t. You’re on your own schedule.

The book I mentioned earlier — Atomic Habits — discusses this in detail. It says:

“Success is the product of daily habits — not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”

Success takes time. I, like you, want everything to happen right away. Accepting that it won’t is hard, especially as it is so easy to read success stories online. We tend to get bored of the norm and look for to switch it up, faltering from our long-term plan. Happily, Clear has something to say:

“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty.”

Breaking Bad actor Brian Cranston says adopting this method helped shift his career from average to extraordinary, writes Anthony Moore. In his autobiography, Cranston explains this further:

“I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete.
I was going to give something.
I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to be compelling. Take come chances. Enjoy the process.”

Focusing on the here and now can relax you from the worry of overarching goals. It may feel boring from time to time, but that makes the glamorous moments all the more worthwhile.

2. Act on advice

Ever wonder how many self-help articles, like this one, you’ve read? Probably a lot. How many can you remember? Probably not many.

You click on an article or open a book because it has the answers to a question you may not have thought of yet.

If you read something that you deem valuable — act on it.

The most valuable piece of advice I got was to invest in myself. I’ve always been a bit timid when it comes to spending money, as I don’t like seeing it disappear from my bank account.

But, I invested in things such as a writing course, a desk, and office chair to enhance my career. Sure, they weren’t overly cheap, but I experience their rewards every day.

If you don’t act on advice, nothing will change, and the regret will take a firm grip within you.

How do you do it?

Don’t go looking for quick fixes and secrets

This article in itself may seem like a ‘quick fix’. It isn’t. These, I hope, are life long skills you can take with you well beyond your 40s.

Although, it seems that these days, we are looking for the next big secret to fix anything wrong with our lives:

  • “Six-pack abs in 30 days.”
  • “Earn £1000 in a week with this pyramid scheme.”
  • “Build your career in seconds.”

Any of those sound familiar?

The reality is that whenever you see a life hack or overnight success, there has been years of hard work put into it.

From what I’ve seen, there isn’t a quick fix. The methods that take longer do so because they are long term. Searching for easy, “fancy” advice can leave you stuck where you don’t want to be.

Besides, quick fixes tend to be a selling point for the creator. If you have your best interests at heart, take your time.

3. Plan, don’t hope

Finally, I’d like to leave you with this simple point.

For too long now, I’ve been telling myself I “hope” my articles do well. Sure, there are elements of it that are out of my control, but there is so much that is.

I can plan for the long term by creating an email course, building my newsletter, and writing every day.

Instead of planning what you want to be, think about who that person is. A successful writer is reliable and consistent, right? So that is what I need to be. I need to put those habits into action every day or else the regret will take its form sooner rather than later.

So don’t hope. Take action.

There you have it

I don’t have all the answers. I do believe, however, the earlier you implement points such as these, the lighter you’ll feel in your 30s and 40s.

These are tips I will use in hopes of not living with regret in later life, but I feel they can be adapted to any point. Life doesn’t stop after you turn 30. One chapter closes so another one can begin.

Your older years are somewhat of an unknown quantity. Adopting these changes will make you steadfast in who will be then. So take your time, and enjoy what you’re doing.

I can only hope my future self has listened.

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