Don’t Sacrifice Your 20s to Hustle Culture

Tom Stevenson

Photo: Josiah Gardner/Unsplash
At the end of this year, I turn 31. Eight years ago, I was a lot younger and at the beginning of an exciting year living in Australia. I graduated from university over a year earlier, and after working in an unsatisfying job, I decided to travel.

That one trip ignited a passion for travel, which led to me spending a year in Australia, New Zealand, a few months in Southeast Asia and two years living in Barcelona. It may sound like I didn’t know where I wanted to be, but that’s not the case.

A lot is made of what you should and shouldn’t do in your twenties. One school of thought suggests that you spend your twenties working to set yourself up for the rest of your life. We’ll call this the ‘Gary Vee camp.’ Others believe that you should make the most of your twenties and not worry too much about the future, especially in the first few years.

My instinct is to lean towards the latter camp, which you could refer to as the ‘live it up camp.’ The arguments for either side are valid. If you work hard during your twenties, you can set yourself up for life. The downside is that you can spend too much time working and neglect to enjoy the best years of your life.

As someone that is now in their thirties and noticed more aches, pains and less tolerance for adventure than I had in my younger care-free days, I’m glad I spent my twenties the way I did.

The older you get, the more responsibilities you have and the less tolerance you have for doing crazy stuff. The idea of going on a booze cruise, or spending a year living in hostels is less appealing to me now than it was when I was 22.

I can barely handle the damage after drinking a few pints at the pub now, never mind drinking all night as I used to when I was at university. The point is that although it might be more sensible to get your affairs in order when you’re younger, you won’t always be young and carefree.

Your twenties are the best years to enjoy yourself and do the things you dreamt of doing while you’ve still got the energy and the desire. The focus shouldn’t just be on work and your commitments. You were born to live, not exist.

Live a little

I remember graduating from university and wondering what comes next? At the time, I wanted to go to Australia and travel for a year, but I didn’t have the courage to go to the other side of the world by myself.

Instead, I decided to apply for a variety of graduate jobs, none of which employed me. Looking back, I’m glad they all rejected me. Even though the job I eventually got wasn’t the best, I wouldn’t have been any happier working in a better job.

Some of the jobs were very well-paid. One job as a graduate regional manager for the supermarket chain Aldi paid £40,000 a year. For someone who had just graduated from university, this was a large amount of money. The problem was, when you dived into the details of the job, it wasn’t worth what you were offered.

The job required you to drive around part of the country, checking on the supermarkets in your area. You’d be working more than 40 hours a week, and the job was intense. This wasn’t what I wanted to do when I graduated.

My fears about this sort of job were confirmed when I got a job working in an office after returning to the UK from Barcelona. I’d look around and see a variety of people all working at their desks, a lot of them my age, looking fed up.

None of us wanted to be there, but the allure of a solid paycheque meant we all gravitated to the same place. That’s why I’m glad I bucked the trend and decided to travel and live in various countries.

Would I have more money now if I hadn’t done this? Undoubtedly. I spent a lot of money traveling, a lot of which went towards alcohol and partying, but I wouldn’t change any of it. I used to kick myself about this from time to time, but after thinking about it recently, my view changed. Your twenties are the best time to enjoy yourself because your obligations are often minimal.

Sure, I could have spent my time better, I could have taken better care of my finances, but would I have had more fun? The answer is a clear no.

I had a good few years where I enjoyed myself. I don’t look back and regret those actions. I look back and think that I had fun and did what most young people in their twenties would do. Any time spent having fun is rarely wasted.

The way to spend your twenties

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to make the most of your time. If you want to do something, you should do it. Thankfully, this was a philosophy I adopted early on, and I’ve had few regrets from adopting this mentality.

Equally, I’ve done a lot of things that were stupid, silly and cost me a lot of money. If I had followed Gary Vee’s advice of working your ass off in your twenties to gain more freedom later on, I’d be better off today.

But that doesn’t hold water for me. I’m in my position today because of the experiences I had, not in spite of them. Had I not decided to go traveling and start a travel blog after a few years, this would not have led me to become the full-time writer I am today.

Who knows, maybe I would have gravitated towards writing eventually, but if I had secured a graduate job, I’m not sure I’d give it all up so I could start writing. The odds are I’d still be in the job today, in much better financial shape, but not as happy.

The simple truth that Gary Vee misses is that you’re only young once. Time flies, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Enjoy yourself, have fun, do stupid stuff. Sure, you might look back on some of the things you did and think, why the hell did I do that?

But isn’t that what makes life worthwhile? Isn’t that what makes life exciting? Hardly any story worth telling comes from a position of safety or orthodoxy; they come from doing something a little different or crazy.

Your twenties are the years to experiment, explore and to take risks. You might drink too much, you might party more than you should, and you might lose a lot of money, but you need to enjoy your freedom while you’ve got the chance.

Life is to be lived, and your twenties are the best years to do just that. Don’t beat yourself up for drinking too much or spending too much money. You’ll look back later and be glad you did, rather than lament the folly of youth.

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