3 Harsh Lessons I Learned In My 20’s That Made Me Successful Today
I was asleep in a bunk-bed of a jail.
My best friend at the time, also in jail, woke me up in the middle of the night sobbing.
I almost punched him at first, because that’s an expected response to someone touching you while you’re asleep in jail in the middle of the night.
We’d both been arrested a few hours prior. I was selling drugs out of his house. Since the house was in his name, he got in trouble too.
It was all fun and games while we had people going in and out of the house buying weed. We had the girls, the parties, the fun, the money, everything.
I distinctly remember a moment I and my former friend had about a week prior to us getting arrested.
He told me he was getting worried. He said we were drawing too much attention and having too many people come to the house to buy. He wanted me to shut everything down.
I felt the same way too. Things were getting out of hand. I wanted the money and the notoriety, but I didn’t want to get in trouble either. I told him “Ok. I’m going to get one last shipment. After that runs out, I’m done.”
I believed what I said too. I really did want out.
A week later, I was being walked out of the house in cuffs…
Things got ugly after that. Both of our lawyers advised us not to speak to one another. All of our friends were mutual and people were having to choose sides. I lost my best friend, all of my money, and my freedom over a few dollars and the high of being “that guy.”
I was only 20 years old at the time. Now that I’m older (28) I can look back at the lessons that experience taught me.
Lesson #1 — Every Choice Matters
The first lesson is the choices you make have a lasting impact. When you’re young, you don’t think of things that way. You’re barely looking into next week, let alone your entire life.
There are lots of people right now who made bad choices — who were at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people — that are still paying for those choices now.
It’s hard to have that type of foresight at 18. If I could go back and talk to my young self, I doubt he’d even listen to me, but I’d still try anyway because choices are that important.
There are the decisions you make during precarious situations:
Are you going to get into that car with a driver who’s been drinking? Four acquaintances of mine in college nearly died because of that.
Are you going to get too intoxicated and be the tough guy at the party? I know people with gravestones and prison sentences for that.
Will you spend time with people who are no good for you? They rub off on you for better or worse.
There are also the general life decisions you make at such a young age, which ironically, aren’t given as much thought as they probably should.
Are you going to plunge yourself into tens of thousands of debt for a degree?
Are you going to pick a career mommy and daddy want or are you going to follow your own dreams?
I wish the impact of choices could be weighted, like, a younger person should face fewer consequences as an older person for making a bad choice, but it doesn’t work that way.
If you’re a young person you can do your best to heed my warnings. If you’re older you know the consequences of choice already, but that doesn’t necessarily keep you from making more bad choices.
It’s tough, but you have to stay as conscious as possible about each decision you make every day for…the rest of your life.
Lesson #2 — Stop Trying to Impress People and Be Yourself
One time a drank entire 24 oz long island ice tea in one “pull.” Five minutes later I was wasted. An hour later I was throwing up outside of the bar.
Why did I do that?
I wanted to “impress” people. Only in the mind of a 21-year-old would drinking a 24 oz long island be impressive.
I would embellish the number of women I slept with. I was the life of the party in a number of different ways — from being the one making out in the corner to the one fighting in the street — because I wanted people to know how cool I was.
Fast forward to now, and I barely talk to any of the people I knew in high school or college.
I realize now that it’s okay to be yourself.
It sounds cliche — be yourself — but think about it.
This “high school mentality” doesn’t end there. It goes on into the business world when you’re trying to play office politics to impress people or when you buy a new car to one-up your neighbor.
Society is like a big high school where there are rules to being one of the cool kids — have a nice job, nice clothes, nice house, nice car, nice LinkedIn profile, nice Facebook profile pic or Instagram post.
It’s all bullshit.
Few want to embrace their weirdness. The world wants to put you in a box.
The older I get, the more I’m embracing the things I want.
Instead of following the career path my parents or society want for me, I started writing.
Instead of acting like the rappers I listened to as a youth, I started respecting women, pulled up my pants, and became a good person.
I’m still human and I catch myself wanting the approval of others all the time, but I think of the people I want approval from and what’s going on in their minds. They’re just as preoccupied with themselves as I am with myself.
Let this sink into your brain — People don’t care about you as much as you think they do.
You only have one life to live. Why live it for anyone else?
Lesson #3 — Watch Your Finances (Debt Will Kill You)
I bought a tattoo with a credit card once. A full sleeve tattoo for $600. This was literally hours after I got the card in the mail.
I was young, dumb, and had no financial education.
I used my credit card for every meal. I used it to buy clothes I didn’t need. I used it until it was maxed out. Then I got another, and another, and another.
I’m still paying off that debt now.
Young people make many costly money mistakes early on. Maybe we weren’t taught the right skills early enough. Maybe credit card companies shouldn’t send 18-year-old people credit card offers in the mail.
Either way, the earlier you get some financial literacy the better.
The best time to start a business is when you’re young.
The best time to start saving is when you’re young.
In contrast to my early financial fiasco, I read a story about a teenager who saved up a ridiculous amount of money from age 14 to 24, increase his credit score, bought an apartment building, invested in the stock market, and became a millionaire.
He obviously had more maturity than most, but it goes to show what foresight at an early age can accomplish.
If you can even get a bit of a handle on your dinero at a young age you’ll be set for life. If you made mistakes and have to catch up — it is what it is — but remember you have the rest of your life to make things right.
How to Use Your Past Experiences to Your Advantage
“Further, my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. He who has never sinned is less reliable than he who has only sinned once. And someone who has made plenty of errors — though never the same error more than once — is more reliable than someone who has never made any.” — Nassim Taleb
You can learn a lot from screwing up.
Our tendency is to beat ourselves up over past mistakes, wish things were different, and remain in a cycle of repetitive action insanity.
Looking back on my life, I’m glad things happened the way they happened because the pointed my life in a different direction — albeit with some uncomfortable details.
Had my life been a straightforward path, I may have never discovered my passion for writing. I use those negative experiences as both material and inspiration to other people who feel like they’re too far gone in life.
I could’ve easily given up on a better future based on past evidence, but instead, I used those mistakes and examples of what not to do in the future. I knew I’d hate my life if I continued to live the same way, so I changed.
In your case, life is too short to not realize what mistakes really are — a treasure trove of useful information, insightful lessons, and compasses to a better future.
If you feel like a fuck up…stop fucking up and harness the power of the cruel lessons life teaches you.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.