I Did Not Start Living Until 25

At 23, I had a stark wake-up call which completely changed my life path

Ashton Jones
Jan 13 · 14 min read
Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

Hi friends 👋🏼

I have been wanting to start writing for awhile, and I finally feel like I have an interesting story to tell- the story of why I did not start living until 25.

Two years ago, I thought I was on the path to success; after all, it looked great on paper, and people who knew me seemed to think I was on a successful path too.

It is pretty wild how one moment can completely change your life.

In one instance, I felt something in my life was terribly misaligned and I needed to make a drastic change.

That moment of clarity completely overwrote my life direction, habits, and philosophy.

🧭 Pre-Life:

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

I was pretty convinced I was on the path to success. I was being guided towards it by people in my entire life and it was the only path I had been exposed to.

I was following society’s default path to success- the academic path. 📚

Nothing is wrong with walking the academic path to make yourself successful; for many people, this is an opportune time to figure out what to do, explore opportunities, and gain skills to improve their lives.

But I eventually discovered it was not the right path for me.

I enrolled in university and worked way too hard.

I studied Economics to gain the analytical skills I thought I needed, Spanish to be more competitive in the job market, and Mathematics solely to increase my chances of getting accepted to a better graduate program. I wrote a thesis primarily to impress graduate admission committees and assure them I am an intelligent person.

The crazy thing is, I did not even have a specific career goal in mind, or any concrete goal for that matter. Looking back, I am puzzled as to how I was able to push myself so hard in university with no external motivator, other than getting into graduate school.

I was convinced I needed at least a Masters degree to get a ‘decent’ job, so I continued my education and started a Masters program in Economics.

Because I was not mindful, I had blindly followed society’s prescribed path for success:

Graduate university with high marks and analytical skills, find a job in my field of study, and slowly climb the career ladder.

More generally,

Do what society tells you to do so you can achieve success, as defined by society.

So to be successful, that is the path I pursued. I never contemplated the path I was on because I was so unconsciously convinced I already was on the path to success.

Yes, no one forced me to go to college and it was my choice to do so.

But here’s the thing:

I did not know anything else.

The societal roots of this path to success are so deeply engrained in our culture, that we usually do not even stop to question if it is the right one for us.

After all, I anticipated everything I had been learning in university to finally come together in graduate school, aligning to form a splendid constellation of knowledge-infused clarity, which I would use in my daily profession.

I envisioned I was on the path to success and after graduating I would start a rewarding career and be happy.

Then I had a stark wake-up call.

👀 My Awakening:

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

I clearly remember the crippling experience of laying in bed for hours not being able to fall asleep. It is tough to write about this because it brings up such dark memories. I would crawl into bed exhausted and ready to sleep.

But I could not fall asleep.

My mind simply would not shut off- I had a never-ending stream of thoughts cycling through my head. Random memories from years ago would suddenly come to mind.

Some nights I would be optimistic and say to myself, “Tonight I will sleep”. Other nights I would be petrified about not falling asleep and put more pressure on myself to sleep that it became a self-fulling prophecy of restlessness.

It was not only one night, or even a couple nights. It was every night. For months. I went months only sleeping 2-3 hours per night. Sometimes I would be awake for 2-3 days straight.

I was scheduling appointments with the university hospital every other week to try a new sleeping aid. Each time, I would come back and tell them, in a frenzied panic, “This did not work, I need to try something else as soon as possible”. I must have tried ten different medications, none of which made any difference.

Having gone through this for months, I had lost all hope of sleeping and feeling like a normal human being- I was certain I was simply going to have to cope with it and accept it as my new norm.

If you sleep normally, you are truly blessed because insomnia is a brutal, debilitating experience.

I had to cancel plans with friends because I did not have the energy to get off of the couch. I doubted I would ever recover and I sincerely did not think I would make it out alive. I thought I would pass out from exhaustion one day and never wake up.

Ironically, insomnia ended up being my wake-up call.

Well that, and the epiphanic, life-changing moment people like to envision.

I was falling asleep in a lecture in which we were learning how to analyze the error of an error for an estimation; in other words, doing a highly complex analysis of something so trivial that no one in the real world would ever care about. 🤷🏻‍♂️

My Revelation

While sitting in that lecture, I had the most profound revelation:

"What am I doing here️⁉️"

In that particular moment, I fully grasped how detached academia was from reality and everything I learned up to that point was simply not going to come together to form the magnificent constellation of knowledge-infused clarity I had imagined.

It never was.

I also discovered I hated what I was doing because I was not self-aware.

I was not passionate about analyzing data and creating models.

Although academia did not turn out to be the right path for me, I did still get value out of it: I learned a new language, I traveled to different countries, I learned how to see different perspectives, and I honed my writing skills.

I am also grateful for the experiences I had because they eventually guided me to the path I am on today. Discovering what I dislike helped me gain more perspective on what I am passionate about and how I want to live.

However, I realized I needed to change my path and take care of myself.

This realization took me five years, but I am fortunate I realized this before I was much further in my life and career, because it would have been more challenging to pivot.

I stood up in the middle of the lecture, grabbed my backpack, and walked out the door, ready to embark on a new life path. 🚶‍♂️

Pretty epic, right? Well, it actually was not so easy.

Defying the Status Quo

Making a decision that defies the status quo is difficult.

I spent countless hours debating whether or not to keep pushing to finish school or leave.

I had some pretty common fears, such as being judged by my peers and being labeled a dropout by society.

In retrospect, I also had some very irrational fears, such as only being able to work minimum wage jobs if I did not earn a graduate degree- insomnia combined with questioning the status quo really messes with your head.

Above all, the hardest aspect of making the decision to leave was feeling I would have wasted 5 years of my life, since I had been working for that long to get to graduate school.

I was terrified of making the wrong decision and I was completely frazzled. 🤯

After countless anxiety-ridden hours pondering my decision, I decided to leave the path I was on and forge a new one.

🧘‍♂️ Recovery:

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Before life could begin, I went through an excruciatingly slow comeback.

When I first left school, my life was still a complete mess:

I was in desperate need of physical recovery and I had no idea what I was going to do next. 😧

My body and mind were shutting down and I had no backup plan. My priority was simply getting healthy and pulling myself out of the hole I was in.

After I made the final decision to leave school, I noticed a lot of my anxiety dissipated. The more difficult, time-consuming part was allowing myself to fully accept my decision.

Once I had finally come to peace with my decision, my anxiety and insomnia continued to diminish.

I began the slow road to recovering from insomnia; gradually, I started sleeping better, albeit it was unfairly sluggish. It took me nearly a year to recover.

I finally had hope that I could escape the hollow I was in.

I discovered the source of my insomnia was brought on by anxiety, and the anxiety was rooted in the misalignment of what I was doing in life and what I wanted to be doing.

The (not so) funny thing is,

I was oblivious of this misalignment until it nearly destroyed me. 😳

In fact, it never even crossed my mind because I did not question the path society and myself were pushing me towards. I never stopped to think if there was another way to success.

Becoming Mindful

I lacked mindfulness. I required clarity to understand myself better and calm my mind, so I could be at peace with my life-changing decision.

I heard about meditation but had never tried it before- like Elon, I did not view it as a productive task. Once I started reading about the benefits of meditation, I decided to give it a try.

I would go to the pool every afternoon, sit down, cross my legs, rest my hands on my knees, close my eyes, and meditate. I started using the meditation app Calm, which made it effortless to follow the guided meditations.

As I continued to practice meditation, I gradually became more mindful, which finally woke me up and made me realize:

Changing the path I was on was the only viable option.

If I would have stayed on the path I was on, there is no doubt I would have been in an even darker place, and my situation would have just continued to get worse. I’m not sure I would still be here today if I had not left.

Sometimes it is only when we hit rock-bottom that we can begin to rise up again.

We are so stubborn, sometimes we only change when we are forced to our breaking point.
Although my recovery was painfully slow, I am grateful for it because it provided ample time to develop solid habits which have drastically improved my life:

I started practicing meditation and mindfulness, which has made me more self-aware and present.

I created a strict sleep hygiene regimen, which has enabled me to be well-rested.

I began tracking my time using Smarter Time, which has showed me what I am doing with my time and thus my life.

☀️ Life Begins:

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

After recovering to the point where I could function like a normal human being, I started getting involved in my local startup community.

I was first exposed to the startup world through a local mentor event, in which mentors gave feedback on a startup idea.

I felt immediately at home and sensed this could be a better fit for me. I had a startup idea and was in awe of the support I was receiving from people I had just met. I was fascinated by these people and their stories- people involved in startups are the most passionate, genuine, and inspirational people I have met.

Prior to this experience, I had not been exposed to this reality. I had never heard anyone talk about startup culture or met anyone who had launched a startup.

I loved hearing the stories of startup founders and feeling the passion oozing out of them. I was mystified by this new reality I had discovered.

In this reality, someone could create something from nothing and be successful without following a mundane set of pre-defined steps and simply following others’ expectations. 🤟

…And a Whole New Purpose

The most compelling ideas come from solving your own problem.

Attending all these events and connecting with like-minded people was great. But it was very tedious and time-consuming to exchange contact information and reach out afterwards.

During one of these networking events for startup founders, I had an incredibly compelling app idea:

An app which would make connecting with people a swift, personal, and human experience. 👥 That idea alone put me on an entirely new, passion-infused life path. 💥

Within the half-second I generated this idea, I instantaneously gained a sense of purpose. Everything changed. Instantly. It is as if a switch went from off to on, from 0 to 1. I was electrified with purpose and awakened with passion.

It is pretty wild how one idea can completely overwrite your life’s direction.

I wanted to solve my own problem by creating something extraordinary and useful.

The most genuine startups, or solutions in general, are born from people addressing a pain point they experience in their own life.

I was on a mission to build a tool that would solve my own problem. 🚀

Building My App

More than anything, I just wanted it to exist.

The issue was I had no idea how to program. I did not even know how the internet worked.

But I was so compelled by my app idea and wanted it to exist so much that I started to teach myself how to program. 👨‍💻

I dedicated six hours to learning how to program each day for nearly a year.

I decided I was going to build the app myself because:

I wanted to gain the skills to be a software engineer, regardless of what happened with the app.

I needed to develop a fresh set of skills, since I was not going to use the old ones.

It is much more satisfying to me to tell people I had the idea and built it, instead of hiring someone else to build it.

I wanted to be able to implement features in the app myself after it was launched.

I knew exactly what I wanted to build, from the UI to the functionality- I just had to implement it.

So I threw myself head first into programming. I immersed myself in any programming material I could find. I read Medium articles and books related to programming. I listened to programming podcasts. I enrolled in online programming courses. I watched YouTube programming channels.

My entire environment and focus became learning programming.

I went from knowing nothing about programming to being a Google-Certified Android Engineer in less than a year:

My Certification

This was possible due to the strong habits I developed during my recovery, my six hour daily learning commitment, and my motivation to bring my app into existence.

I found a new passion for programming and software engineering, thanks to an app idea which would alleviate a pain point I experienced- and it all started with having the courage to leave the path I was on and forge a new one. 👣

👤 Finding Myself:

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

I have become a completely different person since deciding to forge my own path:

Prior to changing paths, I felt restricted regarding what I could do in life. I assumed I could only do work related to what I studied in school, since that was my core competency and where I invested all my time and energy. It would have seemed nonsensical to me to become a creative, such as a designer, after spending years learning how to analyze data.

Now I feel like I can learn and do anything (but not everything)- I just need to invest the time.

On my old path, I solely focused on the destination and ignored the journey; I was making myself miserable in the present years to eventually, maybe, be happy in the future years when I would reach my destination. Starting college while in high school, over-specializing in technical skills, and earning a graduate degree were just the successive intermediaries I thought were necessary to reach the next destination and suffering was just part of the process.

After changing paths, I realized enjoying the journey is more important because the excitement of accomplishments is fleeting. It does not make sense to be miserable in the present because it is the only time in which we live and the future is uncertain.

Before I started practicing meditation, I lacked self-awareness. I did not know myself well enough to know what I truly wanted in life.

Now I am more self-aware. I can sense when there is a misalignment in my life and adjust to realign my life with my purpose.

Prior to practicing meditation, I was not mindful of my reality and others’ realities. Like most people, I reacted impulsively instead of mindfully. I did not pause to consider what other people could be dealing with before reacting to their emotions, such as anger or aggression.

Now I am more mindful of my nature, emotions, and reactions, as well as others’.

Prior to changing paths, I did not consciously set life goals. I felt if I just tried hard enough and had enough credentials, my life would work out well and I would eventually get to where I wanted to be.

Since I changed my path, I started setting concrete life goals. I track the progress of my life goals and stay motivated knowing that each day I progress, I get a little closer to achieving them.

Before changing my path, I did not pay close attention to how I was spending my time. I felt like I was accomplishing a lot, but I was wasting a lot of time which could have been used to better myself.

After changing my path, I realized the shortness of life. I began tracking my time and have become much more productive and aware of how I am spending my life.

👣 A New Path:

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I developed a new life philosophy-

Life is too short to not be following a fulfilling life path.

I grew remarkably as a person-

I know I am capable of anything, mindful of my reality, and have established life goals.

I have become ecstatic about my life-

I have direction and purpose with my newfound path.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

I am 25 years old,

And my life has just begun…️✍🏼

Hi, I’m Ash 👋🏼 Let’s connect!

🌐 ashtonjones.dev | 👥 @TJgrapes | ✉️ ashtonjonesdev@gmail.com

👨‍💻 Google Certified Android Engineer |
Writer |
🧘‍♂️ Stoic & Meditator

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

Thanks to Char Maine

Ashton Jones

Written by

👥🔗🌐 Building an app to help people connect | 👨‍💻 Google Certified Android Engineer | ✍ Writer | 🧘‍♂️ Stoic && Meditator | 🌐 ashtonjones.dev

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

More From Medium

More from The Ascent

More from The Ascent

Jovan Cicmil
Feb 4 · 5 min read


Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade