Three lessons from my 20s

About 10 days ago, a new and younger friend asked me what the 10 most important lessons I learnt in my 20s were.

We were walking to the train station from Empress Place, so I only managed to come up with three lessons before we parted ways.

While sitting on the train on the way home, I realised I really only needed three lessons for two reasons:

  1. These are the fundamentals; you need to work on getting the basics right before working on the rest.
  2. Cognitive load, yo. We can only remember so much, so two to three lessons, objectives, etc. is optimal.

I wish I had known these three things earlier, or at least have someone tell me what to do and how to do it – then I wouldn’t have felt like I was floundering at some points in time in my 20s.

But, hey – better late than never, and I’d like everyone to benefit from this too.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the three most important life lessons I learnt in my 20s:

  1. Value yourself
  2. Set boundaries
  3. Let go

If you have the time, here they are, fleshed out in detail:

  1. Value yourself.
    This is the most important. Read about it in detail here and here.

    If you can’t value yourself, figure out what’s stopping you from loving yourself.

    Perhaps you’re a manic-depressive or you lack self-confidence. Then talk to a mental health professional. It’s OK to not be OK, but it’s not OK to not help yourself.

    Let me reframe this for you: We visit doctors whenever we’re physically unwell, so there’s no shame in visiting a counseller if you’re mentally unwell. Figuratively speaking, they’re both mechanics – but for different things.

    Feeling fat? Exercise and lose weight.

    Friends are messing you up? Stop hanging out with them. Cut them off or don’t meet with them so much. Join activities where you can make new friends who’ll be healthier for you.

    Ultimately, you don’t need toxic people or people who don’t add value to your life to bring you down.

  2. Set boundaries.
    Don’t know how to do it? Google is your friend.

    Your boss is making you work on weekends without compensation (time off, overtime pay, etc.)? Tell your boss you don’t do weekends, and stick to it.

    Or find a new job that values your skill and pays you more, without you having to spend precious “you” time doing work that should be done on weekdays.

    Most importantly, learn to say “no”.

    Again, if you value yourself enough, this will come easily; you’ll be less inclined to commit yourself to emotional vampires or productivity thieves – things or people who steal precious time and energy from you.

  3. Let go.
  4. Stop hoarding that shit already, yo!

    But how do I go about doing that?, you ask. Well, ask yourself the difficult questions you’ve been shying away from all these years, such as:

    • Do I really need to maintain contact with that friend or family member?
    • Do I really need to keep that mug?
    • Do I really need to file away that lesson plan?

    But how do I find the answers to that?, you ask. Well, use this litmus test:

    1. If I really needed it, I’d have used it already (or, in the case of human beings: made contact with that person/benefited from that person’s presence).
    2. If I haven’t already used it, I’m never gonna use it (or, in the case of human beings: contacted/made contact with that person/benefited from that person’s presence).
    3. If in doubt, throw it out.

    So that friend or family member who adds completely no value to your life? Cut her or him off.

    That mug which you haven’t drank from and which you probably won’t use because you have five other mugs like it? Chuck it out.

    That lesson p- What are you doing keeping hard copies of lesson plans when they should be in soft copy and filed away in the folder system GP>2009>Term 3>Week 4>Lesson 1?

Again, there were other lessons I learnt too, such as why it’s important to:

  • Always be closing;
  • Have good role models; and
  • Have a good grasp on financial matters, among others.

But as I’ve always maintained: Focus on the fundamentals and work on the root problems first, before going on to improve the other things.

Hence, remember to always value yourself, set boundaries and let go.

(Background music: “Nothing Better” by The Postal Service)

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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