Critical Life Skills I Learned During My 20s

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Smiling happy family comprised of mom, dad and two young boys, hugging together, toddler sitting on his mother's enormous stomac
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When I was a clueless young person, I thought that life was over once you reached your 30s. The idea of settling down and having kids seemed foreign. Little did I know that I'd be married with three kids before I turn 30, which is in a few weeks. They say that experience is the greatest teacher, and I now realize that my 20s were one helluva teacher.

Learning Is a State of Mind

I treated college like it was a waste of time, and tried just hard enough to earn a degree. My grades reflected my attitude.

Academics aside, there were a few lessons that I learned then that still impact my life. I realized that learning shouldn't stop when your formal education is over, mainly because learning leads to happiness. I relished the weekends, because I could perfect my social skills. I learned more about business through partying that I ever did from a business class. College also taught me how to live a structured life. It allowed me to get the party mentality out of my system and forced me to focus to achieve my goals.

Plan, but Be Flexible

A few years after I started my career, I met my wife. As our relationship progressed, we began to meticulously plan our future. We planned our wedding date, when we would have children, what we wanted to do later in life and everything in between. We had a timeline for paying off our debts and another for our eventual retirement. We literally planned for everything.

During our time together so far, we've accomplished many things. We purchased two houses, became profitable landlords of one, became parents three times over, paid all of that debt off and saved well into the six-figure range. But almost none of what we've accomplished went according to plan.

Instead of leading me to believe that planning doesn't work, this reinforced my planning instinct and taught me a different life lesson -- adaptability. Things are never going to end up the way you think they will. There are too many variables in life, and planning for all of them is impossible and unnecessary. Over time, certain goals may become obsolete or unachievable. Dropping them doesn't mean that you failed: It means that your tastes have changed. Continuous achievement and being ambitious in general will lead to a happier life.

The Investing School of Hard Knocks

Naturally, when all of my debt was paid off, I started saving and investing. I was extremely proud of my growing net worth and my investing savvy. The problem was, I didn't actually have any savvy. I was a complete novice. I made every amateur mistake in the book, but I was none the wiser and kept buying stocks at random. Still, my portfolio balance climbed for months. Then one day, I logged into my account and found that nearly a third of my money was missing. First, I panicked. Then, I kicked myself for having failed to recognize -- until then -- how unfledged my investing skills were.

In retrospect, I understand that I was learning some powerful lessons about how the stock market worked: Investing without knowledge is a gamble, and you should never tie your emotions to your portfolio. I also learned that I hadn't really lost any money on that fateful day, because at that point, the declines were still unrealized capital losses. And, eventually, I learned that those declines weren't a total loss: You can use capital losses to your benefit, because you can use a portion of them every year as tax write offs.

Put Down Those Six-Packs

In my early to mid-20s, the primary things I consumed were fast food and alcohol. I was too lazy, too busy or having too much fun to worry about a proper diet. I only drank water when I was hung over, and I only ate proper meals when I visited family members on holidays. Due to the constant abuse, I often was short of breath, and had joint and lower back problems, and digestive issues -- among other things.

My poor health correlated to my poor diet. I knew my diet sucked because every time I ate a Big Mac, my chest hurt. Shortly after I met my wife, I realized that I wanted to look good for her. After having children, I realized that I wanted to live a long, healthy life, and to have a chance at that, eating right was a necessity. I put down the cheeseburgers and six-packs, and I started a decent diet and exercise regimen. I slowly cut the garbage out of my diet. I exchanged soda and french fries for leafy greens and avocados -- and I've never been happier.

My 20s were fairly average, but they taught me a lot about how I want to live the rest of my life. They taught me how to develop a good attitude about learning, how to develop my work ethic, proper money management techniques and the overlooked skill of adaptability. They led me to take steps toward fixing my health. These are just a few of the things that I will carry over to help ensure another learning-filled decade.

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