[Personal] 5 Things I Learned in my 20s: Advice I’d Give to My Younger Self

Wow. 2020s is coming. It’s weird to be welcoming the year that is also used to signify ‘the future’, isn’t it? It feels crazy to be entering a new decade, even though I know that’s just how the normal, brutal, unstoppable passage of time works.

(YES I KNOW TECHNICALLY THE NEW DECADE STARTS IN 2021 BUT LET ME HAVE THIS OKAY)

I’ve spent the 2010s being in 20s and early 30s, and learned so much, though I know there is much more to learn still. Please indulge this writer’s self-reflective post – I’ve always wanted to write something in the ‘for my younger self’ style.

Dear younger Suraya, if you could do it over, please take this advice which older Suraya learned from experience:

#1 – Learn to optimise your environment

I spent a lot of time blaming myself for failing to achieve personal goals, then feel bad for not having the motivation to improve myself.

It’s a sucky feeling because like everyone else in my generation, I too am idealistic (sometimes to a fault). I thought I could do anything and everything as long as I put my mind to it, including saving the world.

Whenever I failed, which happens often enough, the negative and self-doubt thoughts would come. And I’d think: If I can’t even help myself, how can I even help others?

Thankfully I came across the school of thought that puts the focus on my environment instead. Make the hard things easier by making it a habit – do the action because its just something you do, its who you are, not because it’s something you force yourself to do.

Everything sort of clicked after that.

I’m not saying I mastered building good habits. There are lots of things I need to unlearn and re-learn – I’m still a work in progress. I think this will be a lifelong journey, and that’s a good thing. Never remain stagnant.

Some habits I’m trying my best to build now include:

  • Work out 2-3x a week
  • Read at least 2 books per month
  • Write and journal every day
  • Reduce red meat intake to 1 x a week max
  • Eat until 60% full

The last one is particularly hard for me to unlearn. I’m really bad at mindless eating, distracted eating, and that leads to overeating. But I’ll be kind to myself and note the small wins. Small progress is better than no progress.

#2 – You’re going to lose some friends and that’s okay

No one really likes to admit it but there are some trade-offs you have to make in the journey towards self-improvement. As much as you may hate to hear this, it may be your immediate environment – even your dearest family members and long-time best friends – who are holding you back.

Easy example – removing yourself from people who enjoy complaining (and not doing anything else) is essential towards making progress.

There’s no way around it. If you join them, you’ll be afflicted with the defeatist and victim mentality. If you give alternative viewpoints and solutions, they’ll find other faults, nothing is ever right. Even if you hang out with them without saying anything, you’ll lose precious time.

Maybe one day I’ll learn how to tolerate and engage with them. But for now I’ll stick to the ‘nod politely, remove myself ASAP’ approach.

#3 – Collect quotes

There’s a reason why some inspirational and aspirational quotes are repeated again and again for decades. There’s something amazingly magical about a string of words that contain and condense huge ideas. In essense, great quoes are results of genius copywriting.

Over the years, I’ve collected quotes and some became all-time favourites, at least for this point in my life. Here are some of the quotes, in no particular order. I’ll give credit where I can:

  • Done is better than perfect
  • Everything is figureoutable (Marie Forleo)
  • If you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right
  • When they go low, we go high (Michelle Obama)
  • Change what you can, accept what you can’t
  • No one can make you feel inferior without your consent
  • Create more than you consume
  • Refuse to be refused (Marie Forleo)
  • Explore your curiosities
  • Believe in God, but tie your camel
  • Action is hard. Inaction is hard. Pick your hard
  • Would you regret it?
  • Kill em with kindness
  • You are what you do, not what you say you do
  • Use it up, wear it out, make it do and do without
  • Praise publicly
  • Money isn’t everything, but everything needs money
  • Overnight success takes years
  • Ideas are cheap, execution is everything
  • Intuition is just recognition
  • It’s hard until it’s easy
  • Best effort counts
  • You don’t have to be great when you start, but you do have to start to be great
  • Fall down 7 times, get back up 8 times

If you find more, write them in your journal lest you forget them. If you don’t find it too cheesy, find them as home decor pieces.

Use the quotes as guiding principles in your life. Sometimes, I’d find myself editing the same article for hours, not happy with it (I am my own worse critic, after all). Then I’ll take a big breath, tell myself, “Suraya, done is better than perfect”, and click Publish.

That’s how I manage to publish over 300 articles on this blog over 4 years, every Monday and Wednesday, (almost) never missing a schedule. If I wait until I’m absolutely happy with my work, nothing will ever get published, Ringgit Oh Ringgit as you know it would have never existed.

#4 – Learn the 7 Baby Steps towards Financial Freedom early

Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps towards Financial Freedom is so simple, so elegant, so useful for anyone first starting out with personal finance and money management.

Sometimes Often, there are people out there who overly-complicate personal finance. IT DEPENDS, they say, rambling on and thoroughly scaring you away from money topics, overwhelming you.

It’s actually really simple. Find out where you are in the steps – some of you are at Step One, others may already be at Step Four – then continue your journey towards financial freedom from there.

The only real criticism I have of the 7 Baby Steps is that it assumes everyone have children and a house, but other than that it’s a great reference point. As you gain more knowledge and experience, you can tweak and make changes to get the results and life you want.

#5 – Do less harm > Do good

Young Suraya, you may think you’re a good person with good intentions, but your version is good may not be other people’s version of good. It can even be downright bad or harmful for them.

In whatever you do, think of how that ‘good’ thing you’re doing could potentially affect others in a negative way. Remember that as you do your financial activism, and other types of activism.

Don’t assume you know what’s best for others. Don’t gain this weird superiority complex and feel like you know how to give ‘advice’. If you want to help, for goodness sake ask them first, don’t just show up unasked, unwanted then feel bitchy about them being ‘ungrateful’ for your help. No one freaking owes you that.

When in doubt, just do your best and lead by example and hopefully your actions will be the catalyst for something bigger than yourself. Don’t inspire to inspire others – that’s just the ego talking; if the work is good, it’s as good as done.

Last thoughts

To be honest, there are more things to add here – it’s hard to summarise 10 years’ worth of learning and lived experience in one single article. I feel like there are so many abstract thoughts floating around in my head still. But they deserve the time and space for their own formation and mental organisation, so perhaps I’ll leave those for another occasion.

How about you? What’s the one thing, one piece of advice that you wish you could have told your younger self? I’d love to hear your perspective, do share with the rest of us in the comments section.

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