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Lessons From A 30 Year Old Who WASTED His Teens & Early 20s

A frank, candid & honest assessment of the second half of my life. Reading time: approximately 9 mins (2700 words)…….

Milestone birthdays are a funny beast. They mean nothing and mean everything all at once. I guess it’s perspective and our perspective is created by the society we live in?

Big round figures come round every 10 years and mark the end of a decade and the start of a new one. Although when it comes to human life it seems the first digit of your two digit number aka your age, is the most crucial – assuming you’re not an innocent kid under 10 – in which case don’t read this, get outside and play as much as possible……enjoy every moment of these precious years.

Turning 20 means you’re no longer a teenager. Turning 30 means you’re actually an adult. Turning 40 can mean early middle age and sometimes an identity crisis, yet to others it can mean the best years of their life are about to begin. Turning 50 is middle aged and you’re now more aware of your mortality than ever before; grandchildren and retirement are peeking up over the horizon…..

How can I speak for those ages, you say? It’s not me speaking, it’s society, I say. But these stereo-typical beliefs are hard-wired into all of us, sometimes we don’t even realise it until we’re forced to try and imagine how we’d feel at a certain age, or what we think of life to be like at said age!


In August 2021 I will turn 30 years old or 3 decades old. This is a day I never thought would arrive. I remember feeling like I’d never leave school. Nowadays school feels hard to remember……..

I remember people making a fuss as I turned 21 and I remember feeling weird about being 25. I felt like I’d finally ‘got there’, I was actually an adult but still young.

‘You’re 29 though and 30 is still young!’ You say.

Sure, god willing I am still only a third of the way through my lifespan but there’s an incredibly different psychological feeling having a 3 in front of the 0 as opposed to a 2! And many people have said the same thing.

You’re expected to have your life all figured out and society frowns upon certain activities of a 30 year old. Clubbing is a no no. Partying should be moderated to minimal. And not having a house, being married with 2 kids is also a fail, apparently anyway.

I’ve never been a slave to society’s ‘norms’ or society’s pressures but nevertheless I can feel the undertones floating around me.

So, what am I trying to do with this post?

Help anyone who is younger and heading towards a similar age, while possibly feeling uncertain or even a failure just because they haven’t ticked off X, Y or Z arbitrary ‘goal’. I’d like to get you thinking – or more aptly, RE-THINKING – the definition of success in life.

Furthermore I’d like to share my own failures as a reminder to myself what not to do going forward and hopefully inspire you guys to avoid such stupidity and instead, live your life how YOU want to.

I will go over some of the key mistakes that old wise me can see so clearly as he glances back. I’ll also share the lessons they’ve taught me en route………

How I threw the golden years (16-24) down the drain

Sounds harsh but I really did. I spent way too long on a ‘career path’ that wasn’t for me. I wasted years fearing I wasn’t good enough and sat around waiting for something to happen, instead of MAKING it happen.

My lifestyle habits were poor – my sleep schedule sucked, my diet was awful, I had no fitness whatsoever and my body had aches and pains no 20 year old should be feeling!

It wasn’t until I was 25 and over that I finally felt contented in who I was and began realising how much I’d wasted the golden years. With this said, here are my advice, lessons & wisdom……..

Take responsibility (even from a young age)

When I was a teenager I wasn’t pushed at all. My parents let me get away with doing nothing and didn’t encourage me into anything. Sounds nice? It may be nice as a 16 year old reading this after a 6 hour xbox stint, you may even relate? If your parents are pushy, they’re evil aren’t they?

Being cruel to be kind is the ultimate form of kindness in my opinion, as the pain and destruction of undoing 5-10 years of being left to rot in comfort, hurts far more than being pushed and nagged to make something of yourself.

I spent years begrudging my parents for not inspiring me like others’ parents did. To be honest, I still do some what. But all these years later it dawned on me: you can’t change these circumstances. It’s no different to disabilities, social status, skin colour and all the things that make you, you.

You have to make the best of the hands you’re dealt and if you’re dealt parents that aren’t inspiring or pushy, but you still want to be someone, you have to take full responsibility for your life even if you’re young. I use it as an excuse really but history is littered with successful people who went on to do great things without pushy parents or anyone willing them on. These guys just went for it and never used their background as an excuse.

Play a physical sport or at the very least stay competitive!

Competition fuels ambition. The drive to win and succeed encourages healthy habits and this leaks over into other areas of your life – even those unrelated to whatever the sport or activity is you compete in.

How many people do you know who you went to school with who slipped embarrassingly out of shape once leaving? Like it didn’t even take them a year?!

Way. Too. Many.

Keeping into a (particularly physical) sport makes staying fit easy. Exercise (in society’s mundane terms) is as sexy as having your teeth pulled out without anaesthetic when you’re school leaving age.

Not only do you keep your naturally human competitive edges flowing, you also keep a social element up. It’s easy to leave school and fall into a trap of not seeing anywhere near as much people as you did in school, and feel far lonelier as a result.

By partaking in competitive activities as much as possible you keep socially sharp – which is an invaluable skill/trait/asset/ability.

DISCLAIMER: Some of you may wonder if video games count as ‘competitive sport’? And I feel you; I was a massive xbox player from the ages of 15-21 and the competitive buzz is immense……..but sadly, no. Communication through a headset while vegetating in your room ISN’T the same as face-face interaction. The two are WORLDS APART. Plus, sitting on xbox for hours and hours a day ruins your posture and will have you feeling awful when you do anything physical.

I am living proof. I used to have back pain, knee pain, would be out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs and would make girls throw up if I took my top off.

Study ‘people skills’ ASAP

All the formal education in the world counts for nothing if you can’t communicate. Both history and the world we live in today are full of examples of those who aren’t necessarily the best at what they do, but they’re thought of so highly by their peers, just because they’re likeable and communicate the best.

As the great book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie shows so well: the art of making people like you is a skill you can’t buy, and one that makes your time on this earth far easier than if you rub everyone up the wrong way, and make enemies out of everyone.

In terms of practical tips, it’s like most things: repetition is the mother of skill. Otherwise translated as: the more you do it, the better you become. This is why I think it’s crucial to get a social job as soon as you can, just to get used to communicating with a huge range of people from all over.

For me this was working in the fitness world doing classes, group sessions, inducting people into gyms and working one on one with more people than I can remember. The job relies more on the ability to make people comfortable and like being around you than any nerdy knowledge you might have.

You can work in a restaurant, a bar, a holiday camp, anywhere with a high foot flow or turnover of people. This will get you used to meeting new people and take it off the pedestal us natural introverts tend to put it on. It can even become something you actually enjoy eventually.

Some basic tips I’ve learnt that may help you become more personal and likeable are:

  • Smile when you meet people
  • Don’t talk over anyone
  • Ask loads of questions; get to know people
  • Remember names and USE THEM
  • Remember details about people. It makes them feel special and important and we all want that!
  • Don’t be desperate to prove you’re right all the time and be very cautious of correcting people, even if they’re wrong and you’re right. This always goes down badly and leaves a bad impression that’s hard to shake off
  • Make natural eye contact wherever possible

Don’t obsess over your looks

This is one nobody thinks guys suffer with. As you grow up the girls are expected to wear makeup, look girly and have curves in all the right places. They’re also supposed to have as little fat as possible…….

Truth is though, it’s like this for both genders. The struggle boys go through is both unnoticed and underestimated. Girls have their fare share of image pressures for sure BUT they also grow up with plenty of attention from boys to validate their looks. Boys are forward. They tell girls they’re hot and generally make it pretty obvious when they’re into a girl.

The same can’t be said at all for girls liking boys. Girls are hard to read, inconsistent and hot and cold. As girls get older and boys get wiser it’s way easier to understand gender dynamics but when you’re 16-25 you’ve got no clue, usually.

I remember finding out different girls liked me and I had no idea at all! Maybe you could argue I should have been more observant but you don’t know what you don’t know. And most boys get very little female attention growing up which can be very hard on the self-esteem.

This can cause all sorts of inner queries………are you too fat? Is your hair colour wrong? Are you too short/too tall? Are you the wrong race? Are you not funny enough? Not loud enough? What do they have that you don’t?

It’s a neurotic nightmare and makes me chuckle looking back on but you can’t help these thoughts coming in. But when they were coming in I certainly wasn’t laughing. They can be overwhelming and can completely halt you in your tracks.

The only real antidote to this is achievement. Achievement builds self worth and self confidence far more than looking like any manmade ideals you cook up in your head.

When you can truly be proud of things you’ve done, however big or small to anyone else, you begin to set yourself free of tying your self worth into superficial bullshit.

This is why you have to push yourself. You have to take action. You have to improve yourself. Complete challenges, even if they mean nothing to anyone else, all that matters is you’re truly proud of them and you know the struggle you went through and ultimately, overcame.

An expansive, self-improvement mindset focused on achievement not only distracts you from negative self talk, thoughts and feelings but also gives you something to offer the world and something to be proud of when you look in the mirror.

Take pictures; capture the moment

Sharing the same sentiments, see photos as captions of moments and not an opportunity to analyse yourself and find more ‘flaws’. I avoided photos for years and years and as a result I have precious little footage from the ages of around 18-25 – ages that should be your golden years!

I remember watching an interview with a sporting hero of mine who was 65-70 at the time and he said his dad always told him to collect as many memories as possible, as that’s all he’d have in the end. Rather poignantly he himself said he didn’t understand his dad for years but now he finally does, and he also subscribes to this theory and approach to life.

Even as young as I was at the time, this stuck with me and has ever since. Pictures can speak a thousand words, they say. And they can make you feel a thousand things too. Even recently I’ve looked back at the swarms of pics I have from the past 5 years or so and boy, can they have me smiling, laughing and crying all at once if I really wanted to……..

But they encapsulate many happy moments and these are moments I will share and relive if/when I have children of my own one day. It’s a crying shame I don’t have much at all from the earlier years but fortunately, I have finally captured all the special moments!

Even if you don’t take photos of yourself, take photos of others; your parents, your siblings, your closest friends, the places you go……..CAPTURE THE MOMENT.

By doing this you’re writing your own story and legacy and making the memories you collect in this great life ALIVE for longer and in many ways, eternalising them.

Do SOMETHING > Nothing

In the age of technology, there’s never been more information available to us and that’s great. The issue with it is the possibility to be completely crippled by the vast amount of options out there. Somebody’s doing this, but so and so did better doing that. Someone else went down the other road, while yet another person trekked in the opposite direction………

So what the hell do YOU do?!

It’s simple. You make a choice and act upon it. As soon as you can. And you do your utmost to silence the natural doubts, questions and queries as to whether what you’re doing is the ‘right’ thing or the ‘optimal’ thing.

I wasted years and years and YEARS idling because nobody gave me the right answer and I couldn’t work it out for myself, either. And even if the magic genie appeared with the ‘right’ answers, how would I know there wasn’t a better way?

There will always be better ways and better options. People are forever improving their approaches and learning as the years go by and we evolve as a species, so it’s totally fruitless to stall until you have an absolute guarantee you’re doing the best thing.

Nothing is set in stone. We don’t even know if we’ll wake up tomorrow but we go to sleep all the same; with the same optimism despite no guarantee.

A little tip I’ve learnt over the years when it comes to decision making is put a time frame on the decision (and make sure it’s not a long one), then once you’ve decided, wipe all other options out your brain for the immediate future. No second guessing, just commitment to the path. From there, reassess every so often and make small tweaks as you see fit.

As my good friend Ollie always says/said, ‘the time will pass anyway so you might as well do something’.

The more I worked on this post the more I kept thinking of more and more things I’d change or do differently. Then it hit me: this is just a regret mindset creeping in. And this totally defeats the purpose of the post. So instead, I’m going to go ahead and finish editing my video series of my recent ‘Three Peaks Challenge’ that I did for my 30th birthday.

This post is dedicated to my Nan who sadly died on August 21st 2021 – the morning of my climb for the first of the 3 mountains – Big Ben Nevis.

Love you Nan, always. And I’ll continue to make my time on this earth count, unlike my earlier years.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

2 thoughts on “Lessons From A 30 Year Old Who WASTED His Teens & Early 20s Leave a comment

  1. As a teenager about to go into college, I really appreciate content like this where people older than myself share their knowledge. I used to dislike pictures because I thought they took away from the experience, but now I’m already starting to realize how quickly moments are lost if they aren’t captured. It seems like college is one of the fondest memories of most people’s lives, so I’m going to make sure I don’t let a single moment slip away. I genuinely didn’t look at pictures this way until I read your article, so thank you.

    • Wow, that’s so cool that my message reached you (the perfect demographic). Exactly that, I was hesitant to include pictures because of their connotation to vanity and the way the world is nowadays; less about the moment and more about how I look in the moment. But there’s nothing better than looking back on albums and videos so your memory doesn’t get distorted!

      So glad you commented and I hope you charge forward with this in mind. Anytime life gets you down or you don’t want to keep hustling, think of this post, heck, re-read it, do whatever you need. Just don’t let time pass by idly!

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