6 Wastes of Time In Your 20s

As humans, we’re all born to different circumstances, but the one commonality we share is time. What we do and where we end up in life is most impacted by how we spend this incredibly valuable asset.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to fully appreciate this asset in your early 20s and prior, precisely because it’s so abundant at this age. And yet how we spend our time during these formative years is so important; an early investment of time in something can pay dividends for years and decades down the road.

After thinking about the various ways in which I’ve wasted and waste time, I’ve come up with the list below.

The problem with the following items is that they feel good in the moment, but don’t actually generate much happiness/utility/benefit after the fact. They’re forms of instant gratification, much like candy. You could eat five bags of candy in one sitting and feel great while doing so, but almost immediately after regret your decision to do so. I’ve found I react the same way to the following activities.

And to those who say time enjoyed is not time wasted, I agree…but only to an extent. Take an extreme example: I could do drugs all day and have the time of my life – yet we can all agree that that “time enjoyed” was certainly wasted, unproductive, and even harmful.

So, on to what I think the biggest time wasters are:

Alcohol
Consider a typical night out in college:

Pre-game for an hour, head out to the bar to drink for a couple hours, go to an after-party/club for another couple hours, find a pizza joint after and spend another hour eating/chatting, finally head home at 3-4 am, then wake up hungover the next day and stay in bed half the day nursing a headache.

When you repeat the above multiple times a week for several years, the hours quickly add up.

Now, yes, you may argue that all that going out serves a purpose: to meet new people and develop relationships with. But let’s face it: most people in their early 20s go out for the sake of getting drunk with a close-knit circle.

I realized pretty early on in college that I didn’t enjoy getting sloshed to the extent my peers did. So I simply stopped accepting invites to go out when I knew the event centered around consuming as much alcohol as one could. Once I came to terms with not letting these feelings of pressure / societal expectations dictate my evenings, I was free to spend my nights on other hobbies or events – reading, writing, playing poker, trying board games with friends, learning new skills, playing intramural league, or just sleeping early.

Now, none of this isn’t to say I think alcohol is bad or that I never drink – I just think it’s important to have a good relationship with it.

It’s still too early to say how this will impact my future, but I can say for certain that had I gone out more this past year, I would not have had the time to read 80+ books, learn copywriting & direct marketing, generate income from poker, and spend as much quality time with friends.

I’m also comforted by the fact that others have echoed this idea. For instance: Ryan Holiday recently credited not drinking as instrumental for his success at an early age.

Bad Relationships
Just glance at all the relationship questions on Quora and you’ll see bad relationships are one of the biggest headaches and timesucks for people in their 20s.

People stick around too long in bad relationships and try to make it work with the wrong people. This doesn’t just mean incompatible boyfriends/girlfriends – it includes negative people, people who drain you of your energy, compulsive complainers/whiners, abusive family members, etc.

Realize that you are allowed to cut people out from your life. You can stop accepting invites to go out. You don’t have to try and salvage every relationship and every friendship. As you get older, you’ll naturally be more exclusive with who you associate with. I think the sooner one realizes this, the better.

Video Games
I spent my entire teenage life playing games. I easily racked up hundreds, if not a thousand, hours of playing video games. In first year college, I would routinely stay up playing Heroes of Newerth with friends over Skype. I actually essentially lost money while I was playing because at the time, my hourly rate playing online poker was $100-200 – a huge opportunity cost. The addiction was real.

I not only played for hours every night, I also studied my past games, watched streams, and read guides all in the name of improving myself. That took up another few hours every day.

Were there benefits from all this? I really can’t say at the moment. I want to believe that this compulsive drive to better myself at anything I do translates into other endeavors. But what if I had simply put my time and energy into something else to begin with?

Yes, I enjoyed playing video games in the heat of the moment. But once in a while, there would be a hollow feeling inside me. Did 3 hours really just go by? And think of all the things I’m procrastinating on… Eventually, I realized gaming didn’t align with my future goals at all. I slowly eased off of it and eventually quit for the most part.

When it comes to determining whether gaming is a waste of time or not, it helps to decide which side of the “# hours played” curve you wish to be on. On one side, you have 1000+ hours – this is if you have ambitions to go pro, enter the competitive scene, become a prominent YouTuber, start a Twitch stream, or some other way to monetize your gaming. On the other side is <100 hours – think of the casual gamer who plays for an hour every couple of days after work to unwind.

Falling on polar ends of this spectrum seems to be ideal for optimizing your time. Either you make gaming your life’s work or you use it as a relaxation tool. The problem area is the middle area in between these two poles – where you spend so much time gaming that it interferes with your regular life but you don’t spend enough time to reach the top or monetize your gaming hobby.

When it came to HoN, I fell in that middle area. I was good but not top-tier and frankly, never really thought about going pro. I spent a lot of time playing and studying, but not enough that I could monetize that time. However, it was enough time that the game affected my sleep schedule, study habits, and social life to some degree.

I could write a lot more on this topic (and probably will in the future), but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Living Someone Else’s Life

For the better part of our entire lives up to our 20s, we largely follow the instructions of others – our parents, our teachers, our peers, the media…rarely do we make a major decision without influence from others.

Left unquestioned, the result is we spend a large part of our lives living in a way that doesn’t resonate with who we really are. We may choose to do things based on what others think is best for us and discard the very things that could have led us to genuine happiness.

I have a friend who was pushed all his life to become a doctor. He studied all the sciences in high school, majored in biochem in undergrad, then entered medical school. A couple years in now, he’s come to terms with the fact that he doesn’t truly enjoy what he’s learning or the path he’s taken. Yet he feels like he’s spent too much time, effort, and money already not to continue on.

Realize that what others say you should be is based upon their own experiences and how they feel you’d be of more value to them. Neither should be the basis for determining how you should live your life.

The early 20s are a great time to question the ‘truths’ you’ve been taught growing up and figuring out who you are, what you really enjoy, and how you want to live your life. Taking the time to do so can be really rewarding and prevent time wasted living someone else’s life.

Accepting Complacency
It’s supremely easy after you graduate college and get a full-time job to fall into a state of complacency. You’re making decent money, your schedule is largely fixed, you have a daily routine, and you mostly associate with the same people. Life is pretty good for the most part, and it’s easy to just coast along.

As humans, we seek this kind of comfort and stability. We wouldn’t have survived as a species till now otherwise. But comfort breeds complacency, and complacency can be dangerous. It hinders personal growth, which to me is an important aspect of life. Even moreso in your 20s, when time and energy is abundant and responsibilities are still relatively few. At no other time in your life will you have the same kind of opportunity – accepting complacency at this age can only lead to mediocrity.

What’s especially dangerous about complacency is that it’s a non-obvious timesink. You may feel “stuck” but choose to continue living within the status quo simply because it’s safe: an OK job without advancement potential because it pays the bills; a mediocre long-term relationship that you’re staying in for convenience and obligation (“I’ve already invested 5 years into this, easier to ride it out”); pursuing a degree in something half-heartedly on behalf of your parents.

Next thing you know, several years have gone by and you’re stuck in the same job or relationship or major in college discontent, wondering where the time went.

Thoughts on Perfectionism

The master at anything was once a beginner. Everyone starts somewhere.

The stars will never perfectly align and circumstances will never be optimal. Start before you’re ready.

David Foster Wallace once said, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.” The only way to overcome this inertia is to just dosomething.

Consider the anecdote of the ceramics teacher and the pottery class.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged:the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Start small and start badly. Then keep working and refining the edges. This is the only way to improve and achieve any semblance of perfection.

Your Passion vs Your Parents

We live in a more confusing time than ever today.

Entire industries have sprung up that never existed just one or two decades ago. The old way of doing things is often broken.

Because of this, much of the advice that was passed down through the generations has become obsolete. Conventional wisdom is sometimes no longer relevant.

Every day, we’re barraged with advice from other people about how to live our lives. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, society at large all tell you how to live your life. Everyone imposes their will on you, whether they mean to or not.

As a result, young people are pushed into careers they never wanted. They choose their college majors based not on their interests but on what their parents think is best. (By the way, I think the whole idea of choosing a major at 18 is ridiculous to begin with)

They (or I should say, we, as I still identify as a young adult) seem to never cultivate a sense of identity, instead relying on the guidance of someone else to tell them what to do next. The concept of choosing their own life path is foreign to them.

It’s unfortunate, because those who listen too much build a habit of trusting others to make decisions for them. As time goes on, this habit only grows stronger, leading to a life of conformity and blind trust in authority figures.

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Do Something

This past weekend, I was running behind schedule to go to the gym. It closes at 7pm, and at 6:30pm I hadn’t even left the house. It takes me about 15 minutes to walk there.

I had a decision to make: do I go to the gym, with about 15 minutes to do a workout, or do I give in and tell myself I’ll do it the next day?

It seems like a somewhat trivial decision at first glance. After all, missing one workout a week won’t make or break me.

But throughout our lives, these kinds of decisions occur thousands of times. The choices you make in these moments compound and can have an enormous impact in the long run. Sure, missing one workout won’t have much of an impact on my health or body. But that one workout missed just once a week amounts to 52 missed in a year. And hundreds missed in several years.

Plus, once you miss that first workout, you rationalize to yourself it’s OK to miss the next one. And then the next. When you accept that first excuse you tell yourself, it gets easier and easier to accept the next ones. You train yourself for complacency. You hold yourself accountable less and less.

Thus I think this seemingly trivial decision was, and is, very important.

So back to the story…at 6:35 pm, I finally left the house. Instead of walking there, like I usually do, I half-sprinted there. I got there in about 5 minutes. 6:40 pm.

When I walked in, the staff were already beginning to pack up. I handed the guy at the counter my card, to which he said, “Uh, you know we’re closing at 7, right?”

“Yeah. Going to do a quick workout.”

And I did. I superset all my exercises back-to-back-to-back. It wasn’t the workout that I had planned on doing, but I got it done nonetheless in about 20 minutes (Parkinson’s Law, anybody?).

Why do I think this story is important? Well, this decision is like a microcosm of a philosophy I try to apply in my life.

It’s called the do something principle: When faced with a choice between doing something and not, doing something is better than doing nothing.

It sounds so obvious it’s not even worth mentioning.

But it’s often the most obvious or trite advice – sayings we’ve heard millions of times they’ve lost their impact – that are actually the most powerful.

A mediocre workout is better than no workout at all.

Writing just 100 words a day is better than writing nothing at all.

Reading five pages a day is better than not reading at all.

Practising the piano for 10 minutes is better than not practising at all.

Again, obvious, right? Yet for many of us this principle is actually difficult to apply.

We look at starting something new and think that we immediately have to go from 0 to 100, otherwise there’s no point to doing it at all.

A friend of mine wanted to start running every night for half an hour. She bought all the right equipment and clothes to get started. But she eventually realized she couldn’t dedicate the full half hour she wanted to. She didn’t think there was a point to run for just ten minutes a night. So she gave up entirely.

So despite the obviousness of the concept, it’s a handy one to keep in mind. The next time you want to forgo your workout, or are procrastinating on something, just do something. You’ll be glad you did. And it’s infinitely better than doing nothing.

We’re All Trapped in Our Own Little Bubbles

We all live inside our own little bubbles, whether we know it or not.

Ask anyone with a university degree to estimate what % of people have a university degree, and they might say something like 70%. The reality is closer to 33%.

Ask a multi-millionaire what the average salary is, and he might say something like $80,000. The reality is closer to $40,000.

All we are is a mash-up of our past experiences and thoughts that have made us who we are today. The people we associate with mold us and influence us in subconscious ways we aren’t even aware of.

What we think we know is often just our perception of reality, not reality itself.

Something like 25% of recent graduates can’t find a job or are unemployed/underemployed. Yet all my friends have found jobs with ease. Many are working in top-tier jobs like investment banking or engineering clearing 6-figures out of undergrad.

Many of my friends aren’t even aware how bad the state of the economy is.

Some of my friends complain about high tuition costs; their parents pay $15K/year for them. Meanwhile, there are some kids who pay $40k/year out of pocket and will be $150k-200k in debt by the time they graduate.

We’re all in our own little bubbles, and yet most of us never realize it.

There are some people out there who believe in things so backward to the rest of us, we look at them as a lower species of intelligence. And yet, to them, that’s their life. It’s all they know, and it’s all their friends know. Their bubble has reinforced their beliefs over and over. To them, we’re the backwards and unenlightened ones.

This is why it makes no sense to look down on others for believing certain things, or behaving a certain way. Years and decades of conditioning will do that to you. You merely experienced a different set of circumstances growing up, and as a result are a different person.

By definition, everything we know in life revolves around us. How we perceive things. How we interact with others and situations. By all accounts, the world does seemingly revolve around us. It’s important we realize this – to look beyond our little bubbles – and learn to see things as they really are, not how we think or want them to be.

Advice for Incoming College Students

I felt like answering a question on Quora about what you’d tell someone about to start college. Here it is, reproduced below.

This is what I’d tell my sister, who’s about to start college in the fall this year. Note that I haven’t read any of the previous answers so as to not influence my own, so forgive me if I’ve repeated anything.

1. Good grades ARE important.
The people who harp about how GPAs don’t matter are (usually) the same people who land mediocre jobs or no jobs out of school. Besides, why would you not put your best foot forward and gain an advantage over others if you have the chance to? That being said, 3.7 is often good enough; I wouldn’t kill myself to obtain an extra 0.1 or beyond. Spend that extra time developing other skills, learning new hobbies, and meeting interesting people.

2. Actively find and make amazing friends – which includes your professors.
I believe one of the most important reasons for going to college these days is the network that you build during those years. You may not know it now, but that person in your first year frosh group or your dorm mate can turn out to be a very important person later on. They may become an eventual business partner (see: Peter Thiel & Reid Hoffman, Mark Zuckerberg & Eduardo Saverin, etc.) or a future spouse. You may be tempted like I was to stay inside on Thursday/Friday nights, but don’t fall into the trap of complacency. Do something scary at least once a week and try to have a conversation with at least one new person a week.

The difference between college and high school is you won’t see the same people in every class. You won’t know the names of most of the people you see, nor will you ever even get a chance to speak a word to them. So it’s up to you to actively find and meet people you want to be friends with. Note that you shouldn’t limit yourself to the people in your classes or even in your year. Once you leave the confines of college, anyway, you’ll realize that it’s only during school years that your friends are exclusively people your age. Get used to making friends with people older and younger than you.

3. Be very careful about your ideologies.
At 18, despite thinking you know everything, you’re still *very* easily influenced. You’re bright-eyed and hopeful, and may have lofty dreams of fighting for social justice and becoming an activist for what you believe in. It’s admirable but just be careful. There’s a great article here: “Everything is problematic” | The McGill Daily about one student’s experience with political activism and how it almost ruined her.

I’m not going to go too much into it here, but the key is to keep an open mind and not become too affiliated with any group. It is very easy to get peer pressured into becoming someone you are not, fighting an “us” versus “them” battle that leads nowhere. Focus on what you can control, and how you react to things.

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Chinese Parenting Fails to Produce Children of Greatness?

Chinese parenting is great at producing skilled and compliant knowledge workers, but it utterly fails to produce children who can achieve greatness, remake industries, or come up with disruptive innovation.  All the Chinese-American people I know who now perform at the highest levels – both creatively and technically – either achieved this without being driven to it by their parents (ask Niniane Wang about her upbringing) or in rebellion against the paths their parents set out for them (see Tony Hsieh http://www.businessinsider.com/tony-hsieh-life-before-zappos-2010-10).  The others – the skilled and compliant mediocre – make superb employees for the truly great, and if that is what their parents consider “successful,” then that’s exactly what they’ll get.

This quote comes from here, where Yishan Wong gives his take on whether Chinese mothers are superior.

It’s a fascinating response, and it can probably be generalized to most types of Asian parenting. What’s more, I fully agree with his view.

To give some background on Yishan and why his statement should hold some weight, he’s worked at PayPal, Facebook, Square, Sunfire, and reddit. All of his roles culminated in Manager/Director/CEO status. In short, he’s worked with and managed a lot of employees. He’s written broadly about the hiring process, the secret to career success, and a thousand other answers on Quora.

He’s also Chinese-American himself, and was the recipient of the type of Chinese “Tiger” parenting he describes as producing compliant and mediocre employees. But what has made him so successful in the traditional definition of the word is not because of, but rather despite, overbearing parenting methods.

While his parents pushed him to learn the piano and speak Chinese, they largely left him alone when it came to computers and gave him some lee-way to have a social life. As a result, he was able to pursue his passion of computers, an in-demand, lucrative career, while developing strong communication skills.

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Robert Greene on Dealing With Fools

In the course of your life you will be continually encountering fools. There are simply too many to avoid. We can classify people as fools by the following rubric: when it comes to practical life, what should matter is getting long-term results, and getting the work done in as efficient and creative a manner as possible. That should be the supreme value that guides people’s actions. But fools carry with them a different scale of values. They place more importance on short-term matters – grabbing immediate money, getting attention from the public or media, and looking good. They are ruled by their ego and insecurities. They tend to enjoy drama and political intrigue for their own sake. When they criticize, they always emphasize matters that are irrelevant to the overall picture or argument. They are more interested in their career and position than in the truth. You can distinguish them by how little they get done, or by how hard they make it for others to get results. They lack a certain common sense, getting worked up about things that are not really important while ignoring problems that will spell doom in the long term.

The natural tendency with fools is to lower yourself to their level. They annoy you, get under your skin, and draw you into a battle.  In the process, you feel petty and confused. You lose a sense of what is really important. You can’t win an argument or get them to see your side or change their behavior, because rationality and results don’t matter to them.  You simply waste valuable time and emotional energy.

In dealing with fools you must adopt the following philosophy: they are simply a part of life, like rocks or furniture. All of us have foolish sides, moments in which we lose our heads and think more of our ego or short-term goals. It is human nature. Seeing this foolishness within you, you can then accept it in others. This will allow you to smile at their antics, to tolerate their presence as you would a silly child, and to avoid the madness of trying to change them. It is all part of the human comedy, and it is nothing to get upset or lose sleep over.

Start Your Day as a Producer, Not a Consumer

One of the big obstacles that I faced – and still face, to some degree – when I began working full-time was restructuring my every day routine. See, for about 16 years from kindergarten to the end of college, I would spend the morning and afternoon learning things, and then go home and work at night. I essentially conditioned myself to be in a passive state during the day, soaking up what others talked about or mindlessly taking notes in class. I was generally not one of those people who did much work at school.

In college, I took this model to the extreme. I would rarely wake up before noon, head to class, and would have the most energy around 4-5pm. I did my best studying and work in the evenings.

Unfortunately, this model doesn’t work too well in the real world. I’ve had to retrain myself to do work during the day. This was by no means an easy task, but one change in my daily routine helped me get on the right path.

Most of us have two modes: producer or consumer. The trick is to start your day as a producer, rather than a consumer. What this means is doing productive, beneficial tasks that are meaningful first thing in the morning, as opposed to checking and responding to email/social media. It doesn’t necessarily have to be work, although tackling your to-do list is great. It could be exercising, meditating, writing on your blog, cooking, etc.

The point is it should be an active activity. Passive activities like scrolling your newsfeed and skimming the news should be avoided. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive. It’s knowing that you’re in control of your life, and are focusing on your needs first.

For me, I’ve found that journaling and writing first thing in the morning has been the most beneficial. For many others, it’s exercise. Whatever it is, once you repeat this routine long enough, it becomes one of those keystone habits that lock all your other productive habits into place.

On the days where I get something big accomplished right away, the rest of the day is that much more productive. The distractions that were once tempting feel like a waste of time. I can actually catch myself browsing Facebook, asking myself What am I doing?, and then closing the tab.

On the off days where I start off as a consumer, I’m trapped in that vortex of endlessly surfing Reddit or Elite Daily (is this you right now?) trying to fill a void, trying desperately to entertain myself but never feeling satisfied.

In fact, I’m convinced now that how you spend your morning is indicative of how you’ll spend the rest of the day, and there may be some science behind this. It’s hard to shift from the shallower, more transactional frontal cortex to the other parts of your brain that govern conceptual, deep thinking. It’s easier to start in the deep recesses of the brain and shift to the shallower parts. What this means is it’s easier to go from producer mode to consumer mode than vice versa.

And by starting your morning off doing something you enjoy, you elevate your mood for the rest of the day, which then positively impacts everything else you do.

All of the most successful people I know and have read about share this philosophy of starting their day off with an important, focused project.

There’s a great story about Charlie Munger that exemplifies this. As a very young lawyer, he was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, ‘Who’s my most valuable client?’ And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on construction projects and real estate deals. Over time, this one hour of self-learning compounded and ultimately allowed him to race past his peers.

OK, you’ve consumed enough of this. Try it for yourself. Start your mornings as a producer. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.

Experts

It’s amazing how much we trust “experts,” given how infallible they are sometimes.

In December 2000, the majority of investment banks forecasted that by the end of 2001 the dollar and the euro would be about equal in value. This list included Credit Suisse, Bank of Tokyo, RBC, UBS, and Deutsche Bank. The real exchange rate at the end of 2001 was only $0.88. Every bank overestimated.

In compensation for their overestimates the year before, the banks uniformly corrected their predictions downward. But the euro went up; the true exchange rate was 1.05, higher than any of the banks had foreseen. Surprised by the upward trend, the banks corrected their forecasts upward for 2003. Once again, the actual exchange rate was outside the range of estimates.

This continued on until 2010. Almost every year, the actual rate was outside the predicted rate.

Why do banks pay large amounts to entire departments for these meaningless predictions? For one, there’s an element of defensive decision making, where senior managers can point and say, “Well, this is what our mathematical models said would happen. It’s not our fault.” But two, there continues to be a large enough demand for these predictions that they’re supplied. Humans place an inordinate amount of trust in experts, and even desperately seek them out, so banks maintain the illusion.

The truth is anyone can become a market guru. Roger Babson is credited with correctly predicting the stock market crash of 1929, but what is less known is that he had been predicting the crash for years. Of course, no one remembered those misses after he was right once. Elaine Garzarelli predicted the stock market collapse in 1987, and four days later it really did crash. She became known as the Guru of Black Monday, but thereafter, her predictions about the market were right less often than a coin toss.

Warren Buffett often gives the following example: Consider 10,000 investment managers whose advice is equal to flipping a coin. After a year, 5,000 of them will have made a profit. The next year, 2500, and so on. After ten years, about ten managers will have gotten it right every single year. We would classify these ten people as gurus, attributing such a feat to their unique, deep insights of the market and some innate talent.

In my undergrad businesses school, we took a lot of complex finance classes teaching us the intricacies of portfolio optimization, where you have a chunk of money and want to invest it in a diversified portfolio. In the academic world, this involves fairly complex formulas and a host of assumptions to deal with. The professors promised us it would all come in handy on the job.

Well, it turns out there’s a one-line sentence that trumps all of these strategies, even beating a Nobel Prize-winning portfolio strategy. It’s this: Allocate your money equally to each of N funds. 

In a study, this rule of thumb was compared to a dozen complex investment methods. Seven situations were analyzed. In six of the seven tests, 1/N scored better than the others, and none of the other twelve were consistently better at predicting the future value of stocks.

The Nobel Prize-winning method isn’t a sham, it’s just that we live in a world of unknowns and uncertainties that can’t possibly be quantified in assumptions. Experts will tell you otherwise, but really, what is an expert?