What being 25 years old taught me

 The thought that resonated the most in my mind as I was turning 25 was that two years had passed since college and I hadn’t really been striving for anything. It seemed different than my time in college, which was filled with non-academic activities. I didn’t want to become complacent with life, just kind of let things go, in fear that I would let my life crawl past me.

The result of that thought (fear) was the plan to achieve 25 things while I’m 25. Half way through the plan, I changed it to be less a random collection of items and more like a goal tree, each goal being derived from the few things that I really cared about. What I really cared about then were two things: knowing what my purpose in life is, and proving to myself that I can execute on goals. Now that I’m no longer 25 it’s time to retrospect.

A question that people have been asking me for a while now is “so how many items did you achieve from the list?” It’s a good question; it gives one an idea of either my follow-through, or my ambition (or both). I did 15.

I will focus on those achievements that I think taught me the most. For one, several of the goals had to do with a behavioral change, something that’s overall very difficult to do and usually takes a lot of time. I started leading a much more active life (running the half-marathon–and the marathon, but that was after I turned 26–and taking up swimming were examples of the goals which required the change; I also did some crazy things like bike to Manhattan and run to work, which was fun). I’ve gotten to the point where the default modus operandi is for me to go running, or swimming, or biking — without it I feel like my day isn’t complete.

That one was the most striking example of behavioral change. There were other goals in that category, which I achieved, but which still don’t feel natural. Reading is one of them (my goal was to read 50 books). I also vouched to be less angry at people (and things), and to deepen my friendships with people I care the most about.

Another big achievement was beginning to think. I realized that I haven’t been thinking nearly as much as I should have been (in general, I realize I should adopt a philosophy of contrasting my thinking and my doing–letting one feed off the other, and improve based on the other. Too much doing caused me to stop learning, to waste time doing the same things over and over again; but if I let the pendulum swing too much and just think, I’ll lose the much needed feedback that I can only get by applying my thoughts).

Specifically, I started thinking more seriously about my life’s purpose and while I haven’t achieved the overarching goal (of determining my goal in life), I went very far from where I was a year ago. Starting a blog–and holding myself accountable to updating it regularly–helped a lot; I was able to give shape to many thoughts I’ve had around the life purpose, and in general around metareasoning.

Finally there were goals which had to do with changing my perspective, doing something unusual, committing to something that may not necessarily be something I’m most comfortable with. Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, becoming a regular at a bar and going racing on ice in Colorado were examples of such goals. To release elevenseconds.com I started using ruby. I made myself drive stick. I came to terms with owning a car that’s not quite practical.

What was the outcome of all this? First of all, I feel like I haven’t wasted a year (curiously, the year seemed to pass much more slowly than my twenty-third and twenty-fourth year… I felt fully in control of my life, which I don’t think I could say about the previous two years that have kind of passed me by). I started thinking more (which should hopefully help me figure out my purpose in life, one of those days…). Overall I feel that I’m less anxious (having a site/blog means that I can start sharing out what I’ve done and thought about; having started hard things means that I can still adapt).

The next frequently asked question is “what will you do for your 26th year?” No, I’m not going to be trite–there will be no 26 things. Instead, I will focus on some remaining things, high-level goals that I didn’t get to that still cause some anxiety. By and large I want to focus on:

  • Being creative — I haven’t gotten to do many of the items on the 25 list that dealt with creativity, and I feel that I don’t really have an outlet for creativity these days
  • Doing something that lasts — I want to apply the “step back” test when I’m turning 27
  • Being flexible — this means both in terms of being able to change (continue working on behavioral change–make reading a natural thing, continue leading an active life) and in terms of starting new things, particularly hard things (do miniprojects on weekends)
  • Figuring out my purpose
  • Exploring more, seeing more, experiencing more — doing things from my bucket list
  • Sharing — there’s still so much that’s in my head (and on my computer) that I want to share with everyone