Living Life in Reverse - Life Advice for the 20s and early 30s for a Happier Life

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Skydiving in the Sunset

You might have often heard of this advice: "Get a good degree, get a good job, retire early". In fact, most of us in the current society live by this mantra. However, I have recently heard a lot of stories about my peers being unhappy at work, doing overtime (OT) way past the "normal" working hours and even having the OTs encroach to the weekends - basically selling their souls to their company when they are in their prime.

For the rare percentage of people who have found a job that they like/dreamt of doing and pays you well, congratulations, you live a blessed life. For another huge percentage of people who is gritting their teeth and sacrificing their youth all in the hope of earning "enough" to retire early, I feel sad for them. Why?

In Singapore, guys give two years of their prime to National Service when they are at the age of 18-21. That is 2 years of freedom lost. Then comes University/College life where most pad up their resumes by taking on leadership roles in various CCAs, then spending their summer breaks doing internships for "reputable" companies, when in truth, they never get to learn anything substantial within that 2-3 months they are in the company. They are simply justifying for the lost, wasted and precious summer break time when they tell everyone that "my experience in xxx company is enriching".

Truth: They barely scratched the surface of what an actual company might be doing within their internship stint. 

Before the end of their undergraduate life, they frantically send out their padded resumes to numerous companies, attending every single career talks, all in hope of securing the coveted "reputable, high-paying" job. Some get lucky with their first choice, while others settle for any reasonable job offers they can get their hands on - because getting a job is important. 

At the prime age of your 20s and early 30s, these people sell their souls to the company. Yes, they can get to go on a nice holiday trip once or twice a year with their leaves. However, except for the difference in countries, the activities that they do are largely the same: stay in a good and comfortable hotel with hot showers, eat good food, take jump shots at different landmarks, shop in shopping malls and travel in taxis or in their tour buses. There is nothing wrong with this if you travel to relax. But I cringe a little when these people tell me that they travel so that they can experience a new culture. (Read: 10 Ways to Experience a Culture Authentically While Traveling)

After the holidays, they come back to a pile of work and deadlines. They now have to work doubly hard to clear all the backlogs. Are they really taking a true "holiday"? Or are they just taking a "delay-my-work-for-another-few-weeks" leave? 

The cycle continues. Some succumb to the pressure and quit 1-2 years into the job, just as they are finally accumulating enough knowledge and expertise in their field of work. Some continue to slog, until finally, the "day" comes - the time when they look at their bank book and give themselves a pat on their back because they are able to retire early. That lifelong dream of "travelling around the world" is finally going to happen.

By then, they are in their mid 40s and 50s. Yes, with advancement in technology, humans are able to live longer. But with this newfound vitality comes the risk of exposing their aging bodies at risk for neurological disorders and immune-related illness, most notably cancer and heart disease. 

Increasing rates of cardiovascular disease

Even if they are lucky, there is still the inevitable "old age problems". They get tired more easily, their joints hurt if they walk too much, their taste buds craves for food that are more bland. That exotic fried spider that they have put in their bucket list no longer seems attractive. They no longer have the capability and desire to travel the world anymore. They are content to watch reruns on TV, play mahjong or simply read the newspaper everyday. 

They slogged half their life away, just to retire early for these? And when they are on their death beds, they come to a realisation that their life sucked. They regret their lives. In an article, a nurse reveals the top 5 regrets people make on their deathbed.

I wish to point out #1, #2 and #5 in particular:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. 
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

So yes, I feel sad for these peers of mine who are stuck in this old mantra of living, because they are the ones who will go to their deathbeds with exactly the same kind of regrets.

It is time to change.

Before the time of machinery, young abled-bodied man and woman need to work, because there wasn't any machinery to replace manual labour. Work like mining, farming, sewing etc. need humans that are in their prime to be efficiently productive. However, technology has started to replace all that. Humans can now sit on a combine harvester and harvest their grains without a single sweat. 

Combine Harvester

We are heading towards a new era - an era where the government propagandises their citizens to retire later. In the US, the social security retirement age is increasing beyond 62 (Article: Increase in Retirement Age), where the later you are born, the higher your retirement age.

In Singapore, the statutory minimum retirement age is 62, but the idea of raising this to 65 years and even 70 years (Article: Raise retirement age to 70: Lim Boon Heng) has often been brought up. 

The advancement of technology plus the fact that retiring early is not cool brings about the point - We have a lot of time to work. In fact, working during our old age is much more meaningful than watching reruns on TV, since it gives us a purpose to live.

Therefore, it is time to start living your life in reverse - do the things that you want to do in your 20s and early 30s. Start working only when you have experienced the life you have always wanted to have. 

That means that if you have always wanted to be a sky diving instructor, go get the license now. If you are a fan of bubble tea and have this idea of working for a bubble tea shop, do it. If you want to travel the world, you are in your best physical condition to experience it. If you like animals, then go do a part-time in a pet shop. Love food? Be a waiter/waitress in a restaurant/cafe. Experience the things you love in another perspective - you will grow so much as a human being. 

For example, most of us take fast and friendly service for granted while dining in a F&B outlet. However, do you know how much effort it takes for the waiter or waitress to do all that for every single customer? You will never know, unless you are in those shoes.

It is through experiencing different cultures, gaining different perspectives and doing the things that you desire that we can experience true happiness. The meaning and purpose of life is simple - it is the experiences that you have lived, the gained perspectives and understanding of something new, the fond memories that make you smile when you draw your last breath on your deathbed.

Today, your life begins.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

(This blog entry is also the answer to the most frequently asked question on why I decided to be a blogger. Because as a blogger, I get to experience a myriad of food, places, events and people. I am always exposed to new, interesting things and thus, I am continuously learning and living. And this, is how the Evilbean chose to live his e.f.i.L.)

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  1. Great point! Too many people live their whole lives working too hard or not following their own path only to regret it when their older. Imagine what incredibly exciting world this would be if everyone had the courage to be creative with their lives.


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