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The Biggest Regret of My Early 20s
Reflecting on everything I did wrong.
I’m officially through my early 20s.
If we’re being technical about it, I’m less than one year away from “my late 20s”, although, most people tend to think I’m older than that.
Either way, since I’ve recently moved, had a birthday, and I’m in a sentimental mood, it seems like as good a time as ever to reflect.
In my late teens and early 20s, I did a lot.
I traveled extensively (and it didn’t make me happier). I competed all over the world. I got my black belt in BJJ at 24. I became a martial arts teacher, a writer, an entrepreneur, and a content creator. I fell in love, got my heart broken, and then I tried again. I won and lost grappling matches everywhere from the biggest stages I could compete on to small gyms in the middle of cornfields.
Some moments were incredible, some were depressing, and a lot of it was bland — daily routines of slaving away at my crafts over and over again until my body ached like a heart away from home.
But I honestly don’t have many regrets. There’s just one that stands out to me.
Perhaps my hindsight can help you out — however old you are.
My biggest regret.
I’ve always been a go-getter type of person. The kind of person who takes a chance and then figures out the details later. The kind of person who books a trip and then figures out what he's going to do and how he’s going to afford it well after the fact.
I’ve always been a bit impulsive and driven toward my goals without thinking too much about the consequences.
It’s funny because I think anxiety is actually the reason that I think and act this way. It’s my anxiety and my self-awareness of that anxiety that help me keep going. I actively choose to not let anxiety define me.
I know that I’m anxious, I know that I’m an overthinker, and I know that I want to hold back, so I do everything in my power to not hold back.
And that’s what leads me to the biggest regret of my early 20s:
I spent so much time trying to outrun and outwork my fears that I haven’t taken nearly enough time to appreciate the simplest of moments of my experience. I’ve spent so much time improving myself and not much time being myself. I’ve spent so much time trying to be good at things and not much time at all trying to be good at being alive.
My biggest regret of my early 20s is an excess of thought, but a lack of mindfulness.
Why this is important.
I think that my recent behavior has reflected this mental shift that has been happening.
I enjoyed a “hippie-dippie spiritual phase” around this time last year, where I was probably more “Zen” than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Things were good. I was comfortable. I was happy, even.
But it didn’t last.
I got too comfortable. I f*cked up. I became complacent.
I let my newfound mindfulness and peace make my physical life harder, and then the anxiety that was caused by that experience forced me back into this vicious cycle where I was stressed all the time, at a bit of a professional crossroads, and struggling to figure out my “why” for doing the ridiculous things that I do.
When you’re trying to be a professional athlete and a writer, losing your “why” is a terrifying sensation. If something doesn’t matter to you, it’s difficult to keep going.
I had “a quarter-life crisis” earlier this year, and I responded to that crisis not by thinking, but by working my ass off all year long.
I upped my competition activity, I traveled all over the place, and I moved my entire life to Austin, Texas, where, at least for now, I live. I also wrote everything down and documented the entire process as it happened. That’s a good thing because a lack of mindfulness makes accessing memories hard sometimes.
And how do I feel now?
Things have gotten better — but it’s not because of the work, it’s because of the duality of work and thought that I have been consciously aiming to improve. If it wasn’t for the writing and the nightly FaceTime reflections with my girlfriend, I don’t think I’d really appreciate any of this experience. I’d just keep trucking forward.
That’s not what you want to do.
How I plan to deal with this going forward.
The support system that I have right now is quite strong.
My family, friends, and girlfriend are all great to me — they all just live far away. My inner circle is either getting stronger or I’m just starting to feel more confident in it. Either way, I’m pretty happy with my corner.
However, the truth is that a good support system is not enough to cure a mindfulness issue. A support system can help you feel more connected and it can help you become more successful, but no one else can help you become more present except for you. This is something that you need to work on yourself.
That’s why I trying to take time every day to do things that bring me back to a base level of mindfulness.
Things like going for walks, reading books, writing without any music or distractions, and even training and lifting weights in silence. I’m trying to spend more time engrossed in each moment because that way I have no choice but to cherish them.
I know that one day, “now” will end, and I’m just trying to make an effort to be present in it before it does.
Memento mori is a good rule to think by — but don’t forget to live.
I’ve done plenty of dumb sh*t in my life.
I’ve had failed business ventures, written crappy books no one bought, lost matches, messed up relationships, and destroyed my body. I have felt cold and lost and alone in places that I thought I was supposed to call home.
But through all of that, the thing that I regret the most is not remembering to soak in the moments — good and bad. The moments I regret most are the moments that I lived on autopilot, even if those moments were unpleasant.
This is my regret.
But I have a different view of regret nowadays than I once did. I don’t aim to “live without regrets” anymore, for if you live without regrets, you will die without lessons to pass on to both your future self and future generations.
I have this regret from my early 20s, but I’m still fairly young, and I have time to fix it. I have time to live better as I age.
I have regrets, but don’t we all?
In my opinion, it’s far better to face those regrets and learn from them than to be ashamed of and run from them.
And facing them and learning from them exactly what I intend to do.
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