I have wasted my 20’s

By Amarachukwu Okpunobi

When you are a kid, you always hear the same piece of advice, whether its from your parents, your family, your teachers, every adult you come across. That piece of advice is this: “Make the most of your time as a kid, it won’t last forever”.

Surely, you must have heard that piece of advice, one way or the other. In this piece, Ollie Spear, shares her story through her early 20’s and what she has been able to make out if it. Hope you find it an interesting read? Read on…

It might not have been phrased exactly like that for you, but it was definitely along that line. It could also have been said as “live while you’re young” or “you won’t have time for fun when you’re an adult”. Either way the message is clear, you should make the most of your time while you are carefree and don’t have to pay taxes, go to work or pay for a mortgage.

Unfortunately, I — like many children — failed to follow this advice, and as I get older I find myself thinking that those that gave me the advice when I was a child didn’t follow it themselves either. I am now 25 and I have some serious regrets about how I spent my time both as a child and through university. I encourage you not to do the same.

The world doesn’t exist online

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a fairly introverted child. I didn’t have many close friends that I felt comfortable around — in fact a could count them all on one hand — and I wasn’t great at speaking up to make new ones. I spent my days after school living what I thought was the dream life, sitting on the sofa, watching endless re-runs of the series Friends (yes, I see the irony), movies and my Facebook feed.

I didn’t want to do anything else, or I couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps it lay somewhere in between.

My parents were not keen on me spending my days glued to a screen, so they encouraged me  to take up sports and play outside with our neighbours’ kids, despite the fact that I didn’t really like them. I took a liking to tennis and continued to play once a week, every week, until I was 18 and left for university, but I didn’t have any friends there. I knew people who came every week, but we weren’t friends. When I got home, I would freshen up and sit right back down in front of the TV and carry on as usual.

This unfortunately carried across to my university years, when I spent most of my time indoors and on my laptop. I wasn’t good at socialising so I found an unhealthy level of comfort in the online universe, watching YouTube and TV shows, neglecting my social life.

What I realise now is that the world is a much bigger and better place, outside of screens, than I had ever imagined. I now work for a consulting firm and the best parts of my day involve speaking to my colleagues who I don’t know that well but that I enjoy just being with. I didn’t realise the value of human connection as a kid, but I suppose I lacked that frame of reference when all I knew was isolation.

Sure, I spend a lot of my day on a computer, be it at work or being bored at home. But whenever I get the chance to meet a school friend, or to chat with my family or colleagues, I grasp it with both hands and do my best to enjoy myself.

As much as Mark Zuckerberg want to move human connection online into his Sci-fi world of virtual/augmented reality, you cannot replace the feeling you get when you are in close proximity to people you enjoy being around. It’s the same as wanting to go to a friend’s house instead of chatting on the phone or not wanting to move halfway around the world away from your family.

While you are young and human connections are easier to make, and much easier to maintain, you should spend less time online and more time in person.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

I am hesitant to write this section as I still find that I don’t like being the focus of a joke or embarrassing myself. I outwrite refuse to do karaoke and I won’t dance no matter how dull it makes me look. I even refused to drink until I was 23 as I didn’t want to risk making an idiot of myself while drunk, which didn’t help when it came to socialising at university.

However, I have changed in recent years.

I also come from quite a conservative family. Whenever a news story came on the TV of drunk kids having fun or people doing embarrassing things, my dad would always call them pathetic or morons and, as most kids do, I looked up to him and did everything I could to not make him think the same of me.

Going into the final years of secondary school and into university, I refused to drink or do anything that my I thought was what my dad would consider to be pathetic or moronic, and I therefore didn’t do anything fun or interesting. I was always the responsible boring person in the corner who couldn’t speak to people or that accidently made people feel bad when I let slip that I thought they were wasting their life, regardless of the fact that they were living their lives to the fullest and it was me that was wasting it.

The world is bigger than your hometown

I got told the same thing as you probably did when you were a child. After school you should go to university, after university you should get a job, after you finish your job you can retire and be free to enjoy your life. Sound familiar?

That conservative family I was raised in had the same thinking. Anyone who took a gap year between school and university was wasting their time and taking unnecessary risk. Strangely, they now have a different take on life, being more liberal and wanting me and my sibling to experience everything in life, including travelling and seeing new things.

Now I am 25, I have set a goal to visit 50 countries before I am 30. I already have 15 under my belt, but getting to 35 more will be a real challenge, but one I know I won’t regret.

When you are able to do so, you should travel to as many places as you can and learn as much as possible. Being around the same people you grew up with all the time only leads to opinions and habits being engrained which is harder to fix as you get older.

Seeing the world gives you more empathy for people’s lives and struggles, it teaches you about new languages and cultures and shows you that there is more than one way to live your life. Some parts of the world barely have running water, let alone fibre broad band, and yet they can be 10 times happier in their life than you are in yours.

Learn what it means to be free and to live without care. Wander through towns and speak to new people — you might even pick up a new language.

One thing that will reduce for the majority of us as we get older is spare time to travel, so do it while you can on whatever budget you can. No one has ever regret travelling too much.

Be free to be free. Laugh, joke and make mistakes. Life is for the living. Live it, or regret it.