You Could Waste Your 20s And Still Make It
Essay defying young people's urge to work in exchange for meaningful experiences and their youth.
While I'm not frustrated enough to dye my hair pink yet, I'm not satisfied with the lack of non-work-related thrill I've lived in the last two years. I cannot count the times I've traded sleep for an early start to the next workday.
My yawn-worthy dopamine work cycle had three events, broadly speaking.
First, I pitched companies on content strategy, even though they were likely already working with content agencies. Second, I bought overpriced courses. Learn, earn more, and feel like an intellectual were my drivers. Third, I wrote marketing and social science essays to receive praise from strangers named JoeMama or xXEmoBoiXx. These three actions explain the bulk of what I've done since 2019.
It was some time after joining Twitter that I finally saw how faulty the cycle was.
Initially, I spent my Twitter time following best practices: tweet daily, leave comments I thought about for less than three seconds but that sounded genuine, and slide into strangers' DMs for something worse than asking them on dates—awkwardly talking about work.
I was in lockdown in Cartagena when my efforts paid off. First, founders asked for content marketing advice. Then, startups booked calls to hire me, a growth addict from a country they couldn't spell.
I expected to feel excited for weeks. But my brain had more pressing issues to worry about, like calculating the optimal number of clothes one can wear to avoid heatstroke in Cartagena without alarming neighbors.
When I did think about my achievements, I noticed it'd been a while since money made me feel happier.
I began to see tweets from people in their 20s differently from this point. Before, I saw young people's tweets as legitimate attempts to profit online. "They are grinding instead of clubbing," I thought, "good for them."
But now, I concentrated on what they were giving up. Most were single, living in rooms that smelled worse than a post-taco-bell bathroom, and likely spent their weekends praying for their threads to go viral to forget they had no plans.
Some of these people didn't have a choice. They were in debt, wanted to leave their countries, or both. But most extolled the advice and achievements from 30 and 40-year-olds to gain their approval.
On November 24th, 2021, I was squatting at the gym despite being tired, which ended with me letting the barbell go during the last set. The drop sound told everyone I was there. I picked up my bag, hugged by the dust from the weights' landing, and looked at the stares to assert dominance.
As my hand reached for the alcohol bottle, my right eye saw Jaime, one of my close friends, gazing at a wall while lifting dumbbells. "You didn't answer my message," I said, playing the toxic partner role out of fun. "It's been a long day," he said, still staring at the wall as if it was monitoring his actions. "I'm tired," he said, "Between work and life, I'm not free until 10 PM. At college, I got through rough times telling myself that vacations were nearby. But vacations barely exist at work."
I swallowed. He took a job he didn't like to impress his peers and, more importantly, older role models that wouldn't spare him change unless they got something in return. Like most young people I see on Twitter, he had become a sponge of ideals rather than a master of fulfilling experiences.
As I scroll through the feeds of old Instagram and Twitter acquaintances, I can't help but notice how most quit these platforms. Most 20-year-old Tweeters who made it posting platitudes will likely assume these people are impatient. That they are not going to make it. But these people made it. They now focus on real-life businesses, relationships, and experiences that they share with friends—not with their network.
If you are in your 20s, quit social media for 2-weeks and then check if you still want to work on side projects.
I did this, and, for the first time in three years as someone addicted to learning, experimenting, and doing, I've been thinking about spending a year reading, writing, meeting people, and only doing the work necessary to live comfortably.
You are in your 20s. You'll likely live for another 50 years unless COVID mutates for the tenth time. Slow down. You are still going to make it.