3 Lessons I Wish I Learned Before Turning 33

“Hey, you’re the same age as Jesus was when he died!”

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday and the person who said that to me got me thinking about what turning “Jesus’ age” means.

No, there’s no mid-life crisis and I haven’t raced out to buy a convertible Corvette. But it’s sometimes good to think about what we’ve learned over the course of a lifetime.

I like to think about what I would tell myself if I could travel back in time to when I was in my early 20’s. Here are three lessons I would give myself.

Lesson #1: Bad Goals Are Always Disguised as Good Goals

If you set a goal for your life, you generally do so with the best of intentions. But good intentions don’t always lead to good goals. In fact, they can lead to just the opposite.

When I was in my early 20’s, I set a goal for myself that I would be a millionaire by 30. On the surface, this sounds like a good goal. After all, doing so would require me to work hard, make smart decisions with our money, live below our means, and to do all of the other things becoming a millionaire requires.

So what’s bad about this goal?

  • It puts the emphasis on the wrong side of the equation. Because my focus was on the money, I ended up making bad decisions during that period of my life.
  • I chose a career based on money rather than passion. I hated so much of my 20’s because I dreaded going to work each day. I was burning out very quickly.
  • I became a workaholic. I spent too many years working 80+ hours each week. I neglected my wife Lisa, our family, and our friendships. As a result, I nearly lost my marriage.
  • I didn’t take care of my health. By the time I was 26, my cholesterol was 351 (very bad), I was overweight, and I developed shingles due to stress. The final straw was when (at 31) I developed a severe case of vasculitis.

So how can you ensure that your goals are actually good for you? You evaluate the underlying assumptions.

I assumed that becoming a millionaire by 30 would make my life better than doing it by 35, 40 or even 50. Becoming a millionaire is a fine goal. However, the minute I put the “by 30” timeframe on it, I forced myself to make short-term sacrifices that would harm me in the long-run.

What good is being a 30-year-old millionaire if you’re overweight, burnt-out, and divorced?

If your goals require you to sacrifice things that you know are good for something you think might be good, it’s a bad goal.

Lesson #2: Life Moves Quickly, But This Isn’t a Race

When I was 6, Christmas took forever to roll around. A week was like a month. Now, I look up and it’s the end of August. It seems like just yesterday that I was freezing my butt off in January.

I know I sound like an old fart with this one, but I don’t care. It’s true. The more life advances, the more quickly it moves.

This can lead to the feeling that we need to hurry up: “Time is running out and I need to get a move on with my goals and my plans and my future. After all, look at the Jones’ over there – they already have 2.5 kids, a BMW, and a 5 bedroom house mortgage.”

The feeling like you’re in a race against time with your life is based on the assumption that certain things are “supposed to happen” at certain times.

  • I should be married by 28
  • I should own a home by 30
  • I should have 2 kids by 35
  • My 30s are my “earning years”
  • I want to retire by 50

And on it goes. But all of those make false assumptions of how life should work that aren’t based in anything other than tradition and the expectations of others.

This isn’t to say that you should lazily meander through life. On the contrary, you need to set goals and pursue your dreams.

But, if you race through life always trying to get to the next level, you’re going to wake up one day and realize that it was all in vain and you won’t be able to get any of the time back. And that’s what you’ll get if you chase arbitrary, cultural targets.

Generally, our biggest regrets in life don’t come from doing things we shouldn’t have done. They come from not doing the things we know we should have.

Lesson #3: Never Settle

Too many people settle for a mediocre existence rather than pursue a meaningful life.

How do I know? Because the average American watches 4 hours of TV per day. If you’re settling for a life of mediocre existence, you will find ways to distract yourself from that awful feeling deep down inside of you that your life lacks true meaning and purpose. You will want to disconnect from the “real world.”

Instead of pursing our passions, we watch reality shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance where we can sit on the sidelines of life and live vicariously through others who are doing what we’re afraid to.

If you only learn one thing before you turn 33, please learn this one: never settle. Never stop dreaming.

I’ve found my meaning through my faith, my family, my friends and my pursuit of my passion.

Share Your Lessons

If you could travel back in time, what lessons would you give to yourself?

  • http://budgetsnob.com Jerret

    “Just do something.” Anything. I was always flittering (word?) between ideas.

    I also started blogging in 2005 and gave it up because I didn’t see any results. So, “stop being short sided” would be another lesson.

    • Travis Robertson

      Good one! It’s so easy to get caught up in the love of the idea rather than the daily pursuit of it. Things sound all fun and sexy when we don’t actually have to work at it. Once we do, the luster wears off and it’s easier to move to another idea.

      This could be a blog post on it’s own. :)

  • http://budgetsnob.com Jerret

    “Just do something.” Anything. I was always flittering (word?) between ideas.

    I also started blogging in 2005 and gave it up because I didn’t see any results. So, “stop being short sided” would be another lesson.

    • Travis Robertson

      Good one! It’s so easy to get caught up in the love of the idea rather than the daily pursuit of it. Things sound all fun and sexy when we don’t actually have to work at it. Once we do, the luster wears off and it’s easier to move to another idea.

      This could be a blog post on it’s own. :)

  • Anonymous

    Love this, Travis. And, happy belated birthday! I turn 30 this weekend, so I’m feeling quite reflective myself. The second point really resonates with me – life is not a race, but it’s so easy to get caught up in that. I know that I often do, despite reminding myself how silly it is to do so.

    I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned, or would tell my younger self, is that it’s okay when life doesn’t go according to planned. I’ve had plans that have failed and it devastated me. But, I have learned some serious lessons in those failures (or should I say deviations?). As much as we try, we can’t chart how our life is going to go. Sure, it’s important to set goals and work hard to achieve them, but we also have to learn how to adapt when things don’t end up as we hoped.

  • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

    Thanks, Laura, and great lesson! I used to get so angry and frustrated when life didn’t turn out exactly like I planned. Like you said, being able to “adapt” is the key to staying sane in the midst of failures and deviations.

  • Jeremy Carter

    Good stuff. Thanks for writing.

  • anonymous

    Don’t think that you know it all. Of all of the things that I could of should of done I kept doing it on the basis of thinking that I thought that I knew what I was doing, and did not take advise from anyone. Well here I am at 53 post 2 bankruptcies, divorced, paying an unacceptable amount of money to IRS because I make too much and owe too much on my student loans all because I thought I knew what I was doing. I am still in hopes of doing better and believing that God has something bigger and doing my best to not believe that this is all there is to life.

  • blackburnmanor

    So here I am at 47, ready & called to move out of corporate America (defense) into either full-time orphancare or to a career field with the opportunities and latitude to do family orphancare volunteer missions. Do you know of any possibilities in Franklin?

  • Khadijah

    Hello. Thanks for writing this. I’m about to turn 33 next month and I’m going on a month long leave in teo days time. I have a list of things I would love to do since I’m going to have lots of free time on my hands but still, I went on searching here on the net for “turning 33″. It’s silly I guess but I wanted to know what people did or thought before they turned this age in case I’m missing out more on what I’ve already missed. this somehow helped me strengthen my resolve to live one day at a time regardless of the circumstances and try to be happier. I still have no idea about what I’m going to do with my life or how I’m going to achieve becoming a millionaire either which was supposed to have happened three years ago =) But I have come to realize a lot of things along the way…one of them is I’m actually good the way I am but yes, things could get better. But I can live one day at a time doing the best I can and allow life to happen. less stressful and more fruitful.

    • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

      Hi Kadijah,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is not silly to search for “turning 33″ – you would be surprised at how many visitors I’ve had to the site who searched for that exact same term (many hundreds).

      I also had a goal of becoming a millionaire by the time I was 30 (which didn’t happen). I suppose we all share that same goal when we’re in our 20s. :)

      Let me encourage you *not* to take it a day at a time but to create a plan and act on it deliberately. Be diligent and work the plan day in and day out. If you only live for today, you will never arrive at a destination of your choosing. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Life is a journey.” Like all journeys, it requires at least a vague understanding of your intended destinations.

      I would like to give you some resources that I think will help you:

      First, I just launched a new website yesterday which I think you will find very useful. It’s http://dontsettle.org. Take a second to visit and sign up for the RSS or email subscription.

      Second, read this post on legacy: travisrobertson.com/legacy/warning-6-signs-legacy-trash/

      Third, take a look at this post on setting goals: travisrobertson.com/legacy/how-to-set-goals/

      On DontSettle.org, I will be releasing exercises and challenges designed to help move you along a path that will get you where you want to be.

      I hope you have a wonderful 33rd birthday and I hope you also enjoy your month-long leave! What a great opportunity to work on developing your destination and your journey!

      Cheers,
      Travis

  • Ceo

    I turned 33 on september. There is a constant battle between ‘me’ and ‘life’ in staying young since I turned 30. Because people who know your age tries to remind you that you are old. On the other hand even being a man, I always think myself more fit than I was in 18 or 25. Actually people who does not know my age think that I am around 25 by my look.
    The whole point about the above gibberish is like many others I relate to “being useful in life” with “staying you”. And I will continue this fight with sports to make myself fit(without stopping to eat junk foods), lying to people about my age :P and yes I will be more responsible than before so that no one can point to me for anything.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592808579 Dew Wyatt

    Thanks for another great one.

    If I could go back in time, I would go tell the teenage version of me to relax and be yourself because you turned out to be the woman you wanted to be.

    • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

      Thank you, Dew! Love what you wrote…the teenage version of me could have definitely benefited from that message as well. :)

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    I like #3. :)

    • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

       LOL! I’m kinda partial to it as well. It was when I was testing the waters with the concept before releasing it in full force. :)

  • Jeremy Conrad
  • Brenda

    Hello Travis, I am turning 33 in exactly 25 days (lol). And I know it is time to move on from set backs and bad decision making.  

  • Flavia Andrews

    Turning 33 today! And read what I wanted to ‘hear’: lesson #2. Thanks! Your post made my day!

  • http://babychildmother.blogspot.com/ JOE STEVENSON

    Great post I turned 35 recently and it makes you look in the mirror and start to think is this it? You start to think that you are to old to achieve things and have ambition.

    I decided to try and make a go of ideas that I had and so far they are working out well, I think the morale of the story is never give up and keep believing. I have just recently started a blog and it is in the early stages so not much content but it will get there I truly believe that.

    http://babychildmother.blogspot.com/