Don’t forget to live whilst you’re young!
Live as if you were to die tomorrow;
Learn as if you were to live forever
When I was 22, I promised myself, and more importantly my mother-in-law, that by the age of 40, I’d have retired and would be sailing around the world with my family, with all the time in the world to read all the books in the world. That age is fast approaching and I’m still far from fulfilling that dream, and abandoning the security, challenges and mental stimuli of having a job.
In the words of Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men / Gang aft agley”. We can hope, dream, plot and plan, but success in life is only achieved by being flexible, so when life throws the unexpected at you, rather than being disappointed, you are driven to achieve more. Many people put things off until a day when they think they’ll be older and wiser. But why delay living? When you are young you have optimism and energy on your side, without being encumbered by the burdens and worries which rack up as life goes on. All you need at the age of 22 is a constructive and open mentality, and a hunger to learn.
Apart from the fact I’m not writing this from a boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, my life has panned out far from how I expected. Most of all, I am surprised to find that I am working for myself. Driving my Lada in the mid 1990s in Russia, the only career imaginable for me, and my classmates, was with one of the large multinationals which were rapidly setting up in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Yet the hardest lesson I have had to learn is however much individuals may talk of change, it is difficult to break the stagnation of society as a whole. In the early years of post-Soviet Russia, it was easy to be different and challenge the norms; there was widespread optimism of what democracy would bring the country. Whilst doing my bachelors we espoused a laissez faire, liberal economy, yet greater state regulations are not a thing of the planned economy of old, but part of Russia’s democratic future. In addition nearly a quarter of a century since perestroika, the antiquated ideas prevalent during Soviet times are still upheld in Russia, Britain and the US.
When you are young, you are fearless of questioning, and when necessary, breaking traditions. But the arrogance of youth shouldn’t be insolent to guidance from older generations. There is no doubt that it is a refined skill to cherry pick between their conservatism and scepticism, as opposed to their sound, and often hard to come by, advice. In this vein, I don’t believe in dictating how to live your life, but if you are 22, whether Russian, British, a Liechtensteiner or a Brazilian, you could do far worse than attain the following three attributes:
1. Learn a few foreign languages.
English is the lingua franca of today’s world, but is this true of the world of tomorrow? If in doubt, ask the French: a century ago engagement in international politics and business was unimaginable without speaking French and it seemed nothing would challenge its standing…
Knowing another tongue will never shut doors in life, especially if you were to crack the language which will dominate the market of the future, Mandarin. And believe you me, languages are not something you have the mental functionality, nor time to learn, later in life.
2. Try everything and anything.
Never think a task beneath you. However menial or challenging, it will always be experience to draw on later down the line. If you’re running a hotel, wouldn’t you want to understand the perspective of the person cleaning the urinals day in, day out?
3. Get a worthwhile degree.
Avoid wasting time on a higher-education qualification which won’t provide the appropriate skillset for the career you’re interested in pursuing; remember that 40% of university grads in Spain are actually unemployed! So you don’t want any university diploma, you want to be starting your first job already knowing the basics, whether that’s how to input functions on an Excel spreadsheet or what abbreviations to use for giving stage directions!
So don’t hang around in your twenties, wasting time, trying to plan out the rest of your life. Use this period with a liveliness of body and mind to explore, trial and do everything you might not have the time for when you’re older. I still hope that one day I will manage a round-the-world boat trip, though I now realise it won’t pan out quite how I’d hoped when I was 22 – who ever had time to read a book when sailing?
Inspired by the LinkedIn initiative “If I were 22”.