The One Thing I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old-Self

We all wish we could turn back the clock, write a letter to our younger self, and share some critical piece of insight that would change the rest of our life forever.

Next year, I’m going to turn 30. This seems like a big milestone, like I should have my life figured out by now and be on a path to world domination and prosperity.

I’d like to think I’m on my way, but I have it far from “figured out.”

Me, at 20

I think back to 20 every now and then. My third year of college, comfortably moving through school and worried about all the things that wouldn’t matter in a year or two. Life seems so simple in hindsight, amusingly so.

I think back and wonder, what one thing would I tell that guy that would make the biggest impact? What piece of wisdom can I share? How can I convince him that it would work? Would it actually work?

I thought and thought and came up with something. I don’t know if this is “it,” I don’t know if it could work for everyone, but I think it would have worked for me.

No matter how small the idea or effort, just start. Make the tiniest of progress.Click to Tweet

Start first, because starting is the hardest part. Tweaking is easy, it’s fun.

  • Start saving, even if it has to be $5 a month. Make it automatic. Play with increasing it every few months.
  • Start putting away for retirement, even when it’s four decades away.
  • If you want to travel, devote some money, any money to travel. Go where you can afford to go, then devote more money to it as you can.
  • Work, even a few hours a week, and build a habit of earning your way.
  • Create, no matter how little or how good, but create something to share, sell, or keep.
  • Whatever your goal, your focus, your interest–devote time, energy and money to that.

Do all of this as regularly as you can and as automatically as you can. Set up transfers. Set timers and alarms. Set appointments.

Here’s another way to look at it:

Time and habit-building are more important than the degree of effort.Click to Tweet
In other words, building the habit of positive financial habits, and the effect of compound interest and small, consistent effort are more important than how much you’re able to put toward those particular goals, because that will inevitably change over time, and usually for the better.


The opposite of this is the if-then game. We all play the game, even without realizing it.

  • If I don’t go out too much this month, then I’ll be able to save some money.
  • When I graduate college, then I’ll worry about retirement.
  • If my parents would only pay for my books, then I’d be able to travel.

Make the effort to start. It may not even help financially. But it will magically open a new world of thinking to you, and you’ll begin to accomplish things.

If you’re 20, you’ve got a whole new decade ahead of you. 120 months of whatever you make a priority.

Get started!

(Photo credit)

3 thoughts on “The One Thing I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old-Self

  1. I totally agree. When I was in my early twenties I didn’t understand how even the tiniest of efforts could have a big impact later, if only for the good habits I’d be building. It took me to nearly 30 to figure it out and now I’m trying to focus on the future rather than lament over lost time.

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