What I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self About Mastering Life’s Mind Games


I’m thankful for my mistakes. If I hadn’t made them in my 20s and early 30s, I might be making them now. We don’t learn from winning. We learn by losing.

I don’t know what my mid-life crisis will look like, but I know that it won’t involve driving around in a fast, loud sports car built to damage the eardrums of anyone within a square mile. Why?

Well, I’ve already done that.

Within the first month of scoring my first “real” job, I plopped down a half year’s salary and bought my dream car: A Corvette. A 1999 Corvette Convertible, to be exact. Arctic White. It was $25,000, and it was bone stock. The previous owner didn’t modify it. He kept it exactly as he bought it.

I, however, didn’t.

Over the course of the next several years, I pumped another $25,000 into that car. I installed a roots-type supercharger. Switched out the stock exhaust system for a much louder alternative – yes, for you car people out there, this included a straight cat back and long-tude headers. A racing camshaft. Twin-disc clutch. It was the loudest car I had ever owned, and it was probably the loudest car on the street where ever I happened to be.

It was amazing fun, and at the time, I couldn’t have been happier.

Was That Car A Mistake?

It’s easy to look back at that phase of my life and chalk it up to a mistake. In fact, it seemed like I was losing the mind game of life.

After all, I blew through a half-year’s salary straight out of college to buy my dream car. I didn’t save up money. In fact, I took out a car loan to buy that sucker. Ugh, a car loan! Depreciation AND interest.

Worse, I “invested” in a Yamaha R1 sportbike in my 30s, too. I paid well over $150 / month in insurance because single 30-year-old hot-heads are notorious for killing themselves on fast bikes. Go figure.

How could I? What a waste of cash. Even though I retired at 35, without that car and motorcycle, I might have retired even sooner. Maybe.

But the more I think about that car – and, frankly, my previous life full of sports cars and motorcycles, suburban homes and weekly happy hours, the more convinced I become that it wasn’t a mistake. Not even a small one.

It’s quite the opposite.

Those decisions made me the type of person that I am today. Could I honestly say that I would have retired at, say, 32, if I hadn’t bought that car or motorcycle? Or the suburban house? Of course not. Life isn’t that simple. I “recklessly” spent money while I was young, which is the perfect time to do just that. I had my fun, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.

But even if the answer were yes – yes, I would have retired even sooner, that’s not the whole story either.

The truth here is far more remarkable, and it all starts in the brain.

I don’t know if I would be quite as undeniably happy with the choices that my wife and I are making in life today if I hadn’t lived like a wasteful douche bag in a previous life. Believe it or not, it’s helped.

My previous life has made me a much smarter person.

And let’s face it: everybody makes mistakes. Yes, every one of us. Even six-figure earners make mistakes, too. It happens.

My Advice: Have Fun As Early As You Can; Then, Live Out Your Happiness Like A Sensible Person

Sitting here as a 38-year-old guy, what would I tell my 20-year-old self about mastering life’s mind game? It would have nothing to do with regrets.

I’d say this:

“Great job. You spent money and had your fun early in life, and now it’s out of your system. It was money well-spent.“

After all, I know what going out to eat all the time and living like a rockstar is like — I felt the 50-pounds being added to my waistline (which I have taken back off!), too.

I know what driving the fastest and loudest car in town feels like.

I remember dropping $225 for a pair of Oakley shades without blinking an eye. Because, well, that’s what nice sunglasses cost, right?

I’ve systematically cheated my budget so I could buy more things.

When it came to spending money: I was a virtual expert.

I know what being an irresponsible, resource-hogging putz feels like. Been there, done that and have the t-shirt. I know what I’m missing, and I don’t want it back. I’m done with that facet of my life.

But, I’m also glad I know.

My previous mistakes never tempt me to make them again. Once is good, thanks. And, I made them early enough in life to recover from them. Recover financially as well as mentally.

My mistakes taught me that:

• Spending money doesn’t automatically mean happiness, and

• Happiness is the result of mastering your mind, not your pocketbook

With that experience, I can make better choices for my future. My mistakes have allowed me to recognize the things that no longer bring me happiness. I understand that sports cars, homeownership and restaurant eating is expensive as hell. I realize that stealing from my budget ultimately hurts ME. I know these things because I’ve done them.

And, I’m thankful for those mistakes. Every one.

If I hadn’t made those mistakes in my 20s and early 30s, I might be making them now. Then, I would just be kidding myself with early retirement. Ultimately, we don’t learn from winning. We learn by losing.

And I’ve learned quite a bit.

The Mind Game: It’s Easy To Criticize Mistakes

Here’s the problem with lamenting our screw-ups: We learn far more from our mistakes than we do our successes. It’s one thing to vow never to make those same mistakes again. That’s a healthy perspective.

But, wishing you had never made them in the first place could destroy your innate ability to master the mind game. Screw-ups improve your mind.

Together, they shape your perspective and enhance your instincts. They make us better and more well-rounded people. Wiser. Gentler, even.

Collectively, each life phase makes us who we are. Instead of wishing we had never made mistakes, perhaps we should instead thank our previous selves for the learning opportunity. Because without that opportunity to learn, we could be making them today. When we are older.

…when we have less time (and perhaps energy) to recover from them.

Today, I thank my previous self for driving around in expensive cars and fast motorcycles. I am grateful to have practically lived at restaurants in my 20s.

Through those mistakes, I know the impact that spending money has on my life, and I’ve used those learning experiences to master the mind game of life.

I no longer wonder what it’s like to drive fast cars, wear expensive clothing or live like a rockstar. I don’t think about having that big house on the hill or affording that $20,000 watch. Or taking ritzy vacations.

I no longer wonder what it’s like to live a rockstar.

Been there, done that and have the t-shirt

Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood

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Photo courtesy iStock.

This post previously published on Steve Adcock and is republished with the permission of the author.