Note to Grads: Your Choices Now Determine Who You Will Be

Though my family grew up in New Jersey, my sister was a bandwagon Chicago Bulls fan. Can’t really blame her. Who didn’t like Mike? He was so much better than everyone else (including my beloved Knicks). What I didn’t learn until much later was that, once upon a time, he wasn’t the most amazing basketball player of all time.

As a sophomore in high school, he didn’t make the varsity team. Big whup, right? Well, it was a huge deal to him. Jordan would get into school well before the teachers to shoot baskets at his gym every day of the year. He made the team his junior year and became a star player, which led to college recruitment and the NBA.

Can you imagine if you had rebounded from a failure so seriously as a sophomore in high school that you worked every day for hours to get better? Where would you be now?

The stories about Michael Jordan’s intensity during practices are legendary. I heard that he once slapped Steve Kerr because he wasn’t dribbling properly. In practice.

And while watching Michael Jordan play made it seem like it was all effortless God-given talent, it was really a ferocious practice schedule and decades of daily concerted effort away from fans and photogs that made him great. He pushed himself everyday. He got better everyday. Soon, the other players couldn’t match him.

 

Your 20s matter

I’ve heard people say that your 20s don’t matter. That’s insane. How can a decade, or approximately 1/7 of your entire lifespan, not matter at all, particularly one so early in your life? I mean, when will your life start to matter if not now?

Yes, you have room for error because you have fewer responsibilities, but your 20s are the decade where you create the foundation for the rest of your adult life. Do you start it off tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt or with a savings account? Do you continue to build your education and skills, travel the world, take care of your health, start lasting and significant friendships and mentorships? It’s much harder to start fresh when you hit 30 if you’ve wasted your 20s.

Your 20s are 3,650 24-hour chances to make progress towards your goals.

No Zero Days

When I think all is hopeless and I’ll never become anything, I look at this – the best thing that’s ever happened on Reddit – Ryans01’s comment on non-zero days:

Rule numero uno – There are no more zero days. What’s a zero day? A zero day is when you don’t do a single fucking thing towards whatever dream or goal or want or whatever that you got going on. No more zeros. I’m not saying you gotta bust an essay out everyday, that’s not the point. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to make yourself, promise yourself, that the new SYSTEM you live in is a NON-ZERO system. Didnt’ do anything all fucking day and it’s 11:58 PM? Write one sentence. One pushup. Read one page of that chapter. One. Because one is non zero. You feel me? When you’re in the super vortex of being bummed your pattern of behaviour is keeping the vortex goin, that’s what you’re used to. Turning into productivity ultimate master of the universe doesn’t happen from the vortex. It happens from a massive string of CONSISTENT NON ZEROS. That’s rule number one. Do not forget.

It’s only in my 30s that I’ve discovered how important these little decisions we make everyday are. It’s this consistent small effort that make habits that make progress. The progress is what kinds of people we become.

Education

For example, it can often seem insurmountable to learn a language or to learn enough a topic to get familiar with it. It seems like the only way to make headway is to fully immerse yourself and who has time for that? Actually though, if you learn a little bit everyday, you start to know a lot.

Consider the alternative. This lady mentioned she didn’t know the names of Obama’s daughters. Now, I’m from D.C. but I understand that other people might not care enough to learn their names. It’s trivia at best. But this lady then goes into this tirade about why should she waste her time learning their names when she’s so busy with other things. What I found most interesting was how often this particularly tirade came up with her. Why should I learn about what’s going on in the news? How to cook? How to navigate around a city? The list was endless. As a consequence, she was 29 years old and the depths of her lack of knowledge were boundless. I imagine I would have been the same way if I had put up a big wall against learning after the age of …I don’t know…8 years old? Now you get into a conversation about nearly anything with this lady and she won’t be able to converse knowledgeably about the topic. This is the accumulation of a million little choices not to learn.

Finance

A similar thing goes for finances. I read this exercise in the book Financially Fearless by 40 by Jason Anthony. He asks you to add up your salaries for 10 years and then try to figure out where it went. Now I was 23 at the time and I was frugal AF so I knew pretty much where all my salary went. But as a new grad, if you start with say, $40,000 income post-tax and assume some raises over that time, you’ll have made about $600,000 in a 10 year time frame. That seems like a lot of money! Where is that money going to go? Well if you eat out for every meal everyday for 10 years at a cost of approximately $10/meal, that’s $100,000.

Can you imagine being 32 years old, living paycheck to paycheck and just realizing you’ve mindlessly spent 1/6 of your earnings, SIX FIGURES OF EARNINGS, just eating fast food?

I mean yes, $10 once isn’t that big a deal but over time, it really adds up. While you were waiting in line at Cosi, your colleague is eating her homemade lunch.  She started grocery shopping and cooking more, maybe spending only $40,000 on food (including some going out) over 10 years. That person now has $60,000 more than you, enough for a down payment on a house, as well as 10 years developing as a cook and food shopper. She’s probably also healthier because she controls the food that goes into her meal. This just from a simple decision not to eat out.

Extrapolate for a few more decades and the gap between you two becomes wider as she becomes a more efficient cook and the cost of going out increases. In 30 more years, she’s a great cook and can retire early and you’re still in line at Cosi!

Myself

I’m almost 12 years out of college and I have started seeing how I am the sum of my choices. My friend told me that when you turn 30 your body just turns to crap. I was 29 at the time so this was not welcome news. She was very active and the years of stress on her body were starting to add up. That’s what happens with small decisions – they always add up.

Now let me backtrack and say it’s certainly not too late to start. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past – it matters what you’re doing today, doing now. You are currently charting the cost of your future day by day, hour by hour, second by second. You’re either getting stronger or weaker. You’re creating a platform to jump off of or you’re staying on the ground.

I am what I think. I am what I eat. I am the TV shows I watch. I am the books I read. I am the people I spend time with. I am the 10 mile bike ride I do everyday. I am the skills I’ve learned. I am the kindness that I exhibit. I am the work that I do.

I am my choices.

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Image via Giphy

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