The Problem With “Grind In Your 20’s, Build In Your 30’s, Chill In Your 40’s”
If you’re a Millennial and this lifestyle doesn’t seem feasible to you, check out my latest article on the Millennial way of living this quote here.
As I write this I am 8,415 days old or as it is more commonly explained, I am 23 years old. By most standards, I am fairly accomplished. I have a college degree, minimal student loan debt, an impressive resume, and a bank of experiences. I have done what many consider the right things. But in effect, I have lived life as it were a linear and prescriptive race in which I constantly needed to be doing something considered appropriate for my age. I have sought out advice from countless people and perhaps the most common advice I’ve received has been some variation of “work hard now and play hard later.” Initially, this advice resonated with me, mostly because I felt like I was already living according to this. I was putting countless hours into building a career that I wasn’t sure I wanted because well, I thought it was the right thing to do.
The truth is that real life is actually much more nuanced. It does life no justice to simplify it to a stanza that so blatantly discounts the beautiful variations that a diversity of experiences provide.
I’ve learned now that there are three major problems with the prevailing “work hard now and enjoy life later” logic. First this logic supposes that life is guaranteed thus encouraging the idea that we should focus our energy not on living for the person we are now but on who we will be in the future. Secondly, this logic argues that money is the most important resource and requires that we focus our time on earning it. In reality life should be a delicate balance given that our time is just as valuable if not more valuable than money. Finally, this logic suggests that there is a correct way to live life and if you choose not to follow that path, you’re doing it wrong.
The Fragility of Life Itself
For me, my 20s have been a strange time. There is a constant juxtaposition between feeling like the world is laid out neatly in front of me while also feeling like every misstep I make will have dramatic ramifications on my future. Even still, there is one thing that I initially found hard to fathom: life is not promised. The way I realized this was suddenly and it is almost amazing that I hadn’t noticed it before.
This realization started on what was by all means a normal Tuesday. I had finished work around 6:30pm. I was filled with an optimism that comes will realizing that it was a few days before I would travel abroad for the first time. I was going to Costa Rica. As I hopped off the Q-train and headed for my Upper East Side Manhattan apartment, my phone rang. I answered and my mom, obviously distressed, began to speak. Her voice shook as she posed a question I never expected to hear, “you know your cousin killed herself?” My heart sank. I held the phone with blank emotion as she told me that my 16- year old cousin had ended her own life.
A few days later, a similar call came letting me know that my sister’s grandfather (on her father’s side) had passed. This time I was completely shattered. In all honesty, I hadn’t been close to my sister’s grandfather but it was a violent and unexpected reminder that life is not promised but death is. Old or young, death does not discriminate. I was having an intense realization that because life is so fragile and so temporary, it is our own responsibility to live our best life for the person we are today.
The first problem with the “work hard now and enjoy life later” logic is that it supposes we should live for a future that isn’t even guaranteed. Life is fragile and temporary, and while it may not be necessary to live every day as if it were your last (though I try to), I much prefer it to being miserable now and hoping to be happy in the future.
Time: The Non-renewable Resource
“We spend all our youth chasing money, and when we attain it, we spend all our money chasing youth.” — Coleen Goh
The second problem with the “work hard now to enjoy life later” argument is that it assumes that money is the most valuable resource. In effect, this logic argues that money should be the primary focus. In reality, it should be a delicate balance between making money and having meaningful and enjoyable life experiences.
Making money is important given that we live a society in which it is needed for nearly every facet of life. But we must remember that money that does not necessarily equal value. Moreover, even if you don’t have much money, you can still have innate value and can contribute to society. What the grind in your 20s argument fails to acknowledge is that it is time not money that can’t be earned in the future. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time.
Make no mistake: I am not arguing that you shouldn’t make money in your 20s — you should and you need to. My argument is that if your only goal is to make money, it’s likely that you’ll miss out on opportunities to make valuable experiences. Money is important, but it’s not everything. Finding a balance that works for you is a better strategy than living a life solely for the dollar signs.
You Are Responsible For Your Own Happiness
For hundreds of years, the greatest minds have inquired on what is the best way to live. Even the great philosopher Aristotle grapples with this, and ultimately offers us that “happiness depends on ourselves.” Yet the “work hard now to enjoy life later” argument seems to suggest that there is a single way to live, discrediting any variation. It argues that happiness is built solely on sacrifice and having and building more now for a future to enjoy.
Without getting too philosophical, it’s safe to say that most people want to be happy in life. I’ve studied happiness quite extensively and one of my clearest findings is that happiness is different for everyone.
If you can ascribe to this “work hard now to enjoy life later” ideology and be happy doing so, by all means commit to the money. But if it is toxic and you find yourself hating every minute of your life just so that one day you won’t have to, stop. Free yourself from this loop and start being happy now. At the end of my life, I doubt that I will regret not spending more hours in an office building. But as a result of a life spent only at work, I may very well regret not spending more time with my loving ones, not following my dreams, not traveling, not having more experiences, and ultimately not living.