Gap Years, Ferris Wheels & Sacrifices: 10 Thoughts on Battling Your 20s

cole schafer blog

How would I describe my early twenties? A dark pit of ambiguity, a stranded sailboat battling winds blowing from every direction, a series of disappointments, a cluster-fuck and finally… the most exciting time I have ever had.

Four months ago, my life changed quickly. I graduated college, got a job at a digital marketing agency, left my job at the digital marketing agency and found myself single battling heartbreak... all within the time frame of one month.

If I am being 100% transparent, I was pretty fucked up for a couple months. I felt like my life was spiraling out of control, right before my eyes.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my situation was not out of the ordinary. In fact, it was something almost every post-grad experienced as they transitioned from college to real life. 

The primary reason I chose to write this post is because I have seen too many beautiful, brilliant 20-somethings confused, anxiety ridden and discouraged about their futures. While I don’t have all the answers, I would like to share my story, along with a few tips I have used to keep my head above water in this crazy tsunami we call our twenties.

You may be approaching the end of your senior year and in a state of panic trying to figure out what your next step is post-graduation. Maybe you are 23 and find yourself miserable at your first job. Maybe you just got out of a serious relationship with someone you thought you were going to build a future with.

Regardless, I am sorry, and remember everything is going to be alright — stay calm and read on my friend

10 Thoughts on Battling in Your 20's

1. Establish a Kick-Ass Morning Routine

A primary reason our early 20’s are so stressful is the massive amounts of ambiguity that seem to encapsulate our every move. I recommend battling these feelings of ambiguity by establishing a morning routine.

I wake up every morning and start my day with a hot-cold shower, followed by a breakfast of three eggs and three pieces of bacon. I then meditate for 10 minutes, before drinking my first cup of coffee and repping out my morning pages -- for a writer this is just getting your thoughts down on paper as a warm-up for the day’s project.

Morning routines allow us to add a sense of control to our day and our lives. While relationships, jobs, interviews, college and life may be up in the air, at least we have complete control over our morning.

Quick Tip: Always make your bed in the morning. No matter how bad or crazy your day is, you can always control how your bed looks. Getting into a fresh, nicely made bed at the end of a chaotic day, does wonders for alleviating stress.

2. Your 20’s Are Not a Race & Certainly Not a Competition

Chances are, one of your friends is absolutely killing it right now in their first job. That is fantastic, and if you are a good friend you should be happy for them. With that said, you should never feel the need to compare your current situation to theirs. Life is not a race against anyone. There is no set place you need to be at any specific age.

Here is a list of highly successful people that were worse off than you in their twenties:

  1. John Paul Dejoria -- Founder of Paul Mitchell (worth $900 million). Was homeless twice in his 20’s with a 2 year old child
  2. Mark Cuban -- Owner of the Mavericks & serial entrepreneur/ investor (worth $2.3 billion). Lived in a three-bedroom apartment with five other dudes in his late 20's.
  3. Oprah Winfrey -- You know what she does (worth $3.9 billion). Was fired from her news anchor position at 23 years old.
  4. J.K. Rowling -- Author of Harry Potter (worth $1 billion). Didn’t publish her first book till her late twenties, was a poor divorced single mother at the time.

No matter what your current situation is, it has absolutely no influence on the rest of your life. So, stop beating the shit out of yourself for not being a superstar in your 20’s. If you ever feel behind, just revert back to this list -- you have big things ahead of you. 

3. Take a Gap-Year & Make Mistakes

I am a proud American, but I strongly disagree with how our culture goes about educating & raising its youth. Literally, from age 5 to 22 we spend 9 months out of the year within the confines of a classroom. I find this to be detrimental in a number of ways, but primarily because it inhibits an individual from ever taking serious time to discover their identity.

I believe that everyone between the ages of 18 - 22 should take a gap year, or at the very least a gap month.

During this time you should work some type of manual labor or service job to fund this period of self-exploration. When you are not working you should be following your passions and reading voraciously on topics that are of specific interest to you. In other words, if you are interested in the arts you should not be reading on the correct way to solve a fucking calculus problem. On the weekends, spend your time traveling, exploring, adventuring, making bad decisions, learning from said bad decisions, etc.  

By the end of this gap year/month, I can promise that you will have a deeper more intuitive understanding of your individuality; having developed the self-awareness to answer the most important question you will ever face -- What will make me happy?

4. Follow Your Passions

A couple years ago, I was having a cup of coffee with a close friend of mine and we were on the topic of individual interests. He was a devote follower of men’s fashion, especially interested in men’s raw denim jeans. Ten minutes went by as I listened to his crash course on raw denim. I was blown away at what a deep understanding he had for the craftsmanship that went into making them. His eyes lit up with passion as he talked about denim, it was unbelievable.

Finally, I stopped him, “What’s your major?”

He paused, “Huh? Uhm, information systems.”

I responded, “Why?”

He was a little taken aback, “Well, I think I can pretty easily get a job in that..”

I just looked at him slightly confused, “I think you should get a job in the fashion industry, working with denim.”

The conversation sputtered out after that.

Weeks later, we ran into each and he mentioned to me, “Hey man. I know this sounds odd, but no one has ever told me that you could get a job doing something that you loved… like that was never really something I realized.”

He decided to change his major to marketing, because it would better help him market the denim he one day would be creating.

We read this story and scratch our heads, maybe even scoff lightly at the naivety of someone not realizing they can make money doing something they love -- but I see so many people everyday with the same mindset as my friend.

When you are a 20-something, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be chasing your dreams, or at least working a job that you enjoy and are passionate about.

5. Commit a Percentage of Your Paycheck to Savings

I am no guru when it comes to personal finance advice, but I wanted to share a simple rule I have followed post graduation. 

I take 50% of everything I make and place it in a savings account. The other 50% of my money goes towards gas, insurance, my phone bill and having a shit ton of fun. I have two wonderful parents that have allowed me to move back in with them during my first year post-graduation, and this has allowed me to save a little more. 

I recommend everyone to place a portion of their income in savings. Most financial advisors recommend 20% of after-tax income. If you can save more than that, great. If not, 20% of every pay check accumulates into some pretty lofty sums quickly, if done religiously.

It is important to understand that your savings account places you in a position of power over your life. 

You don't like your job? Quit, and find one you do like. You really want to start that online knitting business you've been dreaming of since the age of 16? Do it. Are you ready to relocate to a different city? Start packing.

None of this is possible without building up a savings.

I don't believe that happiness can be found in money. I do however, believe that having a substantial amount in savings allows us to have greater control over our lives. 

6. Play Hard & Live Hard

This last Friday, I was seated at the top of a ferris wheel, across from one of my best friends. I felt like I was floating in the sky as the cool autumn breeze touched my face. One hundred feet below me, a dazzling storm of chaos raged on. Pulsating purple lights and loud bass illuminated and shook the ground. It looked as though thunder and lightening were emerging from the Earth.

Austen Henson, one of my favorite people in the world, started screaming at the top of his lungs like a 9 year old kid that just downed a liter of Mountain Dew -- he was euphoric. I felt it too -- all the beauty in the world compacted into a single moment. 

In the words of Charlie in Perks of Being a Wallflower, "I felt infinite."

This is one of the most important points I will make throughout this post. Find moments in your life that take your breath away and experience them often. We are at a stage in our lives where we are so obsessed with the idea of building our futures, that we forget to live. 

Be ambitious, but have fun doing it -- you're in your 20's, live like it. 

7. Choose Your Sacrifices

I have said it before and I will say it again -- you can't have it all.

In your 20's you have to make choices, and you have to accept the fact that you can't have the best of both worlds. The sooner you realize this, the better off you will be. 

When I was graduating college, I had a very unrealistic idea of how the world worked. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to live in a big city, I wanted to have a ton of flexibility and I wanted to travel. 

While sure, all of these things looked amazing when I closed my eyes, I never took serious time to think about what I would have to sacrifice to achieve them.

After life served me a few reality checks, I had some inner dialogue...

If I want flexibility with my job, I may have to give up the stability that comes along with a salaried position. If I want to live in a big city where cost of living is more expensive, I may have to mitigate said costs by traveling less and saving more. If I want to be an entrepreneur, I have to be okay with eating ramen noodles for a couple years as I get my business off the ground. 

After I looked at the shit I would have to sacrifice to get where I wanted, my plans changed quite a bit. Suddenly, I was able to differentiate between what I thought I wanted and what I actually wanted.

I am a huge advocate of dream-chasing. But I also believe it is important to dream in a realistic way. You are at a time in your life where the world is your oyster and you can choose to do whatever you want, but everything comes with a sacrifice. 

Depending on what you want to accomplish, you have to be okay with sacrificing money, comfort, luxury, love and flexibility. Why do you think more people don't chase their dreams? It's one of the hardest things an individual will ever do, people don't like sacrifice.

8. What Is Love? Baby Don't Hurt Me... Don't Hurt Me... No More. 

Intimate relationships & love in your 20's are a pretty fucked up mess, especially for dreamers. I have yet to figure this one out, but I can offer a few thoughts on the subject. 

If you are an ambitious individual, there is a good chance that you are a lover too. I have found that passionate people tend to be passionate lovers, and this makes life terribly complicated. 

I am not here to paint an unrealistic picture of the world we live in, I am here to offer you a reality. There is a chance that one day, you will have to choose between two passions -- the person you love & the dream you love. 

I am 22, so I am going to recommend you always choose the dream. Though, a small part of me thinks 34 year old Cole may think differently.

The thing is, dreamers change the world, but lovers do too. I don't know, I will write a follow-up on this subject in 12 years. 

9. You Can Still Have a Blast Living at Home with Your Parents

After I wrote down my sacrifices, something became very clear -- I would be moving back in with my parents for a year.

No, this isn't what a post-grad envisions his life will look like upon graduation. I pictured myself working at some cool agency in a happening city with a studio style apartment. 

There was one problem though, I didn't want to work for someone else. I wanted to be my own boss, which meant financial stability was out the fucking window for a little while. 

So, in with my parents I moved.

It has ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made. It's given me the financial flexibility to concentrate 100% of my efforts on building my dream, and it has allowed me the opportunity to spend one more year with two incredible people. 

My parents are two of my best friends and having more time to make memories with them before going out on my own has been a blessing in itself.

If you find yourself in a position where you have to head home, embrace it. This year will be something I look back on and cherish deeply. 

10. Decide How You Want to Measure Success

If you choose to measure success in money, you will forever be left feeling unsuccessful. The funny thing about money is that you can always have more of it and there is always someone out there that will have more of it than you.

I measure my success in my relationships, my writing, my experiences and my peace of mind. On a daily basis, I try to create something that money can’t buy; whether that be a moment with another individual, an experience or piece of writing that I am really proud of.

Laughing until your cheeks hurt with your best friends in an alleyway over a 6-pack, is something money can’t buy. Scratch that, it may cost $10. Taking a moment to breath in the freshness of autumn, while holding a radiant burnt orange leaf in your hand is something money can’t buy. The feeling you get when holding that special person is something money can't buy

When we start measuring the success in our lives in these tiny intimate, wondrous moments is when we truly become successful.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed with your future, just remember there is a lot of beauty in your present. 

Slow down & breath in Autumn. Seriously, do it right now. 

Where I am Today

After shit hit the fan six months ago, I took two months off and decided to do some traveling. I had never taken time to reflect on what I wanted versus what was expected of me.

I remember I was writing in a small coffee shop in Los Angeles, California and it hit me... I want to drink coffee and write for the rest of my life. 

I returned to Evansville with a new purpose, to make a living writing. I currently run this business & lifestyle blog and work as a copywriter and freelance marketer for several start-ups in the Indianapolis area.

I travel when I get the chance. I am living at home with two of my favorite people in the world, my parents , as I save up and build my copywriting business. I probably drink too much on the weekends, but laugh much much more. I am surrounded by amazing friends & people. 

But to be completely honest with you, I don't know where I am going to be in the next 6 months. I would like to think I have it figured out, but if I don't, that'll be 100% okay. 

I just want you to know that no matter what life has thrown at you, no matter how crazy your life seems, or how blurry your future... everything is going to be alright. 

Cole Schafer