Disclaimer: Before i get trolled for being ageist, the list is obviously relevant for any age. However, in hindsight, i wish i had made more mindful investments during said time-periods. The tweens, teens, and twenties are the most impressionable decades in life. Today, for better or for worse, i am who i am. Change is possible, but takes longer and needs more concerted effort.
With that said, below are 7 investments that could lay a solid foundation to build on. Impressively, this generation of young adults are consciously making these choices which is evident in their meteoric levels of self-confidence and self-awareness.
- Persist with your extra-curricular passions. — Partly due to hyper-competition and inherent middle-class values, most of my generation focused single-mindedly on cracking competitive exams, putting academics above all else. The ones who invested time and effort in playing a sport, honing a hobby, or learning to master a musical instrument inculcated skills that simply couldn’t be gained through bookish knowledge alone. 21st Century skills and lessons in team-collaboration, leadership, strategy, grit, and empathy are learnt by losing on the basketball court with a single point, captivating an audience through performance art, or gazing dreamily into the night sky for your favorite constellation. Investing time and consistent practice towards your interests, simply for the joy of it, can have unparalleled contributions to your personality.
- Soak in diverse ideas to create those of your own. — We increasingly live in an echo chamber. We surround ourselves with people who have a similar outlook towards life, indulge in ideas that reinforce our own biases, and make choices that feel familiar or worse safe/stable. Tried and tested dogmas passed down to us by well-meaning family, friends, and society. Nothing wrong with this! But an effective, easy, and inexpensive way to break out of our little bubbles is to learn to empathize with the unfamiliar. Ever wondered why it felt so freeing to read (non-school books) late into the night, watch fantastical movies, or discover captivating song lyrics? It let us live vicariously. Reading about a different era, living interesting characters through world cinema, listening to alternate genres of music, and expressing yourself through art, allowed ideas to collide, combine, and marinate in your mind; until an ever-evolving world view took shape. Contrary to popular belief, there are multiple ways to live life and no one way is the way. The earlier you know and ‘live’ this truth, the more authentic a life you are likely to lead.
- Travel every chance you get. It’s a big beautiful world. — Being an army brat, i traversed the length and breadth of India, living in some of the more obscure and remote regions. Even still, growing up extremely middle class, the first time i ever traveled out of India was when i saved enough from a corporate job to go on a vacation with school friends to South-East Asia. Ever since, the world has felt like my oyster. Living and working globally truly exposes you to cosmopolitan cultures, ideologies, and societies. There is a reason, the most lasting impressions from school are from field trips or performing practical experiments. History lessons were solidified by trips made to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab where you could almost sense the hopelessness of a tyrannical massacre during the Indian Independence struggle. Chemistry hit home when you concocted the rotten egg smell of Sulphuric Acid. Magnetic fields in Physics came alive by actually playing with magnets and iron dust. Travel shows, encyclopedias, and text-books paint a two dimensional picture of a place or concept which is helpful, but nothing beats first-hand experience. Taking off on a road-trip with a few dollars in your pocket, a change of clothes in your backpack, with no set itinerary or reservations, is the stuff that trips of a life-time are made of. You just don’t travel the same way when you are older and ‘know better’. When you travel young, you are absolutely idealistic, foolishly adventurous, and naively welcoming of novel people and situations. If there was one thing, i recommend you do, it is to take time off, a backpack and just travel. The opportunity cost of taking a year/a few months off school/work will deter, but the life skills built in the bargain will be well worth any price you pay. If nothing else, it will make for great story-telling for your grandkids.
- Discover your roots and origin story. — In today’s hyper-globalized world, we are in a constant state of identity crisis. Popular culture, the English language and global cuisines seem so appealing and convenient, that we have willingly morphed into a homogenous generation that thinks alike. As humans, we all want to belong. And so we seamlessly blend into our surroundings at the risk of losing what truly makes us unique. Instead of embracing and nurturing our distinctness, we conform. We wear the same brands. Binge-watch the same shows. Follow the same diets. Travel to the same places. What we lose in the process is generations of sustained wisdom, traditions, and a sense of identity. Instead, ask your parents and grandparents about their youth, their dreams and aspirations, and what ancestors before them were like. Make room for your mother tongue, literature, culture, music, dance forms, cuisines and family traditions that sustained generations before you. Like it or not, you are a product of it all, and it is what makes you, you. Neither is it wise, nor cool to shun or dismiss them in a heartbeat in exchange for simply fitting in. Understanding your origin story and strengthening your roots, will not only build a strong self-identity but also anchor you in your personal and professional journey to becoming a global citizen in the truest sense.
- Nurture lasting friendships and mentors. Both personal and professional. — Life invariably takes you on journeys that are often uncertain, challenging, and tumultuous. Through it all, having friends in your life who knew you when you were young and reckless is not only comforting, but also re-assuring. Sure, friendships from younger days are co-dependent, ecstatic and full of melodrama unlike any other relationship you will make as an adult. In your youth, when you find someone you resonate with, you lose yourself in the fantastical world of your own making. A world of inside jokes, epic histories, tender love-stories, impatient letter-writing and glorious plans for the future! But these are the friends who you knew before you were the jet-setting corporate hot-shot, the responsible mother of two, or the most sought after celebrity. They know your raw parts, the messy pieces, your deepest insecurities and tender heartbreaks in life; which you practiced so well to hide from the outside world. Identify and nurture these friendships. Years later, even if you are not as close as you once were, just knowing that there are people who knew the past you in all its magnificent glory is truly magical & frankly chuckle-worthy. And well, if they are still your closest friends, you should consider yourself truly lucky.
- Volunteer and build a sense of community. — Growing up in emerging economies like India, it’s understandable that a majority of us are bred to be hyper-competitive and cut-throat. Being among a Billion plus people, we feel a sense of pride and achievement when we outdo millions to reach the pinnacles of success and fame (as defined by society). But we often underplay the involvement of sheer luck and chance in life. Most of us are privileged to have been provided with opportunity, mentorship, and incredible possibilities. But a majority of the world has been served the harder end of the bargain. Recognizing this very fact of life, going beyond your self, empathizing with those less fortunate, and volunteering to serve your community can be personally rewarding at an early age. Be it teaching a child to read, spending time at an old-age home, or helping at an animal shelter, expressing a willingness to undertake a service and offering time that is neither ‘required’ nor an ‘obligation’ hones strength of character early on. Volunteering in your youth, builds the muscle of compassion, empathy and service. This gives your future pursuits a strong sense of purpose and meaning; a critical element to sustain what will hopefully be a long fulfilling career and the journey of life; thereby avoiding unnecessary quarter/mid life crises.
- Lastly, don’t forget to have fun! — Growing up Type A in a conservative society with a misplaced sense of morality are positively unfavorable conditions for anything that is even remotely classified as ‘Fun’. Bunking classes to go watch a movie, showing overt interest in the opposite/same sex, or sneaking out at night to just hang with friends are things one must never do if they are serious about acing exams, building a reputable career, or becoming a moral citizen in society. We were taught to take ourselves too seriously! Feeding an ego that has an unquenchable thirst for mutual validation and acceptance. Most societal rules are arbitrary at best; often made up by well-meaning adults. Don’t entirely discount them, of course try not to break the law and for heaven’s sake be smart, don’t get caught! But if there is something that your heart truly desires; go for it. Once in a way, do things that make you go weak in your knees, send the blood rushing to your head, and truly sets your heart racing. Yes, even at the cost of subterfuge. And frankly, it’s your right of passage. Believe me, breaking rules is way more fun as a young adult. The stakes only get higher with time.
I promise, it’s never too late to start doing any of this — (even #7!). Looking forward to your thoughts and comments on investments that resonate and other that you think are missing. And please share this with a tween, teen, twenty-something, or anyone else that might benefit from it. Thank you!
Check out my previous blog on How to not ruin the California Poppies and the one coming up!