“I Wasted My Twenties” What to Do About It

Look at r/selfimprovement or anywhere young men congregate, and you’ll hear a similar story of wasted youth.

“I wasted my twenties” is a common sentiment: you turn thirty and start looking at your life more purposefully. You look at others, and you come to the conclusion that you’ve wasted the last ten years of your life. While others got married, bought a house, or built a business or career, you still live with your parents, work a part-time job, and haven’t met a girl since high school. Maybe you really did waste a huge chunk of your life.

You Didn’t Waste Your Twenties

When I look back at my twenties, I spent a lot of time in bars and playing World of Warcraft, and I always felt like I wasted those years.

I learned something from that decade, though. Something that could only be learned from a wasted decade: I learned not to waste another decade.

That lesson makes wasting ten years a little easier to swallow—but only if you follow through. So, however bad the last ten years were, make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to make the most of the next ten. It’s not hard—you set the bar pretty low!

What You Learned in Your Twenties

It doesn’t take much effort to flagilate myself, to lean back into my chair, and complain that I’m still where I was ten years ago. But if I look closely, I see that it’s a lie. It’s a lie for you too.

Although I feel I wasted my twenties. Others may see it differently. Here’s a summary of the things I did achieve in my twenties:

  • I moved to China
  • I graduated
  • I learned Chinese
  • I got married
  • I had a son
  • I bought a house

Looking at my 20s this way, they seem successful. Your list of accomplishments won’t look like mine, but it will paint a brighter picture of your past than the dark palette you’ve been loading your paintbrush with until now.

There are things you did over the last ten years that you can build on. What are they? Maybe your job offered you a promotion but you didn’t take it—go ask about it now. Maybe your friend asked you to rent a house with him to share the rent. Some of the things that happened over the last decade are opportunities, while others need to be left where they are.

Shed Your Skin: Leave the Past Where It Belongs

You messed up. We all did.

The video games, the time spent with those losers you don’t like, and all that money – wasted.

You can leave all your bad decisions in the past where they belong. You don’t need to carry them with you. It only takes one step to be free of all the shit you’ve been doing and all the bad decisions: Stop Doing It.

Start with the big one—you know what it is! What’s the thing for you? What do you wish you could stop doing? What’s the thing that if you quit it and spent the time doing something productive, you’d turn your life around? What is it?

For me, it was drinking. I’m sure whatever it is for you popped into your head instantly.

  • Videogames
  • TikTok
  • YouTube
  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Masturbation
  • Watching TV (is TV still a thing?)

Whatever that thing is, that’s your dragon. Take aim at it.

Identifying your dragon is a great first step, but that’s not the end of it. You must face the dragon. Before I quit drinking, “Quit Drinking” was on my list of goals for a few years. I knew it was making my life worse, robbing me of becoming a better man, but the journey to facing that dragon was a long one.

So, do what you need to to face your dragon. Do you need to sell your graphics card? Or tell your family and friends what you’re doing? Or put a porn blocker on your laptop? Figure out what you need to do to conquer your dragon and start doing it.

Then, face the next dragon. Leave the unfulfilling relationships, the comparing yourself with others, and the neglect of self in the past. But you need something to do with all your new-found free time; you need a new direction.

Find a New North: Find a Dragon

Visioning might seem like something teenage girls do, so let’s call it something more manly – how about a War Plan?

Whatever you want to call it, you need a personal development plan. So, imagine yourself ten years from now. What do you want to have achieved? What do you want to be doing each day? What do you want your life to be like?

Make a list, draw a picture, make a mind map, or just get the ideas down somehow. It might start with important parts of your life, like the type of job you’ll have, where you’ll live, etc. But you might also want to be able to show card tricks to your kid, become an educated man, make furniture, or teach archery on the weekends.

You must aim at whatever will make the next ten years worthwhile. These are your new dragons. It’s up to you to figure out how to train and arm yourself, find them, and defeat them.

Another way to look at this is that you need a lifestyle. You see the gym bro who is all about getting swole? His meals, his schedule, his social media—it all points to his body-builder lifestyle. The library geek has a reading room at home and repairs old books on the weekend. He also writes those long book reviews on Goodreads.

Choose a Lifestyle and make everything you do reflect it.

See You in Ten!

So take the lessons you learned in your twenties and remind yourself of them occasionally. All the wasted time and the activities you did back then, leave them there in the past. And focus on what you’re going to do next.

Stay on this quest, and in ten years, you won’t be saying, “I wasted my thirties.”

Gregory Gaynor Avatar

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done.

Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.