February 2, 2016

5 Things I would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self.

younger man

I was going through an old picture album when one of the picture’s caught my eye.

I was a 20-year-old man looking like I was about to change the world. Yet now at 47, I find myself struggling to change myself—let alone the world.

I was overcome with nostalgia and some pangs of regret. I wondered how I would have fared at 20, but with the mind and the experiences of my 47-year-old self. Would I have done things differently? Would I have been someone better and had achieved more?

I’m sure I wouldn’t have arrived today without the experiences of the last 27 years. Hindsight always makes the past look worthless, and ignores the fact that you made choices with what you had and knew.

Logic discourages adventure, and as such it would have prevented many of the rich experiences I had. Would I have jumped off the cliff and into the Andaman Sea in Krabi, Thailand? Or stand up for a friend when attacked by a group of thugs and get badly beaten but ultimately feeling good as I was the only one who stood up while the rest ran away? I doubt that.

I’ve discovered that several concepts when learned well at a young age, would add more to your artillery in facing the world as a 20-year old. Here are the things I wish I could have told to myself:

1. The earlier you “Know thyself” the better

These two words are inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, almost three thousand years ago, and their wisdom still speaks loudly today.

It’s essential to get to know your strengths, weaknesses and what you like doing. Do the Myers-Brigg personality test and ask your family and friends to guide you in knowing yourself. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I did the Myers-Brigg personality test and found out I was an introverted thinker who needs a lot of time alone to be able to re-charge my batteries.

It was in complete contrast to how I was living, and it banished the thought that I was weird and different to others, and I finally understood why I craved solitude, even though I could be quite extroverted in small doses.

2. Challenge your comfort zone

Think of every successful person in any area and the chances are they all have one thing in common—from a young age, whether through circumstance or design, they had hunger and grit instilled in them, by continually pushing themselves out of their comfort zones.

Complacency creeps into our lives especially when we don’t challenge ourselves, and as we remain comfortable in our surroundings we feel at ease, and our performance becomes ordinary but never extraordinary.

Billionare Richard Branson‘s mother left him to come back home alone; a thirty-minute walking distance, after a Sunday picnic, when he was only four years old.

At twenty, I wish I had run a marathon, climbed Kilimanjaro or taken a gap year exploring the world with only a backpack. These adventures would have certainly stretched my comfort zone and enriched me with wonderful experiences.

3. The Fear of missing out (FOMO) is nothing but an act of the mind.

“FOMO” is only a fear that the mind plays on you. As you get overwhelmed with a lot of choices, you can’t decide what’s right for you. However, when you become the only source of your self-worth, rather than pleasing others or being the cool dude, then your fears slowly disappear.

I spent a lot of my college days missing some lectures, not connecting with my family and not having enough time for myself, all because I didn’t want to miss out on what my friends were doing. I wanted so desperately to belong.

The reality is that when you miss one party, or you don’t like playing cards, but your friends do. You won’t miss much; you won’t lose yourself and your friends won’t suddenly dump you.

4. Find your creative self-expression

Find a creative pursuit that piques your interest, something that you are willing to spend enough time to be good at. It could be writing, painting, landscape photography, or surfing big waves, and make sure it becomes your own thing where time just simply passes by as you are “in the zone.”

Here, you would self-express and allow your inner self to come out and meet your outer world. It’s where all the stress of impending exam results, job interview replies and end of year business results fade away if only for a few minutes a day.

At the age of 40, I found writing and it’s that one thing that I’m willing to put in long hours so that I become good at it. I’ve pushed my comfort zone in joining groups, taking writing lessons, taking time off to write daily, all because my heart smiles when I share my inner self with the world.

5. Money doesn’t matter, but it also does.

It’s important that you understand and define your relationship with money. Money is important but only as a tool, and you must remember that it’s only a means to an end rather than the end itself.

Don’t make the reason you want to earn money so that you can get the yacht, the penthouse in New York or the Chanel bag. Rather the reason to make money should only be a measure of the success of your career or the business you’ve set up and want to grow. Money should be able to gauge where you are and how far you want to go.

Money can give you comfort, security, and make life fun but it will never give you satisfaction or infuse meaning into your daily life. I learned this lesson the hard way as I faced a traumatic time in my life when within six months, my business was nearly bankrupt, and my nephew suffered a near fatal accident. It wasn’t till then that I truly understood that life was not about money but all about self-growth and contributing to society and you don’t need money for either of these.


I wish I knew all these concepts when I was that young man in the picture as it would have accelerated my growth and given me more time to make a difference in this life.

If these words don’t reach me in my next life, then I’m hoping that even one 20-year-old could benefit from them.

“It takes a very long time to become young.”
~ Pablo Picasso


Author: Mo Issa

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

Photo: Flickr / Winston Hearn

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Mohammed Issa  |  Contribution: 13,305