Last week, one of my readers asked me an interesting question: Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your 23-year old self? I answered with the importance of saving money early and building a foundation for which to be happy, yada yada. I now realize this was a nonsense answer.
If I’m honest, my 23-year old self would probably invite me to shove that bit of advice up my own ass (weird, if you think about it). Most 23-year olds aren’t concerned about their futures. They don’t care about early retirement or what their 35-year old selves think of their lives.
In fact, most of their careers just started…or are about to start. They are in a completely different phase of their life. 35-year old wisdom has no real place in the mind of a 23-year old. Not in mine, anyway.
And who’s to say that the mistakes we made in a previous life haven’t enabled early retirement today? Is it possible that my insanely expensive spending habits years ago are somehow good? Motivating?
I think they might be.
“Get it out of your system while you’re young”
The more I think about the question that one of my readers asked, the more I come back to an answer very different than the one I gave. Yes, saving a bunch of money early in your career is good. Of course, starting a 401k is essential.
Let’s be straight: I could tell myself to save money until I’m blue in the face, but it probably wouldn’t have stopped my 23-year old self from living exactly the way I did. Hell, I just started to make some serious money. Finally, I’m an adult and capable of choosing my own direction in life. I’m the one going to work every day, and if I want to waste some money on stupid stuff, I’m damn well going to make it happen. And, I did.
I bought a Corvette within months of scoring my first job. I went out to eat with my roommate for lunch and dinner every day. I spent money on the things I wanted to spend it on, just because I could. At the time, I thought that crap made me happy. And hey, I was 23 years old.
Just let me have a little fun…while I’m still young.
And so, screw it – maybe that’s the true answer to this question. We are going to make mistakes. And, the earlier in our lives that we make them, the more time we have to take corrective action and right the ship. Live large, have fun, do stupid things. Then, revise your life.
The real answer to this question is simple: “Live like a king. Spend money. Eat crap. Do it, enjoy it and get it out of your system“.
My mistakes make me appreciate better choices
Let’s continue the honesty for a minute. I don’t know if I would be quite as undeniably happy with the choices that my wife and I are making in life if I hadn’t lived like a wasteful douche bag in a previous life.
After all, I know what going out to eat all the time is like – I felt the 50-pounds being added to my waistline (which I have taken back off!), too. I know what driving the fastest and loudest car in town feels like. I remember dropping $225 for a pair of Oakley shades without blinking an eye. I’ve systematically cheated my budget so I could buy more things.
I know what being an irresponsible, resource-hogging putz is like. Been there, done that and have the t-shirt. I know what I’m missing, and I don’t want it back. But, I’m glad I know. My previous mistakes never tempt me to make them again. Once is good, thanks.
With that experience, I can make better choices for my future. My mistakes have allowed me to recognize the things that no longer bring me happiness. I understand that sports cars, home ownership and restaurant eating is expensive as hell. I realize that stealing from my budget ultimately hurts ME. I know these things because I’ve done them.
I’m thankful for those mistakes. If I didn’t make those mistakes then, I could be making them now. Then, early retirement would be nowhere in sight, and that’s a sad thought. Ultimately, we don’t learn from winning. We learn by losing.
And I’ve learned quite a bit.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.