What I've learnt in my 20s

May 28, 2020

As I write this in my flat in Taipei on the day of my 30th birthday, I thought I’d have a think about all thes things I’ve learnt over the last decade. Out of the last 10 years, I’ve spent almost 7 years in Asia. That’s a long time. A really long time. Almost a quarter of my entire life in this part of the world and I don’t regret being here at all.

I’ve learnt how to be independent. When I left the UK, I had been working for a year and I had moved back home with my parents after graduating. I thought and felt I could make it on my own, but I had no proof. Leaving the UK to come to Taiwan has allowed me to make my own path. The plan was always to go back to the UK, but I found myself developing at a pace that may have been faster than if I’d stayed in the UK. I rented my own place, I learnt the language, I learnt how to make my own friends (instead of them being introduced to me by school, work or other people). I learnt to climb, which taught me how to look after my body, not just do sports because it’s fun. To be intentional about my movement and how it can have a lasting effect on our bodies.

I’ve learnt how to deal with break ups, setbacks and I’ve learnt how to love and be vulnerable. I’ve learnt that it’s way more important to be genuine than it is to be polite and fake. The overhead of being dishonest, even if you think it’s what the other person wants to hear does not make you happy in the short term or long term.

I’ve learnt that habits govern our lives and everything around it. We learn to create good habits around the things we really enjoy, but we also create bad habits around similar things that are satisfying but hurt us in the long run. I quit smoking at age 24, 9 years after I had started. Quitting negative habits is one of the hardest things you can do, but it is possible if you know the cues that trigger your habits and addiction. In contrast you can apply the same triggers to things that do help you, but are tough to keep up, like fitness, fasting, doing a little every day. I’ve learnt Chinese, climbing and coding to a respectable degree in this decade and I hope to keep learning them and many more things in my 30s.

Climbing for the last half a decade has really tempered me into the man I am today. It in itself has helped me deal a whole variety of emotions, setbacks and obstacles that I can apply to the rest of my life. I picked up climbing very quickly when I started, really rocketing through the grades. I was obsessed with progression and I was obsessed with the feeling I got that everyone respected my progress. People told me how quickly I improved and it made me feel good, feel valued. The lesson I would learn here I would only realise much later down the line, ego is one of your greatest enemies and controlling it will be a life long battle. About 8-9 months into my climbing career, I got injured. My rotator cuff was partially torn and even though I was back on the wall in 10 days, I kept repeatedly subluxing (semi-dislocation) for about a year. It taught me to stay positive, that incremental improvements can make a big difference and that self control is one of the most important things to rehab. You have to keep the stimulus up whilst not reinjuring yourself. Repeatedly reassessing your progress, strength and adjusting your intensity and routine based on that. When you’re in an uninjured state, you have much less to worry about and your state does not change as drastically when you’re injured. If you just rest, your muscles atrophy and your injured muscle doesn’t get the stimulus to keep improving. After multiple injuries, I’ve learnt to deal with long term setback and how to avoid them

Climbing is a sport that I’ve spent the longest time seriously trying to improve. Training for those micro gains is something that I learnt from playing online games in my teens. They call it the grind, and with climbing I can really feel the physical grind as I get closer and closer to my genetic limit. For me, being able to compete with the best of the best in Taiwan is already a dream compared to what I thought was possible when I started. It’s taught my that consistency always trumps intensity, and that awareness is the most important attribute to allow you to make the right decisions for your training. Any and every skill that I learn from now, whether physical or mental, will be a lot easier because of my relationship with climbing.

Learning Chinese was one of the first things I did in my 20s. I started at the age of 22 and had the goal of being fluent by age 25. I think I achieved this, at least basic conversational fluency and I did this through a very simple concept, the feedback loop. At this point in time I hadn’t read much about habit training, but I did start to pick up some of these concepts myself through my language learning experience. What I did was to learn a small set (200-300) characters in Chinese using a SRS (spaced repetition system) flash card application called Skritter and did them everyday for a month. After I had learnt the words like the back of my hand, I would go and do language exchange over and over for up to 20-30 hours in a week. This allowed me to take my vocabulary and become essentially fluent in that small subset. For about 6-12 months I repeated this process til I had a reasonable large vocabulary that I had mastered. Then I went to Taiwan to really test my mettle.

Long term stress should be avoided and short term stress should be embraced. As humans we react very well to short term stress, it allows us to get stronger, smarter, more resilient. But long term stress over a long period of time doesn’t allow us to recover, puts a lot of stress on your body and makes you generally unhappy.

Generally I’ve had a pretty happy decade in my 20s and I hope to take what I’ve learnt in these 10 years and grow upon it for another 10 years.

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Distilling the complicated into the simple. And sometimes general wonderings. Follow me on twitter