20 Things Every Twentysomething Should Know How to Do
First things first, most twentysomethings are too hard on themselves.
It’s one of the downsides of a youth-obsessed culture. We tend to think if we haven’t published our first book, planted our first church or gotten married by the time we’re 30, then we’re on the fast track for a lonely, penniless death which will be mourned by none. Sure, some people get famous when they turn 25. Some people also swim across the English Channel.
Your twenties are a prime time to explore and grow, without all the baggage that comes with settling down and making your mark. (Jesus Himself was an unknown carpenter in a reviled corner of Israel until He was 30.)
That said, there are a few things every twentysomething should know how to do.
1. Make a Great Breakfast
Ideally, you should be able to craft a great meal for any occasion, but this is the most important meal of the day and so, it’s the one you should have down. Use real butter, large eggs, fresh mushrooms, cheese, whatever, but know the ins and outs and invite a lot of people over to eat it with you regularly.
2. Argue Kindly
An increasingly rare trait, but you’ll be better for it. Learn how to have your own opinions (and make sure they’re actually yours—not just something you “heard somewhere”) and how to put them firmly and politely, in a way that invites spirited conversation. It’s a rare and wonderful thing.
3. Hold a Conversation With Someone of Any Age
Whether the person you’re talking to is eight or 80, you should be able to hold a meaningful, intentional conversation with them. Remember to ask a lot of questions, be more interested in who they are than in who you are, and strive to make their day.
4. Parallel Park
Nothing menial about it, and not nearly as hard as it looks. Practice a little. Become an expert. Dazzle your friends.
5. Defend Your Media Choices
Whether you like Kendrick, Kings of Leon or Ke$ha, you should be able to articulate why. The media we consume affects us, and you should be able to explain to yourself why you’re listening, watching and reading the things that you are.
6. Limit Your Online Life
This cannot be over-emphasized. The inability to manage an online presence has toppled promising careers and made fools out of otherwise competent individuals. You should have a good grip on how often you use social media and what you’re using it for. If you find most of your free time spent on the Internet, it’s time to make some choices. If you’re checking your phone at every awkward pause, delete that Facebook app.
7. Approach a Stranger
Whether it’s for directions, a favor or even just to pass the time on an airplane, knowing how to strike up a conversation out of the blue is a marvelous skill. Ask them questions (don’t lead with information about yourself), be approachable (not aggressive) and look for clues that they’d rather be left alone.
8. Stand Up for Yourself
Whether it’s your boss shooting down an idea before you’ve explained it or a guy shouting rude comments as you’re walking by, you should know how to keep from getting walked over.
9. Say “I Was Wrong”
A relationship squabble. A professional tiff. A theological debate. Whatever it is, you should always be looking for where you might have messed up. “I was wrong” is a magical little sentence that diffuses conflict and brings peace to any situation. You should have it at the top of your go-to phrases.
10. Brew a Great Cup of Coffee or Tea
Look. Once and for all, turning on the coffeemaker and brewing a pot of coffee is totally fine. But you should also be aware how to make a perfect cup of coffee or tea. For yourself. For your friends. Do a little reading. Perfect your technique. It’s a skill you’ll be glad you have forever.
11. Tip Generously
What’s just an extra buck or two to you can completely make your server’s day. Make it a habit to tip generously and, if you’re really feeling daring, write a brief thank you note on your check.
12. Maintain a Mentor
Your twenties are a great time to invest in a mentor. Find someone you want to be like—be it your pastor, a friend or even a peer—and commit to meeting with them regularly. It takes a little humility and a lot of dedication, but there is no ceiling to the value it will add to your life.
13. Bite Your Tongue
Know how to pick your battles. It’s OK for you to be right without getting everyone to admit you’re right. It’s OK for you to be offended by something without everyone knowing you’re offended. Understand when you should go to bat for what you’re thinking and when you can let it go.
14. Stay Well Rested
Late nights will come (if you’ve got kids, they’ll come pretty frequently) but our generation has forgotten the value in a good night’s sleep. Push yourself to go to bed earlier. Utilize your downtime wisely. Resting is just as important as being productive. In fact, you’ll be more productive if you are resting well and often.
15. Respond to Criticism
Defending yourself against criticism is easy. Graciously accepting it is harder, but the improvements it can make to your life and work are wild. Remember that criticism usually isn’t meant to be a personal attack and, if you can learn to take it in the spirit it’s offered, people will have fewer things to criticize you about in the future.
16. Write a Cover Letter
Filling out an application is a pretty simple process but, in all likelihood, the job you really want is going to take more than a list of references and previous employers. Cover letters require some effort, but it can be the difference between “don’t call us, we’ll call you” and “when can you start?”
17. Be Alone
The Millennial generation prizes community, which is very good, but it tends to come at the cost of fearing loneliness. The truth is, being alone can do you a lot of good. Be able to sit quietly—reading, writing, praying or just listening to the silence—and use that time to truly evaluate how your spirit is. Loneliness is exercise for your heart. Do it regularly.
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT’S URGENT AND WHAT’S IMPORTANT, AND KNOW WHICH ONE MATTERS MORE.
18. Recommend a Book, Movie or Album
It’s harder than it sounds. It’s easy to sound like a pretentious snob or a gushing fan when you’re telling someone to check out something you love. Be able to explain not only why you love something, but why you think someone else would love it.
19. Prioritize the Important Over the Urgent
There are two types of demands on your life. The first and easiest to focus on are the urgent: paying your rent, getting ahead in work, etc. The second and much harder to tackle are the important: your spiritual life, your relationship with your family and looking after the health of your soul. Know the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important, and know which one matters more.
20. Hold on to a Good Friend
There’s going to be a lot of transition in your twenties as both you and your friends float from job to job and location to location. You’ll have to say a lot of good bye’s in the midst of it all, but you should know when you’ve found the rare friend who you don’t want to lose, and you should be able to prioritize staying in touch with them beyond the occasional text message.
”As far as a music culture goes, EDM is the one who will accept the kids on the outliers, the ones who get bullied, the ones who feel like they may not quite fit in. This community is exceptional in its ability to bond all types together, and I am not exaggerating when I say it saves lives. Our audience is intelligent and kind, discriminating only in regards to which sound they like best. Our audience is unprecedented in their drive to proactively support each other.”
"It’s hard to say when a person reaches adulthood. Leaving mom and dad’s house, finishing college or getting a job don’t seem to automatically make a person an “adult” these days.
If anything, adulthood is a daily and gradual process of choosing maturity over immaturity. It doesn’t happen in one big moment, but over years of wise decisions. Adulthood is a sculpture carved over time. It’s a process of a person casting away their childishness and taking the shape of Godly maturity in their thoughts, words and actions.
So, as you go through this complex, sometimes-painful journey of mature adulthood, here are some tips to help you do it well.
1. Realize You’re Not the Center of World
We think as if the world revolves around us, even if we would never say it out loud. We develop unrealistic expectations of ourselves, careers, marriages, church and so on (and then we get depressed when our too-high expectations go unmet). The truth is, we don’t deserve anything, really. We’re not “above” any job or career, “above” a certain potential spouse or “above” a certain income level or lifestyle.
When you start thinking with a measure of humility, you begin having realistic expectations of yourself and others. You begin to have a healthy vision of the type of life you should live. It’s been said that maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you’re not the center of it. This is one of the most important aspects of adulthood.
2. Cultivate Emotional Maturity
We hold on to bitterness against others as if we’ve never hurt anyone. We get moody. We’re quick to be bothered. We treat people according to how they make us feel, not according to who they are. We’re slow to forgive other’s flaws while expecting them to forget about ours. We almost like being offended sometimes. We react to life instead of responding to it. Ultimately, we don’t control our emotions; we let our emotions control us. Doing adulthood well requires that we get a handle on our emotions. Think before you react, speak or tweet.
ADULTHOOD IS A DAILY AND GRADUAL PROCESS OF CHOOSING MATURITY OVER IMMATURITY.
3. Learn the Difference Between Time Management and Energy Management
This is one of the best lessons I have learned in my adult life. Some things take a lot of time but not a lot of energy, and some things take a little amount of time but a lot of energy. You can manage your time well but still stress yourself out because you spread your energy too thin across too many well-timed activities. Just because everything fits into your schedule doesn’t mean you’ll have the energy to handle it all.
One of the secrets to time and energy management is learning how to say “yes” and “no” to things. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else, and vice versa. Learn how much time and energy you’re realistically able to devote to life, and prioritize the things that deserve the most time and energy.
4. Don’t Live With Unhealthy Assumptions
Some of us live in an imaginary world. In this imaginary world, a person spends hours thinking about hypothetical questions (“What if they think ______ about me?”) which quickly turn into to assumptions (“He/she probably thinks ________ about me”). Sometimes we make decisions and develop emotions and even damage relationships based on assumptions that may not be true. I know from experience this will drive you crazy. If you don’t know something to be true, don’t live as if it’s true. Reality’s complicated enough. Why add an imaginary layer on top of it?
5. Invest in People Younger than You
One of the quickest roads to maturity is to build relationships with people less mature than you as well as people more mature than you. We all need people further along the road of life to give us advice, and we all need peers. But a key ingredient for maturity is investing in people who aren’t as far along in life as you are. When you invest in people younger than you, it helps them grow and it pushes you to be mature.
6. Embrace Deep Relationships
Sometimes we don’t invest in relationships because we’re afraid of getting hurt. Or we think we don’t know how to go deep with somebody. So, we say things like “I suck at relationships” instead of actually trying.
It’s easy to keep it lighthearted and fun with everybody all the time, but we also need deep, significant relationships in order to have a healthy adulthood. Risk and awkwardness and vulnerability and pain are all parts of a healthy relationship, not reasons to avoid one. Whether it’s with your parents or with friends or with a potential marriage partner, embrace the beautiful messiness and joys of deep relationships.
7. Manage your money
This goes almost without saying. If you want to be a healthy adult, learn how to use money to live a stable life, not to serve your whims. Live within your means. Figure out what you’re making, then figure out how much of it can go to debts, housing, food, shopping and so forth. Establish credit (but don’t go crazy). Spend in such a way that you make money your servant, not your slavemaster. I highly recommend using a budgeting app such as mint.com.
8. Make a Plan
There are too many twentysomethings coasting through life because they don’t have a vision for what they should be doing. Set for yourself a six month, one year, two year, etc. plan so you have a goal to work toward. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you’re living purposefully and not just drifting.
9. Learn how to rest well
IF YOUR LIFE DOESN’T REVOLVE AROUND GLORIFYING GOD, YOUR ADULTHOOD WON’T BE WHAT IT SHOULD BE.
You can’t work well if you don’t rest well. Some of us work too hard, have nothing left to give and get stressed out. It’s important to prioritize your schedule (and cut things out if you can) to allow yourself some rest. Your phone needs to be constantly recharged, and you do too.
10. Love the Lord
This truth is so obvious you might miss it. Regardless how well you’re doing with your career, relationships, parenting and so on, if your life doesn’t revolve around glorifying God, your adulthood won’t be what it should be. Before getting a job, leaving your parents, building a career or starting a family, your deepest need no matter your age is to turn from sin, trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and build your lifestyle around His honor.
So, go deep with a community of other Christians. Soak yourself in God’s Word. Make the greatest hope of your life that others will love Jesus because of you. This is the foundation of truly healthy adulthood, and without it you’ll be at an epic disadvantage.”
Officially packing my bags and moving to Chicago on Monday. Lots of weird emotions running through my head at the moment. I’m ready to go, but at the same time, I’m not. Being at home these past few days have really changed my long term perspective of wanting to leave Texas. But here’s to the next couple of years in the windy city.
It’s a city that refuses to be ignored and demands to be experienced.
It’s a city that will force you to stare unblinkingly at all it has to offer- taking hold of your small, fluttering heart - and when you flinch, when you want to look away, it’ll only grip onto you all the tighter.
Kolkata is the city of endless paradox. It’s the city where brokenness and beauty have learned to coexist, side by side. It’s the city of streets strewn with garbage and waste alongside shrines fragrant with garlands of white flowers, offered to a kaleidoscope collection of gods.
It’s the city where people who have lost all dignity and all hope thrive alongside children, their laughter ringing full of joy and mirth.
It’s the city that gives much and takes much, the city that offers aggressive hospitality and clamours for your attention, demanding that every step be taken with whole-hearted conviction, lest you be swept away.
Kolkata is the City of Joy. It is the city where Jesus is always present, a city where His presence dwells.”
"This is the thing: When you hit 28 or 30, everything begins to divide. You can see very clearly two kinds of people. On one side, people who have used their 20s to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults. Then there’s the other kind, who are hanging onto college, or high school even, with all their might. They’ve stayed in jobs they hate, because they’re too scared to get another one. They’ve stayed with men or women who are good but not great, because they don’t want to be lonely. They mean to find a church, they mean to develop intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party. But they don’t do those things, so they live in an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than when they graduated.
Don’t be like that. Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either. Stop every once in a while and go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal.
Ask yourself some good questions like: “Am I proud of the life I’m living? What have I tried this month? What have I learned about God this year? What parts of my childhood faith am I leaving behind, and what parts am I choosing to keep? Do the people I’m spending time with give me life, or make me feel small? Is there any brokenness in my life that’s keeping me from moving forward?”
Now is your time. Walk closely with people you love, and with people who believe God is good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned.
Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path.”
"While twentysomethings can sometimes spend a little too much energy on dating and marriage, they probably spend too little energy on friendships and family. That girl you just met and now text 76 times a day probably won’t be a part of your life in 10 years, but the guys you lived with in college, if you keep investing in them, will be friends for a lifetime. Lots of people move around in their 20s, but even across the distance, make an effort to invest in the friendships that are important to you. Loyalty is no small thing, especially in a season during which so many other things are shifting.
Family is a tricky thing in your 20s—to learn how to be an adult out on your own but to also maintain a healthy relationship with your parents—but those relationships are really, really worth investing in. I have a new vantage point on this now that I’m a parent. When my parents momentarily forget I’m an adult, I remind myself that someday this little boy of ours will drive a car, get a job and buy a home. I know that even then it will be hard not to scrape his hair across his forehead or tell him his eyes are looking sleepy, and I give my parents a break for still seeing me as their little girl every once in a while.”
or is it the other way around? AHHHH. Graduation approaching. My life is consumed with CPA studying. Not the best way to spend my last semester, but hey, still blessed and thankful. Going to miss this.
Urbana wasn’t something that I thought deeply about. I registered for the conference this time around because I knew that I’d be in a time of my life where everything I learned would be more impactful. In a season of transition, I was trying even more so to rely on God on my next steps. Little did I know when I first signed up for Urbana 12.
My time at Urbana is something that I’m going to remember forever. Urbana was not just a 6 day conference where I heard about Jesus and His mission. It was challenging, humbling, and life changing all at the same time. It was where I said yes to Jesus and His calling for global mission in my life.
I had the opportunity to room with Cheng Ma, Joseph Pao-wu, Joshua Ling, and Peter Kim. I’ll be honest and say I was a little nervous about the rooming assignment at first. Before we shared in our roommate huddles, I almost felt like I was intruding on something that was already established between the senior guys. As Cheng so eloquently put it on the bus ride to St Louis, “You’re the odd one out in the group.” And as much as I hate categorizing people into so called “groups”, I realized the truth in that statement. I wasn’t in their grade. I didn’t play ball. The relationship just wasn’t as connected as the rest of them… My anxieties and doubts of how rooming would turn out was quickly destroyed after our first roommate huddle. The sheer vulnerability and openness that I was able to experience with this group of brothers definitely made my Urbana experience the way it was. Rooming with them was a true blessing - I was surrounded by a group of men who genuinely cared, challenged, and loved on one another. This kind of community that I was able to be a part of was something that I realized was rare, but very special. So thanks guys for our nights together.
Aside from having awesome roommate huddles, I gained 4 things out of Urbana that I want to share:
1) I realized how much I had limited God and His existence in this world. I often times only thought about what God was doing at MY school, in MY life, with MY family, with MY friends, etc. Urbana opened up my eyes to see the God of this universe. At Urbana, I got a glimpse of how big God’s kingdom truly was. Worship this time around was something that I enjoyed and even appreciated. Worshipping with 16,000 other people and singing in different languages around the world made worship an incredible experience. (Urbana 09 was simply not for me. You can ask about that later)
2) God broke my heart for the things that He cared about. God opened my eyes to the rest of this world and grew my heart for social justice the night we made care packages to the caregivers in Swaziland. My heart ached while praying for the situation in Africa and I knew right then and there that I could no longer continue living the way I was back home. This was probably one of the few times in my life where I felt like I was doing something to help with God’s mission. This semester, I’m committing to World Vision Acts and Big Fish to continue to seek opportunities to help out with social justice issues.
3) I came to the conclusion that I still held on to my own comfort and success in this world. David Platt asked us, “What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?” I was sad to admit that I still held onto to the American Dream – a life full of security, success, and comfort. I wanted to provide for my future family. I wanted to give back to my parents. I wanted to live a life that was simply… comfortable. Before attending Urbana 12, I had always just imagined myself to do “Business as Missions.” BAM! I never really thought about being the one who went out – just the one who sent others. My plans all along were to pursue my career and climb my way up to make money, so that I could GIVE BACK to the church and somehow be a part of God’s mission. After David Platt’s talk, I was devastated when I realized I had taken my own dreams and my own plans and manipulated those to “fit in” God’s plan for my life. I was always the business guy… I knew about recruiting strategies, I helped friends and peers with their job search, I even TA for underclassmen that just got into the business school. I thought I had it all planned out, but I was wrong. I was living a life for myself – a life full of comfort and other earthly riches. This leads me to my next point.
4) I came to the table and accepted God’s invitation of global mission. The night that we made commitments, I made a commitment to both short-term and mid-term missions. Again, I love being comfortable! But during Urbana, God asked me to sacrifice my comfort, and follow Him whole-heartedly. This summer, I committed to going on a Global Urban Trek, where I will actually be living incarnationally in the slums around the world. I’m really looking into India, but we’ll see where the Lord sends me. As for my mid-term commitment, in pursuing God’s call in my life, I am no longer looking at my career as a long-term goal. Instead of holding onto the things I once did, I am now realizing that God didn’t just want me to be a ‘sender’ but a goer as well. After a couple of years of experience in Chicago, I plan on leaving the firm, and going out into the mission field. I don’t know what that all looks like yet, but I do know one thing: God is faithful and He is good, and I am willing to give up all that I am for Him.
I really didn’t know what I had coming when I first signed up for Urbana, but I’m glad I went. God transformed my life and turned everything upside down during those 6 days in St. Louis. I’m blessed beyond reason and want to bless others with what I have been given.
I know some of you all don’t know this about me, but through the past several years, I’ve struggled with homosexuality. Thankfully, I’ve found a wonderful community of brothers and sisters in Christ who have walked alongside me through all this, pointing me to Jesus all the way.
Amen, Matt. You are such a testament of God’s love. I love you.
After studying abroad two times in college… I’ve come to find many truths in the article "10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America" http://postmasculine.com/america (below)
1. Few People Are Impressed By Us
Unless you’re speaking with a real estate agent or a prostitute, chances are they’re not going to be excited that you’re American. It’s not some badge of honor we get to parade around. Yes, we had Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, but unless you actually are Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison (which is unlikely) then most people around the world are simply not going to care. There are exceptions of course. And those exceptions are called English and Australian people. Whoopdie-fucking-doo.
As Americans, we’re brought up our entire lives being taught that we’re the best, we did everything first and that the rest of the world follows our lead. Not only is this not true, but people get irritated when you bring it to their country with you. So don’t.
2. Few People Hate Us
Despite the occasional eye-rolling, and complete inability to understand why anyone would vote for George W. Bush, people from other countries don’t hate us either. In fact — and I know this is a really sobering realization for us — most people in the world don’t really think about us or care about us. I know, that sounds absurd, especially with CNN and Fox News showing the same 20 angry Arab men on repeat for ten years straight. But unless we’re invading someone’s country or threatening to invade someone’s country (which is likely), then there’s a 99.99% chance they don’t care about us. Just like we rarely think about the people in Bolivia or Mongolia, most people don’t think about us much. They have jobs, kids, house payments — you know, those things called lives — to worry about. Kind of like us.
Americans tend to assume that the rest of the world either loves us or hates us (this is actually a good litmus test to tell if someone is conservative or liberal). The fact is, most people feel neither. Most people don’t think much about us.
Remember that immature girl in high school, who every little thing that happened to her meant that someone either hated her or was obsessed with her; who thought every teacher who ever gave her a bad grade was being totally unfair and everything good that happened to her was because of how amazing she was? Yeah, we’re that immature high school girl.
3. We Know Nothing About The Rest Of The World
For all of our talk about being global leaders and how everyone follows us, we don’t seem to know much about our supposed “followers.” They often have completely different takes on history than we do. Here were some brain-stumpers for me: the Vietnamese believe the Vietnam War was about China (not us), Hitler was primarily defeated by Russia (not us), Native Americans were wiped out largely disease and plague (not us), and the American Revolution was “won” because the British cared more about beating France (not us). Notice a running theme here?
(Hint: It’s not all about us.)
We did not invent democracy. We didn’t even invent modern democracy. There were parliamentary systems in England and other parts of Europe over a hundred years before we created government. In a recent survey of young Americans, 63% could not find Iraq on a map (despite being at war with them), and 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa. Yet, somehow we’re positive that everyone else looks up to us.
4. We Are Poor At Expressing Gratitude And Affection
There’s a saying about English-speakers. We say “Go fuck yourself,” when we really mean “I like you,” and we say “I like you,” when we really mean “Go fuck yourself.”
Outside of getting shit-housed drunk and screaming “I LOVE YOU, MAN!”, open displays of affection in American culture are tepid and rare. Latin and some European cultures describe us as “cold” and “passionless” and for good reason. In our social lives we don’t say what we mean and we don’t mean what we say.
In our culture, appreciation and affection are implied rather than spoken outright. Two guy friends call each other names to reinforce their friendship; men and women tease and make fun of each other to imply interest. Feelings are almost never shared openly and freely. Consumer culture has cheapened our language of gratitude. Something like, “It’s so good to see you” is empty now because it’s expected and heard from everybody.
In dating, when I find a woman attractive, I almost always walk right up to her and tell her that a) I wanted to meet her, and b) she’s beautiful. In America, women usually get incredibly nervous and confused when I do this. They’ll make jokes to defuse the situation or sometimes ask me if I’m part of a TV show or something playing a prank. Even when they’re interested and go on dates with me, they get a bit disoriented when I’m so blunt with my interest. Whereas, in almost every other culture approaching women this way is met with a confident smile and a “Thank you.”
5. The Quality of Life For The Average American Is Not That Great
If you’re extremely talented or intelligent, the US is probably the best place in the world to live. The system is stacked heavily to allow people of talent and advantage to rise to the top quickly.
The problem with the US is that everyone thinks they are of talent and advantage. As John Steinbeck famously said, the problem with poor Americans is that “they don’t believe they’re poor, but rather temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” It’s this culture of self-delusion that allows America to continue to innovate and churn out new industry more than anyone else in the world. But this shared delusion also unfortunately keeps perpetuating large social inequalities and the quality of life for the average citizen lower than most other developed countries. It’s the price we pay to maintain our growth and economic dominance.
In my Guide to Wealth, I defined being wealthy as, “Having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.” In those terms, despite the average American having more material wealth than citizens of most other countries (more cars, bigger houses, nicer televisions), their overall quality of life suffers in my opinion. American people on average work more hours with less vacation, spend more time commuting every day, and are saddled with over $10,000 of debt. That’s a lot of time spent working and buying crap and little time or disposable income for relationships, activities or new experiences.
6. The Rest Of The World Is Not A Slum-Ridden Shithole Compared To Us
In 2010, I got into a taxi in Bangkok to take me to a new six-story cineplex. It was accessible by metro, but I chose a taxi instead. On the seat in front of me was a sign with a wifi password. Wait, what? I asked the driver if he had wifi in his taxi. He flashed a huge smile. The squat Thai man, with his pidgin English, explained that he had installed it himself. He then turned on his new sound system and disco lights. His taxi instantly became a cheesy nightclub on wheels… with free wifi.
If there’s one constant in my travels over the past three years, it has been that almost every place I’ve visited (especially in Asia and South America) is much nicer and safer than I expected it to be. Singapore is pristine. Hong Kong makes Manhattan look like a suburb. My neighborhood in Colombia is nicer than the one I lived in in Boston (and cheaper).
As Americans, we have this naïve assumption that people all over the world are struggling and way behind us. They’re not. Sweden and South Korea have more advanced high speed internet networks. Japan has the most advanced trains and transportation systems. Norwegians make more money. The biggest and most advanced plane in the world is flown out of Singapore. The tallest buildings in the world are now in Dubai and Shanghai. Meanwhile, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
What’s so surprising about the world is how unsurprising most of it is. I spent a week with some local guys in Cambodia. You know what their biggest concerns were? Paying for school, getting to work on time, and what their friends were saying about them. In Brazil, people have debt problems, hate getting stuck in traffic and complain about their overbearing mothers. Every country thinks they have the worst drivers. Every country thinks their weather is unpredictable. The world becomes, err… predictable.
7. We’re Paranoid
Not only are we emotionally insecure as a culture, but I’ve come to realize how paranoid we are about our physical security. You don’t have to watch Fox News or CNN for more than 10 minutes to hear about how our drinking water is going to kill us, our neighbor is going to rape our children, some terrorist in Yemen is going to kill us because we didn’t torture him, Mexicans are going to kill us, or some virus from a bird is going to kill us. There’s a reason we have more guns than people.
In the US, security trumps everything, even liberty. We’re paranoid.
I’ve probably been to 10 countries now that friends and family back home told me explicitly not to go because someone was going to kill me, kidnap me, stab me, rob me, rape me, sell me into sex trade, give me HIV, or whatever else. None of that has happened. I’ve never been robbed and I’ve walked through some of the shittiest parts of Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
In fact, the experience has been the opposite. In countries like Russia, Colombia or Guatemala, people were so friendly it actually scared me. Some stranger in a bar would invite me to his house for a bar-b-que with his family, a random person on the street would offer to show me around and give me directions to a store I was trying to find. My American instincts were always that, “Wait, this guy is going to try to rob me or kill me,” but they never did. They were just insanely friendly.
8. We’re Status-Obsessed And Seek Attention
I’ve noticed that the way we Americans communicate is usually designed to create a lot of attention and hype. Again, I think this is a product of our consumer culture: the belief that something isn’t worthwhile or important unless it’s perceived to be the best (BEST EVER!!!) or unless it gets a lot of attention (see: every reality-television show ever made).
This is why Americans have a peculiar habit of thinking everything is “totally awesome,” and even the most mundane activities were “the best thing ever!” It’s the unconscious drive we share for importance and significance, this unmentioned belief, socially beaten into us since birth that if we’re not the best at something, then we don’t matter.
We’re status-obsessed. Our culture is built around achievement, production and being exceptional. Therefore comparing ourselves and attempting to out-do one another has infiltrated our social relationships as well. Who can slam the most beers first? Who can get reservations at the best restaurant? Who knows the promoter to the club? Who dated a girl on the cheerleading squad? Socializing becomes objectified and turned into a competition. And if you’re not winning, the implication is that you are not important and no one will like you.
9. We Are Very Unhealthy
Unless you have cancer or something equally dire, the health care system in the US sucks. The World Health Organization ranked the US 37th in the world for health care, despite the fact that we spend the most per capita by a large margin.
The hospitals are nicer in Asia (with European-educated doctors and nurses) and cost a tenth as much. Something as routine as a vaccination costs multiple hundreds of dollars in the US and less than $10 in Colombia. And before you make fun of Colombian hospitals, Colombia is 28th in the world on that WHO list, nine spots higher than us.
A routine STD test that can run you over $200 in the US is free in many countries to anyone, citizen or not. My health insurance the past year? $65 a month. Why? Because I live outside of the US. An American guy I met living in Buenos Aires got knee surgery on his ACL that would have cost $10,000 in the US… for free.
But this isn’t really getting into the real problems of our health. Our food is killing us. I’m not going to go crazy with the details, but we eat chemically-laced crap because it’s cheaper and tastes better (profit, profit). Our portion sizes are absurd (more profit). And we’re by far the most prescribed nation in the world AND our drugs cost five to ten times more than they do even in Canada (ohhhhhhh, profit, you sexy bitch).
In terms of life expectancy, despite being the richest country in the world, we come in a paltry 38th. Right behind Cuba, Malta and the United Arab Emirates, and slightly ahead of Slovenia, Kuwait and Uruguay. Enjoy your Big Mac.
10. We Mistake Comfort For Happiness
The United States is a country built on the exaltation of economic growth and personal ingenuity. Small businesses and constant growth are celebrated and supported above all else — above affordable health care, above respectable education, above everything. Americans believe it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself and make something of yourself, not the state’s, not your community’s, not even your friend’s or family’s in some instances.
Comfort sells easier than happiness. Comfort is easy. It requires no effort and no work. Happiness takes effort. It requires being proactive, confronting fears, facing difficult situations, and having unpleasant conversations.
Comfort equals sales. We’ve been sold comfort for generations and for generations we bought: bigger houses, separated further and further out into the suburbs; bigger TV’s, more movies, and take-out. The American public is becoming docile and complacent. We’re obese and entitled. When we travel, we look for giant hotels that will insulate us and pamper us rather than for legitimate cultural experiences that may challenge our perspectives or help us grow as individuals.
Depression and anxiety disorders are soaring within the US. Our inability to confront anything unpleasant around us has not only created a national sense of entitlement, but it’s disconnected us from what actually drives happiness: relationships, unique experiences, feeling self-validated, achieving personal goals. It’s easier to watch a NASCAR race on television and tweet about it than to actually get out and try something new with a friend.
Unfortunately, a by-product of our massive commercial success is that we’re able to avoid the necessary emotional struggles of life in lieu of easy superficial pleasures.
Well it’s official, I’ve been in Prague, Czech Republic for a week now and it’s been absolutely nothing like I had imagined it to be. The city has so much history and culture behind everything it’s mind blowing. I’m honestly just living in the moment and trying to soak in everything I can in these 5 short weeks. Already finished the 1st week and can’t wait to see what my next 4 here are going to look like.
Some facts that I’m still trying to get adjusted to:
-Beer here is cheaper than water and it somehow compliments every meal. I was never really a beer guy, but cheers to new experiences. I’m going to have to start running here if this is going to continue.
-Food is fairly cheap here but you have to pay for condiments. I’m still trying to get used to this. It costs roughly 1 USD for 3 packets of ketchup here. I learned it the hard way by ordering at KFC and McDonalds this past week. Augh. Also, fast food still sucks.. even abroad.
-It’s always very bright in Prague. The sun sets super late around 10pm. I’m always confused about the time because of how bright it is outside, which often results in late meals. 10pm feels like 6pm here. The sun also rises super early like 4am. The first time we all came back home after a night downtown was pretty cool because we got to see the sunrise right before we went to sleep lol.
-Waiting on public transport is a pain. I no longer have the pleasure of getting into my car to leave wherever and whenever I want to. I’m still unsure of a lot of tram stops, but it hasn’t been too bad getting around the city. I’ve been to Old Town Square way too many times, but it’s been fun exploring. The Charles Bridge and Castle grounds have never left me disappointed.
-Prague is a huge dog city. I miss Mia a whole lot! I’ve already seen 3 Shiba Inus here while walking around.
-The other MPA students here have been bonding over drinking and partying, which sucks because sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on all the fun. I can’t say that it’s never been my scene, but man these kids go hard. I think many of them have been downtown everyday since they first arrived. yolo? I can’t keep up with them. I’ve been out a couple times with them - they’re crazy.
-Most of the other guys in my program here are all Frat guys.. so naturally, I’ve been mostly hanging around girls on this trip. Connie, Jessica, and Laura have been a core group here but I’ve been meaning to make a point to establish some sort of relationship with everyone else.
I’ve finally planned my weekend trips!
Plzen & Český Krumlov, Czech Republic (June 8-9) Vienna, Austria (June 14-17) Split, Solta, & Brač, Croatia (June 21-24) Munich, Germany (June 29 - July 1) Amsterdam, Netherlands (July 3 - July 6)
Definitely excited to have the opportunity to travel to these cities for my first European adventure.