The Most Important Decade In Every Person’s Life: How Did You Fare?

forkOur oldest son will be graduating from high school in a few days. Unless, of course, he doesn’t dress for gym again, which will cause him to fail that REQUIRED class. Or unless he gets into an argument with a certain teacher he has problems with, and crosses the line with her. Or unless he cuts school to hang out with his knucklehead friends, and the administration wants to make examples of them. Yeah, he keeps things interesting, that’s for sure. It’ll be touch and go until he has the diploma in his hand.

And then he’ll officially begin what I’m convinced is the most important decade in every person’s life: ages 18 to 28. Who’s with me on that one?

During those years we’re forced to make monumental decisions that set the course for the rest of our days. We have to decide what we want to do, career-wise, and the best path for getting there. It’s terrifying. There’s a lot of discipline required, and often more schooling — which costs big bucks, and adds yet another layer of pressure.

It’s a lot to take on, at an age when many people are still deep in the throes of teenage dumbassery. So, they just shut down, and put everything off until some undefined day in the future. Right when it matters the most, a lot of people simply take a pass. Hand me another Rolling Rock!

Our son is smart, and also kind and personable. So, he’s ahead of me on those last two things… I’m sure he’ll be fine. But I worry. He has a lot of my DNA, after all. I don’t want him to botch the Most Important Decade, and still be trying to recover in his early 50s, like his father.

I’ve tried to talk with him about it, and let him know how key the next ten years are going to be. But I can tell he’s not really listening. Hell, I didn’t listen to anyone, either. Except Elvis Costello, David Letterman, and Marty Brennaman. It’s a little frustrating, because this is important stuff. Maybe some of it is sinking is? I hope so.

How’d you do in your 20s? Some folks breeze on through, like my friend Steve. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s ever experienced the panicked feeling of being lost, and adrift. He’s always had his shit together. And I’m frantically patching up metaphorical poopballs over here, with duct tape and paper clips. I’m supremely jealous of folks like Steve. Not to take anything away from him, of course. He’s worked hard and made all the right choices.

Oh sure, some people recover after wasting those pivotal years, but most don’t. By age 28 patterns are in place, and the tone has been set. There’s anecdotal evidence against almost any theory, but I’m talking generalities. If a person is still floundering at 28, there’s a very good chance they’ll be floundering for the rest of their lives.

Here’s a quick rundown of two major things I regret from that decade, and one item I got right, somehow. Then I’ll turn it over to you guys.

College

After high school I went to West Virginia State, and declared my major to be Business Administration. Which, of course, is a catch-all for dipshits without a clue in this world. I was living at home, still working the same grocery store job, and it felt like 13th grade.

I made it a year, and dropped out. My heart wasn’t in it from the beginning. Many days I’d leave for school, and end up spending several hours at Budget Tapes and Records instead, flipping through the album stacks and bullshitting with the employees.

So, I don’t consider that experiment to be salvageable. When I think back on it, the whole thing feels fatally flawed.

However… a few years later I started taking classes at Marshall University, and everything was different. I liked it, and was doing well. I remember a speech class, in which I was basically doing standup comedy. I spent a lot of time writing my “speeches,” and every one of them – regardless of the subject – was designed for laughs. They went over well, and I was having a great time. I exasperated the professor, but he was a good sport about the whole thing.

Then my girlfriend broke up with me, and I abruptly dropped out of school (again). I also quit my job, and started selling meat door-to-door. I was a goddamn mess. I was selling meat door to door!

I never returned to school, and it’s my biggest regret. My wife puts some of the blame on my parents, for not offering better guidance, but it was ultimately up to me. I haven’t seen that girl in almost 30 years, but am still living with the consequences of my overreaction to our breakup, back when Reagan was president. It was some high-idiocy with deep roots.

The FBI

When I was 20 or 21 I answered an ad in the newspaper, and before I really knew what was going on… the FBI(!) made me an interesting proposition.

They were going to put me through college in Washington D.C., cover my housing costs, pay me a thousand dollars per month walking-around money, and start me on the road to becoming an agent. I still can’t believe it, as I’m typing this.

They’d talked to random people in our neighborhood about me, a couple of my old teachers, and even a friend who was now in the army, stationed in Colorado. I’d also undergone a load of IQ tests, etc., and was apparently exactly what they were looking for. Wow!

When they called me with their offer, the floor of my ass nearly fell out. I was not emotionally ready for such a move, and a couple of days later… turned it down.

I think about it often. My entire life would be different, if I’d accepted their offer. It might not have been better (my head might’ve long ago been blowed off), but I would have entered and lived in a completely different universe.

The main reason I regret the decision: it was made out of fear. It might’ve been the RIGHT decision, in the end, but I’m not proud of the way I made it. I was simply afraid.

Leaving West Virginia

This one I got right, but… it wasn’t some well-thought-out plan. It’s not like I diagrammed it on a whiteboard, and came to a reasoned decision on the matter.

No, I was working at a convenience store for minimum wage, with no better prospects on the horizon. And my girlfriend was nearing college graduation, which scared me. I was going nowhere, and she was doing well. So, I moved to Greensboro, NC, out of desperation. It was a Hail Mary pass, a demonstration of the lengths I was willing to go, to make it work.

So, that decision was also born of fear. But it turned out to be a good one. I didn’t start to get my head screwed on straight until I got away from my comfortable childhood bedroom and all the old patterns. I had to work two jobs to pay my bills in North Carolina, and was forced to make new friends, and build an entirely new life. It took a few years to realize it, but that process ended up paying big dividends.

And so, we’ve kinda “guided” our son to go away to college. It’s scary, not to mention expensive. But I think it’ll be good for him, and will give him a much better chance at not screwing up his Most Important Decade. We’ll see how it goes.

Any thoughts on this? Have I correctly pinpointed the most pivotal decade in most peoples’ lives? And how did you do during those years? Did you take a pass, like me? Or are you one of those folks who had it together? It’s bizarre to me, but I know it happens. Please leave your comments below.

And I’ll see you guys again on Thursday.

Thanks for reading!

Buy something cool at Amazon! It’s the American way.

Comments

  1. The Qweezy Mark says:

    If at all possible, always go away to school. First!

  2. I am not certain which ten years is the most important. I know decisions I’ve made between about 17 and 43 have all had some major impacts.

    I think what’s more important is the choosing of advice that you’re given, and choosing the things you fear more.

    Fear has driven a lot of my decisions.

    Going to college was a given. It was always assumed that my brother and I would go, and we did. Our parents programmed us quite intentionally.

    I took a lot of advice from my dad, Luis El Grande. In hindsight, most of it was horseshit. I can state unequivocally that my decision to take his advice was the result of fear. He scared the hell out of me.

    My father chose my major under the guise of “giving me advice” and a bit of yelling. He decided business was for me, and that I’d do well with a career in sales. He was pissed when I told him that my major would be marketing. But he came around, because after all it was a business degree. I hated business. Sure, I had some fun in sales and made some money, but it wasn’t for me in the end.

    Had I been braver, I think I would have liked to have been a pilot. I’d probably had to pay or that myself, but so what? By now I could be flying cargo planes full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.

    I listened to my wife when she said I could/should go back to school for nursing in my very late 30’s. That turned out to be phenomenal advice. I love what I’m doing now.

    The docs tell me to loose weight. It’s good advice, but I’m apparently more hungry than I am fearful of the consequences. I’m working on that.

    I listened to my junk twice and a fertility doc once, and now I have three kids. The jury is still out on the quality of of that advice.

    I have found that doing stuff that I am afraid of tends to be worth it. With the exception of going up ladders onto roofs. Still not doing that.

  3. Jeff-I couldn’t agree more…

    I made it just under the wire..started college at 25, i felt like the oldest person in every way while i was there and often feel like i never quite caught up. Now I’m 51 and wish I’d gotten myself together sooner. Sending my daughter off to college soon, hopefully with a better sense of direction.

  4. Lew in Bama says:

    I wasted my 20’s being wasted. Got into Auburn straight out of high school, but since I was mathematically lazy (and challenged) I had to make up a class in summer school AFTER graduation to have enough credits. I did so, and was promptly informed I would need a semester of community college first then I was good to go for “big college”. I decided to local CC, fell in with some loser friends and got a loser d-bag for a boyfriend and found myself dropped out of community college, and never making it down to enroll at Auburn.
    A string of horrible boyfriends and lots and lots and lots of booze for the entire decade, and I STILL haven’t graduated college. Luckily, about 10 years ago, I started working a job that paid well and didn’t require a degree.
    I would give anything to be able to go back to my lazy 18 yr old self, slap her around and show what lies ahead if things don’t change.
    1 decision…the decision not to go back to Auburn, changed my entire life. If I had, I probably would have met my now husband when we were both young and students there. I could have skipped the d-bag boyfriend years, and he could have skipped the “my first wife up and left me” years.
    1 bad decision can alter 2 lives…and you have to work like hell to get them back on track how they were supposed to be.
    And now, at 38, I’m working at a job I don’t like, for less money than I deserve, all the while trying to start a family with my new husband and maybe one day I’ll finish college.
    I used to say by age 25, then 28, then 30, then 35…now it’s up to 40, maybe 45. Now I just want to finish before I send a kid.

  5. madz1962 says:

    I went to community college for 2 years (18 – 20) while working at McDonalds. I also went a year at City University of NY and when I was 20 (just shy of 21) I landed a full time job at a law firm so I put the brakes on school. Pop was not thrilled (even though I paid for my entire college education myself!). So after about a year off, I went back to CUNY at night while working full time. My 4 year degree dragged on for 8 years! And I completely lost my focus. I just wanted A DEGREE (in English/Creative writing) but don’t really remember a lot about my education. If I stayed out of school another year, I would have gotten my shit together and maybe even would have gone on to law school or – what I would LOVE to do now – forensics. But I blew a lot of money in bars and restaurants and clothes and shit but I have no regrets. I’m now 52 and wish I had a better job – scratch that – a profession, where I only need to rely on MYSELF not some soulless company.

  6. Jazzbone Swirly says:

    The age range sounds about right as far as being pivotal for a young person’s life trajectory. If you don’t go to college (preferably a very good one), you will be paid significantly less during your working years than if you do. I find it interesting when a person makes a major mid-life course correction and decides to do something completely different than what they studied in school, but this probably in fact rarely happens in the actual world. If I think back to my younger years, the things that I regret tend to be the things that I didn’t do because I was too afraid to at the time.

    • I think mid-life course correction often depends on the local economy.

      Here in SE Michigan lots of people made big changes in their 30-50’s.

      It was driven by the auto industry woes. The big three were offering generous buyouts and money for “retraining”. Even the unemployment office got into it, granting up to $10k for education or training.

      Around here one need not look hard for a former auto worker now in a totally unrelated job/industry.

      As far as education goes, amen. It doesn’t pay to just have a high school diploma.

      A relative owns a machine shop here. He was able to fill openings with degreed engineers who were desperate for work. He said quality didn’t change but there was an elevated level of discourse on the shop floor. He didn’t raise his pay scale for the degree, but it got you a job.

      The poor bastards with their high school diplomas who’d been in those jobs before were screwed.

      • That’s almost like getting free engineers. Sad for the engineers, and sad for the high schoolers, too.

        • johnthebasket says:

          We’re working hard and rather successfully at becoming a third world country where the lawyers drive cabs and the engineers wash dishes. The unemployment rate doesn’t look horrible, but the underemployment rate is both troubling and sad.

          John

          • I am an engineer, and I do wash dishes.
            .

          • t-storm says:

            I’m unemployed but not on unemployment so the govt doesn’t count me.

            • johnthebasket says:

              God looks after underemployed attorneys, engineers and fools (people in management), but he rarely sends monthly checks.

              John

          • My ex is an attorney who represents cab drivers. Does that count?

            • johnthebasket says:

              Sorry, he would need to flash an actual medallion and to live on boloney sandwiches. However, I’m glad the cabbies have a good lawyer. Lord knows they need one the way they drive.

              John

  7. Brenda Love says:

    I did really well during those years, but I still can’t shake the feeling I screwed up somewhere.

  8. Fat Dave says:

    I managed to stay in school and screw off for most of my twenties, until I settled down and married the best influence on my life at 28. She straightened a lot of my life out. I’ve failed a lot since then, but I’ve at least learned from these later failures.

  9. I’ve always said… Guys don’t grow brains until they’re 30.

  10. oh lawd. 18 – 28 … I’ll start weeping now. Most of my decisions, ALL of the horrible ones, were made to please others and not disappoint my mom. Turns out I disappointed her a thousand times anyway. I always thought it so cool that some people KNEW what they wanted to do with great certainty and ease. and then went for it. I started going my own way in my late 20s, early 30s and, while I’m still trying to “make it”, I’m very happy with my struggles.

  11. t-storm says:

    I went to college right after high school and probably could have used a few years in the military.
    I got my engineering degree but barely. That was the 1st 5. The second five was spent in 3.5 different jobs but some of that was spent in St. Louis which I consider the best 4 years of my life.

    It is good to move away for college. I did. My brother didn’t and got his high school bitch sweetheart of a cunt pregnant. My other brother did, dropped out and now lives at home but at least doesn’t have any kids in the way.

    • madz1962 says:

      I can’t help it… I need to comment on this:

      “his high school bitch sweetheart of a cunt” is the absolutely, fantastically lyrical description I have ever read.

      Well done, t-storm! I’m shelving that for future use somewhere.

  12. I’d stress to him to go to college, stick it out and get a degree. From my observations, the people who decide to take time to ‘see the world’, ‘go to work for a year’ usually end up staying in meanial jobs never to return. Doesn’t so much matter in what, but that he has that peice of paper at the end and then he can pursue whatever he likes. Where I work, that stupid peice of paper means you will advance, it doesn’t matter so much what the degree is in, so long as you have it.

  13. Phil Jett says:

    I agree these years make a big difference. I did the community college thing for two years and graduated with an associate’s degree and my grades got me an academic scholarship to an out of state university to continue study. The problem was the out of state part, with the associated higher cost and it being a private school I was paying way more than if I had just driven back and forth to Cleveland State with no scholarship.

    After one year I couldn’t afford to finish and after a month with no beer money I enlisted in the Navy. Best decision ever. Spent 12 years traveling the world, finished my bachelors and got out with a great wife and a son. I had three jobs to choose from and we moved back to the midwest to settle down. The first job I got had a program to reimburse you for every class you took related to your job. In two years I received my Masters and all it cost me was the gas to drive to class at night.

    The job I have now employs ten people in the same position as mine and there are not two of us with the same degree. I think only two of us have degrees related to the work we do. Having a degree is all that matters here to get your foot in the door. Like any job, some of my co-workers are total douchenozzles but they are all employed.

  14. valerie schmalerie says:

    Yeah, ya pretty much got it right. 18-30 for me. And I’m 30 right now, so next year I might extend it to 18-31… ya know. For me, I knew what I wanted to do around age 20 (bean counter!), but I’m just now getting my CPA license. Granted, it’s a process to get here, but maybe I could have been more focused in the 20-25 range. Would have happened sooner with less stress and less whippin’ my hand through my hair. Just be there for him and guide him as much as you can! The rest, I’m afraid, is up to him, but it sounds like he’ll be just fine.

  15. Yes, those are pretty important years. And I’ll second the idea that it would really, really behoove Da Kid to get a four-year degree. The subject matter and university almost don’t matter (well, they matter SOME) – but get the damn paper. A bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, in the sense that it can open doors to non-shitty employment.

    Why I say the subject is not very important: When I worked at the TV station, the Chief Engineer had a bachelor’s degree in… history. The Assistant Chief had a degree in speech. Not speech therapy, but speech. At least two of my current co-workers have associate’s degrees from Full Sail, something to do with audio recording and production.

    When I was growing up, the idea of education was never hammered into us. Rather, it was expected and assumed that we would all go to college and get at least a baccalaureate-level degree, to the point where it didn’t need to be mentioned. My parents were both literature people. I grew up thinking it was normal to have wall-to-wall books in the house, many in foreign languages, and to read for fun.
    .

  16. And for the record, I was on the Decelerated Undergraduate Matriculation Plan at college. I eventually finished that four-year degree, but went to the laundromat instead of attending the graduation ceremony.
    .

    • johnthebasket says:

      Yeah, those gowns need to be laundered about every two hours. They’re made out of the same material the astronauts use in space: no air can enter or escape, which is perfect in a non-air conditioned pavilion jammed with a thousand graduates and four thousand clever cornball relatives.

      John

  17. I was pretty touch and go during that decade. It started out right… I went to Baylor at 18 and those damned Baptists introduced me to booze and blow which pretty much consumed the next 4 of the 8 years I spent getting my 4 year degree at a private school where my exceptionally patient parents were spending crazy tuition dollars.

    Some semesters I dropped all but one class in order to stay enrolled but get most of my tuition money back for spending cash to supplement my allowance. It was basically theft from my parents… I was an asshat. Finally at 25 I somehow ended up having the Baylor Football defensive line in my apartment passing around a blunt going through my music collection and thinking I was the craziest white boy they’d met… I suddenly realized all my friends had graduated and gone on to grad school, careers, independence… This was about 2006 which would have put me at age 25.

    With this new awareness I maxed out my hours for a summer, fall, and spring which earned me my degree (finance & economics) in 2007 just before the market crashed. I went to work for a relatively new financial company with a bunch of subprime exposure and heavy leverage. The CFO had been faking it for the previous 5 years and when I jumped into an analyst position she finally had someone that could peer into the numbers and figure out what was going on. It was during those last 2 years of my decade that I immediately zoomed up the corporate ladder, wound down the company and spun it off and became a partner with the owners in their private equity firm and eventually the president.

    Now, at 33, had I not been a fuckup for the first half of my formative decade I would have likely ended up with a better GPA, going to law school, working my ass off for a firm praying to get partner and probably (almost definitely) making less money for more work that would be less satisfying. The downturn would have probably resulted in my getting canned and never hitting partner at a decent firm. My family were all very concerned… And rightly so, but had I had my shit together from the beginning I’d probably be a lot worse off.

  18. squawvalleyskip says:

    I barely remember most of that decade. From 8 days after high school graduation at 17 until 4 months before my 22nd birthday I was engaged in my distinguished military career. Which resulted in me doing nothing so much as greatly accelerating my abuse of recreational substances. From 22 to 32 is pretty much a blur of alcohol, drugs, motorcycles, and a string of low to moderate paying jobs that only served to keep gas in the motorcycle and booze and drugs in me. At 32 I decided I was too old to keep going to jail, and started to get my shit together. Still not there, but now I’m happily married and can afford the mortgage payment, anyway. So I’m basically a 58 year old, immature idiot with a high school education, but I know how to fix things, so I have a job for now. Next week, who the hell knows.

  19. Going to move right to age 27 even though I’ll not be running for office. Computers, my big mouth and ego got me work training people who really wanted to learn (paid their hunnerd bucks). That led to positions at banks (ha!).
    Stupid luck and a good friend helped me save just enough money to be able to lose quickly, so I searched, read, invested a bit and haven’t lost any of it yet. It’s a bona fide miracle.
    Before that I moved to NYC at age 17 and spent money that was gived me, delivered a toilet seat to Morey Amsterdam at the Carnegie deli on his 80th birthday, and sword fought on the catwalk at Studio 54. There was a creepy obese telephone newspaper subscription salesman in Newport News who directed Bruce Willis in Picnic and me in Equus in the early 80’s (not at the same time or my play would’ve been cancelled).
    Have fun and do weird stuff when you’re young and broke then have a more reserved style of fun when you’re older and have something to lose. If people hold up fingers for how many times you’ve told the same story, you’re doing well.
    That’s all I got. Like I said, no political future. Thanks Jeff!

    • Bill in WV says:

      All right, I gotta hear the story about delivering a toilet seat to Morey Amsterdam at the Carnegie Deli.

      • My first job in NYC working in a place that sold scented candles and other fancy toilet items. Shortly after the delivery to Morey I decided not to show up one day and then went in the next day like Larry Frickin David. The lady that ran the place couldn’t believe her luck and was pretty literally salivating as she told me off. Since I had singles of thousands of dollars at the time I decided that work was for suckers. Soon after I was cleaning toilets in a carpeted ladies’ aerobics gym.
        The delivery was instigated by Morey’s comic friends. They had a sandwich named after him and it was a bagel with smear and grape jelly. I hung around long enough to force a grudging tip out of them. Really pushed the young and stupid envelope and had a pretty good time doing it.
        It shouldn’t be mentioned, but I also got snuck into a party with Deborah Harry and Andy Warhol at a sushi restaurant during the early eighties. I was like one of the dumb and dumber guys in there yet probably not so out of place as you might imagine.
        Thanks for asking!

        • Never understood that. I never cared for grape jelly, and jams and jellies don’t go well with cream cheese. In my humble.

          But – cool story!
          .

        • revashane says:

          Oh please tell me more!! Your youth sounds just like mine except my ’80s story is in Nashville with the OakRidge Boys and in Greensboro with the guitarist for Julian Lennon. Woohoo real crazy times (sarcasm)

  20. …and take the opportunities when they come up. I had a thousand chances to go to CBGB and see the Ramones, Stooges et al, and I didn’t. Whatever is the equivalent today, do it. There may not be a next time. Don’t go generating regrets.
    .

  21. Stuart from Oz says:

    Each of my 3 kids have taken a “Gap Year” meaning they didn’t go to college straight after high school. Instead they took 12 months to work in any kind of job, travel and figure out their next move. It’s worked so far with two of them, they are both in college and number 3 is in his Gap Year now – he has no idea what he wants to do so better he lives in the real world for a while rather than just jump into any college course and then work out its not what he wants.. I kinda wished I’d done the same thing but there ya go…

    • madz1962 says:

      that is a great idea. I think they do that in the UK. I wish I had taken a few years in between to sort out what it was I wanted to do.

  22. Ron from PA says:

    I can’t believe how much you all can actually recall from that time period in your lives. Closer to 50 than 4,0 and I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday. I think I got married, had kids, got divorced ( kids divorced me too) it’s all a blur. And quite honestly, all quite forgettable anyway.

    • I had a bowl of pho for lunch yesterday… I’m pretty sure; maybe it was a sammidge. But I absolutely remember the name of the grad student who taught my freshman math class in 1976.
      .

      • johnthebasket says:

        I can name the starting lineup for the 1961 Yankees, but I can’t remember the names of most of the women I dated before and between marriages, nor their stats. After 60 years, memory is cruel: It can PLAY tricks ON you, but it can’t TURN tricks FOR you. I’m just saying…

        John

  23. I’d agree wholeheartedly with the assessment that 18-28 is at the top of Big Question answering time. I went to college straightaway, changed my major after my junior year, crammed 3 years of school into the next 2, decided I did NOT want to teach HS after doing student teaching, landed a spot in the grad school doing a TA/research/classes and working at bars and restaurants in the ‘off hours,’ then stupidly believing I was in love and got married at 27 instead of going into the PhD program my then-boss had lined up for me at the University at which I worked. That was a squandered opportunity for sure.

    Our Thing 1 took this past year of classes at the local Community College, with limited success. He graduated HS at 17, has no idea what he wants to do with life, and so I think it’s a good idea he’s still at home figuring things out. His mandate for this summer is: get a license and a job. Sometimes kids need a gentle shove out of the nest, right? There’s no right answer that suits everyone, but for our kids the idea of college isn’t a ‘take it or leave it’ thing, oh no. They’re GOING, at least to try it out and see if it’s right for them or if they want to train in another field for which an academic degree isn’t necessarily appropriate. For example – my younger brother is very successful in his career and didn’t go very far in college, but he DID train first as a jet mechanic and then as an HVAC tech/mech, both of which were more intense and demanding than any 4-year college course of study.

    Yeesh, what a lot of words.

  24. johnthebasket says:

    Of course, to “survive” this time in life, you have to survive this time in life. It’s a little chancier these days with the vast number of guns flooding the country. I don’t know how many fewer we need, but we need fewer.

    John

  25. I’d back it up by two years. 16 to 26 is the important decade. At least it was for me. That’s the ages of 16 and 17 are the prework to open up the decision options for 18 that impact the rest of the decade. If you screw up when you are fifteen, get busted with weed or fail a few high school courses, there is still time in 11th and 12th grade to make up for it and recover. If you do those same things during senior year, then you are just a bum who will never amount to anything by god and you better be happy your great-grand-pappy isn’t still with us to see this.

    If you piddle away those two years then you very well may not have all the options available. Instead of being able to chose between being a bum, go to college and be a bum there, go be a bum in the Army, or be a bum working for your dad’s friend at the chicken murder mill; you’ll only be able to choose from chicken murder or straight up bum. You have a very recent criminal record so the army doesn’t want you and you passed high school with straight Ds so college doesn’t want you.

    You have to have the choices to choose from at your leisure, not have your choice dictated. A lot of people argue with me and say, “Oh but you’re just 16. That’s too early to make life decisions. “ Well that’s bullshit.

    You don’t get a clean slate when you turn 18. You aren’t magically just as capable as any other person out there. If all you did was build rope swings at Shady Nook and your buddy instead spent the summer working with Houses-for-Homeless; guess whose getting the job at Joey’s Construction Incorporated. The effort you put into 16 and 17 will lead to you being a guy lucky to get any job, to a guy who might get a job that pays more than hardly anything. Unless your dad is the “Paul” form “Paul’s Pavementpalooza” you are going to actually have to be worth something by the time you turn 18, or you won’t be worth anything when you turn 18.

    • Still no edit button.

      • johnthebasket says:

        Actually, Jeff HAS thoughtfully included an edit button with this commenting software. It’s the one you DON’T push until you’ve proofed your copy. It’s the same one Jeff uses before he publishes.

        John

  26. I had my shit so tight that somewhere near the center it was turning into a diamond. I watched my mom struggle through college to be an RN because she had to work and go to school. My older brother had been in college for a few years, and while it was easier for him than my mom I could still see that he had to work and take out loans. I decided that there was no why I was paying for school, is I decided to find out who was willing to pay me to go to school. The easy answer was the National Guard. Then once I was in the gurad I farmed myself out to organizations who would pay for an education applicable to the profession. Between the Guard and my first major employer I’ve never paid any amount for school. There is no reason to, other people are willing to pay for your book learnin’ if you are willing to give a little back to them.

    During and after school I made sure to take all the worst jobs that were necessary but nobody else wanted to do. Fuck whether or not I wanted it or liked it.

    By the time I was 28 I got hired into one of the highest positions in the organization. Everybody was astonished that I got the job instead of some retired Sergeant Major, since that is the type that traditionally got this position. But since I knew all the ins and outs and particulars of the job from doing all the dirty grunt work on the unit side of things, there was nobody who knew the position better than me. By wasting my mid and early twenties on horrible work, I have a career of doing pretty much what I want ahead of me. Trading ten years of sucking for thirty years of being sucked is a pretty good deal.

  27. Mookie325 says:

    Jeff, I actually screwed the pooch on the entire 20’s decade but managed to recoup all between 35-45. Got accepted to Trenton State College (at the time one of the best teaching colleges in the area) right out of school and preceded to bail on it, mostly out of a combination of fear and laziness (with a bit of beer mixed in). Then proceeded to get married at 20 years old – always a great idea that pans out, right? Ended up working for a manufacturing company doing various forms of manual labor, which was rewarding but didn’t pay particularly well. Finally started to right the ship, met my current wife of 16+ years, got married,, got a promotion to a technical job at work which is both rewarding and pays a livable wage and own a comfortable home that doesn’t break the bank every month. Looking good to retire at 60, so the 35-45 years were definitely the ones that turned my life around.

  28. graduated HS by the skin of my nuts. went to a community college for a semester, but decided moving to Georgia to be with a girl and working at Wal Mart was a wiser choice.

    So, I quit, worked miserable jobs for years and worked my way up in the industry I am in now. Someone took a chance on me, and I’m a Director at my job. I was lucky.

    It is much more mandatory these days to get atleast a four year degree. Heck, a 4 year BA or BS is today’s equivalent of a HS diploma.

  29. I was sober a couple times during that decade.

  30. I always look back at that period of my life as one in which decisions carried a much bigger impact on where I am (or am not) today. While my wife was getting her epidural prior to the birth of our second son (one day I’m going to grow up to be Jeff!) her anesthesiologist was talking about his son who was just finishing his first year in college and needed some “motivation.” He was going to buy him the book “The Defining Decade,” and see if the advice of strangers in a book made more of an impact than advice from his idiot father. Seemed worth a shot.

  31. Jeff, I have had one hell of a similar ride, and am in a pretty good place right now at age 39. I quit college after three semesters. I had lost my “President’s Scholarship” after semester two and was out after semester three. I was pretty much forced to finish my associate’s degree at the local community college in order to move back home. I was determined to be a race car driver – since birth. Never got any support whatsoever on that front from mt parents and I was pissed about it. I went from working at Auto Zone to actually building real race cars by the time I was 20. I didn’t know anything, but the guy gave me a chance based solely upon my enthusiasm. I ended up being pretty good at it. I bought a house. I was established to some extent, but remained single and still had an emptiness. I thought building race cars would lead to a career driving. It did not. So at age 26 I quit my job, sold my house, and went back to the same college I had quit six years earlier. I was going to be a journalist! And I was. I actually became managing editor of the school newspaper and upon graduation got a job in southern Missouri as a reporter. I was from St. Louis and I am here to tell you it was a different world. People walked around wearing shirts that said, “Cotton is King.” I was out of my element and making about half the money I had been making when I quit building race cars. Brilliant! I then got an equally shitty job as a reporter back in St. Louis, but it was still a vast improvement and I was able to escape southern Missouri. I then ended up being offered the job as executive director of a small non-profit at age 31 and I thought I was on my way. At the same time I met the perfect woman for me and got married. I had reached the pinnacle. But then the economy took a shit and so did my job. I voluntarily went to part time and started looking for something to do that didn’t make me hate waking up every morning. After over seven years at the non-profit, I landed a job as marketing director for a classic car dealership. Pure bliss at first, but then the realities of the car business set in and I am again in the process of making another giant leap – starting my own business. So did I fuck up the most important decade? I most certainly did and then some. Ever cash a paycheck and take it straight to a strip club in East St. Louis? I did. More than once. But here I am. Still grasping at something I can’t quite ascertain, but still in a great place. I have two great kids and the same great wife who has put up with mountains of shit high enough to require a Sherpa. So I say go ahead and fuck up the “most important decade” if you wish, but in the end it’s just life and I reserve the right to change mine at any time. I think everyone should do the same.

    • East St. Louis is no joke… I was once accidentally guided there by Siri and decided that stop signs and stop lights meant nothing . Having a cop pull me over for blasting through them would have been welcome. I own the mortgage on the Old Post Dispatch building, though… So small world.

      • t-storm says:

        I once was running out of gas through there. Coasting and hypermiling to the nearest gas station that was actually open.

  32. Rachael Smith says:

    Looong story short, I should not have been in such a rush to grow up. I was so desperate for independence that I couldnt wait to choose my own brand of laundry detergent! So, I moved out and got my own apt. as soon as I turned 18 and worked and went to college full time. Even graduated from high school a year early. Started buying property, married at 22, and the whole time worked and studied full time. Then, I burned out. Cant say that I regret those years, I just wasnt ready for all of it. Ended up divorced, dropped out of school right before grad, etc., etc. Not that it was an option, but staying at home and working an easy part time job and being single would have been a million times better for my education. And i tried to make this short! Lol

  33. I made a few classic mistakes, such as deciding not to go to the Univ. of Cincinnati Architecture school. I was afraid too, Jeff, and now I know how dumb that was. I lived at home and went to Morris Harvey (stupid, stupid, stupid.) I chose a few stupid boyfriends, too, but eventually I left home and found a good guy and we are 2 weeks away from our 50th anniversary. It is good that you are sending your boy away to school.

    • The stupid part was living at home, not in going to Morris Harvey – although I do wish now I had gone to the U of Cincinnati.

      • t-storm says:

        My best friend tried to get into architecture there. He did interior design instead and has had the same job for 13 years.
        4 of the 5 people in my immediate family went to UC.

  34. Well, I’m probably one of the few and far between that doesn’t even have an hours worth of college credit. I always made good grades in school, but my parents never pushed college because they couldn’t afford it and I wouldn’t have listened to them anyway. Started working at 14 (same year I met my sweetheart and now husband of 29 years!) and knew that as soon as I graduated, it would be full time work and moving to be closer to him. I can’t say I regret a minute of it. I’d always had a knack for computers and have been a quick learner in every position I’ve had; able to move up fairly easily. My biggest break was getting a job within the petroleum industry. The pay is great. I have now held the same job for 19 years (drafting geological maps) and I love every minute of it. I never share my salary with anyone, but at one time I considered going to college. Changed my mind when I realized that there was not one degree that I could get that would pay me more (not one that I was interested in anyway; especially when you factored in the cost.) My husband did the same and went straight to work full-time. He has now been at his company for 22 years. We make a great living, have been able to save a boat load, and will be retiring in 4 1/2 years at the age of 54 1/2 if we can manage to get somewhat affordable health insurance. But we both always had our heads screwed on straight and have worked hard. My parents never went to college either but both were very responsible and hard workers. My parents actually influenced me without ever saying a word about my future.

  35. I got married the day after high school graduation to my high school sweetheart that was already in the navy. By 22, I was a mom of 2 with a husband that was only home long enough to make babies. At 25, the divorce happened. Now at 35, I have a daughter that will graduate high school next year. She is taking classes in community college this summer because they do that now.
    But Ive worked my tail off as a single mom and will graduate from college one semester before my oldest child stsrts her second semester.

  36. MommyWoman says:

    Geez, I was a true brainiac and in my last year of H.S. I taught more classes than I took. Being 15 at the time I had no clue how incredibly overachieving I was. As soon as legally possible (3 weeks after I turned 17) I joined the Army to get the hell away from my Maternal Unit (MU). I got to do some world traveling and see places I never would have on my own, including in the US. Now that I was 18.5, I fell for a Coastie, promptly got pregnant, married and became a mother at 19. Later on, I wanted to retain some of my sanity, so I got divorced, moved down the coast and worked in the film industry for years. Years later, remarried, had two more kidlets and survived cancer, by the age of 28.
    I’m now 50, found the TRUE Man of My Dreams and settled down again. Keeping this one!

    • Damn mommywoman! I had a friend who was married and divorced twice and had survived cancer by 23. Blurgh.

  37. I dropped out of HS when I was 17. I worked odd jobs and went to school for massage therapy (huge waste of time). But I managed to marry the most wonderful man, buy a house and a few cars, have two kids, and end up being a stay at home mom going back to school by the age of 30. It’s not as if we have a lot of money, but we’ve always managed to come out on top. I’ve made mistakes, some of them pretty big ones that I am still paying for in consequence. But we are all right.