Personal Development

What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me When I Was 20

Derek Thiessen
Written by Derek Thiessen

Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten into the habit of reflecting on the younger versions of myself. I look at what I’ve learned over the course of my life and sometimes chuckle at how naïve I was at 22, 23, and 24 years old.

I try not to let my mistakes discourage me, but instead look back from a more positive perspective. I am encouraged when I see how far I’ve come because it reminds me that I am constantly improving myself and there is still more improvement to come.

Looking back, however, I find it frustrating to reflect on how immature I was in my early years of university. I can’t help but think that with just a slight mental shift, I could have avoided a lot of pain, frustration, and regret.

One the most defining moments of my athletic career came when I was just 20 years old. It was the summer of 2011 and I had just been selected for the Canadian Junior National Volleyball Team.

At the time, I basically thought this meant that I had “made it”. My career as a successful volleyball player was solidified and all I had to do was hit cruise control and ride the highway to success.

It only took me about a few days before I realized things weren’t going to be so easy. I was now training with the best of the best in my age group. Just showing up wasn’t going to cut it.

The finer details of that summer are a blur but the main thing I remember was being yelled at and developing a strong distaste for my coach.

The guy screamed and yelled about everything. He had high expectations and was damned if we weren’t going to meet them. I wasn’t having any of it. I saw his criticism as idiotic, unnecessary, and I let myself focus on emotions, not reason.

This, however, was not the hardest part of the summer. That didn’t come till we neared the end.

The traveling roster for the world championships was 12, but we were training with 14.

Two poor suckers were about to get a nice swift shot to the gut.

Evidently, yours truly was one of them.

My world felt like it had been flipped upside down. Everything I had done up to that point had been working towards this. To be on the national team meant I was one of the elite.

But, to me, getting left behind felt like it had negated everything I had done.

I remember the conversations I had with teammates shortly after the announcement. Everyone was really supportive and said that they couldn’t believe the coach’s decision. They said it didn’t make any sense and I totally agreed.

But looking back now, part of me wishes they had told me something else.

The more reflective, mature, and wise version of myself wishes that I had heard some more honest feedback. Rather simply, I wish someone had told just me…

You got cut because you’re not good enough.

The Problem With Comforting

When someone fails to achieve a goal, people are drawn to comfort that person. And because they want them to feel better, they say things like…

  • “It’s not your fault because…”
  • “No one could have seen this coming”
  • “he made the mistake, not you”
  • “your boss is an idiot anyways”

and my personal favourite

  • “you would have won if the ref didn’t…”

Now we’ve all been in situations where something didn’t quite go our way. And you’ve probably uttered to yourself some variation of these previous statements.

In the moment, it was easy to argue that these statements had merit.

But ask yourself this: were they really the sole reason for your failure?

Probably not.

And looking back now, do you feel differently than you did back then?

Most likely

Hindsight is 20/20, and it becomes easier to see the big picture because we can view ourselves from an objective standpoint. We see certain events, which at the time, seemed entirely out of our control, and we realize they could have been entirely avoided if we only acted sooner.

By telling yourself that the events in life are entirely up to chance, randomness, and other people’s opinions, you are essentially giving up all control.

You are signing yourself up for a life that doesn’t give you freedom nor any reason for hard work.

Is that really the world you want to live in?

Or…

Would you rather admit to your mistakes and take ownership for them?

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

The Freedom of Ownership

When you choose to have the mentality that you’re not achieving your goals simply because you aren’t doing enough, you will actually find liberation. The path to achieving want you want becomes much simpler. Instead of crossing your fingers hoping things will work out, you can get your hands dirty, do some real work, and steer the ship where you want it to go.

Will there be waves, windy seas, and storms? YES

But at the very least, you will improve your odds of getting where you want to be.

Every time you fall short, don’t win the game, miss out on a promotion, or get rejected; you have two choices:

  • See this as a sign that the world is against you and there is nothing you can do about it
  • Or, recognize that YOU were not good enough or adequately prepared

The first choice will leave you in a state of constant hopelessness and paranoia. You will be forever convinced that no matter what, nothing will ever work out for you because there is some elaborate conspiracy against you succeeding. When in reality you are just not doing a good enough job.

The second option will lead you to a life that you control. One in which you are the hero of your own movie. Obstacles are simply challenges you have not done enough to overcome. You understand that the truth is hard, the truth is painful – but if you can accept the truth, you can do something about it.

It is completely in your control.

Occam’s Razor puts it best: Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, the simplest answer is usually the right answer.

If you’re hearing these things as a slap in the face, don’t believe them, and still think the world is against you; I can honestly tell you, that unless you change your mind, you will be forever screwed because you are trapped by your own mentality.

But if you can genuinely see the freedom behind the second mindset, you are faaaaaaaarr more likely to achieve what you want.

What I needed to hear

I wish I could have read these words 7 years ago. I wish I could tell 20-year-old Derek:

“Hey idiot! You didn’t get cut because the coach doesn’t like you or because of stupid French Canadian politics. You got cut because you didn’t do enough to show him that you could score points, get blocks, or play any better than the next guy.”

Better yet, I wish my 20-year-old self could have heard the insanely true words of Steve Martin.

Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Unfortunately, scrawny little Derek will never hear those words.

But you can. We all can.

Whether you’re an athlete, performer, entrepreneur, or anyone trying to achieve something beyond their current skill set. Take comfort in knowing that the ONLY thing stopping you from getting there, is yourself, not your circumstances.

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About the author

Derek Thiessen

Derek Thiessen

Derek is a former athlete who had high hopes of reaching the pinnacle of success in his sport, but evidently never quite made it. In an attempt to help others avoid his own fate, he now helps athletes through coaching and writing on his blog www.dailyathlete.life. Facebook Instagram