By Adam Jusko,,

When I was in my 20s, working my first “real” job, I thought I was rich (though I earned relatively little). I hadn’t moved out on my own yet and could buy more stuff than I’d ever been able to afford. Plus, I could still go out at night and party until all hours — I had the bounce-back capability of the young and my “real” job was pretty low in terms of responsibility.

I wish I had worked harder. And more.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my 20s and have great, fun memories. And I know no one on their deathbed says they wish they had spent more time at the office.

Still, I feel like I squandered an opportunity.

In your 20s, you’ve got a number of things that disappear or fade as you get older:

  • Time
  • Energy
  • Lack of responsibility

You have the opportunity to do things that the man/woman who is married with three kids can’t or won’t do, whether that is a risky entrepreneurial venture or working 60 hours a week to get ahead in your career. When you are in your 20s, you don’t have the résumé of your older colleagues (or competitors), but you’ve got the time and energy they don’t. That is your competitive advantage, an advantage I didn’t see when I was in my 20s. I was metaphorically fat and lazy when I should have been hungry, when I should have been channeling my energies instead of being happy to be making more than 10 bucks an hour.

I can think of specific examples of work situations where I had to stay extra late and how put-upon I felt. I was tired! In reality, I didn’t know what tired was yet. I should have seen those situations as opportunities to show my worth, to learn new things I could use later, to be seen as someone who gets the job done without complaint.

Sometimes I think people 20 years younger than me seem whiny and clueless. And then I think… oh, wait… just like I was at their age.

You may think working your butt off in your 20s sounds like terrible advice, that the burdens of life like marriage/kids/aging parents will descend upon you soon enough. Enjoy your 20s while you can, right?

That makes sense. But I see it differently. I believe working your butt off when you are younger, stronger, and unburdened will put you at a place later in life where you have more money and more choices. It may be easier to take your foot off the gas a bit or change careers, because the pressure of having to make X dollars per year will be less. Or, it might mean that you’ll get career opportunities you never would have known otherwise, because you’ll have laid the groundwork when you had the time and energy to do so.

Working 60 hours a week isn’t fun. And it’s not sustainable. But it’s a lot easier in your 20s than it is in your 40s or 50s, that is for sure. Some people are happy to have an OK career and make OK money, and that is fine. But if you’re in your 20s and have big goals, use that time/energy/lack of responsibility to make things happen now. Your older self will thank you.