If you told me in my twenties that I'd be celebrating my thirtieth birthday in the midst of a pandemic, in a nation with scabs ripped and bleeding; that I'd be driving a mini-van– I would have thought you were crazy.
But here we are. June 13th.
It felt appropriate to take some time for introspection, to acknowledge this milestone. To think about the past decade and dream about what's to come.
Ten years ago I was celebrating my birthday in a pub on a hill in England, looking out over Somerset with cider in hand. Today I'll celebrate at home, in rural Washington State, with my wife and daughter.
I'm covering a lot of ground here. I want to talk about fatherhood, money, career, marriage, Christian faith, travel, time, and cooking.
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What happened in my 20s?
- I moved from England to Bellingham.
- My grandfather died.
- I was a youth pastor in a mega-church.
- I met and married Tori.
- I got laid off from the mega-church.
- I worked at Costco.
- I worked IT in a school district.
- I was a TA in a classroom in Washington State's maximum security youth prison.
- I landed an entry-level marketing job at a software company.
- I got lucky AND people took a chance on me AND I worked hard– to land my first PM role with no technical or business credentials.
- It took longer than we thought to get pregnant. Then we miscarried and lost our first baby.
- Our daughter Quincy was born 2 months early, and we spent 56 days in the hospital with her. She's now healthy and ridiculously cute.
- We visited Disneyland over 15+ times.
- I took my grandparents + wife + infant on a 1 month trip to the UK and Italy. It was hard and amazing and we made memories that I will remember forever.
- Speaking of travel– I've done what I now know to be an abnormal amount of international travel in my 20s. I did a rough count, and I think I did ~22 international trips in the last 10 years:
A random list of things I learned in my 20s
- When I was 20 I thought I was a grown man. I hindsight I see a boy, full of hubris, who thought he was a man. Your brain is still developing at 20. It's wild how much you change in 10 years.
- I used to think you needed credentials to get ahead in life. I carred a chip on my shoulder for never going to college and getting a degree. Early on, professional life is harder without a degree, and you have to develop the soft skills to convince people to take a chance on you. But as time goes on, your results become your resume.
- Curiosity is my cheat code for building relationships. If you are genuinely interested in other people, they tend to reflect that back to you. I think people can train themselves to be more curious. It's a flywheel– the more interest you show, the more you learn, and the more you are able to see the underlying principles behind everything.
- Early on, your faith is something that is heavily formed and in some ways carried by other people. In my twenties, I had to ratify my Christian worldview and make it my own. I had wrestled with it and continue to wrestle with it. Now, more than ever before, it helps me make sense of the pain I see in the world.
- I learned to take care of my body. I never stepped foot into a gym until 24. I only did it because we'd moved to a small boring town with nothing to do. I kept coming back because it was fun and made me look good. Now I go to the gym so I can be strong and healthy for my wife and toddler.
- Fatherhood is better. I went into fatherhood with low-level fear that having a kid would restrict my personal freedom and the freedom we've enjoyed as DINKs. I learned that yes, your life changes, but fatherhood brings something better to replace it. As your relationship with your kid grows, your perspective changes and you include them in your unified vision for your life and how you spend your time and resources. They are a participant in the life you create, not a third party holding you back. Having a child has expanded how I think about time– you start to think a generation or two down the line.
- Marriage refines you. I think western culture places too much emphasis on being "true to yourself", and that we tend to meet any perceived slight to our sovereignty with aggression. Nobody is perfect and we enter marriage with baggage. I've learned that in a healthy marriage, you speak truth to each other, even when it's uncomfortable. Speaking truth is an act of love.
- Money is a tool. When entered my twenties, I didn't know how to handle money. Growing up, we didn't have much of it– and when we did it was never managed well. I really started to think more strategically about money when I thought I was being underpaid at work. I fought for a raise and decided I needed to learn how to steward my money well. I read books, blogs, and studied how people I respect handle their money. I learned that wealthy people tend to view their money as just one resource at their disposal– one of the tools in their toolbox that can be used to obtain stuff, time, or optionality/freedom. Money is a resouce you steward.
- Trading money for time is almost always a good deal. This relates to #8. I've learned you can always make more money but you can never get back your time. I recognize that spending money to save time is in itself a luxury– but I think it's a luxury available to more people than perhaps we realize if you think creatively enough.
- When it comes to money, automate your good decisions. I only started to build a savings after I automated it. The money I intend to save doesn't even hit my checking out. Same with charitable giving. We only started giving regularly when we automated it. Automating this stuff removes friction and doesn't rely on your ability to remember or your self discipline.
- The power of the ask. This is simple, but not easy. I've learned that so many things that seem difficult to experience or obtain– either because of price or cultural expectations– can be available to you if you ask. Many rules, regulations, requirements, and guidelines can be modified or circumnavigated if you ask. The power of the ask can get you flight upgrades, coupon codes, unique experiences, better seats, a bigger raise, a discount on your rent, or a coffee meeting with someone you admire or respect. The worst thing that can happen is they say no. Ask more.
- You don't have to be rich to travel. My salary averaged out to about ~$30k a year in my early twenties. I was doing multiple international trips a year while other people my age were buying brand new cars or putting down serious cash to buy a house. It's not that houses or cars are bad– but recognize that you're making a tradeoff there. I've had sooooo many convos with people who make way more money than me who say things like "I wish I could travel like you do" or "I can't wait to save up enough money to go on a trip", or some version of "it must be nice". It's a choice.
- Food is culture. Anthony Bourdain taught me that food is like a cultural rosetta stone. If you want to understand a people and place, you have to start with food. In my twenties I learned to cook– and I learned to love cooking. Cooking is my most meaningful hobby, it's endlessly rewarding as I learn new techniques and partake in deliberate practice as I cook nearly every meal for our family. Being a good cook augments your capacity to practice intentional hospitality. Sharing my table brings me a deep sense of satisfaction and joy.
Goals for my 30s
Now it seems right to look ahead. I want to make the next decade the best, most meaningful of my life so far. I think if I'm going to peak, it'll probably be in my 30s. :)
Here's a list of goals I've been kicking around. Most of them need more specificity and planning, but it should give you an idea of what I'm thinking about.
- Continue to grow our family.
- Take at least 1 year off from a w-2 job.
- Own a profitable software business that employs mulitiple people.
- Own a local small business.
- Send a monthly newsletter to at least 1,000 friends/colleagues
- Land a Director-level role by 35.
- Live in a place with good weather year-round. Texas? Utah? Colorado? Montana? Kanye moved to Montana so probably good enough for me.
- At least 1 extended trip to Eastern Europe.
- Vist friends in UK 5x.
- Purchase a vacation-type property in Japan or Italy.
- Be in the best shape of my life, staying healthy for my family and friends.
- Vacation with friends at least 1x per year.
Thank You 🙏🏼
I'm impressed you made it this far. I know this essay is a bit rambly, and ramble-ey essays aren't often good. I wanted to put some thoughts out there and process this milestone with you– maybe something I've shared today has resonated with you.
I'm seeking wisdom. I want to learn and grow and thrive– and I want my family to thrive. So if you've got any advice more me– send me a note at danieldibartolo at gmail dot com.
Love ya, fam.
My 20s in Pictures
I did a quick look through my digital photos and wanted to share a few of my faves.