31 harsh truths I wish I knew at 21

May 2nd, 2023


31 harsh truths I wish I knew at 21

30 was a best year on record.

This morning I went for a walk with Sia and thought damn, it’s crazy what you can do in a year!

Here’s a few highlights:
  1. Finding out we were pregnant with Sia (and of course, her arrival 3 weeks ago!)
  2. I competed in my 1st Muay Thai fight (after 4 months of starting!) 
  3. We launched our brand new RNT app (exclusive for our members)
  4. Went a whole year vegan (and being the fittest I’ve ever been)
  5. Crossed a few cool milestones: 5 years in business, 3100+ transformations, 330+ podcast episodes
  6. Spent 3+ months travelling, including 2x month long stints with Chandni for the 1st time (we were never able to do this when she worked corporate!)
Birthdays are always an opportunity for reflection.

So as I turn 31 today, I wanted to share 31 harsh truths I wish I knew at 21.

Ironically, my parents could’ve told me all of these back then.

But hey, who listens at that age!

Without further ado, let’s dive in:

1. Make your parents your best friends, and don’t wait ~30 years to tell them you love them (real talk).

I’ve been blessed to have a strong relationship with my parents from a young age. I grew up in a household full of love, but one where love was expressed through actions and interactions, not words.

I remember before getting married in 2021 I had something burning inside me I needed to do before tying the knot:

Telling my parents I loved them out loud.

The night before the wedding I wrote a letter and read it out loud to my parents in a moment I’ll never forget.

I’ve always wanted to make my parents proud with my accomplishments, but what I never realised until my late 20s was all they ever wanted was to see me happy.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt the importance of making your parents your best friends. Nothing trumps the wholesome love of parents. 

In fact, it’s not until Sia was born a few weeks ago did I realise the true meaning of a mother’s love. Not only in Chandni, but in how my mum has been since she’s come into our lives. 

Ironically, the 30 remaining harsh truths I’m about to share have all been pointed out to me at some point or another in the past decade by both my parents.

2. Real friends mourn and celebrate with you without ever comparing or keeping score. Most are temporary acquaintances for a season in life.

My mum said to me recently, “there’s a reason why at my age, I have very few, if any, real close friends.”

The problem with personal growth is you will by default, drift away from friends. Every step change you make, your perspective shifts to the point previous common ground disappears. 

The seasonality of friendships is something you can only grasp after you’ve been through a few seasons in life.

After a season finishes, what you’re left with is nostalgia of the good times, and a bittersweet reminder of a few more who left the tribe.

A day before writing this my dad reminded me on a walk together, “some of these friends will come back if the season aligns, but most won’t, and that’s okay.”

I used to smirk when I heard of people in their 30s saying they can only count their real friends on one hand.

Now I totally get it.

3. Every man (and woman) needs time with their men (and women), every single week. We all need friends who call out our BS.

I have two bullsh*t detectors in my life: my wife and my mum.

Both have a rare intuition about people, situations and things that never fails to be right.

I will always count on them to point out my own bullsh*t.

But over the years I’ve discovered the power of sacred guy time on a regular basis.

Here’s the catch:

They need to be guys who will question your beliefs, force you to rethink things, and help you explore the big answers in life.

As I’ve gotten older, I see less value in more friends, and more value in having guys in my life who empower you to level up and live life on the edge.

They will be the dime in the dozen who won’t be keeping score.

4. What you do, who you’re with and where you live are the 3 biggest decisions you’ll make.

No decisions will have more of an impact on your happiness and fulfillment than these three.

I chose early on to master an industry I loved: health and fitness.

And I spent my 20s figuring out my place inside of it, and how I can give my best to it.

It’s been an iterative process.

I started as a gym floor personal trainer, moved to an online coach, and now find my joy in the entrepreneurial aspect of leading teams and building a business to help our target market.

I still think there’s another thing coming, but I probably have more time in this thing before it evolves again.

Along the way, I had my slew of relationships which didn’t work out for whatever reason.

Some because we outgrew each other. Some because of a toxic nature I held onto for too long. 

Now happily married, I can safely say who you’re with has the greatest potential to make or break you.

I would never have the growth I’ve experienced without Chandni in my life.

Lastly, I count myself lucky to have grown up in London.

I didn’t think too much of this decision until Chandni and I decided to move in together. We spent most of our time in Ealing when dating, where she lived, and I fell in love with the area.

I always want to be walking distance from great gyms, parks, cafes and restaurants, whilst being 30 minutes drive from my parents.

Where I live now ticks every box.

5. Know exactly what you want in your partner. Then work to be worthy of that calibre of partner, put yourself out there, and never compromise your standards. 

After a few long-term relationships that didn’t work, I realised I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted.

My list was:
  • Values their health (but not a fitness freak)
  • Family oriented
  • Growth driven (personally and professionally)
  • Independent
The last point is interesting. I didn’t want someone who was needy, especially because I’d experienced this before.

What I was after was a woman who had her own growth plans, but was aware that if we came together on our missions, we’d be unstoppable.

6. If you have the right woman, she will always test to see what you’re made of. She does this because she loves you, and wants to see you grow. 

I’ve had periods in the past few years where I was thinking, “why is Chandni always testing me?”

Then I stumbled across a fantastic book, Way Of The Superior Man, where David Deida discusses how masculine and feminine energies come together.

And how the feminine energy will always test the masculine to see what he’s made of, and if he can rise to the challenge.

The feminine energy is both your woman and the universe (nature), and you can either get triggered and fail, or you can rise to the challenge and pass with flying colours.

The right woman will always test you, because they want to know you’re living at your edge, in accordance with your values, and on the path to your potential.

Anything less will depolarise the relationship, and cause her to take on the masculine role to keep it balanced.

This was a game changing truth. When I discovered this in motion, I realised it to be a sign I needed to level up.

7. Your definition of success can be whatever you want it to be. The discovery starts with knowing (and accepting) your core values.

This is a hard one to accept when you’re young. I still wrestle with this now if I get caught up in what I think I should be doing.

I’ve known from my early 20s what I value and enjoy, but what I’ve often done is think, “this isn’t enough” or “it shouldn’t be like this”.

So I end up burying my head in the sand, forgetting about my values, then grinding myself into living other people’s versions of success.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade thinking, “am I living true to what I really want or not?”

Without fail, it always boils down to breaking down my favourite days, when I live my life by design, in line with my values:
  • Health
  • Growth
  • Service
  • Connection
  • Autonomy
It’s no surprise that these favourite days always include hard workouts, long walks, writing, business building, deep conversations and space to think.

Ultimately, a freedom to explore without clutter is important to me.

It’s why I stopped personal training on the gym floor, because my day was driven by a client appointment.

When I have my favourite days, ironically being most days, I feel successful. 

8. The faster you can decide what your enough is, the faster you can enjoy the bliss and beauty of the present moment. 

The problem with not deciding what your enough is, is you’ll always be digging into a bottomless pit.

A friend of mine once said to me:

“Decide how much money you need to pay the bills, travel, give back, and save for the future. 

Once you’ve made that each year, the rest is all a game.”

He runs a multi-million dollar business but his number was shockingly low. I asked what he does with all the surplus, to which he replied:

“I donate it all to charity.”

This was a pivotal moment in my growth because it helped me take money off the table, and by default, enjoy the journey more.

9. Success is a daily feeling you can choose to experience, not a tangible destination that keeps on moving. 

When you know your values and you know your enough, you can make the conscious decision to experience success and happiness.

I wish I knew at 21 that success is a feeling, not a tangible destination.

If you’re ambitious, you’ll never be satisfied with a metric, because you know there’s always more.

So the trick is to choose the feeling of success, then play the game of life filled with gratitude for the opportunity.

10. Gratitude is hard to acknowledge but easy to find. Ruminating on the past is the death of happiness.

Writing my gratitude down in a journal or meditating on it hasn’t worked for me.

I’ve always found the act of being grateful difficult to genuinely feel. The only times I ever feel it is after one of my favourite days.

Or if I pinch myself in the moment of flow whilst it’s happening.

But it’s a work in progress to experience more and more times of, “damn, this life is actually really good.”

What trapped me in my mid to late 20s was rumination.

If there’s one bad habit I’ve worked hard to kill it’s this. Getting caught up in minutes, hours and days of:
  • “I wish I did this…”
  • “What if this happened that way…”
  • “If I said/did this, this scenario would have happened”
There’s a difference between learning from experiences, and drowning in the pain, anger or regret of your perceptions.

Rumination will destroy any feeling of gratitude or happiness. Especially when most of what happened in your past has been fabricated, exaggerated and edited to suit your story.

The answer lies in the next hard truth…

11. Learn to say yes and accept everything. Always think, “it is what it is”.

When I asked Chandni for advice on my struggles with rumination, her answer was simple:

“Just say yes and accept everything. There’s no good or bad, it just is.”

Every moment has two sides of a coin; for many years I chose to look at the wrong side. And forgetting that ultimately, our perception of each side is only a perception.

Walking around and thinking “yes” is an easy way to beat the trap of ruminating the past, and into the present.

12. No one actually cares what you’re doing. They’re too obsessed with their own lives to care about you. 

I remember during the RNT rebrand I was worried one of the 300 articles wasn’t edited properly.

A friend of mine said, “I hate to break it to you but people aren’t waiting for the RNT rebrand to go live so they can check the grammar on page four of article 298”.

When you’re young and hungry, you think everyone is watching your every move.

The reality is, everyone is worried about their own problems and living in their own heads.

It reminds me of one of my favourite marketing mantras:

“What’s in it for me [the audience]?”

13. Most productivity tips (e.g. fancy morning routines) are cleverly disguised forms of procrastination. 

I’ve tried every morning routine possible.

Intermittent fasting, cold showers, red meat, meditation, journaling, breathwork, gratitude, mantras, workouts, you name it…

What I’ve learnt (only last year) is most of it is productive procrastination.

Most of the personal development world is designed to make you do everything but the actual work.

I once went through a period of doing the following every morning:
  • Journal
  • Meditation
  • Long walk
  • Coffee
  • Workout
  • Read
  • Gratitude text
This all ran from 6am to 10.30am with a goal of putting me in the right frame of mind to work.

Whilst it sounds great on paper; the reality is my best periods of productivity come from when I wake up, make a coffee, and get to work. 

All the rest can wait till later on.

14. Paradise is no alarms, long walks in the park, writing, thinking time, clear calendars, hard exercise and deep conversation with loved ones. 

I have little to add to this except to note that nothing on this list costs money.

My goal is to craft my days like this.

Because what if this was the paradise we’ve all been promised?!

15. Double down on the activities you do that make you lose track of time. Delegate or delete everything else.

Growing up we’re taught to work on our weaknesses.

Only in my late 20s did I realise the trick is the opposite: to know what you’re uniquely gifted at and get rid (and/or delegate) of the rest.

The activities which make me feel most connected to myself are writing and hard training.

I know I’m growing most when I’m writing (either personally or professionally) and pushing to the extreme physically.

In business, my strengths revolve around big picture and strategic thinking. This is where I can give most value to my team and the company.

The areas I enjoy less are finance, operations, processes and HR, so I’ve hired people who absolutely love it to manage these areas.

16. You can only earn the right to work smart after you work hard. The game then changes to maximising your output from the least number of inputs. 

I often look back to my early to mid twenties and wonder how I pulled off the hours I did.

The reality is you have to grind out a lot of your early years in whichever career you’re in. It's impossible to learn and earn the next stage, where leverage allows you to switch gears.

I’ve found the switch from working hard to smart to be difficult.

It’s easy to work hard and just go hell for leather. To maximise the input:output equation in favour of the latter is the challenge.

It’s why the hamster wheel is easy, but climbing the ladders of leverage is only for the few.

I’d say I’m at the very early stages of this next journey. Learning to work like a lion, be more strategic, and switch my thinking from “how can I do this” to “who can do this”.

17. There’s never going to be a perfect time to have children. Your team at work is not your family. Don’t build your career and forget to build a life.

I never doubted I wanted children. The reason I stopped personal training on the gym floor was because I wanted to be an active father to my children one day.

Anyone who knows a personal trainer’s lifestyle knows it’s 5am to 10pm, often 6 days a week.

The unsociable hours makes being present with your family a difficult reality when you spend most your days off half asleep recovering.

As I started building my business online, I questioned whether having a family was ever possible, if there’d be the right time, and if I still wanted it.

The reality was, I was gripped by the fear of losing the flexibility I’d created for myself. I loved being able to do what I wanted when I wanted.

I felt scared to give it up for the very reason I wanted it in the first place.

My fears were all in my head, which is when I learnt there’s never a perfect time. Work is always going to be there, but the opportunity to create a family can easily be lost.

18. Real wealth is going for a haircut on a Monday afternoon. Optimise for time flexibility and autonomy as fast as possible.

Whenever I do something in the middle of the day that isn’t working now, I experience a great sense of gratitude.

I spent half of the past decade without time flexibility, and half of it with. But only in the past 1-2 years as I’ve built a team with my business have I actually been able to experience true autonomy.

In the early days of business, every waking moment was required to keep it afloat.

Now I can go for haircuts on Monday afternoons, train Muay Thai in Phuket for a few weeks, and take my family for a coffee date in the morning knowing the business will still run.

This is because the system is set up in a way I can work when I want, which allows me to do my best work at all times.

19. Your bank account is one of many scorecards in life, and it may or may not be a sign of your progress. Make sure you pick which scorecards matter.

The beauty of life is there are no rules.

We all have the opportunity to make it up as we go along, and create whichever scorecards matter.

In my early 20s, I used to think it was all about money.

Now I realise time freedom and my relationships are my personal big ones.

The harsh truth is in the end, we’re all going to die.

So until then, create whatever meaning you want from this all and assign the metrics you value.

20. Money is best used to buy back time, create leverage and simplify your life. Having money won’t make you happy but it will stop you thinking about a lack of it.

There’s a new status game happening now where people shun wealth creation.

I love making money and creating wealth. But I love the game behind it, and what it allows me to do.

Buying back time, for example, can be as simple as paying extra to have food delivered, versus walking to the shops.

Creating leverage can be paying for media eyeballs, hiring more team members, and building proprietary technology within RNT.

Simplifying life can be hiring an assistant, clearing debt, enjoying coffee shops, and being able to focus on the things you enjoy.

When money is off the table, you can stop thinking about money. When you stop thinking about money, you can enjoy life a lot more.

What won’t work for happiness is using money to buy watches, cars and fancy hotels. That only keeps you on the hedonic treadmill.

21. Fulfilling your potential is not just about work. It’s selflessly giving as much as you can to the few areas which matter most.

I have this moment I play in my head often.

I’m at the end of life at the gates of heaven. The guard standing outside has two scrolls which he pulls out.

On the first is written everything planned for me to accomplish and experience in life. The second is what I actually did.

For many years, I considered this to be related to work. Slowly over the course of the last few years, I’ve realised it to be the ability to give, wholeheartedly, to my few priorities: my health, my family, and my work. 

I believe we’re all destined for something amazing; the beauty of life is we’re here to play different games and figure out which one we can play the most naturally.

22. If it’s not criminal or critical, don’t waste time sweating it. Most stressful situations can be reframed with a question: “will this matter in 5 years?”

If I’m not careful, I can quickly become an overthinker. The way I’ve tried to battle this is by asking myself a few questions:
  • Will this matter in 5 years?
  • What would the older version of me say?
  • Is there anything I can do about it?
The reality is most things we do in life don’t matter. 

I could have saved myself a lot of time, energy and headspace by learning this earlier.

23. Comparison kills dreams. The time and energy you spend thinking about others will destroy your ability to realise your own magic.

A friend of mine once said to me, “take a real hard look the first time; look as much as you like and go into all the rabbit holes. But then never look again, the second time will kill you and eat you up.”

I’m still shocked by how true this is. When you come across something or someone new, the first time is filled with curiosity and intrigue. Every time you go back after that, you place yourself into an inferior complex.

Slowly but surely, you start losing belief in yourself and your unique gifts.

Another friend of mine, on this same topic, said something which changed the game for me, “if you want what someone else has and is good at, be willing to trade his or her entire life for it.”

I’ve yet to find a situation where this reframe hasn’t helped.

24. Over a long enough time, karma will always settle the score. But don’t live waiting or expecting it to happen, just keep doing the right thing.

I don’t have the evidence to say this is a truth, because you’re never going to really know. This truth is rooted in faith.

The universe works in mysterious but cyclical ways. Everything always balances out if given a long enough time horizon.

If I was speaking to my younger self, I’d tell him to keep doing the right thing no matter what happens.

25. Confidence is contextual. The only path to improving it is consistent repetition and competency. You can’t read or think your way to confidence. 

The reason a body transformation increases your confidence isn’t the six-pack or the weight loss. 

It’s from saying yes to yourself (and no to the BS) over and over again. It’s doing the hard things even when you don’t feel like it. 

Confidence develops because it might be the first time you ever stuck the course.

It doesn’t come from visualisation, or reading your goals out loud. It’s the fact you kept promises to yourself, and ticked the boxes you were meant to do every single day.

The beauty of confidence is this can be applied to every aspect of your life. 

When we first started the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, I hated it. I didn’t like recording audio or video; I much preferred being in my cave writing away (like I am now!).

But I saw the power in podcasting to tell stories and give value to our audience, so I stuck with the course.

Now 330+ episodes later, I feel confident recording a podcast with anyone and anywhere, and confident I can do a great job with it.

Knowing confidence is contextual empowers you to take the first action in becoming better at the thing you think you can’t do. 

26. Your gut never lies. But we like to bury issues with alcohol, drugs, food, etc. Any time our vices go up, something needs to change.

I can’t think of one situation where my gut instinct has been wrong.

But I can think of many situations where I’ve buried it under vices like excess partying, late nights, drinking and food.

I remember a vivid one in 2018. 

I was procrastinating on firing a key player in the team. He wasn’t pulling his weight or delivering any results, but I kept putting it off because I thought it would badly impact the business.

So instead of pulling the pin, I started going out more, buying more social time, and burying the problem under vices.

A few weeks into this, a close friend asked, “Akash, why are you always out and up late every night?”

The very next day, running on minimal sleep, I fell asleep whilst writing on my laptop. I was staying at my parents, and my mum walked in to say, “Akash, you know what you need to do.”

The faster you can act on what your gut is telling you, the quicker you can grow.

27. The ability to be alone is a superpower few will want to explore. A simple 30 min unplugged walk can work wonders for mental health.

I’ve found a direct correlation between my media consumption and mental health. I also know if I’m resistant to going for a walk unplugged, something isn’t quite right.

It’s like the old adage, if you’re too busy to meditate for 5 minutes, you need to meditate for an hour.

The pressure to maximise every minute of the day often creates confusion in what it actually means. 

I thought it meant if you’re not producing, you should be consuming, and vice versa. But a harsh truth I wish I knew earlier was the power of just being alone, in my thoughts, and being comfortable with them.

For years the idea of an unplugged walk seemed alien, or strange. Now I try to do it daily to tune into my gut instinct, get the creative juices flowing, and be with my thoughts. 

28. Prioritise recharge time. Burnout or the desire to quit comes from neglecting our internal energy at the expense of pursuing external goals. 

I used to wear burnout as a badge of honour. Even after I collapsed twice in 2019, I never changed my behaviours. 

I saw recharge time as a waste of time. Instead, when I felt tired, I’d double down and bask in the masochist mentality of “how much pain can I take?”

My trigger moment to make a real shift came the moment I found out I had a daughter coming. Only when writing this and thinking over the timeline of events can I see the direct link between finding out she was coming, and my mind making a shift.

29. There’s no perfect diet or workout programme. Only core principles to manipulate around your lifestyle and preferences.

I spent most of my 20s trying to figure out the secret sauce to body transformation. 

At 21 I was wasting £100s on fad supplements whilst stuck in a constant state of paralysis by analysis.
  • Should I eat chicken or turkey?
  • Is 6am or 7am the optimal time for breakfast?
  • Are 5 or 6 sets better?
And so on…

My search ultimately led to where I am now, but if only I knew then that most of what I was doing was a waste of time.

Similarly, I think it’s impossible to achieve mastery in a field without going through the years of searching, experimenting and realising the complicated stuff doesn’t actually matter.

30. The point isn’t to get in shape. The point is to figure out how to stay in shape without obsessing about it.

At 21 I decided to get bodybuilding shredded. I learnt for the first time what it took to go to the absolute extremes of body composition. 

Immediately after however, I gained 7kg in 7 days. 6 weeks later, I was 13kg up. Over the next year, I struggled with my relationship with food, and experienced all the negatives of yo-yo dieting.

At the end of 2015, I broke the cycle and started the (long) path of figuring out how to stay in shape year round without being obsessed.

Whilst I wish I knew the power of a proper reverse diet when I was 21, the RNT Five-Phase Methodology would never have been born otherwise.

31. Writing articles like this and worrying about personal growth is all a privilege. Be grateful for the opportunity.

Thinking about harsh truths is a privilege. Thinking about business growth, health and fitness and having amazing relationships is all a privilege.

If there’s one thing I’ve taken from this experience of documenting 31 harsh truths I wish I knew at 21, it’s the gratitude of knowing I can do this.

I realise as I enter my 30s the more things I can do just for the sake of it, the more I enjoy my life.

I didn’t need to write this, but it’s given me the perspective and gratitude I didn’t expect, but probably needed more than ever.

Are you ready to transform your body in 2024?

Take our scorecard to find out if RNT is a fit in under 10 minutes.

Take The Free Quiz

Read Chapter One For Free

Start reading our Amazon best-selling book today and apply our five-phase methodology to feel, look and perform at your best.

Start Reading Now

Are you ready to start your transformation journey in 2024?

Enquire Now