What Advice Would You Give Yourself in Your 20s?

Class mate

A LinkedIn survey reveals fascinating advice that repeats itself over and over

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Lets BeginTeja

Actions speak louder than words.

It seems this priceless advice is what every 20-year old set on a career path needs.

At 20, we have the benefit of the unknown, with no boundaries to hold us back. We can raise our eyes, look to the sky, and leap where no one dared before.

LinkedIn recently asked a million-plus people to Give Advice to their 20-Year-Old Self. Responses were fascinating. But the advice that repeated itself, one way or the other, was take action.

“Careers are long. There’s no need for a mad rush to find the ideal job,” wrote Tracy Wilk, former Vice President at Visa and First Data, and now an executive coach. “The first part (i.e., 10+ years) of your career is about testing multiple jobs and understanding what you like/dislike and are good and bad at.”

Max Korpinen, who co-founded HireProof and calls himself a Space Age People Officer, says, “Don’t spend so much time planning and researching the perfect career path — you don’t know what ‘work’ is yet anyway. Aggressively explore all options that seem interesting, learn, iterate, and you’ll arrive at the ‘perfect path’ much faster.”

Interestingly, Tracy and Max’s advice is what I seem to have inadvertently followed in my twenties. With much success.

At age 18, in high school, I wanted to make a career in finance. I worked towards it with much zeal. But thanks to an impulse, I postponed the decision, assuring myself I’ll take the plunge after my undergrad. I didn’t. I changed my mind, deciding instead to splash a bit in advertising. I joined a small agency as an intern. I liked what I did, and soon the agency offered me a full-time job. I grabbed it. Six months later, I quit the agency and enrolled myself in a graduate program in advertising, which led to a break at a big, reputed agency — Ogilvy. As a Copywriter. Two years later, I turned into an entrepreneur, launching a greetings cards company that would one day become India’s Hallmark. The venture died before its first anniversary. But instead of returning to advertising, I decided to explore. I made films, launched a recruitment agency, sold greeting cards to companies, and did direct marketing. The last one became my calling. By then, I was 30 years old.

My dear friend Ravi Shankar went to one of India’s most prestigious engineering schools, IIT Madras. He dabbled into some strange things that had little to do with what he learned at IIT. He co-founded Proto.in, a start-up that worked at showcasing India’s most promising social organizations. He consulted an industrial conglomerate, helping the company improve its sales and marketing. He joined advertising. He chose to work on strategic planning in Retail and CPG products. This allowed him to work closely with Coke. He quit advertising and launched a data analytics company, signing up Coke as his first client. His company now employees over 100 people across several countries. Ravi’s advice to his 20-year self is not very different from Dalini Bonomi, a researcher who wrote, “Just get started. Don’t wait to find out more, don’t wait for the perfect job, don’t wait to find out what you want to do before you even start.”

Another friend, Pooja Kothari, has an equally fascinating career progression story that reiterates the advice thousands echoed in the survey. An Economics post-graduate from the famous Delhi School of Economics, Pooja rejected a preset career path. Instead, she decided to ‘explore’, choosing to work for an international consultancy, “as they offered to expose me to different projects,” she says. After a short stint, she turned into a journalist, then went on to do a start-up to help career women who’d quit their careers but were keen to take up assignments they could wORK ON FROM HOME. Unable to get trajectory, she joined a start-up to help with HR and training, only to return to journalism, this time launching Inc’s India edition as its editor. This was followed by another start-up and then another. In her forties now, Pooja is a full-time entrepreneur, running a company she co-founded. “I can’t say I’m settled. I’m itching to start something new,” she says, flashing a beautiful smile.

During a film shoot, a word that fills the air is ‘Action’. It’s a cue to the crew — roll the cameras and go for the shot. Perched on a high stool, the film’s director peers into an LCD screen to ‘take a call’ on the shot — to accept it or reject.

David Fincher, whose films have had no less than 40 Oscar nominations, averages 17 retakes before he finds one that meets his expectation. Says he, “I hate earnestness in performance… usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone,” he told The New York Times in 2007.

This little method holds great advice for all the 20-somethings.

Action, Shoot. Retake. Till you get it right.

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