Being young and ambitious is confusing.
You want to make an impact immediately but are told to be patient. You are eager to learn but clueless on how to start. Worst of all, you have no idea where you’ll end up.
When I graduated from college in 2017, I had less than $100 in my bank account, was working a part-time internship for something like $15/hour, and felt like my life was stagnating.
I moved back into my childhood home while my close friends ventured to dream cities like Denver and San Diego. I was an intern hiding my job from LinkedIn while my former classmates posted essays about their illustrious new career in tech or finance.
Luckily, I eventually found my way after a few missteps.
I don’t have it all figured out — not even close. But I have experienced enough to talk about the lessons my younger self would have found beneficial.
Here they are:
Define Success For Yourself
There is no grand narrative.
No blueprint you need to follow or deferred life plan you need to maintain.
Success is defined in your own words. Don’t get caught up in the insatiable prize of fortune, fame, or power peddled by the media and pop culture.
Spend time thinking about how you want life to look.
After working multiple jobs, being in a healthy relationship, falling in love with fitness, and building side hustles that are creatively challenging, I have established a lifestyle rhythm I enjoy. So, success for me is having the autonomy to continue pursuing this lifestyle every day.
This realization didn’t happen overnight. It took several years of deep thinking, failure, writing down my goals, and reflecting daily to find out what makes me the happiest.
Once you know, every decision becomes a little bit easier because you are working towards something bigger.
College is about specializing. We pick a degree and then follow that one track mindset into the real world. Your degree is simply a starting point. Success in the real world requires a much more holistic approach — one that acknowledges how malleable our intelligence is.
I didn’t learn about managing my finances from my parents or a college course. I read The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. I asked financially responsible people specific questions about the exact tools they used and why they worked.
My teachers never talked about freelancing as a stable source of income. Instead, I had to go through the wringer on Fiverr, write hundreds of articles, and build a website.
Learning is the only way to stay relevant. In marketing, new trends and tactics are exploding onto the scene every week. If I settle on what I know, I will fall behind fast.
And I can’t emphasize how important it is to read books. Some of history’s greatest thinkers, entrepreneurs, hustlers, and artists have distilled their knowledge into words that you can purchase. It’s a crazy thing that a lot of 20-somethings don’t take advantage of it.
When you feel lost, self-education opens a new door. You may come to realize, as I have, that there are endless opportunities to make money and live a fulfilling life that doesn’t rely on your college education.
Stop Looking For Credit
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret about the working world: everything you do is to make other people look better.
Instead of getting lost in your own ego, make your superiors look brilliant. Ceed your best ideas to them. Do the tasks no one else wants. Make yourself indispensable.
When the time for promotions come, your superiors will pick the egoless. They want to work with the people who made them look good (and will continue to do so).
This is a mentality I have carried with me throughout my career — from interning for an oral surgeon to managing a cross-functional team in tech, and now as a strategist for a creative agency. It never fails. It’s how I leapfrogged up three positions in two years at my tech job. I was overseeing my peers at 22 because my managers trusted that I would do what’s best for the company, not necessarily myself.
Just forget about credit for now. If you’re needing an empathetic “Great job!” every time you finish a project, the world is going to feel like a cruel place.
You completed a task. So what? Go complete the next one.
Apply The 30% Rule
I know it’s a cliche, but when I was 21, I lived to work.
I wanted more money and a prestigious job so I could buy “things” and talk about how happy I was. I thought I needed to magnify my happiness through a car, clothes, or something tangible, instead of finding solace in what I had.
As I have gotten older, I realized that this hustle culture mindset was warping my sense of reality. I feel far more accomplished from publishing a deeply personal article than I do from a new pair of shoes.
So, I started applying the 30% rule to my life. I only want my career to define 30% of who I am. The rest is dictated by hobbies, family, friends, humor, curiosity, and gratitude.
It won’t be apparent at first. But chasing gratitude will increase your happiness once you break the routine of wanting more. I find that I am now able to live in the moment and look forward to what comes next — not fear it.
Material possessions are quick hits of euphoria. We crave them like a drug. And once the momentary feeling passes, you will immediately look to buy more “conditional happiness.” Because the satisfaction things provide is never sustainable.
Don’t allow more than 30% of your life to be controlled by a job. You never hear stories of people on their deathbed saying, “I wish I worked more…”
Work to live — not the other way around.
Automate Your Finances
The number one source of anxiety and stress for post-graduates is money.
There are student loans and credit card debts to pay back, a false sense of frugality established by our parents, the first taste of rent and health insurance, and a desire to invest in turbulent stocks to “get rich quick.”
Here’s my solution: automate everything.
Your car insurance? Automate it.
Your 401k? Automate it?
Your student loans? Automate it.
You get the point.
Automation has been the single most beneficial aspect of my financial awakening. Every time I get paid, a predetermined amount of money is taken out of my checking account before I ever see it.
Surround Yourself With Better People
It sounds harsh but it's true. Your inner circle becomes you.
I am lucky to be in a stable relationship with someone who supports all of my weird habits (like writing at midnight). And most of my friends are all good people who have ambitions and goals. But it wasn’t always that way.
As I have gotten older, my group has gotten smaller to preserve the qualities that make a friendship or relationship rewarding.
Do your friends mock you when you skip a night of drink to write an article? Or do they ask for the link?
You know who the charlatans are. Get rid of them.
As they say, your network is your net worth.
Protect Your Time
Decision fatigue can take its toll.
I used to write down every single task I wanted to complete in a day. If I didn’t because I had to veer off course or was hit with a wave of distractions, I felt like a failure.
This year, I made a conscious effort to protect my time.
I stopped responding to everyone’s emails.
I declined invitations to go out with friends.
I skipped multiple happy hours.
Why? Because that was time I could be spending on something I wanted to do. You don’t have to be antisocial — but those hours start to add up. And eventually, you start falling behind in your workouts or failing to publish an article for weeks.
Then you have to wonder, was that happy hour worth it?
Learn to say no when you want to. Feel free to ignore emails if they are taking up your time.
It’s the only resource we have that we can never get back.
Take A Deep Breath And Relax
This one’s simple.
When everything feels overwhelming, the healthiest solution can actually be a mental break. A week away from the grind can offer a new perspective on your personal or professional life and put a renewed focus on your larger goals.
Realizing that you need to recharge is an invaluable skill.
The Journey Has Just Begun
“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” — Seneca
For some reason, every move feels monumental in your twenties. It’s as if one mistake will permanently damage your life trajectory. But your twenties are for making mistakes. Now is the time to move to a new city, chase a relationship, or build a crazy side hustle. If you fail (and you will more than once) it is only part of the process.
I’ll say it again: Take a deep breath and relax. Most things aren’t as urgent as they seem in retrospect.
The journey is just beginning. Now see where you can take it.