My 20s Changed Course Because of This One Piece of Advice

Todd Brison

“I’m not really thrilled with my job. How can I get to where you are?”

When I asked Karl the Consultant this question, I was only 24. I worked in a cubical. I drove 65 minutes through rush hour traffic. My boss rarely talked to me. For 8 hours each day, I printed off the paper and punched holes in the pieces. On the more exciting days, I put those pages in binders. On the really exciting days, I sat in a meeting.

It’s lucky I never jumped out the window.

That’s why, when I went to my first conference and found a person who existed in the same corporate world I did but got to speak and write and travel the world, I had to know his secret.

Karl spoke at three sessions that week. I went to them all. I couldn’t get enough of the guy. He was witty and charming. His points were succinct and powerful. I don’t get jealous much, but I got jealous of Karl. I’d watched him all week thinking “I could do that.” Why was I stapling manuals instead? What did Karl have that I didn’t?

Midway through the week, we broke sessions and went to lunch. My conference group was supposed to eat at a table on the left side of the room. I broke the rules. I crammed myself into a table where I didn’t belong, in a seat next to Karl.

With a fern hanging over my shoulder into my soggy turkey sandwich, I soaked in every word he said. I wanted to know the secrets. I wanted to be on stage. I wanted more meaning in my life and job.

The meal ticked by. I was biding my time.

Finally, an opening — Karl stood up and said: “I’ll be signing books later if you guys are able to come by.” Naturally, I sprinted to throw my trash in the can, skipped the sessions I’d signed up for next, and rushed down to the bookstore. I picked up a book and tried to act cool. When the line died down, I handed over my $25, looked him in the eye, and said the question I’d been rehearsing in my head for most of the day:

“Hey, Karl. I’m not really thrilled with my job. How can I get to where you are?”

I remember the light bouncing off his glasses. The pen scratched on the front page of my new book as he scribbled his name. He looked up at me over his glasses. Then, he said words that would change my life:

“I’ve been speaking 9 years. This is my 4th book. This is the first time I’ve been invited to an event this large. In fact, this is the first time anyone like you has asked a question like that.”

He handed the book back, smiled, and patted me on the shoulder.

“Be patient.”

We exchanged an awkward handshake. He may have said a few other words, but I don’t remember them. I only remember thinking: 9 years before anyone notices? I had no concept of working for 9 years at anything. That was too long!

I tried out his advice anyway. I kept writing online, even though nobody cared yet. Now, I have tens of thousands of followers. Then, I stayed at my hole-punching job and served in an entry-level role for longer than I wanted to. Now, I’m at the same company, expect they flew me to Paris, France for a 3-month stay. I finished my own book and nobody cared for years. Now, that same book has become a bestseller 1,019 days after its release.

If you are 20-something right now, I want to remind you of a very likely truth: you have so much time.

Some goals, especially big ones, simply take longer than your attention span. But life is long. When your interest wears out, you should keep going anyway. One day you will look up and have a decade of experience under your belt.

Often, the best way to move forward is simply outlasting your impatience.

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