Dear 21-year-old self,
It’s your 31-year-old much wiser self writing to you from the future. You’re about to graduate college in a few months and I know you’re wondering what to do with yourself. It’s not an easy decision, is it? You’ve got your part-time job and your rental apartment, your rusty Mazda and that teetering checking account.
It would be so easy to just stay put, to duck and cover, here where it’s safe and familiar, under the radar of disappointment and rejection. Well good news, you’re a lot more brave then you know. You make a few big moves in the giant game of Chess and they really pay off. But like all things in life, you learned a lot along the way.
Here’s what you need to know and what you, on some level, may already know.
1) See yourself and your past as an asset.
You’ll spend way too much time trying to be someone different than who you really are. Let’s face it, you were raised in a small town in Minnesota. Your mom, dad, and older siblings never went to college. You only have an Associates Degree from a barely accredited music school and $40,000 of student debt.
For awhile, you’ll view all of these things as massive reasons why you can’t be successful. You’ll think about things like:
- If only my dad had an important white-collar job and knew a lot of important people…
- If only I followed my friends and got a degree in something worthwhile…
- If only I lived in a bigger city with more opportunities…
The story inside of your head will become a reality if you let it. You have an extremely unique set of skills from a diverse background of hobbies. Instead of seeing the things in your past as a barrier, figure out how you can apply these things to make a dent in the universe.
2) Don’t give up on the hard things.
Again, let’s be real. Life doesn’t get any easier the older you get. It only gets more confusing by the day. Get use to it.
You’re going to come up with some pretty amazing ideas for businesses. You already have. But, you’ll soon figure out that one of the biggest reasons you’re going to fail with many of these is because you stop trying.
Shit gets hard and you’re gonna want to quit – badly.
When things get hard you’ll discover your “fight or flight” instinct and this will cause you to bail on a lot of great ideas right before the rest of the world catches on.
Eventually, you’ll figure out that if you want to create something special it’s going to get incredibly hard. Like, the hard you understand right now, won’t even compare to what’s coming. So, get ready.
In the end, you’ll learn that by pushing through these hard things your view of what’s hard begins to change. The things that are hard today won’t be so hard tomorrow.
3) What you spend your time on is what you’ll become.
Your life will become defined more by the things you say “no” to, than what you say “yes” to.
You and I both know that degree of yours is worthless. But despite that, your work ethic, likable personality, creativity and broad set of skills will lead you down a path of a lot of opportunities.
You’ll find that people want to work with you, they want to involve you in their projects and businesses. If you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people. You suck at networking so make yourself valuable. Be more accessible and speak up when you have an idea. People will come to value your relationship more and more by the day. Finding out how to be valued as a colleague, friend and coworker is worth more than any paycheck you’re ever going to see.
Unfortunately, you only have a finite amount of time to dedicate to the success of others. Find a way to say “no” more frequently. If something doesn’t excite you to the point of being unable to sleep because you can’t stop thinking about it, just say “no thanks.”
Quit the things that are draining you and pursue the things that cause you excitement.
4) Be vulnerable.
As scary as it is to admit, you don’t know everything. Stop being scared that some day someone will figure that out. It’ll happen, a lot.
You’ll see that as soon as you make yourself vulnerable people will open up to you. The people you look up to, the ones who intimidate you, will also make themselves vulnerable. They’ll tell you that they faced the same challenges and they struggled too.
If you’re going to have a real relationship with someone – professionally or privately – you have to be vulnerable, and someone has to be vulnerable first. Take the first step and open that dialogue.
No one has it all figured out, everyone is just trying really hard to make it seem that way.
5) Work harder at your personal life than your job.
You have an incredibly obsessive brain and when you get fixed on an idea you don’t allow room for anything else in your life. This will become extremely unhealthy and it will cause a lot of pain in your personal life.
As exciting as it will be for you to embark on your next adventures, it will be even more fulfilling if you can figure out how to share that experience with someone you love.
When you’re at work you have software and Excel sheets to track progress and growth. You receive feedback when things aren’t going as planned and you adjust accordingly. You measure monthly and set goals for the next month, quarter and year. You lay out a roadmap to accomplish these goals and constantly review your progress. It all seems so manageable and natural for you.
You also need these things at home because the only thing more embarrassing than failing at business, is failing a person you love.
Make your personal life a priority. Find a way to take this same work ethic and apply it at home with your future wife (she’s a few girlfriends away but don’t be afraid to practice now). Be clear about what you want. Understand what she wants. Be available.
Spend your time where it matters most.
6) Focus on the next decision.
Here’s a small hint, that hobby you’ve been playing with the last few years. You know the one. Optimizing websites to rank highly in search results, paying for search traffic on key terms ($0.01 clicks are amazing, right???), well that actually becomes a really, really important and lucrative niche to specialize in. Oh, and that (The) Facebook thing will introduce a platform for advertisers, follow your gut on that one.
It takes a few more years but eventually the rest of the business world will realize how import this all is. So, stick with it.
But when they do figure it out, you’ll be asked to make a lot of decisions about things you’ve never done before. As the stakes get higher and the decisions become bigger you’ll run into an intense pressure to make the right decision all the time.
It’s an impossible standard, one that you’ll figure out you can’t live up to. Figure out that the next decision is sometimes more important than the current decision, and the next decision might be to undo your previous decision!
It’s a crazy world you work in where things change on a day-to-day basis. What’s working today might not work tomorrow. Get use to it. Don’t obsess over each decision.
Take in the information, have confidence, and be willing to change things if they aren’t working as planned. You have a job and you’re in that position because people trust your decision making.