What would I say to my 20-year-old self? In my book Na plné koule ("Peddal to The Metal") which I wrote at 28 I gave away exactly 100 self-help hacks and recommendations. Hitting 30 made me a bit more modest I guess so today I only have 10 pieces of advice for everybody entering or living his or her twenties. But boy do I wish I could have read this 10 years ago.
- Saying YES, YES, YES to experience will get you ahead of the pack
- Saying NO to most offers and new ventures becomes the most important skill as you thrust forward
- Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of. Being ok with it gives you a tremendous advantage
- Travelling will make your mind open and flexible like nothing else in the world
- Making new friends will become less easy and frequent with time. That’s why you need to nurture the old friendships
- Girls? The more fornication the better!
- Don't study for the degree. Learn for the joy of it and the intellectual challenge involved
- Revenge is the most idiotic dynamics on earth you can ever tangle yourself into
- Possession will tie you up and sink you to the bottom of the sea. Mortgage counts as one
- Most advice is wrong. And even if it’s right, you are better off not taking it
That's it. These are the rules that I started - consciously or not - following somewhere in the middle of my twenties. These are the rules that brought me great career, money, a CEO title, girls, two books, industry recognition, friends, many happy moments and great relationships.
If you are chasing similar goals, read the full story.
1. Saying YES, YES, YES to experience will get you ahead of the pack
At the beginning, say YES to everything that smells experience and contacts. You are 21, for God's sake. You don't need to sleep. NGOs, extra courses, debating society, all sorts of student clubs and bodies, research assistant, some random CEO's assistant... Say YES to everything, join everything, sign up for everything.
In the first half of your twenties, experience is the one and only thing that will set you apart from your schoolmates (not your degree and definitely not your GPAs).
When you and your peers will all be leaving uni and start competing for the same jobs, you want your CV to be five times longer (that will get you through the door to a job interview) and your real-life experience five times richer (that will fill the entire hour of your interview with relevant stuff to talk about and will land you the best starting job to kick of your career – supposing you don't already have one.)
When I was at the university, I routinely studied for more degrees at the same time taking two to three times more course load than needed. I spent a year studying abroad. Completed numerous internships. Got elected to the university senate. Headed a faculty magazine. Worked as a head of sales and marketing in an NGO for couple of years. And generally stuck my head everywhere I could.
When I applied for my first real life job shortly before finishing college, I was immediately accepted. Later, I learned that out of 36 applicants, they only invited myself for the interview. And by the end of the hour, we shook hands. They wanted to work with me so badly that I was even able to dictate my conditions to them.
That’s the power of saying YES to experience in your pre and early career stage.
Note: In order to have time for all that experience, you need to avoid stupid jobs you would do just for the sake of money at all cost. (We'll get to the issue of not having any money in a bit.)
2. Saying NO to most offers and new ventures becomes the most important skill as you thrust forward
Doing two jobs, starting your own start-up on side, being active in an NGO of a good cause and helping half or your family and friends solving their issues is great. Until it isn't.
You have to reorient yourself from a YES-man to a NO-dude real quick or your commitments will tear you to pieces.
When your career kicks in a real gear, it's the best idea to focus on one thing (or two or three max) exclusively. You will have to say NO to a lot of people. You will routinely disappoint your old comrades and colleagues, you will spend a lot less time with them, you will miss them and you will be missed. You will turn down a lot of new opportunities, too.
All that will make you feel anxious. Misplaced. You might even think about yourself as a cheat.
At the beginning, those feelings are only natural. How do you justify that in your head?
You have to realize you only have 168 hours every week. And dedicating 100 of them to work is the surest way to get burned out before you hit 30.
If you destroy yourself, you won’t be able to help anybody anyway. Putting your health and well-being first is – in the end – to the benefit of everybody around you.
3. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed of. Being OK with it gives you a tremendous advantage
If you do everything else right, money will come to you sooner or later.
Seeking high paying jobs to buy expensive shit you don't really need at the beginning of your career will most probably lead to less experience gained and will damage your long-term career prospects which in turn will make your jobs gross you less money over the decades to come. Do you really need to spend $100 every Friday night on pubbing and clubbing?
Save wherever you can and invest everything in yourself. Owning stuff doesn’t add any productive value on your balance sheet. You and your skills and mind are the best vehicle to make money and achieve great stuff. So, invest in educating and nurturing yourself above everything else.
For instance, I dwelled in one room sharing an apartment with three other dudes till I was 27. I was paying approx. $200 on rent per month even when I already had a very well-paying job and could have afforded to pay $2000 easily.
What did I do with all the money I was earning and not spending? I invested them back to my education, experience and travel.
Hell, I invested even the money I didn’t have. I spent most of my student years in constant debt and when an opportunity to get an internship working on a mayoral campaign in San Francisco (one of the most expensive cities in the world) came around I even plundered a house-fund my parents had set up for me in order to cover the tickets and living expenses.
Till this day, I always get a little nervous every time I see there’s money on my personal account. I immediately think of learning a new language, starting a new hobby, employing one more person. But never of a shiny wrist watch or a sports car.
I developed a simple rule of thumb inspired by the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad to judge a usefulness of any particular expenditure: Will this purchase increase my chances to make more money in the future or will it just cost me money?
Attending a conference? The former.
Buying a tenth pair of shoes? The latter.
Remember, being poor (or not appearing to be rich) is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, it gives you the ability to use your money more wisely on your self betterment that will in turn and in time allow you to surpass all those people who give rich appearance too soon.
All that being said, if you encounter a great chance to make loads of money don't be all Dalajlama. Go for it.
There are really two ways to get out of the stress caused by consumerism: either train your will so that you don't miss shinny latest shit or become insanely rich so that you can afford all of it. Either works.
4. Travelling will make your mind open and flexible like nothing else in the world
Low-cost, backpacking, hitch-hiking, expensive tickets to the other side of the world, work and travel, summer schools, student exchange programs, chance to work abroad, business trips… I don't care the means. The important thing is to get the hell out of your country. The more you travel, the more you realize that a lot of things you considered "natural order of things" is just the way things are in your own country.
All sorts of stuff ranging from education to hitting on girls to dealing with elders to tax code can be done and organized in a myriad way. Experiencing that first hand will make your mind open and flexible like nothing else.
Nice side-benefit: The more you travel, the less likely you are to fall prey to nationalistic sentiments and to other race, ethnic, religious, and cultural prejudice of all sorts.
Important note: Travel both to more and to less developed countries. When you fly to South Korea you will be totally gobsmacked (and hopefully inspired) by how much more better stuff can be done than back home. When you cross border to North Korea, you will immediately appreciate the level of development your country has achieved and the level of comfort you are enjoying in your everyday life. Both is useful.
5. Making new friends will become less easy and frequent with time. That’s why you need to nurture the old friendships
Do you need to drive three hours to rise a glass to your best-friend’s new-born? Do it!
Does it take travelling across the globe to celebrate your friend’s important anniversary? Do that, too.
And about everything else to cherish your OLD friends.
The last time you will make true and genuine friendships easily, is college. After that you are going to be too busy to make the room for new friendships. And even when you do you will never be sure if the other person is behaving friendly because he's genuinely interested in you or he/she is after some sort of benefit that can come from being associated with you.
That's why if you want to have any friends at all, you have to pay attention to those from your childhood, high-school and college years.
It's so easy to get consumed by work, start making excuses why you can't see them and turn down one invitation after another. If you do that just for a couple of years, the invitations will become rarer and rarer until one day you realize there's nobody you can call when life throws some nasty punches at you or when you get really down.
So, don't make that mistake.
Naturally, the same applies to your closest family.
6. Girls? The more fornication the better!
You will never be more attractive, have more free time, and sexual appetite than in your twenties.
Also, I assume that one day in the not so far future you will want to settle down, have a family and ideally not cheat on your wife.
But you're still a guy. And all guys are curious about how sex with a black girl, a hippie girl, a big girl (... name any other variety) would be like. What's it like to have a threesome? Go down on an older lady?
The more fantasies you will accomplish to get done in your twenties, the less regrets (and temptations) you'll have during the rest of your life.
Also, the day when young girls start to look past you instead of at you because you start to resemble their uncle more than a desired boyfriend is just around the corner.
So, to put it rather blankly: use every opportunity to get laid you have. Approach every girl you like. Ask as many of them as you can out. And make your move when night nears the end!
7. Don't study for the degree. Learn for the joy of it and the intellectual challenge involved
With a few notable exceptions (doctors, lawyers etc.) a degree won't get you anything in this world. Throw five years of your life and a lot of resources out of the window to get a useless piece of paper is totally nonsensical.
Plus, nobody knows what he wants to do with his life when he's 18. The only thing you know by then and the only thing you should care about is what gives you a spark.
What are you so passionate about you would debate it with your classmates till four AM over a long empty glass of beer? What will make you sit in the library the whole day? Those are the questions you should be asking yourself when in doubt about what to study.
I don't care if your parents or anybody else thinks the subject you come to choose this way has no “practical application”.
As Steve Jobs said (and I can confirm from my own experience) all the dots will come together eventually and your seemingly random pieces of knowledge will surpass a much narrower focus of your future colleagues.
A joke about the subject of study of my choosing that I was hearing a lot went down like this:
What does an employed political science graduate say to an unemployed one?
Do you want your fries with ketchup or mayonnaise?
Have I ever cared about such remarks? No.
Yes, I studied political science. No, I didn’t become a professor or a policy maker.
Have I enjoyed it tremendously? Yes.
Did it make me understand how world and social and business processes work? Totally.
Now, I am a CEO of a tech start-up that make advertising of the biggest brand more effective. And I still believe I am better off and better equipped for the role than if I studied software engineering.
It doesn’t matter what your degree says or if you obtain it or quit one year prior to it.
Besides, you will never again in your life have five years to focus just on your intellectual growth.
Don't waste that time on something as stupid and useless as a degree!
8. Revenge is the most idiotic dynamics on earth you can ever tangle yourself into
Sure, you are young and you have to fight to make a dent in the universe. You will meet adversaries and you will have to confront them in order to accomplish anything.
Sometimes – sadly more than would be appropriate – people will fight back at you and it will become nasty. They will throw punches below the belt and stab you in the back.
At no cost should you stab them back. Nor from behind nor from the front nor anyhow.
As you will learn, time is the greatest and most precious resource you have in your life. Everything else – money, possession, girls, wives, children, friends – can be multiplied and – if lost – regained. There’s no upper limit to how much of each of that you can have, either.
The only thing that cannot be regained and has a definitive ceiling is time. With every beat of the clock you are one second closer to your grave. That’s a cold fact.
It follows that it's what you do with your time and mental capacity that will determine how far you'll get in life.
Spending time and conscious effort on revenge, wish-full thinking or any negative emotion at all (like hatred, repulsiveness, greed, envy etc.) is a pure waste of your most precious resource i.e. about the most idiotic thing you can do while here on Earth.
Plus even if a guy appears to be your archenemy today, he will most likely fade away from your radar tomorrow.
When I was running a college magazine, I got into a heated conflict with the previous editor-in-chief over – believe it or not – the type of paper we were to be printing the magazine on.
He preferred the more environmentally friendly recycled paper and a black and white colouring. I thought it looked ugly as fuck and resembled toilet paper more than anything and changed the magazine into a glossy full-colour publication.
It cost more money but I felt it would attract more readership and be a better proposition for sponsors who placed ads in it.
Both positions were completely legit and in the great scheme of things our whole disagreement was rather silly. But for the two of us it was a war effort full of heated discussions, swaying factions among the staff, defriending people on Facebook, bad-mouthing each other and even ridiculing each other on posters hung in the university corridors…
After some time, he quit the magazine and we ceded to talk to each other or even say hi.
We only met five years after that and guess what? We couldn't make head or tails of how could have we fought so nastily over such a trivial thing. He's a great dude and when I have time I go for a glass of beer to his cafe that he since had opened.
In the midst of every day battles it's difficult to see clearly but issues will inevitably pass and fade. The only thing that matters is how well you use your time.
Spend your time and brains planning revenge and you won’t move anywhere. Or use it on achieving positive stuff and sprint forward. Your call.
9. Possession will tie you up and sink you to the bottom of the sea. Mortgage counts as one
As a young intellectual, I used to be keen on books.
On reading them.
And maybe even more on owning them.
Although I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I would like to, it filled me with a sense of pride every time I put a new publication on the shelf of my library. Soon, my collection numbered hundreds of books and I developed sophisticated system of classifying and ordering them.
I was imagining that every time somebody saw my library, he would take a glimpse of my personality, my interests, my intellect even.
Following similar logic, people tend to think that their clothing or a set of pots express their personality and how and who are they like.
With such way of thinking, most people soon end up owning thousands and thousands of items 95 % of which they don’t actually use or need.
The only two results of which really are just more clutter – in their homes and their minds alike – and less freedom.
The more stuff you own, the more you feel like you need to protect it. The more complicated it is to move. The less willing you are to make any sort of change. Just because it would be too much of a bother.
You are the guy with the big library after all. You should light your pipe and sit down in your rocking chair.
And rot there for the next 30 years!
The worst idea of all then really is a mortgage. It ties you down in so many ways. It ties you to a certain country, city and neighbourhood. To a certain person. And even to a certain way of life.
You now have to earn money each month to pay for it for another 30 years. Congratulations, you officially became enslaved by consumerism and you now depend on corporations to give you bread to live.
See you when you have grey hair and there’s no life left in you.
Yes, there might be one or two people a year who would stop by and comment in a flattery way on your library or a 50-pair-of-shoes-collection.
But that’s totally not worth sacrificing your freedom, ability to make quick choices and open mind set.
These days, I try not to own almost anything. I don’t have a house or a mortgage. No TV, fridge or – God save me – a wash machine. My car is leased. The only two pieces of furniture I have is a standing working desk and a 15-cm high Japanese table. I gave most of my books and cloths away.
I feel so much better, calmer, peaceful without all that crap. And if I decide to move to Dubai or go backpacking around the world for a year, I can do that practically tomorrow.
10. Most advice is wrong. And even if it’s right, you are better off not taking it
You shouldn’t really listen to any advice. Including the one in this article.
Common wisdom states that listening to older, wiser and more experienced people is a great way to get ahead in life. The problem is advice will never teach you anything. Hack, it will even prevent you from learning and understanding the world around you.
Every parent will tell you to not touch the cattle. You may listen to them and avoid touching it for some time. But it will never allow you to grasp why shouldn’t you do it. If you never experience the physical sensation of getting burned you will never fully understand the puzzle. And you will most likely not be likely to develop the concept of other hot things you should not touch.
On the other hand, it only takes to get burned once and in the matter of seconds, everything is bright and crystal clear. Never-touch-hot-stuff-again-ever!
The same goes for everything in your life. Everybody in the industry might be telling you that a particular technique (won’t work). It may not. But until you don’t try it yourself, you will not learn anything.
The second problem is that most advice is actually wrong.
Many many times in my life I went against the advice I was given. Mostly in business, many older, more experienced and acute professionals were telling me this or that thing was not possible, it was not the way things are done, I will hit the wall with that approach.
I proved them wrong almost every single time.
Sooner or later you have to accept the fact that even people who look professional and experienced may be cowards who never had the balls to try what you are about to undertake or that their advice simply doesn’t apply to your situation.
Experts or not – most people are very busy and even if they listen to your plan for an hour very attentively they will never grasp the full breadth and details of your plans. You spent dozens of hours pondering and perfecting it in your head. How could they unravel it over a cup of coffee? Well, they can't and that's one more reason not to listen their opinion.
On top of it: Listening to average people’s opinions is the surest way to end up having an average life. And if you've made it this fare in this article, I believe you want to live an extraordinary life.
So once again: Don't listen to stupid advice of stupid old people. (I am 30 and to you I count as old.)
Notable exception is of course your mom who’s is always right. All the same ...simply having listened to her advice would not give me the life experience of going against her advice and learning that she was right all along the hard way. J
Conclusion: It's best not to take advice even if you know it is right.
So, if you strongly disagree with any of the points listed above screw me! Do it your way.