What should I be doing in my 20s to set me up for success?

I get this question a lot.

Once you’ve graduated from college, there’s a tremendous desire to take on the world. There’s a youthful naïveté that fuels individuals in their work. The first few years are what I would consider an adrenaline rush. It’s work that’s propelled by a desire to prove yourself, show that you’re independent.

About 3 years post graduation, the adrenaline begins to wear off and individuals begin to stagnate when they realize they don’t truly love what they’re doing, or they haven’t learned how to appreciate it.

A couple years after that, these same individuals are now questioning their entire existence. If they’ve spent the majority of their career in a specific industry, they feel trapped and demand that there must be another reason or purpose to life.

This is the shortened version, and of course, it doesn’t encompass everyone, but it’s what I’ve seen amongst many of my peers.

This whole ideology can be extremely toxic if we blindly follow down the path of what’s considered “the norm.” Essentially, you miss out on the point of your 20s and 30s if these are the only thoughts that go through your head.

An Epiphany

Here’s what you need to know about your 20s and into your 30s. It’s not about being awarded for building your grand business idea or discovering what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.

More so than anything else, your 20’s are about figuring out what you DON’T want to do and to use the opportunities you’ve been given to learn more about yourself and lay the foundations and principles for who you are as human being.

Build your moral framework and understand how you tick.

Introspection is key.

My Commitment

About 5 years ago, I attended a conference called Global Leadership Summit. There was a speaker I didn’t know at the time who made a profound statement that has stuck with me ever since.

He said, “The reason why companies fall apart is often not because of a lack of skillset or technical know-how, it’s because of some moral slip up.” It’s the CEO who’s lied to his investors, the company that’s decided to fudge the numbers, the harassment in the office that goes unchecked.

These are all disasters waiting to happen.

The speaker went on to say that if we as a generation of leaders desire to usher in the next wave of entrepreneurs, we need to provide “heart care” over anything else. Instead of strictly concentrating on skills that can be easily taught, pour into leaders and make sure their heart is in the right place.

As justification of this, I’ve had multiple entrepreneurs I interview on The EnTRUEpreneurship Podcast tell me they hire based on character over skillset. It’s why I firmly believe building foundations and principles in one’s life are so important for the next wave of workers, entrepreneurs, and businesses. It’s also why I’ve committed the rest of my life to studying and learning what it means to provide “heart care” in the realm of business.

**Coincidentally, successful hedge fund manager, Ray Dahlio, understands the importance of this and wrote his applicably-named book, Principles: Life and Work.

What does this look like?

In one of my interviews with friend and businessman, Dr. Rob Douk, a successful psychologist who’s built an Inc 5000, multimillion dollar business, he reveals his “foundational secrets” in his latest book, The Fearless Socialpreneur. In the book, Rob explains his five foundational pieces that keep him grounded:

Faith – belief in a higher purpose and willingness to step into the unknown

Firm commitment – Being present and active in one’s occupation and vocation

Family – commitment to those who love and return his love unconditionally

Fitness – taking care of physical, mental, and spiritual health

Fellowship – sharing life with his community and peers

Rob’s a busy guy and currently runs 4 different organizations that all demand some aspect of his time. Yet, his foundational pieces listed above are what keep him grounded and give him purpose and meaning.

In the years that I’ve lived, I’ve taken the time to build out my own “structure” of sorts to keep me level-headed as well. You can find them here.

All that to say, if you don’t have your foundations or principle beliefs set, concentrate on building those before pursuing the things the world tells you to pursue. 

Thomas Merton, the American monk, pointed out that we may spend our entire life climbing the ladder of success, only to find out when we get to the top that it’s been leaning against the wrong wall.

In Conclusion

Breathe. Life is long. It may not seem that way in your 20s and 30s but as I’ve always said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on the things that matter.

Especially in the realm of business, in the early days when you start a company, your company’s values are a direct reflection of who you are as an individual. There’s no difference between you and your company because you’re the only one in it. If your personal foundations are faulty, then your company’s foundations will be faulty as well. (ie: Uber)

I constantly have to remind myself of these helpful words from friend and successful CEO, Brendon Schrader

Continue to do good work for clients. The reputation for your work and the brand you’re building will work itself out.

Once your foundation is set, the sky is the limit.