A majority of my time at work is spent working with extremely high-caliber college student leaders. They have passion, creativity and incredible amounts of potential. They have all the ingredients to become world-changers.
Now that I’m well into my 30s, I’ve been reflecting on what I would do differently professionally if I could do my 20s over again. I wanted to do something “big” in my 20s. I wanted to change the world, make an impact and create something valuable. I got a few things right along the way, but if I am being honest, I wasted a lot of time and energy that I would love to have back now. If I could go back and give advice to the twentysomething me, I would tell him to avoid these career mistakes:
Comparing Where You Are With Where Everyone Else Is
I would spend far less time comparing the success of others with what I had accomplished thus far in my life. I was putting my new writing career up against someone with a decade head start. I was comparing my speaking ability with communicators in their forties and fifties. I measured the growth of the nonprofit I started with organizations with years of history.
By comparing the start of my journey with someone who’d been traveling for far more time than I had, I was crippling my ability to do great work. It’s difficult to make progress when you are focusing on someone else rather than on your own path.
Focusing on What You Don’t Have Yet Instead of Where You Are Now
Scripture is clear that God entrusts us as stewards with His work. He is going to give us a little to steward until we can be trusted with more. By focusing on what I didn’t have (more speaking events, more books sold, more dollars raised) I missed a chance to be faithful with what was in front of me.
Speaking to 20 people can be just as important as 20,000. Feeding two families in your community matters just like feeding 200. Take on every project like it’s the biggest gig you’ll ever get.
Looking back, it was a whole lot easier then to try something that wasn’t guaranteed to work. I went from a salaried job to 100 percent commission. I then took six months off work and started a 501(c)3 organization out of my kitchen. All of these were much easier then when my total responsibilities were far less than what they are today. Today I have a family—soon to be five mouths to feed. I have a mortgage and health insurance to consider. There’s more to risk now, making the opportunity to find the world-changing idea even harder.
Ignoring the Importance of the Process Itself
Your twenties are the laboratory for the rest of your life. The best way to figure out how to do great work is to simply do the work. The best writers produce far more content than ever gets shared. Even if the work you are creating is terrible, you are learning the process, which is making you better. It’s far easier to learn when fewer people are watching. I’m glad I worked on getting rid of the “ums” while speaking to dozens instead of the thousands.
Waiting for Recognition
Most of the people that you admire because of their success are not spending time worrying about what everyone else is doing. They are busy building their idea while you are checking your feeds to see if anyone has noticed yours. I wasted hundreds of hours (days?) in my twenties scanning Twitter and Facebook, hoping someone commented on something I was working on. I can’t imagine how much more work I could have done if I simply would have focused more time on the work.
Not “feeling” successful, I began to spend far too much time trying to get noticed than doing something worth noticing. This led to further noticing the success others were having, which reinforced the feeling that I wasn’t as successful. This led to more frustration, doubt and a sense I needed to do more to get noticed. It was an endless cycle that robbed me of valuable time that can never be replaced.
Not Seeking Out Mentors
I so wish I had spent more consistent time with a great leader during my twenties. I’d tell twentysomething Greg to find a great leader and work with him/her in some capacity. Take a job where you can learn for a season, even if it’s not your dream job. Volunteer somewhere to learn from a great leader. Take an unpaid internship if there’s a great leader you can work for.
There’s a lot you can learn from books, conferences, podcasts, etc., but nothing compares to learning by direct interaction and observation.
Your twenties can have a profound impact on your life. Use your twenties as the runway to set up where you’ll go and what you’ll invest your life in. Bill Gates is credited with saying, “most of us overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in 10.” You have a lot that can be accomplished in your twenties. And, if you’ve moved out of your twenties like me, the last lesson is this: It’s never too late to get started.