15 Principles for Success in Your 20's

These are 15 principles that you can live by in your 20's that will set you up for a successful, happy and fulfilled life going forward.

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15 icons for each of the principles

It’s said that some of the great pieces of art and work in our lifetime came at a time when the creator was severely sleep-deprived.

That comes as an inspiration to me as I stumble through these first few sentences, running on a combined amount of sleep over the last few days that is not worth tallying.

I’ve been working hard.

And I love it. I love pushing myself to the brink, testing my body, flirting with my limits.

I love it because it’s a period in my life where I know I can do it. I’m in my 20’s — 25, to be exact. And I’ve come to realize that putting in the hard yards now yields compounding results far more significant than you could imagine as you grow in life.

And midway through my 20’s, after 6 years of figuring things out and working hard, I’m starting to see those results. I get asked a lot of questions like "what to do in your 20's" or, "where should I be investing my time in my 20's". I’ve figured out that your 20’s are for building. They’re formative years that lay a foundation for your life going forward. You’re malleable, flexible, and energetic. And it’s time to build!

What I’m about to share with you is not a method for working hard. Everyone can work hard; most people work too hard, actually.

I’m going to share with you 15 things I’ve learned on my journey to 25, which have helped set me up for a fulfilled life beyond it. The 15 lessons below will be structured as follows:

  • 5 Key Principles
  • 5 Guide Rails
  • 5 Things to Do Every Day

1: Freedom

The most valuable currency we have is time. Each of us is given an allotted amount when we’re born, and right from our first breath, the clock starts ticking.

The ultimate goal for me is freedom — the freedom to do what I like with my time, money, and energy.

When your time belongs only to you, you can choose what is most fulfilling.

I want to be able to spot a good bit of swell and fly down to my favorite surf spot, just because. I want to be able to spoil my gran, just because. I want to be able to repay my parents for the debt they incurred, putting me through college, just because.

When you have freedom of time, energy, and money — all of that is achievable. And that’s what every step below is working towards.

So, how do we achieve that?

2: Strategy

We start with a strategy.

Most people take their opportunities for granted. Sure, its cliche. But it’s also true.

When you’re starting as an entrepreneur, and have a business idea, the first thing any economics textbook or teacher will tell you is to draw up a business plan.

You’re asking yourself the question: “Is this going to work?”

Yet, if you take a step back and look at your life right now, can you honestly say that the path you’re on has been thought out, and you’re not just letting life happen to you — bouncing from one thing to the next?

When there’s money on the line, we’re quick to build a plan and strategize.

Why aren’t we doing the same for our time?

Strategy can be mistaken for the path towards a goal. Maybe, technically, it is. But the approach we’re building here is for the path itself. We’re mapping the journey, not the destination.

Here’s How

Make the journey part of your strategy. Ask yourself this question:

How am I going to make sure that the majority of my day is spent doing what I love?

Step 1: Identify your passions. What do you love? All things aside, if you could choose to do one thing right now all day, what would that be? If it’s multiple things, write ’em all down.

One of the things I love is building businesses. I’m a passionate entrepreneur.

Step 2: Ask yourself why. Why do you love the things you do? Write it down for each of your passions. Keep asking why until you get to the root cause of what fuels that passion. Sometimes that’s 3 or 4 why’s.

I love building things and seeing them come to life. Why?

Step 3: A common thread. Try and identify the common thread among all your “why’s.” After investigating them individually, analyze them as a collective. Is there something common through all of them?

When you identify it, you’ve found your driving force. And that driving force is what you’re going to build a strategy around.

You’re going to make sure that behind everything you do on a day to day basis, there’s a little element of that something that “Makes you tick.”

Having a strategy for your life is so valuable. It helps you know where to direct your energy.

3: Directed Energy

When studying engineering (and other things, too), you learn about vectors. Speed is scalar. So is direction. They have only one dimension.

Velocity is a vector. Vectors are special because they have two dimensions to them:

  1. Magnitude, and
  2. Direction

You need to start thinking about your energy as a vector. Energy is like time; there’s only so much of it available. When you’re young, the energy vat is large and refills quickly. As you age, the ability to draw on that potential becomes reduced.

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Speed without direction is energy wasted. Most people operate with speed. They bounce from one task to the next, very busy, but not achieving anything — no real progress.

Do This

An energy audit.

Answer these questions:

  1. What is consuming most of my energy at the moment?
  2. Does that task align with the strategy we outlined in the section above?
  3. If not, why am I doing it? Why should it not be cut from my day?
  4. If it does align with my plan, how can I make more time for it?

4: Insatiable Curiosity

I stumbled my way into this one, and it was only brought to my attention recently that it had become a part of who I was.

Coming out of high school, I was very anxious in conversation. One of the ways I tackled this was by practicing with strangers. I’d engage with random people in the queue at the grocery store (or wherever), ask them about their lives. It was a way to develop some social skills.

Pretty soon, it became second nature. I’d sit down on a bus, and my first instinct was to start a conversation with the person next to me. The challenge was to do it, no matter who was sitting there and try to extract a conversation out of them.

What I learned was that people revert to talking about themselves if you allow them. And if you show a genuine interest, there is a ton of value that can come from those conversations.

As a result of literally practicing that simple skill most days since I left high school, I’ve developed an ability to listen and learn. Using select, open-ended questions, you can learn from people who had gone before and made the mistakes for you.

This extends beyond just speaking to people. Start paying attention to the world around you and asking the same question repeatedly: “Why is that the way it is?”

By having an insatiable curiosity, you’re opening up a world of opportunity. Curiosity triggers creativity. Creativity is what drives the world forward. And history has shown that the most creative people among us are rewarded for the work handsomely.

For 30 years, our executive search firm has been in the business of assessing leaders along two broad dimensions: potential and competence. One key conclusion? You can’t have either without curiosity

— Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior adviser at Egon Zehnder International

Do This

Ask why.

5: Comfortably Unique

An overused quote, but the most appropriate for this situation from Marianne Williamson:

“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”

I was especially guilty of this. As a child, I was vivacious, outgoing, intelligent, and interesting. An all-boys high school put a severe dampener on this. It’s taken me years to unwind the damage. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have even been writing this.

I’ve come to realize I couldn’t have been more wrong. Our uniqueness is our most valuable asset. It’s the magnet that draws everyone around us in. It should never be neglected or dampened; it should be embellished, celebrated, and exhibited.

Find things that make you truly unique. Then never lose sight of them. Hold them close to your chest in everything you do. Intermingle them with your changing world and allow them to develop and adapt naturally, but never force them in any one direction.

Celebrate who you are, so others around you can too.

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5 Guide Rails

These are the bowling-alley guides that keep [me] my ball from sliding into the gutters. If I go through a day where I’ve exercised at least one of them — it’s been a good day.

  1. Relationships are what give meaning to experiences. Value them, prioritize them.
  2. Stop for some perspective. Life will pass you by without a second glimpse if you don’t stop take notice every now and then — schedule time for reflection. Be self-aware. Appreciate the small moments.
  3. Back yourself. No one else is going to if you don’t. There’s no better person for the job than you — believe it!
  4. Get the power of compounding on your side. Do the work, every single day. A woodpecker doesn’t make its hole with one fell swoop — you can’t build your life with one either.
  5. Fall in love with the process. Life is not a destination; it’s a journey. Don’t treat your time as a means to an end. Time is the ultimate currency. Appreciate every passing moment as it comes and goes.
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5 Things to Do Every Day

  1. Write. To write well is to think clearly. Write about anything, but write — every single day. It will distill your thoughts, align your thinking, and give you clarity on the path forward.
  2. Work on a skill. The power of compounding. Small amounts of effort applied consistently add up over time. See the quote below from Seth Godin — no one says it better.
  3. Do something you love. Life is too short to go through it with even one day that is miserable. Not all days are born equal, but make sure there is something to be celebrated in everyone.
  4. Add value to someone else’s life. It could be a hug or a meal for someone who needs it. Give of yourself a little bit every day.
  5. Be outside. Even for your morning coffee, though, a walk or exercise is best. Fresh air has wonderful effects on resetting our psyche. Put down your phone, and take some time to yourself, outside.
We’re all so busy doing our work that sometimes we fail to build a skill worth owning.
If you invest 100 hours in a rare skill, you’re likely to acquire it. If you could learn to sharpen a tool better than your peers, organize a high-performance database, see the nuances in some sector of cryptography, know how to build a pretty-good WordPress site or really understand the arc of a particular writer’s career, you’d have something of value. Something that anyone who was focused enough to invest 100 hours could have, but few will choose to commit to.
— Seth Godin
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