Josh Thompson     about     blog     projects

20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don't Get

Article Table of Contents

Jason Nazar recently wrote an article titled 20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get.

Please read it, but with a big grain of salt.

Nazar opens with the statement “I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I see this generation making their own.”

This seems to be an aspirational list, rather than scolding, but it sure does feel like scolding.

I thought I’d give my own feedback, as a member of the “20-somthings club” for four years.

In Nazar’s defense, he has two challenging constraints - brevity and clicks. He covers a lot of ground in just a few words, and his article is posted to generate clicks, not necessarily to deliver nuanced perspective to the reader.

Here we go.  Italicized words are mine: more

  1. Time is Not a Limitless Commodity – I so rarely find young professionals that have a heightened sense of urgency to get to the next level. In our 20s we think we have all the time in the world to A) figure it out and B) get what we want. Time is the only treasure we start off with in abundance, and can never get back. Make the most of the opportunities you have today, because there will be a time when you have no more of it.

Partially right - time is the most important resource, and can be easily wasted or squandered on dumb things, like obsessing over achieving “the next level” in your career. No one has said on their death bed “I wish I spent more time at work.” Time is valuable, and must not be wasted, but all your time should not be spent on your career; you’ll be worse at your job, bad at relationships, and have nothing to remember about your life but disliking your commute.

2. You’re Talented, But Talent is Overrated  - Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable & multi-tasking generation yet. As my father says, “I’ll Give You a Sh-t Medal.” Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are simply wasted potential. There’s no prize for talent, just results. Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked their way to success. (Tip: read “ Talent is Overrated”)

Nazar is 100% right - but for most people, they’ve grown up in a school system that relentlessly rewards existence, not results. It is not fulfilling to be rewarded for existing - people are fulfilled when doing meaningful work, and a lot of young folks have been kneecapped by being told (usually be an older generation) that “they have what it takes” and “everyone is unique”. This disconnect from producing hurts everyone.

3. We’re More Productive in the Morning  – During my first 2 years at Docstoc (while I was still in my 20’s) I prided myself on staying at the office until 3am on a regular basis. I thought I got so much work done in those hours long after everyone else was gone. But in retrospect I got more menial, task-based items done, not the more complicated strategic planning, phone calls or meetings that needed to happen during business hours. Now I stress an office-wide early start time because I know, for the most part,  we’re more productive as a team in those early hours of the day.

Again, 100% right, but he belies his priorities - what’s the problem with working until 3am? It’s not just a productivity issue, it is a priority issue. I love mornings, and usually get up before 6am to do the “complicated strategic planning” things I need to do for my life. I once worked 90 hours a week for a business - not only did my work quality suffer, I abdicated all sense of priority in my life to my employer. I will never do this again - I have a wife, and a life.

4. Social Media is Not a Career  – These job titles won’t exist in 5 years. Social media is simply a function of marketing; it helps support branding, ROI or both. Social media is a means to get more awareness, more users or more revenue. It’s not an end in itself. I’d strongly caution against pegging your career trajectory solely to a social media job title.

20-somethings are not the only ones guilty of this. Also, since we were just talking about delivering results (and therefore value) if you can deliver value to a business via social media, get to it. I’ve come across dozens of small businesses that have no Facebook page, or any other web presence. You’ll never get paid to just tweet for a company, but if you can help them enter the arena in which most of their potential customers do business, you’re growing their bottom line.

5. Pick Up the Phone  – Stop hiding behind your computer. Business gets done on the phone and in person. It should be your first instinct, not last, to talk to a real person and source business opportunities. And when the Internet goes down… stop looking so befuddled and don’t ask to go home. Don’t be a pansy, pick up the phone.

I have nothing to add to this. He hits it on the head. You can connect with people over the phone in a way you cannot in an email. Since business is about relationships, you should figure out how to build relationships. Relationships can be built over the phone. They are hard to build over email.

6. Be the First In & Last to Leave  ­– I give this advice to everyone starting a new job or still in the formative stages of their professional career. You have more ground to make up than everyone else around you, and you do have something to prove. There’s only one sure-fire way to get ahead, and that’s to work harder than all of your peers.

This is wrong, and it is t he most damaging item on the list . Again, we have been talking about adding value to a business. If you can add 3 units of value/hour to a company for 10 hours a day, or add 6 units of value/hour for 8 hours a day, which is better for your company? That is 30 units of value vs. 48 units of value. Excuse my arbitrary measuring, but the emphasis is not”work longer”, it’s work smarter. Obviously, don’t slack off, but don’t hand your soul over to your business. Work hard at meaningful work. Simple as that.

7. Don’t Wait to Be Told What to Do  – You can’t have a sense of entitlement without a sense of responsibility. You’ll never get ahead by waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Saying “nobody asked me to do this” is a guaranteed recipe for failure. Err on the side of doing too much, not too little. (Watch:  Millennials in the Workplace Training Video)

You should never have a sense of entitlement, even if you have a sense of responsibility. Yes, do too much rather than too little. If you watch that video and find it anything but condescending and not that funny, you can probably stop reading now.

8. Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes  – You should be making lots of mistakeswhen you’re early on in your career. But you shouldn’t be defensive about errors in judgment or execution. Stop trying to justify your F-ups. You’re only going to grow by embracing the lessons learned from your mistakes, and committing to learn from those experiences.

Agreed. This holds true for all ages, and not taking responsibility for mistakes afflicts everyone, regardless of age. Be someone who takes responsibility, not someone who avoids it.

9. You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked  – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have. This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career. Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success.

He’s wrong. You should be growing, but Streep would be a terrible boss. If her direct reports (terrible word) manage her staff the same way she manages them, it’ll turn the entire company into picking on everyone one rung down the ladder. That’s toxic to the success of a company. If Nazar is down with this management style, I feel sorry for his staff.

10. A New Job a Year Isn’t a Good Thing  ­­– 1-year stints don’t tell me that you’re so talented that you keep outgrowing your company. It tells me that you don’t have the discipline to see your own learning curve through to completion. It takes about 2-3 years to master any new critical skill, give yourself at least that much time before you jump ship. Otherwise your resume reads as a series of red flags on why not to be hired.

I am confident that Nazar hires the best employees he can, and I bet even he has broken this implicit rule when hiring. Since a business is (or should be) interested in delivering value, if a candidate has moved around every year or so, but delivers value and understands the implications of that rapid movement, there shouldn’t be any concerns.

11. People Matter More Than Perks  – It’s so trendy to pick the company that offers the most flex time, unlimited meals, company massages, game rooms and team outings. Those should all matter, but not as much as the character of your founders and managers. Great leaders will mentor you and will be a loyal source of employment long after you’ve left.  Make a conscious bet on the folks you’re going to work for and your commitment to them will pay off much more than those fluffy perks.

Good people will take care of their staff, and provide appropriate “fluffy perks” when it matters to staff. Staff deliver value, happy staff deliver more value. Take care of your staff.

12. Map Effort to Your Professional Gain  – You’re going to be asked to do things you don’t like to do. Keep your eye on the prize. Connect what you’re doing today, with where you want to be tomorrow. That should be all the incentive you need. If you can’t map your future success to your current responsibilities, then it’s time to find a new opportunity.

Yes. But don’t be a pushover. Don’t do 90 hour weeks. Work harder than your coworkers, and deliver more value, but don’t be a pushover. Life is too short to spend three years sucking up st work for a jerk of a manager - and doing this will change who you are. You will **become one who does that which you do not want to do. Draw the line.

13. Speak Up, Not Out  – We’re raising a generation of sh-t talkers. In your workplace this is a cancer. If you have issues with management, culture or your role & responsibilities, SPEAK UP. Don’t take those complaints and trash-talk the company or co-workers on lunch breaks and anonymous chat boards. If you can effectively communicate what needs to be improved, you have the ability to shape your surroundings and professional destiny.

Conflict is inherent in relationships, and conflict management/resolution/however you want to label it is possibly the most valuable skill you can have. As you learn to get stuff done and deliver value, you will inevitably run the risk of stepping on toes. You can either complain about the stick-in-the-mud that can’t handle your amazing money-making ideas, or you can figure out how to work within the framework of your business to make change happen. There are people that do this all day for the government, so if you work in the private sector, it’s totally possible. If it’s still not possible to make change happen, leave your job.

14. You HAVE to Build Your Technical Chops  – Adding “Proficient in Microsoft Office” at the bottom of your resume under Skills, is not going to cut it anymore. I immediately give preference to candidates who are ninjas in: Photoshop, HTML/CSS, iOS, WordPress, Adwords, MySQL, Balsamiq, advanced Excel, Final Cut Pro – regardless of their job position. If you plan to stay gainfully employed, you better complement that humanities degree with some applicable technical chops.

True. Learn to code, design, or whatever.Learn things. If you don’t have time to learn things, make time.

15. Both the Size and Quality of Your Network Matter  – It’s who you know more than what you know, that gets you ahead in business. Knowing a small group of folks very well, or a huge smattering of contacts superficially, just won’t cut it. Meet and stay connected to lots of folks, and invest your time developing as many of those relationships as possible. (TIP: Here is my Networking Advice)

It’s not just “networking”, but it’s “relationship building”. Unless you know everything there is to know about anything you’d like to know about, you stand to benefit from building relationships. As you build these relationships, deliver value. Sometimes (especially if you’re young) the experience and knowledge ratio is so one-sided the only thing you can deliver is a heart-felt “thank you for your wisdom, and your time.” This counts as delivering value, so get out there and meet people. Learn from them.

16. You Need At Least 3 Professional Mentors  – The most guaranteed path to success is to emulate those who’ve achieved what you seek. You should always have at least 3 people you call mentors who are where you want to be. Their free guidance and counsel will be the most priceless gift you can receive. (TIP: “ The Secret to Finding and Keeping Mentors”)

If you don’t yet have mentors, just go meet professionals and experts. Even a mortician (if they are really good at what they do) has a lot to tell you about building a business, empathizing with customers, and mastering a craft. If you can’t see past the dead people, you probably are not ready for a professional mentor anyway.

17. Pick an Idol & Act “As If”  – You may not know what to do, but your professional idol does. I often coach my employees to pick the businessperson they most admire, and act “as if.” If you were (fill in the blank) how would he or she carry themselves, make decisions, organize his/her day, accomplish goals? You’ve got to fake it until you make it, so it’s better to fake it as the most accomplished person you could imagine. (Shout out to Tony Robbins for the tip)

Again, yes. Have mentors, friends, and role models. It’s OK if they are imaginary.

18. Read More Books, Fewer Tweets/Texts  – Your generation consumes information in headlines and 140 characters: all breadth and no depth. Creativity, thoughtfulness and thinking skills are freed when you’re forced to read a full book cover to cover. All the keys to your future success, lay in the past experience of others. Make sure to read a book a month (fiction or non-fiction) and your career will blossom.

He speaks truth. If you like what you read here, you may enjoy these books.

19. Spend 25% Less Than You Make  – When your material needs meet or exceed your income, you’re sabotaging your ability to really make it big. Don’t shackle yourself with golden handcuffs (a fancy car or an expensive apartment). Be willing and able to take 20% less in the short term, if it could mean 200% more earning potential. You’re nothing more than penny wise and pound-foolish if you pass up an amazing new career opportunity to keep an extra little bit of income. No matter how much money you make, spend 25% less to support your life. It’s a guaranteed formula to be less stressed and to always have the flexibility to pursue your dreams.

The last four points are worth this entire article. Even the dumb stuff is far outweighed by these items. Please apply these to your life, starting today. Read I Will Teach You To Be Rich to get started.

20. Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It  – Over time, your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business. It’s the invisible key that either opens or closes doors of professional opportunity. Especially in an age where everything is forever recorded and accessible,  your reputation has to be guarded like the most sacred treasure. It’s the one item that, once lost, you can never get back.

Rather than treating your reputation as a finite, delicate item like fine china, get out there and make honorable choices with courage. If you always try to do the right thing, care for others (especially if they are “below” you), and focus on serving customers and staff, you will not be damaging your reputation, you’ll be improving it. If you are one to cheat, steal, and beg, maybe you should keep that on the DL, but it’s not exactly a sustainable lifestyle.

There was useful stuff in this article, but I wanted to add my two cents. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you agree or disagree. I’m open to it all!