If you’re a young professional and you have grand ambitions of having a wildly successful career, saving money should be the least of your worries right now. You’ll have plenty of time to max out your 401K, invest in the stock market and build your nest egg after you figure out what you want from your career and how you’re going to get it.
So, what should you be worried about now, while you’re in your 20s?
Learning and discovery.
As a recent college grad, your most important job is to learn as much as humanly possible, gain as many critical and desirable skills as you can, and discover what you’re good at and what you love to do every day.
The old model for managing your young professional career was to start on the bottom rung, put your head down, pay attention and get a few promotions. Eventually you’d work your way up the ladder and all would be good – you’d retire with your gold watch after 30 years. That’s not the case anymore.
Today, the safest job you can have is to be self employed. If you’re self employed, you have complete control, you’re not at the mercy of a corporation. Today, the most successful young professionals have a full-time job, a side project, and a commitment to constantly learning new skills that will lead to countless money making opportunities in the future.
The most at-risk young professionals are going through the motions. They’re working 9 to 5 at a single job, leaving any kind of learning and work at the office and never thinking about the skills they are acquiring. These are the people who are also worrying about saving money instead of investing in learning new skills. When downsizings come, everyone’s at risk of losing their job, but the people who are going through the motions are the ones who will be in big trouble when they’re cut.
In Thomas Friedman’s interesting New York Times piece, “The Startup of You,” he points out that the top companies are now smaller and more nimble than ever. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are hiring considerably fewer people than major companies were even 20 years ago. On top of that, everything can be automated, and companies aren’t hesitating to automate. Bottom line: if you don’t have a unique skill set, you’re in big trouble.
Friedman says that professionals today need to think of themselves as a startup. I love this analogy because when successful startups first get off the ground, they are obsessed with learning and discovery while they try to find a business model – just like a young professional needs to be obsessed with learning and discovery while they try to find a career path.
What Friedman misses in his article, however, is that for the most successful people, your twenties are the time where you really need to think of your career as a startup. Your later years are when your career should be much more like a fully functioning company. When you’re 40 or 50, you should know what your good at, you should absolutely be worried about making and saving money as much as possible and you should be a well oiled machine. You want to be like Apple or Google at this point, you don’t want to be like a startup!
Here’s the thing. If you don’t start learning and discovering your skills, strengths, likes and dislikes in your twenties, you’re going to be behind the eight ball. If you take the old advice and spend your twenties worrying about things like saving a lot of money and what you’re going to do when you get out of work at 5 pm, then you’ll probably be worrying about that 401K and that savings account for the next 50 years. If you spend your time learning and discovering the right career choice for you, working your ass off to make it a reality, and if you always keep your eyes open for new opportunities, I guarantee that you will watch your savings account magically grow beyond your wildest dreams.
Ryan Healy is the co-founder of Brazen Careerist where he is the COO. He was recently named one of Worth Magazine’s 20 Entrepreneurs To Watch.