On Quora, someone asked, "How should a 22-year-old invest time?" A wave of feel-good answers best suited to self-help books followed. I thought a heavy dose of realism was needed.
- Network first, then make friends. You can always make friends, but the people who can help you now will not remain in the same position. They'll lose their jobs, climb the ladder, or remain in place while you move around, in or out of their reach. Moreover, professional relationships do not preclude friendships. In fact, your colleagues would probably make better friends than your drinking buddies who you know absolutely nothing about.
- Gain competence in what you love; branch out later. If you've already found what you love, you shouldn't go looking for alternatives. Instead: practice, practice, and practice some more. When you think you're done, keep practicing. Once you've become proficient, explore other areas but only those that may have synergies with your primary domain. Stay focused.
- Volunteer to help those who can help you. No amount of exposure to other people's "real problems" will prepare a 22-year-old to solve them. Perspective tugs on the heartstrings and rallies passionate believers around causes, but despite how cold this sounds, you can accomplish more for others once you're no longer worrying about yourself. Volunteer with a trade association, or intern with a company, where you can practice what you love and learn from people you respect.
- Accept that independence is a fantasy. Unless you go completely off the grid, into the wilderness, and live off the land, everyone relies on each other. Don't concern yourself with your "independence." Starting a company isn't going to free you. Writing a book is really not going to free you. Taking on serious responsibilities like creating jobs and publishing books are heavy burdens which can feel like chains. There hasn't been a single moment where I've felt free, but the pursuit of position in the interconnected community in which we live has given me purpose.
- Spend every waking moment thinking about your reputation. All we really own until we leave this world is our name. If you don't take your name seriously, nobody else will. You have to defend, fight for, and build your reputation. You might not aspire to be Andrew Carnegie, but you should be thinking about what your life will mean to the people you care about. More importantly, think about what your life means now every day because if that thought is depressing, you need to get to work.
- Do whatever needs doing. Allowing yourself to be driven by genuine interest is perfectly fine if you're stuck in high school, but after you leave the safe confines of that teenage prison, you don't have a choice. You have to work for what you want. You have to act, not stand back and let good things happen to you. You have to do whatever needs doing and liking what must be done doesn't matter; being happy in every moment doesn't matter.
Life is worth living because of those fleeting moments of true happiness, those rare moments when you realize that you can carry the fruits of your dedication and hard labor to the end of your days with the biggest smile on your face, from loving and successful children to a multibillion-dollar enterprise that gives thousands of people the means to do good and do well.