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What 12 Super-Successful People Wish They Knew At 22

Things won't get easier, but they'll get better.
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Think back to when you were 22 years old. You were just graduating from college, entering the "real world," and embarking on your professional journey.

Maybe you wish you could rewrite your past. Or perhaps you're content with the decisions you made at that time in your life. Either way, there are probably a few things you wish you knew then that you know now.

That's exactly what LinkedIn asked its network of top minds across all fields to write about for its most recent Influencers editorial package, titled "If I Were 22."

Over 60 thought leaders shared original posts--along with pictures of themselves at 22--filled with pearls of wisdom for new grads based on what they wish they had known at 22. Here's what 12 super-successful people had to say.

Arianna Huffington: Don’t work too hard.

In the course of her "Thrive" book tour, the The Huffington Post president says one question has come up over and over again. It goes something like this: "It's all fine and good for people who have already succeeded to care for their well-being, but shouldn't young people pursue their dreams by burning the candle at both ends? Surely getting by on less sleep and constant multitasking are an express elevator to the top, right?"

"This couldn't be less true," Huffington says. "And for far too long, we have been operating under a collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for achieving success." 

This is what she wishes she knew at 22. "I wish I could go back and tell myself, 'Arianna, your performance will actually improve if you can commit to not only working hard but also unplugging, recharging, and renewing yourself.'"

That knowledge, Huffington says, would have saved her a lot of unnecessary stress, worry, burnout, and anxiety.

Richard Branson: Have a blast, but build your purpose.

"There are lots of things I know now that I wish I had known when I was 22," says the Virgin Group founder. "I would have loved to have known that Sir Tim Berners-Lee was going to invent the internet, so that I could have invented LinkedIn--not to mention Google, Twitter, and Facebook!

"It would have been useful to have known that Steve Jobs was going to launch the iPod, and the internet was going to revolutionize the music industry--I would have sold our record shops and got out of the music business a lot earlier."

Sallie Krawcheck: Things won’t get easier, but they’ll get better.

Krawcheck, the business leader of 85 Broads and a former top executive on Wall Street, wishes she had known to keep a running note of what works and what doesn't work for her; what she likes and what she doesn't like; what she's good and what she isn't good at; the work styles that suit her and what doesn't; and where her passions lie and what leaves her cold. 

She'd tell her 22-year-old self that "it still won't be easy once you decide what you want to do: over the months that follow, you're going to be rejected by all of the major Wall Street firms ... but you'll eventually find the right firm. ... It's going to be a lot of fun. Not every day, but most days. You're going to be rejected a lot. You'll need thick skin to get through it. Oh, and work hard. That really matters. Please get that mole on your shoulder checked. And that guy you're dating? Bad idea. Seriously."

Deepak Chopra: Embrace the wisdom of uncertainty.

What Chopra wishes he knew at 22 is to embrace the wisdom of uncertainty.

"At the outset of my medical career, I had the security of knowing exactly where I was headed," says the popular author and founder of The Chopra Foundation. "Yet what I didn't count on was the uncertainty of life, and what uncertainty can do to a person."

He had thought security was his "friend" and uncertainty his enemy. "If only I knew then, as I know now, that there is wisdom in uncertainty--it opens a door to the unknown, and only from the unknown can life be renewed constantly," he says.

Suze Orman: Money will never define you; you define your money.

"Money will never define you. You define your money."

That's what Orman wishes she knew at 22.

"When you are starting out in your 20s, it is natural to think about all that you will have and do once you start making money, and making more money. That gives money way too much power over your life. It's not about how much you make, but the life that you make with the money you have."

After spending her 20s waitressing and never earning more than $400 a month, the TV host, author, and financial adviser's 30s saw a drastic shift. "I built a successful financial-planning practice and was making more in a month than I used to make in a year. But here was the problem: the more money I made, the more I wanted other people to see how great I was doing, financially speaking."

Her finances were a mess, she says. "But more importantly, my money was a mess because I was a mess. I had it all wrong--all the things I was spending my money on added nothing to my self-worth."

Clara Shih: Accept that the most coveted jobs may not be right for you.

Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social, says she can't complain about the way her career has gone so far--but there are two things she wishes someone had told her at 22:

1. Don't choose a job just because it's the most sought-after.

2. Don't choose a job based on pay (unless you absolutely have to). 

"Especially when you are early in your career, one of the worst things you can do is sacrifice learning opportunities, growth, and valuable connections for ego and--in retrospect--paltry sums of short-term money," she says. "You owe it to your future self to make decisions today for the right reasons and the long term."

Craig Newmark: Begin working on your personal brand early on.

"People will quickly decide to perceive you one way or the other, and it'll be hard to change that perception, which is what the marketing folks rightly call a 'brand,'" says Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.

What he wishes he knew at 22: "You're responsible for your own branding from the beginning, and if you can get it done well, right at the start, and then protect it, that's good."

"We nerds aren't good at that, and tend to be perceived unfairly," he adds. "That can be corrected over time, particularly if you have a sense of humor."

Rachel Zoe: Learn what you’re good at.

"When you are just starting out in your career, it is both an incredibly exciting and scary time," says the celebrity fashion stylist.

"It was through a combination of instinct and great advice from my parents--for which I am eternally grateful--that I was able to navigate the uncharted territory of the fashion world. If I could go back and do it all over, these are the points I would hone in on; they are also the words of wisdom I offer to anyone who is just getting their feet wet."

  • Don't look at the clock.
  • Learn what you're good at and what you're not good at.
  • Know what to prioritize.
  • Rise above drama.
  • Stand out in your job interviews. 

Jim Kim: Get to know how other people live.

When Kim, president at the World Bank, turned 22, he was quite unhappy. He was just two months into his first year at Harvard Medical School, where he spent every night memorizing anatomy out of a textbook. "It seemed a real letdown," he says.

"I wish I knew then what I understand more completely now about preparing myself for the future. I have two suggestions that I wish someone had told me when I was younger."

One, he says, is to find out how other people live. "You should get to know people from every income level and understand their worlds."

Second, is to understand the benefits of meditation, or other practices that calm your mind.

Naomi Simson: Work won't remember that weekend you didn't give it, but your friends will.

Simson, the founder of RedBalloon and a former Apple manager, says she would tell her 22-year-old self to have fun, to rush less, breathe more, eat raw food, and take up yoga. "I worked hard. I was focused, determined, and disciplined. But I did not necessarily allow myself the space and time for creativity and self-expression," she says.

"I would encourage my 22-year-old self to take a moment to nurture my friendships--in person. Call them, make a plan, do something together--share experience. Laugh out loud every day. A poke on Facebook does not a friendship make (not that there was such a thing as social media when I was 22)."

Christopher Elliot: Learn as much as you can.

Elliot wishes he knew a few things at 22.

The author, consumer advocate, and multimedia journalist says he’d tell himself to tackle big challenges, to learn a lot about numbers and words--and even more about people--to read poetry, to use data to guide your own behavior and drama to persuade others, to move on when it's time, to be a good disciple until you're ready to become a good leader, to spend more time on your loved ones, and to learn to dance.

Finally, he'd say: "Don’t worry too much about the fact that you’re already starting to lose your hair. You’ll be better off without it."

Lora Cecere: Read the book 'Four-Fold Way.'

"Oh, but if only I could go back," says Cecere, CEO of Supply Chain Insights. "When I was 22, I was starting my second college degree. My mind was full of hope and promise. I was an idealist. Driven and aggressive, I had high expectations.

"I am now nearing 60. Twenty-two was a long time ago. Then, I had a smaller waist, and there was no graying at my temples. It is hard for me to go back 40 years, but here I take the challenge. (Even though it is a big step back into history.)"

If she were 22 again, Cecere says she would check out the book "Four-Fold Way" and spend time internalizing the wisdom. "If I had, my life would have been easier and less stressful."

So what is the "Four-Fold Way"? "It is a book of wisdom," she explains. "My current copy is well-worn. The manuscript distills the norms and behaviors that were expected when Native American tribes gathered for council. The differing nations found that some simple principles helped to improve the outcome of the council when they gathered. The advice is simple, but profound."

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 20, 2014




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