This past week, I was invited to speak on a panel for a conference on entrepreneurship. The topic was if I had the chance to go back in time, what I would tell myself when I was 21. When I was thinking about my response, it opened my eyes to some lessons I should still keep in mind.
At 21, most of us were still discovering who we were and what we wanted in life. There were so many mistakes that we made, but there were also amazing lessons that helped us grow. During that phase in life is when you see people go in all different directions. Some made changes for the better, and others for the worse. While I'm happy with the direction I went in, I know there are pieces of advice that would've made the journey much easier. Here are the three pieces of advice I would tell my 21-year-old self.
1. Be careful who you hang out with
When we're young, it's hard to realize the effect our peers have on us. This is especially true for college students, where fashion trends and cliques are more common. The toughest part at that age is being able to let go of the people in your life who aren't helping you get to where you want to be. Sometimes these people were my friends, teammates, or fraternity brothers.
Many times, I would tell myself that I didn't want to burn bridges, or that the friends I hung out with didn't affect me. Over time, I realized that neither of these were good excuses. Not one of the friends that were bad influences on me helped me out long-term. Neither did they have any kind of positive effect on my growth. When I finally removed these people from my life, things became much easier. At 21, I wish I'd told myself to remove them sooner.
2. Slow down
A lot of young people doing startups today are obsessed with the idea of creating a billion-dollar company overnight. Believing this causes them to give up after early failures. They rush to create the next disruptive product, only to be devastated when it doesn't immediately take off. At 21, I had a similar mentality. I believed that it was destiny for me to build a successful company immediately. I thought problems companies really faced didn't apply to my startup. Then once I encountered failure, it broke my spirits. Looking back, I wish I would've understood the actual life of an entrepreneur better.
Business owners rarely get it right the first time. It takes tons of failures and speed bumps to reach your goals. There are so many lessons that you learn along the way. In truth, it's an entrepreneur's ability to learn from failure that makes him/her successful. From failing over and over again, I learned that entrepreneurship is about grit, not a get-rich-quick scheme. If I'd understood this earlier, I would have dealt with early failures much better.
3. Take courses in computer science
One of the best things I've ever done as an entrepreneur was go to a coding bootcamp. Even though I am not the lead developer for Alumnify, learning the basics of development helped me become a much better leader. Recruitment and product strategy are a couple of areas that improved with me learning basic coding. My only regret is that I didn't take advantage of the computer science department while I was in college. If I could go back, I would at least get a minor in computer science. No matter what job you do, technology has grown to the point that any employer will give you a leg up if you know how to program.
When I was 21, I loved learning about finance and focused all my time on business classes. Unfortunately, most of the classes I took in business school have not helped me in running my company. If I could go back, I'd focus less on business and more on coding. I had to learn how to code after I graduated, and I used more time and money because I didn't learn the basics in college.