For most of us, life progresses in a similar sequence: finish school, find a job, have a family, build a career, and retire. What if there was another, better option? What if you could live your life backwards?
Serial entrepreneur Dr. Sabrina Kay believes that not only is it possible, but that more of us should lead our lives in reverse, or what she calls a "Benjamin Button life." For those who aren't familiar with the Brad Pitt film of the same name, it is the story of a man who is born elderly. Instead of getting older, he ages in reverse and becomes younger as time passes.
As a single mother who had immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea and spoke little English at the time, Kay poured her time, attention, and youthful energy into developing her skills and starting a business, the Art Institute of Hollywood. Over the course of the next decade, it grew to be one of the "Big Four" fashion colleges in North America and sold at a price that allowed her to retire in her 30s. (Kay declines to publicly specify the sale price; she says it was in the eight-figure range.)
Kay went on to earn three graduate degrees, found the Premier Business Bank, and start Fremont College, where she now serves as chancellor and works with adults to build their careers through flexible education. She says her success is due to that Benjamin Button mindset.
Here's what that means:
1. Build your career in your 20s or even earlier.
Young people are often told to travel, have fun, and try new things. Most party, go to music festivals, and join social clubs when they are in their teens and twenties. Kay, on the other hand, never went out or even drank alcohol until much later in life.
According to Kay, your 20s are for work, not play. Contrary to the popular YOLO mindset, she advises hunkering down, focusing on one thing, and building something valuable, whether that's a business, expertise or cause you care about.
2. Focus on your skills in your 30s.
Find out what you are really good at when you're in your thirties. Most people, especially earlier in life, focus too much on their passions and not enough on skills and strengths.
There will be time later in life to explore your interest and try out different things, but you have to build a base first. What do you do better than anyone else? Commit to developing that for several years and develop a refined set of skills and expertise.
It may go against the societal belief that you need to, "Follow your passion", but few know with certainty what their true passions are, even in their early 30s. Expecting yourself to have found "your calling" at that stage of your life will only be a source of stress, anxiety, and disappointment.
3. Have fun and explore in your 40s.
By living life backwards, when you reach your mid-thirties, you should have ample funds to support yourself, your family, and your interests. Your 40s are the time to explore and have fun. With a secure future, family, community, and financial stability, Kay says, "It's the perfect time to try new things and explore the world.
In a Benjamin Button life, you trade socializing and partying when you're young for working crazy hours. It's not a lifestyle that appeals to everyone. However, according to Kay, it's the key to building a successful career and profitable business faster.
Dive into work and projects when you're young. Once you get older, you can have fun without the stress of worrying about how you're going to pay for it or support yourself financially.