The Starting Out Blueprint

When I asked readers and friends for blog post ideas, one of the most common I got was what they’d suggest for someone just starting out. One guy said a 15 year old homeless orphan (I guess to remove any possibility of a leg up), and another asked about his teenage son, but the gist is the same. I obviously don’t believe the traditional path is so great, so I would do something very different.

Despite other people trying to get the idea through to me, I didn’t really understand just how great of an advantage youth is. Good things you do when you are young can have massive effects throughout the rest of your life, and mistakes can sort of be forgotten and redone.

Also, there’s essentially no expectation that you do anything useful at that age. Parents just want you to be on a path that doesn’t involve living in a box on the side of the road. Anything above that is a bonus.

One of the few things you can do young that could hamper you for the rest of your life is debt. Do. Not. Go. Into. Debt. It’s not worth it.

Your three main goals should be the following:

1. Make an excellent group of friends who are also motivated
2. Learn skills that will have compounding positive effects on your life
3. Start socking away some money or assets

I’ll break these down one by one.

Friends

Your friends will have a massive impact on your life. They will define who you are, how you think, and what you experience in life. It is easiest to make friends when you are young, and if you make friends when you are young you get more years with them in your life. Don’t underestimate the value of your friend group.

Beyond just making friends, think about how to make them into a cohesive group. Introduce them to each other and help foster individual bonds between each set of individuals. Sometimes someone, maybe you, will get caught up in a job abroad, or a new relationship. If everyone else has strong bonds, the group will remain strong and will be there waiting for you when you return.

Most people are not thinking proactively about making friends at this age. If you are one of the few who are, you will have a friend group that is way better than average.

I wrote a whole book about this called Superhuman Social Skills.

Skills

One of the most important skillsets in life is interpersonal skills. Being proactive about making friends will go a long way towards building these skills. None of us can predict the future, but it’s hard to imagine a future where strong interpersonal skills aren’t important. Learn how to make friends, make people feel valued, convey your ideas clearly and succinctly, tell stories, and to listen and understand other perspectives.

Everyone’s so focused on learning programming and lawyering that they forget about the most important skills. That’s where you can get an advantage.

Try to learn a language. Right now I’d say Chinese, but that could change in the future.

Learn any other skill that you really care about, and dedicate five years to it. Maybe it’s something that seems like it will make money, like programming. Maybe it’s rope braiding. Any skill is valuable if you’re good enough at it, and you have the time to get good at it since you’re starting so early.

It’s much better to be a 10/10 at some random skill than a 7/10 at some commodity skill.

Try not to go to school. If it’s free and it appeals to you, it might be worth a shot. If you aren’t motivated enough to make your own path, go to school. Don’t get into debt for school; it’s a much bigger gamble than is commonly accepted.

If you are forced to go to school, make the most of it. Make as many friends as possible, as that’s the best part of school. Take classes that will interest you and be useful. Language, for example.

Spend much more time working than your peers. They will work on school stuff, but nothing important. Do the opposite. Build your skills. Try starting a business. Get a job that is going to actually teach you something. Or just work for free for someone you admire, but treat the job like you’re getting paid $100k per year. Most of your peers will either be slacking or doing mindless school work. Don’t be like them.

Money

Start saving money. Save as much as you can, not because it will actually amount to much, but because if you build the habit young it will be much easier when you’re older. Very few people keep their expenses the same when they get a raise. I know a bunch of people who became millionaires and stayed just as frugal as they were before because even being frugal is a skill.

Look for ways to make money. Besides contributing to saving up money, it also forces you to see the market value of your skills, which will expose strengths and weaknesses. In particular, whatever you determine will be your big 5-year skill should be monetized. If you’re programming, keep bidding for crappy programming gigs online until you get one. If you’re painting, go to an art fair and try to sell your work.

When you are young you just sort of assume that everything will be figured out by the time you’re 30 or so. And then when you turn 30 you realize that the past 10-15 years were the years in which you should have figured things out. Start out now and act like there’s urgency, because there sort of is.

Put pressure on yourself to try, but not to succeed. Your teens and twenties sholud be some of the most fun years of your life, but they can be that while also being the years that set you up for success for the rest of your life. The difference between saving a little bit of money and getting into a little bit of debt is huge. Same with being a little proactive about making friends and being a little antisocial or building your skills or being apathetic.

Most importantly, take responsibility for yourself. We may have lived in a society where society would take care of you, but for better or worse we don’t live there anymore. Your parents will help you, but their goals for you will be different than your own goals. Only by being independent and responsible will you build the life that you really want.

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Photo is a cute chipmunk

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