Most people in their 20s spend their time thrill-seeking, gaining all kinds of experiences—especially travel, perhaps making a few mistakes, and hopefully learning. I mean they have their whole adult lives ahead of them. There will be plenty of opportunity to buckle down and get serious. They’ve achieved a new sense of freedom. Why waste it sitting around contemplating the future? My brother, who is seven years my junior, once said to me: “Joe, I look at you and think you’ve yet to live.” He went on to say that I spend so much of my time trying to achieve certain goals and improve my life that he has never once heard me talk about going on a date or “living it up” so to speak. In fact, I’ve been too afraid to ask anyone out that I’ve run from every opportunity. Self-confidence has been an ongoing issue for as long as I can remember, but that’s a story for another day. I mention it only to show how much I’ve shunned making any effort to build personal relationships—romantic or otherwise—in favor of wanting to build knowledge.

However, in reality, I’ve only ever been infatuated with knowledge. Sure, I’ve read a few books and have become pretty good at faking it until I make it. I mean there’s so much information online nowadays that anyone can learn to do almost anything. But what knowledge do I really possess? I mean it’s not enough to watch a few YouTube videos or read a couple blogs and call yourself an expert. We need to have credentials—which has been an ongoing source of consternation for me that I’ve finally caved. I’m aggressively trying to complete the associate degree I started seven years ago. I also decided that I’m going to take advantage of a few professional development courses offered via LinkedIn Learning. These courses should enable me to be a better individual contributor while also preparing me for advancement within my organization. I also hope to use this knowledge to be a better person because at the heart of leading and managing is understanding people and how we operate.

As I think about how I spent my 20s, there a few valuable lessons I want to share:

Don’t put off what can be done today for tomorrow. It’s a line we’ve probably all heard at some point in our lives. I heard it often growing up and especially as an adult in my 20s. I now find myself trying to catch up with my peers in terms of knowledge, experience, and particularly educational attainment. I recognize that learning is continuous and shouldn’t be a contest, but I’ve likely missed out on career and other opportunities because I chose to procrastinate. I think the best way to overcome procrastination is to take whatever you’re trying to do in strides. If you’re like me, though, you often try to sprint three miles when you haven’t run for months. Take it slow, and you’ll get there. In the end, that’s what matters.

Never sacrifice relationships for a goal. I tend to do this a lot. Partly because my introversion makes me narcissistic and super critical or cynical. I also think that being an introvert is a byproduct of a lack of social skills. Yes, it’s true that I prefer being in more quiet situations and in places where I can think—which is important, especially as a writer—but that should never come at the expense of being able to learn and grow from other people too. Part of being human is finding and developing connections. I can read all the books in the world and take as many online/independent study courses I want, but success is never achieved alone.

You always want positive beans. This advice came from a coworker who retired recently. It actually struck a chord with me because, related to the previous lesson, I once upset a few coworkers trying to gain traction on an idea that would have improved one of our business processes. I dismissed my colleagues as unwilling to change and lacking a sense of creativity and innovation. However, I should have taken a more team approach and given them the opportunity to share their thoughts and understand their source of hesitation as a way to come up with an even better solution. Instead, nothing changed, my idea fell flat, and I lost important champions for my future success.

Original ideas today aren’t so novel. I once took an executive education course at George Mason offered through my organization that opened my eyes to this idea. When we think of the iPhone, we think of it as being an original or novel concept. However, what we often don’t realize is that the iPhone is made up of parts that are, in fact, unoriginal. I mean the first camera was invented more than 300 years ago and tempered glass over 100 years ago. My point is that ideas don’t necessarily have to be completely original to be innovative. They are most often just put together in ways that no one has ever considered. In another example, how many romance novels or thrillers have you read that share similar plots? I guess that means there’s still hope for us in this knowledge and sharing economy. We can all be contributors.

I don’t know what direction my life will take in my 30s or how much more accomplished I will be. I do hope that when I’m 40 I’m not still running from opportunities to meet interesting people. I plan to do more traveling. It’s too late for me to start “living it up”—at least not in the way that my brother would want me to—but I’m going to keep learning and sharing what I discover. That’s the best thing any of us can do.

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