Thanks to the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbeg, there is an idea out there that the young are more likely to build ground-breaking businesses. They are full of energy, untainted by cynicism, and generally unencumbered by responsibilities.
Research shows, however, that the average age of founders of successful tech startups is a relatively mature 47 years. A few decades of accumulated wisdom seems to count for quite a lot. Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow combine both sets of advantages?
That’s what LinkedIn tried to do with a recent tweet (hat tip to Insider). The social network asked its more than a million followers for the best advice they’d give their 20-year-old selves in order to inject a little of the experience of gray hairs into the Energizer Bunny like-stamina of workplace newbies.
If you could give one piece of career advice to your 20-year old self, what would it be?
— LinkedIn (@LinkedIn) July 12, 2021
The resulting thread was a goldmine of useful advice. Some of the tips were quirky and personal — get tested for ADHD earlier, beware “reply all,” eat less pizza. Others, like “believe in yourself!” and “don’t procrastinate,” were more inspirational than actionable. But among all this advice, one particular bit of wisdom kept coming up again and again.
Action beats deliberation.
The first person to make this point was executive coach Tracy Wilk. “Careers are long,” he wrote. “There’s no need for a mad rush to find the ideal job. The first part (i.e., 10+ years) of your career is about testing multiple jobs and understanding what you like/dislike and are good and bad at.”
Hireproof co-founder Max Korpinen quickly jumped in with a similar message. “Don’t spend so much time planning and researching the perfect career path — you don’t know what ‘work’ is yet anyway. Aggressively explore all options that seem interesting, learn, iterate, and you’ll arrive to the ‘perfect path’ much faster,” he advises his younger self.
Then a bit later researcher Dalili Bonomi offered similar sentiments: “Simply start. Don’t wait to ‘know more’, don’t wait for the perfect job, don’t wait to know what you want to do before you even start.” Sprinkled throughout the thread are other, shorter exhortations to “continue testing,” “make mistakes and keep learning,” and “don’t be afraid to explore.”
Jeff Bezos and a bunch of artists agree.
What do all of these replies have in common? Each focuses on action, experimentation, and course correction rather than pre-planning and rigid goals. The right way to make the most of your career, commentator after commentator insisted, isn’t to have a grand blueprint or follow a pre-arranged path. Instead it’s to just get started, learn along the way, and keep moving forward. Action beats endless deliberation any day.
And random well-meaning professionals on social media aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is famous for his “bias towards action” and belief that you get further by jumping at chances and learning from experiments than you do laboriously planning.
Not keen to model your life on the world’s (sometimes) richest man and noted tax dodger? More counter-culture types should note that, as different as they may be from Bezos in most ways, many artists insist on a similar principle. The way to reach your highest potential, they claim, isn’t to chase perfection, but instead to focus on diving into the work itself. The more you practice (and sometimes fail) the better you’ll get and the better the end result will be. Again, action and practice beats study and deliberation.
If you’re 20 and lucky enough to be healthy and relatively free to pursue your dreams, don’t waste your most energetic and unencumbered years agonizing over your choices and postponing diving into things because of uncertainty. Yes, you probably have no idea what you’re doing. And you’ll definitely make mistakes. These LinkedIn responders would like you to know that’s perfectly OK. Don’t wait to know what you’re doing to get started. The best way to figure out your career is through action.