What I learned in my 20s

I had the privilege of speaking to my friend Andre’s high school class this week about my career and path to it. I didn’t have time for all the advice I’d give, so I’m putting it here:

It’s ok to not be able to answer “So where do you see yourself in 5 years?”.

That’s a hard question, and it’s ok to not immediately know the answers to hard questions.

In my experience, most of my life was in a state of not really knowing this, with one major exception: When I realized in 2017-2018 that I really wanted to work for Ableton in Germany. Then it became startingly clear where I wanted to be, and approximately what I needed to do.

My advice would be to simply start taking actions while being observant of yourself, and your strengths, interests, and natural inclinations. At what things do you naturally work harder than other people? What things seem like play to you, but work to others? Those are hints at areas you can excel and become world class.

Eventually after enough action (and reflection), you might have an insight about something you deeply want to make happen. And then suddenly it becomes clear.

“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” – Rumi

It might seem like life is a race, from start to finish, where checkpoints are things like: university, job, marriage, children. When you “graduate high school” (i.e. become an adult), the gun goes off. Everyone starts running and the first one to make it through, wins.

In my experience, the “race” is actually a custom trail for every single person. When you “graduate high school” (i.e. become an adult), the gun goes off and everyone starts running in different directions. Another person’s progress towards their endpoint has little to no relevance on your progress towards yours.

The only competition is to know yourself as fully as possible, and act with maximum authenticity towards that truth.

A simple strategy towards achieving success and fulfillment is looking for:

  1. A “vertical”: An industry which you have particular interest (e.g. music, fashion, film, journalism, activism, sports, …)
  2. A “horizontal”: A skill which you have interest in and aptitude for (e.g. technology, writing, art, photography, communication, …)

And then work at the intersection of the two. Basically every vertical needs every horizontal. Every industry needs programmers, communicators, creatives, etc.

This strategy is not foolproof, but can be a good approximate path for those without one. And it worked well for me!

Seek like-minded peers. The first time this happened to me blew my mind โ€” I went to the National Guitar Workshop in 2010 and met a bunch of other teenagers that were interested in writing original metal compositions and recording them on computers. This was a life-changing experience and gave me friendship, motivation, and a sense of community.

Then in college, I went to NU Hacks and the same thing happened. I found a great network of aspiring hackers, and we became great friends and learned together.

In both cases, all these people are now doing amazing things in the world in their field. And these relationships have turned into the kind of life-long friendships that are one of the best things in life.

Greatness is built iteratively, over a long period of time.

Don’t be afraid to exploit your unfair advantages.

Any thoughts?