I never imagined I'd wake up to 15 degrees (Celsius, I'm not converting) on my 21st birthday. If you asked me at the beginning of university, I would predict that I'd be stressed with my first year of business school and recruiting. A few years earlier, I could have expected this occasion to be a lot bigger, as I had my eyes set on a few US schools, where being 21 brings new-found legality.
I've written a lot about career advice, choosing pathways, and learning about tech, but I've rarely touched upon the idea of personal development. Not for the sake of scoring a top internship, or making a lot of money, but for truly becoming a better person. Figuring out what makes you tick. Understanding what you did, why you did it, and how that changes what you plan to do.
It's always a sprint
As humans, we're very used to 'sprinting' in life. You 'sprint' in high school to get the best grades. Then you 'sprint' in university to get the best internships. Typically, if you 'sprint' for 4 months during an internship, you'll get a full-time offer. Then it's the next sprint — moving up the corporate ladder, exiting from a job you hate into a job you hate less, or rinsing and repeating if you still have no clue.
My first few months here followed a similar mentality. I was determined to be the highest performer on my team, put in the most hours, and produce the most results. And for the first few months, it appeared to be working. I launched some unique campaigns, met interesting people, and... I started getting a little bored.
I expected San Francisco to be this new challenge in my life that would be impossible to surmount, and I'd extract something incredible from it. In reality, I was still working at a company (as awesome as it is), doing fairly typical work, with better weather. It was around this time (November) that I hit a wall and started contemplating why this time was different from the rest of my life / more recent experiences.
With a typical internship, you're typically put on projects that are short-term in nature, or you play a small part in a larger project. One of my old bosses told me
In contrast, being here for a year, a lot of my responsibilities were larger in focus. I was responsible for content projects that went through several rounds of review. I launched email campaigns that took a few months to complete. And I realized that I suck.
The results from my campaigns were fairly dismal and the content pieces weren't revolutionary. This 'sprint' mentality, for the first time, had failed. Despite numerous blog posts and cool internships, I was, (at best) a mediocre marketer. Why was that the case?
Still Only 21
I started reflecting on a lot of goals I had leading up to this point in my life, and how they played out. You compete for the best universities in high school, then the best jobs in university, and finally the best 'exit opportunities' from those same highly coveted jobs. Life is a constant circle of 'sprints', until you realize the majority of those sprints (in context) were meaningless. At the end of the day, I'm still a 21 y/o undergrad that has never held a real job, just as I was at 18, and 14, etc.
My friend group here has given me a lot of perspective this issue. Two of my roommates are from Wharton, arguably the best business school in the world. A few of my older friends left investment banks and are onto new careers. They've all achieved those conventional levels of success, but spending time with them has given me a new look on the 'sprint' mentality.
For instance, they think a lot more than I do. Conversations are rarely dominated by recruiting or gossip, as I often led them to be in university, but instead about what books we're reading, challenges we're facing, and projects / ideas that intrigue us. From these conversations, I realize how limited I am in various aspects of life (i.e. handling relationships, mental health, political views). This hasn't led to any enlightenment by any means — but being in such a different environment has led me to the following conclusions on my 21st birthday.
Having already failed a rather superficial New Year's Resolution, I'll take my early birthday as an opportunity to set some public goals that build on what I've mentioned above for this year, and (hopefully) reject the 'sprint' mentality I've often fell into, and start striving for real personal development.
In university, I've often had to read 70-100 pages per week of dense material on everything from early political philosophers to the economic development of African nations. They were interesting, but I regretfully read them with one purpose — regurgitation and application to their respective course. I rarely applied any of my learning to my own life, or used it to challenge or develop my personal perspectives.
Hence, a goal of mine is to dive a lot deeper into various genres of books this year that will make me a better person. I want to be able to comment on politics and economics beyond what I read in the news — and have sound reasoning behind why I believe what I do. I want to be deliberate with the time I spend outside of work — the hobbies I have, and why I'm interested in them.
The following books / authors are a start to what I'm hoping to read:
- Principles by Ray Dalio (100pg note)
- The Upside of Inequality (Edward Conard)
- The Lessons of History (Will & Ariel Durant)
- River out of Eden (Richard Dawkins)
- Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell)
- The Sovereign Individual (James Dale Davidson)
- Status Anxiety (Alain de Botton)
- A History of Western Philosophy (Bertrand Russell)
- Reasons and Persons (Derek Parfit)
(2) Personal Health
I've neglected my health over the past few years in a number of ways — for starters, being a university student, both my sleep schedule (sleeping 5am to 12pm) and diet were atrocious.
Hence, I'm making the commitment to become an early riser, ideally waking up at 6am and sleeping by 11pm. I've tried this with a fairly low success rate over the past few weeks, but I plan to be more religious with it in the coming year.
I'm also committing to home-cooked meals by buying a Costco membership and using apps like MyFitnessPal to track my progress. I know both sound pretty lame, but I think it's a solid start. I've also have some aspirations for gym / weight goals that I'll deliberately leave out for fear of public shaming.
(3) Mentors & Skill Development
I have some incredible people in my life that help to guide my decisions and career path, but I rarely put any deliberate work into finding + nurturing those relationships. First Round put out a great post on how to find a mentor which I've been following, narrowing down my approach to both early-stage founders and growth marketers. Expect a post in the new month or two on this!
I also want to give back in whatever way I can, so if you're reading this and need help / advice with anything, don't be afraid to reach out. I've been scolded in the past for doing this, but I promise you I won't give you the response I once got below. Unless you use a drip sequence like I did... Then I'll commend you on the hustle.
Regarding skill development, I'm learning an incredible amount about marketing and growth through my current role, so I have no direct plans around that. However, I am going to make an effort this year to learn how to code. There's an incredible amount of literature out there on the value of coding, even at least knowing what's possible / how to read it, so I'm committing to that for the year.
Despite all my ramblings about enlightenment, learning, and perspectives regarding life, I want to make it clear that (being 21) this year will still be filled with debauchery, terrible mistakes, and new realizations. I'm not even halfway through my time in California, and I can't wait for how the rest of it plays out. Thank you to everyone's that made this a blast thus far, I wouldn't be writing this without you.