Advice to An 18 Year Old About Business
Friend of the blog James caught me on Twitter to ask me what advice I’d give to an eighteen year old guy on the subject of business.
First Point Of Advice: And Beware
I’m very reluctant to give advice with the idea that an eighteen year old might find it gospel. There are more successful people than me, older people than me and people you’d probably want to emulate more than me; I’m essentially a weirdo on the internet.
That said, I’ve almost survived my twenties, which makes me more successful than Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse, so I can give some advice.
My first piece of advice is don’t take anyone at their word and make sure you only take advice from people who know what they’re doing.
There’ll be plenty of people in your life willing to tell you “how they’d do it” and “what they’d do” in your shoes… there’s nothing wrong with that (you don’t know everything at 18) but make sure they’re talking from a place of authority.
Plenty of broke people would be a business wizard if not for something or other.
Now, I mention this because if you’re eighteen, you’ve probably got a lot of learning ahead; University/College/Job Training etc.
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Some of your lecturers – people who should know what they’re doing and people who have authority – will be idiots.
I had no less than five lecturers at my university who said things that were laughably stupid in context. Think things like, “digital books will never take off” and “you can’t make money on the internet” type things.
Don’t blindly trust people and ask for their credentials before you take their advice. If they have credentials, then it won’t be a problem. (I mean real world credentials here and not a certificate-wall-decoration.)
With that said and knowing I’m not some baller-billionaire; take my advice with a grain of salt. I’ll stick with business stuff because I’m really not an expert on life.
Business Advice For An 18 Year Old
Here are some bits of advice that I can think of immediately.
- You have skills and talents… use them.
- Don’t try and force yourself to be good at something you’re not naturally good at.
- “Beating the odds” is a fool’s game when there are so many opportunities around.
- Don’t neglect developing skills and knowledge for the easy way out
- Don’t whatever you do pigeonhole yourself politically, socially or otherwise so that there’s no coming back
- Bear in mind that internet writings are permanent and it can all come back to haunt you professionally
- Don’t burn bridges with anyone if it isn’t necessary. You never know who someone will be or what they’ll be willing to do in ten years’ time.
These all fall under “social business” pieces of advice and correlate around two major points:
- Don’t waste your time doing stuff which you’re not good at
A lot of teenagers fall into this trap. They want to be a bodybuilder, athlete or rock star/artist/celebrity.
This is a trap. I’ve known a lot of artsy types over the years. The successful ones fall into two camps:
- They were groomed into it from birth
- They found a tiny and unappealing niche
I don’t know many athletic types, but the same is true: If you have the genetics for being an athlete or super-hunk and you can tolerate/enjoy the workload, then you probably know by 18.
If that’s not you, then concentrate on looking good, feeling good and don’t get yourself into tons of injuries.
(Real life example: I used to be a swimmer as a kid. I took part in galas and trained multiple times a week. I gave up the idea of being a swimmer in any real sense when it turned out puberty didn’t bless me with a height of six-foot-six and size twenty-nine feet.)
As far as the arts go, there are plenty of kids who think they’ll make it big strumming their guitar or doing a fine arts degree. In reality, the “overnight teen successes” you see on TV or YouTube tend to have a massive marketing budget behind them and have been training since before they could walk.
Now, if you want to make a living with art, then you can. Just realise that “The Dream” is the same dream as all those peasants got given when they were told that there was gold in America. Only one in a million strike it lucky and if you’re one of the 999,999 others, then you can waste years of your life pursuing something that’s never going to happen.
In a wider sense, if you’re not talented at something, find something else to do.
If you’re a massive introvert with social issues, then sure, work on them. But don’t try and pin your career hopes on you fixing the problem either.
So don’t become a car salesman or a public speaker.
Find something you’re good at. You probably already know but you might not even think about it. So take stock and find what it is.
For instance, I started writing when I was a kid. Stupid short stories about TV shows, letters to magazines – I even wrote an essay to an MP or something. But despite that, I never thought of writing as anything but a hobby until I was past twenty-five.
Don’t be like me.
(Side note: If you want to make a living in the creative arts, then go back to the gold rush analogy – find the equivalent of a shovel to sell to the dreamers. Everyone I know who is a success in those hyper-competitive fields does this. Keep the actual art as a hobby until you’re making a ton of money. You’ll be happier and more successful this way.)
Alright, second bullet point time.
Don’t be a dick.
There are tons of people who burn out of “real life” because they’re idiots who can’t keep their mouth shut. You probably know some of them – the guys who bang on about “free speech” on Twitter, the girls who jump straight to “You disagree with me or prefer puppies to kittens which makes you A SEXIST RACIST PIG” and the people who slander the company they work for online in full view of everyone.
Needless to say… this is really stupid. You gain nothing from it except temporary dopamine from “being a badass” and you might score points from other idiots who are in a “fuck the world” phase of their life.
When you’re a teenager, it’s all too easy to slip into those phases. You’re going to have periods where you’re angry or where you think being a rebel is a great career move.
It probably isn’t.
It’s the same with earning your first online paycheque; don’t walk into the convenience store where you work, go up to your boss and shout “FUCK YOU I NEVER NEED A JOB EVER AGAIN, DICKFACE.”
That’s a bad idea. You don’t know where life will take you, and even if it doesn’t ever take you back to that convenience store, you don’t know where everyone else and everything else is going.
Your boss might become a crazy idiot with a grudge. He might end up some influential guy in your future industry. He might end up being your future brother-in-law. Or, he might just blast out emails to every other boss in the area and when your website goes tits up you’ll be out of luck.
This extends to every relationship you have and everything you say and write. Sadly, we live in a world where everything you do is permanent and may be used to your expense in the future.
Oh, and what’s acceptable now might not be in the future.
Not Final Thoughts
That covers some of what I’d consider the basics of business success for an eighteen year old to summarise;
- Don’t be a dick
- Therefore, try and give everyone at least the semblance of a positive opinion of you
- Don’t waste time trying to be successful in a field where you have to be in the top 0.0001% of humanity to make a living
- Instead, find something you’re awesome at which has a utility and less competition – even if it’s less glamorous
- There are plenty of things you’re going to be awesome at/have a natural inclination towards. Find those as opposed to trying to create something from scratch where you’re at a disadvantage
I haven’t really talked about business itself yet… I’ll continue this topic on Sunday. See you then.