5 things I’d tell my 19 year old self

5 things I’d tell my 19 year old self

A little before my 19th birthday I attended a conference hosted by NACUE (UK student enterprise charity) where the CEO stood up on stage and said something that caught my attention – ‘The difference between dreams and goals is having a timeline’

That’s a pretty interesting statement which actually makes perfect sense. I was young and interested in entrepreneurship, so naturally the dream/goal was to become a millionaire. To turn a dream into a goal you need to apply a timeline and also state it like it’s already happened. Creating a sort of, mantra, that you see over and over again. Here’s what I came up with:

  • “I am a paper millionaire 10 years”
    • Stated on my 19th birthday
    • Paper referred to assets, as opposed to having 1m in the bank
  • “I am a startup founder in 3 years”
    • There was also an expectation that this would not be a successful business, but a very steep learning curve

I wrote #1 down a bunch of times and stuck it all over my apartment, including sticking it to the ceiling above my bed. I was all-in on this concept. I’m now 27 and not far away from my 29th birthday – needless to say, I am not a millionaire.
I did however, start a business around my 22nd birthday, which raised about $150k in funding and got UK wide press coverage, but sadly fizzled out after a prolonged period of failing to find a proper product-market-fit.

My wife came across a blog about someone looking back on their 20’s as if they had a second shot – this is now apparently a proper thing. It’s not that dissimilar to the old Baz Luhrmann song about sunscreen.
I like that concept, but don’t have the patience to write another monster blog post. So here’s the short version (all written in a strange tense of talking to myself):

  1. Have an impact – how much money you have in the bank is an insignificant metric.
    • There are 2 reasons why you want to start a business You want to be in control, be able to make the decisions and take everything in the direction you want. Secondly, you want to start something that changes the world. I have news for you, you’ll always have to answer to somebody, regardless of what % you have at the start, so get that out of your head. As to the second piece, money should be a nice by-product from achieving this goal, not the other way around.
    • Focus on doing something you love, focus on having an impact, focus on driving change and making people’s lives’ easier, the money will come and if it doesn’t… do you really care?
  2. Be objective – The most objective person in the room is rarely the person with the most shares, particularly in the early days and… particularly if that person is YOU!
    • When you come up with a business and launch, you get attached to what you’re doing, you get attached to your mission and to playing things out how you originally planned. But that’s not always the right move.
    • If you choose to go through an accelerator again (I went to Oxygen) – pay attention to every cent of advice you can get. Don’t just listen so you can find a pivot in the conversation, listen, remain objective, and act accordingly.
      • My startup was founded at pretty much the exact same time as a competitor called Teddle (now Hassle). They went through another accelerator at the same time (Springboard), they listened, pivoted and focussed. They were acquired for €32m!!, you went bust!
    • Do not, under any circumstances, ever assume you’re the smartest person in the room. Yes, industry experience is important, yes you know your business more than anybody else because you built it, but an outside opinion from people who have mentored countless businesses across multiple verticals and stages, is a completely different perspective. That’s a kind of experience and knowledge you cannot apply to something you’re that close to. So lap it up.
  3. Work smart and hard – The age old adage about working smart, not hard, is a good starting point, but the two aren’t always mutually exclusive.
    • Whatever it is you’re doing, whether it’s coursework, entrepreneurship or just day to day life, you have to accept that you can get a little too ‘involved’.
    • Hard work is important, but don’t get confused between working hard and working stupid. Always find time to relax, accept your to-do-list is impossible to complete and learn to prioritise in every aspect of your life.
  4. Soak up knowledge
    • As a result of #3, you may find yourself with more time than I had… USE IT!
    • Books, blogs, YouTube videos, conferences, webinars… all incredible sources of knowledge and experience (not to mention the networking opportunities). Never stop researching, never stop learning, never stop trying to be better.
      • I didn’t really do any of this from 21-26 because “I didn’t have time”. Don’t make that mistake.
    • Also… make sure you find the time to share the knowledge you’ve collected, it’s a two-way-deal!
  5. Stick at it – ‘bouncebackability’ (Ian Dowie would not be happy that this word flagged my spellchecker!)
    • It’s a little cliché, but thing won’t always go your way, you’ll get kicked, you’ll get floored, you’ll watch your house of cards collapse. That’s all just part of life.
    • What’s most important, arguably more important than any of the above, is that you never lose that drive, that determination. When it all goes to hell, take a minute, reflect, and get back on the treadmill.

This post was about if I could do everything again from the age of 19, which sadly I cannot, but here’s my goals before I’m 39:

  1. “I am enjoying making a difference today, 3 years from now and still in 10 years”
  2. “I am a home-owner and a business-owner (again) in 5 years”

Have you written a similar post or thought about what you’d say to 20-year-old you? Please feel free to share the link to your post, or contribute to the discussion, in comments below.

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