22 Life Lessons from a 22-Year-Old with Their Sh*t Together

Justin Campbell-Platt
Jul 3 · 8 min read
Taken during my birthday trip with friends in Antiparos, Greece

Bold title, right? The thing is, that until very recently, I actually hated the term to ‘have your sh*t together’.

I first heard it from a co-worker within the first month of joining a company at 19. They mentioned that they and other co-workers of mine had spent an entire evening, at a bar, trying to figure out my apparent put-together-ness. It was evident that there was a hint of annoyance in this remark. This, clearly, was not an inspired discussion on how to extract knowledge from a young individual with a fresh perspective; this was a small group of my co-workers, who felt intimidated by my presence.

I felt isolated. Ashamed of my early accomplishments. Even the term early accomplishments was likely a learned phrase I overheard at a condescending lunch conversation about my age one day at that company.

Why then, have I now embraced the phrase, to the point of giving myself credit as someone who does have one's own sh*t together?

See, I stood out to those co-workers because of my uniqueness. The reality is, most young people traversing their early careers today, have very few examples of peers at a similar age, who have confidently amassed control over their responsibilities in the wildly complex work-world. All their most inspiring peers, are above their age and claim that if you simply work hard, you’ll make it. But all this does is provide dull, intangible advice, that subconsciously tells those receiving it, that they are simply too young to have any success.

We need more examples of younger people who have developed the kind of calm confidence that comes only from taking a more diligent approach to life. The kind that makes that young individual more self-reliant and more useful to society.

Based slightly on that initial comment from a hungover colleague, but more so from the more positive and productive conversations I’ve had with professionals I admire, I believe I can confidently say that I am one of those young examples:

I’ve got a close circle of some of the most inspiring friends, I’ve worked and travelled around the world as Head of Media for an international non-profit organisation, advised and developed growth marketing strategies for artists in varying creative fields, been featured in large online publications, and now spend my days and nights working as VP of Product for a company that I helped found with two very smart people in mid-2018.

I have of course had plenty of moments when my sh*t didn’t look together: I dropped out of university, scrapped entire projects out of embarrassment, fell out with family members for years, and even regretted breakups I acted upon so confidently.

But I’ve never failed to learn from these moments. I gain valuable insights from each and every moment in which I felt my reality shift. These insights shape my character and make me a better person for the world in which I inhabit. So for my 22nd birthday this year, I am publishing this article, as my way of recalling and sharing some of these lessons I learn year-on-year.

  1. Give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself by seeking out work above your pay grade. You’re only ever going to be as good as your responsibilities demand you to be. If you hear phrases such as ‘how is it you’re only X years old?’ Or ‘who’s arse did you kiss to get here?’ — ignore them and keep moving forward. You’re on the right path.
  2. Your greatest assets will always be those that you take for granted. Don’t let your humility get in the way of discovering great self-knowledge.
  3. If you’re offered a lot of money at an early age, take this as an indicator that you’re good enough to amass wealth at ANY age. Then, turn down the offer and work for someone you truly admire, for as little as possible. If you can’t see the wisdom in that, then you may find yourself forever working for others.
  4. The most demanding and important professional roles actually require time away from the action every once in a while to think about the bigger picture. This doesn’t mean taking your finger completely off the trigger, but rather looking at your stance, ensuring your grip is tight, and correcting your aim. Make time for looking around through solitude — it’s a part of your job.
  5. For fellow fans of the TV show: Billions; you may (like I did) think that you want to be more like Bobby Axelrod — but just know, that in real life, it’s the Wendy Rhoades’ of the world that successfully lead massive companies.
  6. Go to Japan. (Or any other country you’ve always been meaning to travel to). You will find that observing a thriving culture that acts from a completely different set of rules and principles will give you the ability to question and rid yourself of any rules you blindly follow on your day-to-day. Doing so will make you a good human being… and learning to create principles on top of that, will make you a great one.
  7. When booking a restaurant table for 2 — book for 3. Never again will you complain about the lack of elbow room, small table size, or about the couple next to you hearing every word of your intimate conversation. (Also, if you’re a 5, book a table for 4, you’ll be forced to have a more interesting dynamic between you during your catchup).
  8. “The secret to a long friendship — is to start a conversation, and feel like you’ve never stopped.” (Overheard at dinner with my father’s best friend for 50 years.)
  9. Talk to more strangers. A friendship, business partner, or lover could all be a “hello, hows your day going?” away.
  10. A lot of smart people are coming out and urging us to forego social media in order to live: better and with less anxiety. Yet despite reading all the warning signs, most of us fail to leave behind our carefully managed digital lives. I think, this is due to the lack of a small, tangible first step. At least it was for me. My advice: delete every picture you currently have on your Instagram profile. The process of deleting each picture is designed to be painful, yet upon ridding your profile of the cringey motivational quote from 2 years ago — you will begin to feel liberated. And this feeling is not of a temporary nature. With the lack of an unhealthy attachment to your desperate social-status-signalling catalogue, you will find yourself thinking twice when the habit to post a picture arises — in these moments, do as I do now, send the picture directly to a loved one. Fire emojis reactions (from people who went to your school whom you now barely know) will now be replaced with meaningful replies that will only enrich your most precious of current relationships. Never again will you look for validation in a number of ‘likes’ as an alcoholic would seek inner peace in a bottle of Jack Daniels.
  11. Despite what Hollywood has taught us, in a relationship, romantic love and attraction are not as important as compatibility. Look at your parents, if they are still together, it’s more to do with the fact that they are both morning people who like to skip breakfast and enjoy long walks, than it is to do with the fact that they could have a passionate kiss in the heavy rain or ballroom dance in a planetarium. I’m aware that this might come across as cynical or pessimistic, but perhaps ‘young love’ is so notable amongst elders because they recognise that the excitement of these early relationships mask the lack of matching world views and lifestyle choices that will truly allow two people to live… happily ever after.
  12. Don’t brashly react when you are called upon to make a major decision. If you think you are ready to act — give it just one more day of thought. In doing so, you’ll make a more reliable data point from which you will look back on with great confidence that you made the right choice.
  13. Do not be put off by some people’s surprising lack of competence. This kind of thinking will make you spiteful and it will end up isolating you. Instead, either focus on yourself or actively seek out the unique strength each individual has around you. This will make you an incredible leader one day.
  14. Also, do not ever complain in a professional environment. This habit is luckily not one I have personally received the consequences for — but this is because the consequences are usually unseen and happen in the background. Sitting on the other side of the table now, so to speak, I’ve discovered that managers, bosses, and leaders have very little patience for complaining. It’s unproductive and rarely comes paired with a better idea. What few who complain realise is, that for every display of a lack of resilience; fewer responsibilities (and therefore: opportunities) are presented to them. Do not expose sore fingers — offer strategic paths to solve problems instead.
  15. Turns out, context actually matters… like, a lot. Next time you think someone is taking a long time to get to ‘the point’, calm your impatience and listen to it all. From regularly doing so, you will begin to connect dots that most people are too lazy to even see. Even when ‘the point’ is delivered in an entertaining and show-stopping manner, be the one to investigate for further details — you may discover that much of the story had actually been held back — and this is where the deeper insights hide. As Ryan Holiday advises: ‘understand the whole before addressing the particular’.
  16. Whenever you’re with a trusted friend, take the opportunity to practice talking openly about your current state of mind. Almost anybody can talk about the past, fewer people can convincingly talk about the future, but fewer still can gather deep insights from personal events that are still occurring.
  17. If you only read non-fiction books… read fiction. Don’t consider it unproductive — if you look for it, you can find insight anywhere.
  18. Seek to ask questions that no one else has asked. Your deeper enquiry will display a level of interest in the other party that will be different, exciting, seductive, and most importantly — memorable. Look to stand out, not by posturing, but by being genuinely curious in others. This is how close friendships, intimate relationships, and long-term business partners… are earned.
  19. Boredom can be the biggest source of inspiration and productivity. Proof? I wrote this entire article by hand on notecards on a 3-hour flight to Athens from London.
  20. Forgiveness is power. Clichéd, religious-sounding phrases aside, settle any internal feuds and create your legacy from inspiration rather than resentment.
  21. The quote: “Power without love is reckless, and love without power is sentimental” by Martin Luther King Jr. is so f*cking true.
  22. Never settle your curiosity.

If I had a 23rd lesson, it would be something along the lines of the advice I once read: that if you are going to steal, that you should steal from the best — so for advice far wiser than anything I may have offered above, check out the article that inspired me to write a piece in a similar manner to that of the writer: Ryan Holiday.

Maybe in my next year of existence, I’ll learn to think of article structures of my own, but for now, I hope to have used time, that people my age would usually spend getting wildly drunk, on contributing lessons that inspire others my age and younger (or maybe, god forbid… older), to become more self-reliant and to be better than what is usually expected of them.


For more on how to get your sh*t together, discover more on what Justin has learnt over the years at his blog: www.justincampbellplatt.com

Justin Campbell-Platt

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Product designer and strategist. www.justincampbellplatt.com