I just turned 30. *Cue eye-roll.* I know, to kids I’m old, and to sage adults, I’m young. I’m in the meaty part of the sandwich in-between the wonder bread of youth and the cheese of middle age (yes, that’s a dad joke pun.) I remember pondering “30” when I was a teenager and always thinking it was “SO old.” I skipped third grade, finished college in under four years, and started my first company before I could legally drink. I’m used to being the youngest in the room. Lately, that’s started to change. Two weeks ago, I presented to a room of “Emerging Planners” in New Zealand. The “emerging” bit means they were all under 30… a realization I had on stage midway through my presentation. It visibly jarred me, yet I couldn’t help my laughter. It was a moment of tragic comedy, like much of life.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d get here, 30 felt so far away at times. Starting a company at 20 is en vogue now, but was less chic 10 years ago. Early in my career I would let people believe whatever they wanted about my age. Not necessarily lying, but also not denying their over-estimation. When I became a Forbes 30 Under 30 at 27, my age was plastered everywhere. The secret was out! It was a relief. Three years later I’m proud of my age and where I’m at.
At Savvy Millennial, I help solve the needs of diverse communities through innovative new products. I’ve built an international brand known for connecting people to the future. I get to travel the world inspiring other entrepreneurs, and when I’m lucky, speaking to brilliant young minds like yours. I’m not trying to brag, but it’s a super cool “job.” It’s also not one I could I have written down on my college apps. The world is changing. Two things you should know upfront:
If you work hard, you can achieve your dreams (here’s an embarrassing video of me achieving one thanks to NASA recently.)
Life is seldom easy; its many moving parts are complicated and you must savor the moments of pure joy.
The following tips are the best I have to offer at this stage to help you on your journey.
Do your best, F the rest. Seriously. It’s that simple. My friend Bob shared this with me in my early 20’s and he was in his 50’s. I was struggling to start my first social media company while waiting tables at a local Italian joint during the evenings. I was afraid of not being “worth the client investment,” (as if anyone had a legitimate set of KPIs for social in 2009…or now.) He looked me square in the face, and asked if I was prepared to give them my best. I was, and then he imparted probably the best advice I’ve ever received. Bob reminded me, as long as I do my best, I have nothing to be ashamed of, professionally or personally. You are the only who has to sleep with yourself each night. Life’s not fair, and much is out of our control. If you do good, and are good to people, you’ll have no remorse. Give this life all you’ve got. If you take nothing else from this piece, take (the late and great) Bob’s advice.
Let yourself be weird. My mom used to shush me when I would self-identify as a “nerd.” Every time I mentioned being one, she’d exclaim, “No you’re not. I’m not raising a nerd!” She didn’t want me to end up an outcast. I had stick-out ears, memorized all the presidents in a night, and used to read the dictionary with my Student Body girlfriends during lunch. The odds were against her. We spoke recently while I was vlogging for NASA at Kennedy Space Center. Turns out she’s come around on the geek squad now. As proof, she texted me after our successful launch, “GOOOOO NEERRRDDSS!!!!” One small step for Savannah, one large step for nerd-kind.
The Millennials were first generation to really obsess over personalization. We didn’t have it all figured out yet, and the internet was still slow, so we blasted brands across our chests and expressed ourselves through rhinestones. We bedazzled, and now you add rainbow AR Snapchat filters to your selfies. It’s the same game, but you, Generation Z, get to take it to the next level. This is a good thing. The world is waking up to your individuality. Own it. 3D Print it. And… ignore your parents on this one. So what if they were the star quarterback and you like dungeons and dragons. They should thank their lucky stars they don’t have to worry about CTE.
Fail early and often. This is more than just a Silicon Valley cliche. Someone once told me, “no one can make your mistakes for you.” They’re right. Only you can learn your limits and uncover your passions. My mom taught me the value of work and how to save money. I taught myself how to earn, and spend it young, long before I needed to pay rent. I also tested my boundaries (safely-ish) with various vices before moving 1,200 miles away from parental supervision. I saw the negative impacts on those who lacked balance in both budget and booze early in college. Too much constraint leads to rebellion. Life is one big series of prototypes. The same principal applies to where you live and work. It took a decade of experimental residencies in Seattle, Austin, and New York City before I happily returned to my home state of California. Screw up early, apologize often, and learn something from it. Then get wiser and build toward the life of your (new) dreams.
Resist conformity and love yourself. When you’re busy trying to fit in, you never feel comfortable in your skin — because it isn’t your skin. The “popular” kids don’t end up winning the game of life. You’ll grow into the self-conscious bits and pieces of your person, I promise. I was called “dumbo,” to which I would proudly retort “smarto!” Witty, I know. I had a gender-neutral bowl cut pre-puberty. I even wore my headgear to school. I’m not necessarily advocating you take it that far, but we all blossom. Your perceived “ugly duckling” features will one day swan. Focus on the things that make you feel good versus the things that don’t. Time heals/morphs/matures all, annoying as it is. I was obsessed with my body’s “imperfections” (who isn’t when young) and looking back, this three sport athlete was in great shape. I wish I’d been easier on myself then, so I am now. Furthermore, you can still have abs at 30! My insta proves it. Take a deep breath. Focus on something (or one square inch of your body) you love. And continue believing in yourself. You got this.
Don’t betray loyal friends for opportunistic ones. You’ll be remorseful later on. I introduced myself to a tall, nervous boy, his first day of third grade 23 years ago, and this past weekend, his “first friend,” saw him tie the knot. It was easy, stepping back into a familiar familial nest for a night of revelry. I also was invited to officiate the wedding of the beauty on my left in the photo above, my dear from Stix from college, in Scotland a few years ago (and a few after this photo- we’re 21 and 22 above.) The “tripod” is all now in their 30’s, spread across the country, but our WhatsApp group keeps us tight. We make visits happen when we can. Wrapping the comfort of shared history, respect and love around each other in hugs that feel like a blanket. My point is, don’t chase every shiny friend object. Stay in touch. Send the text or the snap. Indicate you care somehow despite the distance whether it’s across the quad or across the globe. Time may lead you down different paths, but you’ll never regret investing in a true friend. Of the things I’m most proud of at 30, my friends are #1. Find your tribe.
Travel as much as you can, wherever you can. Travel breeds perspective. I was lucky my mother lead by example from a young age (and I’ve subsequently spent my life itching the travel bug.) There’s not an experience I’ve had on the road I’d trade for one in front of the tv (even the sketchy ones, they make for better stories.) There are ways to get creative the analog way (by camping or hosteling) or through apps like Airbnb and HotelTonight that let you get away on the cheap. Do it as much, and as young as you can. American work culture especially, does not favor the extended vacation. I spent the first few years of my career getting back to the quality of life I had when I was a waitress, believe it or not (more freedom > more cash.) I have now fortunately built travel into my career, but it takes serious hustle. Every trip is a gift. The disconnected variety are even more rare. Heed my advice: take the family trips even if the company isn’t cool, and work hard all summer so you can spend the last two weeks road-tripping with your friends. Be safe, but go and see. The world is calling.
Understand what fuels your body and mind. Prototype everything. Read. Try different foods and explore your athletic capabilities. Learn your boundaries. Pay attention to what gives you energy and what depletes it. This applies to activities and nutrients, as well as substances. Part of why I love traveling is I find local customs, particularly those centered on wellness, to be fascinating. Society will throw a lot of fad diets at you, friends will go through dramatic workout phases, and inevitably you will be peer pressured. Ignore anything that doesn’t feel right. Wait for time to test methods that sound too good to be true. Eat what makes your body function best. If that’s raw kale, great. If it’s meat and potatoes, that’s cool too. Wellness is more about consistency and balance than obsessive calorie-counting. I feel my best when I start the day with a trail run (or hike) with my dog Martini. Others prefer group fitness after work. Regardless, find a way to integrate some form of exercise into your day. Dedicate time each day to being off-screen and still. Wellness is a lifestyle choice it pays to make. Listen to your body. Be well.
Check your judgement. Never side with the bullies. Prejudice is passed down and racism is learned. Block out the subtle adult jokes and jaded remarks you hear and never repeat them. Harsh words make permanent impressions on young minds. I have had many less-than-glamorous moments, but I am proud of every time I stood up to a bully. It started on the Kindergarten playground (I told a lunch thieving-menace to back off our smaller peers) and it continues politically (#MeToo.) We all deserve equal rights and equal access to opportunity. Encourage acceptance and equality at home and with your peers. The majority of Generation Z is a minority. Respect it all. We know when we stand on the wrong side of history. The buck stops with us. The young people have had #enough. Your generation is rising. Join them.
I thank you for your attention. Time is the most precious resource you have. All my best on the journey ahead,