Self-reflection has become a part of my daily routine. Yet for some strange, convoluted, nobody-can-explain-why reason, I find that birthdays are always a great time to list out my learnings from the last year.
I often joke that I’m a 60 year old grandma living in a 22 year old’s body. To my great privilege, I’ve lived a fuller life than most people triple my age.
I’ve traveled to 24 countries and more cities than one could ever dream of. I’ve met people from all walks of life. I’ve confronted my mental health issues head-on. I’ve fallen in love. Twice. I know how to dream big. And I’m not confined by the path everyone told me I have to take.
I’m an adventurer, an activator, and a do-er. What are you?
So as I turn 22, I wanted to share some of the more unconventional lessons I’ve learned. And to those who wonder, what the heck could a 22 year old teach me? Just look at lesson 1 😉
1. Wisdom doesn’t come from age. It comes with experience
I used to always think that older people had more to share but that isn’t always the case. Age doesn’t equate to experience. It’s merely the opportunity to experience more things.
True wisdom comes from those who have gone out and lived. And that wisdom can easily come from a 20 year old who’s gone out and lived in the world, grew up in unimaginable circumstances, started a company and failed. These experiences are not age specific.
Thus I seek out people who have experienced things instead of people who are merely older. This lets me learn from the 15 year old who changed the way his village gets power by building a solar panel. This lets me learn from the 50 year old venture capitalist who’s seen thousands of companies succeed and fail. And potentially the 500 year old woman who figures out how to expand human life.
2. Purpose can be boiled down to answering 3 simple questions
Purpose always seemed like this fluffy concept that nobody could really explain. A bit like the idea of happiness. It was always way too up there and I had no clue how to bring it down. I had no clue how to actually start figuring out what my purpose was.
Then I found this definition from Dr. Bill Damon, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and Director of the Stanford Center for Adolescence.
“Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”-Dr. Bill Damon
From this idea, purpose could be found by answering 3 questions and finding the intersection of these 3 questions.
What are you naturally good at? Your natural strengths?
What do you like to do/are interested in?
What’s a problem in this world you want to solve?
Start there and you’d be amazed at the clarity you can start to uncover.
3. Good enough > perfect
By nature, I’m a perfectionist. When I was about to embark on my gap year, I kept trying to look for the perfect opportunity. I couldn’t decide if AI>IoT>VR>buzzword 1>buzzword 2. I didn’t want to miss the wave. But the perfection was crippling because I was constantly on the hunt for something slightly better (sounds like Tinder haha).
Fortunately I have a couple mentors who reminded that I didn’t have to get it perfect.
I just had to find something good enough.
This shift in mentality completely changed my life. I no longer felt the weight of perfection.
All I had to do now was find something that would let me learn, could sustain my interest for a period of time, and be good enough for now until it stops being good enough.
4. Experiment. Learn. Apply. Iterate.
This one is courtesy of Deb Mills-Scofield, my second mother and mentor, and is a great extension of good enough. Life is a great experiment. And chances are, the experiment isn’t going to always go right. That’s okay.
That’s where the idea of ELAI comes from.
Experiment: Conduct mini-experiments in your life. Be it experiences, side-projects, adventures. They’re not lifelong commitments. They’re just good enough for now.
Learn: See what you learn from the experiences. What did you like? What did you dislike? Is this something you want to continue doing? Write down everything you learned about yourself and from the experience itself.
Apply: Take your learnings and apply it to your new experiments. Did you really enjoy the writing side of a marketing job but hated the data analytics? Maybe you’re more of a copywriter than a marketer. Did you hate looking at the little details of a powerpoint but loved thinking bigger picture? Look for a strategy job.
Apply the lessons you learned into your new opportunities.
Iterate: Rinse and repeat ELA until you finally come across an experiment that is the perfect for you (for now). Iteration happens constantly as you learn new skills and change yourself. And it’s what makes sure you’re constantly going for opportunities that are a better fit for you based on your experiments and learnings.
5. Behind every great leader are greater mentors
I’ve come to learn that the difference between good and great lies in mentorship. You can work harder than every other person in the room. But if one person in the room has the guidance of someone who’s already been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, they’ll be on an accelerated path.
Mentors know the shortcuts. They know exactly what you need to do, nothing more and nothing less.
My mentors have provided me some of the lessons I’ve written out here. They’ve saved me from making mistakes they’ve made themselves. And they’re amazing sounding boards for anything I’m thinking about and need advice on.
Invest the time in finding great mentors.
And mentors, invest the time in finding and nurturing your mentees. My mentor, Deb Mills-Scofield, calls this process “Finding Blue Lobsters” and has a great talk about it here.
Not sure where to start? Start with the people in your life. Look for professors. Look to your family. Put yourself out there by emailing people you want to learn from. A mentor doesn’t have to be a major CEO. It just has to be someone who has your best interest in mind and wants to see you grow.
6. Accessing vulnerability is the easiest way to build connection
Being completely transparent about my failures and struggles has led to amazing friendships and connections. Being open with yourself is what lets other people in. They see you for you, not the facade you put up.
It’s a process though. I start with honesty. I’m honest when things aren’t going well. When I’m struggling. When I feel like my ambition is crippling me. And in that conversation with myself, I’ve found it easier and easier to tell stories and be vulnerable.
Next time you meet someone, ask them about their fears. Ask them about the dreams they don’t tell anyone. Ask them what’s stopping them from living out the life they really want.
Accessing these very real human emotions is what creates the bridge between two strangers and makes them friends within a few moments.
7. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people
Seriously, the worst thing that will happen is they’ll say no. And you’ll be exactly where you were before. So what do you have to lose by asking for help, advice, a date? Your pride? Your ego? Ya, let that go. It isn’t serving you any good.
Email the blogger whose content you love and ask to grab coffee (led to a great friendship for me). Email the CEO who you admire and whose company mission inspires you (how I got to start writing for Thrive Global). Email (okay maybe text) the cute boy/girl/person who you have a crush on and ask them out on a date (how else you think I got to see NYC?).
8. Build relationships for the sake of relationships
When I think of networking, there’s always this underlying value transaction I see happen. You talk to a person to get something, and once you get that something, the relationship usually dies.
Not that this is bad. It happens. But I try to look for opportunities to build relationships when I can. To give without expecting anything back. These are the “networks” that have an exponential return.
How do you build relationships you may ask? Go in without expecting anything in return. Access vulnerability. And just try to make a new friend because you think someone is cool, not because they have a shiny object you want.
9. Walk with someone epic from point A to point B
Take the opportunity to grab the attention of someone within the moments that nobody else is taking away their attention. This piece of advice came from Peter Boyce II of General Catalyst from a recent dinner event.
If a person is walking from their talk to their car, walk with them. If they’re walking between meetings, walk with them. If they need a ride to the airport, drive them! Take these moments to build relationships with the people that are hardest to reach. It takes a little putting yourself out there. But what do you have to lose by asking?
10. We never learn how to ride a bike. We keep failing at it until we stop falling
I recently attended a talk by Claude Arnel of IntraCity Geeks where he gave this analogy. It made me think about failure as less of this gigantic spectacle that’s often feared and more a process of learning.
Think about it. When you’re first learning how to ride a bike, you lean a little to the left. You lean a little right. You fall off. You get bruised. You get back up. And you eventually get it.
You are failing each time as you’re trying to not fall off the bike.
And then eventually, you stop failing and you start riding the bike.
I’ve heard countless times that failure is part of the process of learning but this was the best analogy I heard that really put it into perspective for me.
11. More time should be spent building relationships in college than going to class
I’m generally not a believer in the academic portion of college. That’s not to say I don’t believe in education. But there are many sources of education from online classes, Google, night classes, etc etc. I don’t think the education at Brown is what makes it unique. It’s the people I’ve gotten to meet.
I’ve taken a very active effort to meet more people on campus, make more friends, build relationships with my professors, seek out more mentorship. I know that these are the only 4 years where it will come easily to me. It’s literally on a silver platter. It’s called walk-in office hours.
Education will be there for the rest of my life. The opportunity to meet some of the smartest people in the world within a half a mile radius, not so much.
12. Gap years in between college should be a thing
Gap years before going to college are heavily advertised. Heck, Malia Obama is taking one. I chose to take one between my sophomore and junior year. It was life changing and here’s why I think more people should take one in the middle of college versus before college.
1. You’re able to appreciate your college and its resources more by going away and coming back. You’re not aware of the resources in the first place if you take one before college
2. You have the opportunity to do college twice in a sense. The way I’m approaching college now is very different from my freshman year
3. You become aware of what skills college can teach you and cannot teach you when you get some real-world experience
4. College burnout is real. Sophomore slump is real. Leaving after sophomore year was exactly what I needed to freshen up
5. You can go on the craziest adventures, start a business, fail epically because the worst that will happen is you’ll come back and get your college degree
6. You get a taste of the real world before graduating which prepares you for the real world after graduating
7. You realize how much college doesn’t really teach you in terms of day to day job skills so you might as well take the more fun, out there classes while you still can. It’ll make you a way more interesting person which IS a practical life skill
8. You quickly see that a B is not the worst thing in the world. College anxieties will affect you less when you’ve faced slightly more dire situations
13. Just build things. Don’t get stuck on the idea
I had an issue of being scared to pursue an idea because it wasn’t perfect. Newsflash, no idea is perfect. And it’s all about the execution. I started building my bias towards action through validating my idea and then building.
Building is like a exercising a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. The process of ideating, validating, and prototyping becomes second nature to you. And eventually, something will stick. But you’ll never get there if you’re stuck on the idea.
14. You don’t need to create something novel. You just have to make someone’s life easier, more efficient or save them time
I had what I like to call originality complex. I needed to create something unique, different, out of the box. I wanted to be special. A snowflake.
But I realized that you don’t always have to think outside of the box. You just need to make something better for someone. You have provided value by making their life easier, more efficient or saving them time. If you can do that, they’ll give you money.
Is doing someone’s laundry revolutionary? Is cleaning a house revolutionary? Is doing someone’s bookkeeping revolutionary? Not particularly. But people are paying for these services because they find value in them.
Making money isn’t as hard as it seems if you keep this mentality.
15. Storytelling is the best skill to have
I didn’t realize the power of words until I started listening to great storytellers. They have a way of capturing a room. Capturing a reader. Capturing a listener.
They can galvanize movements. Change the direction of people’s lives. And stir something inside of us.
That’s the power of storytelling. I don’t know any other skill that can do that.
16. You have personal agency
In the last year, I’ve learned how much personal agency I have. I don’t have to wait for someone’s approval. I can get shit done right now.
I didn’t wait to get a job handed to me. I went out there and found people who knew about opportunities and sent in referrals. I didn’t wait to have a company idea and team handed to me. I went out there and asked people what they wanted and whether I could provide it.
You have the ability to really do anything you want to. Now, more than ever, the barriers are so low. Don’t let your age, lack of experience, your South Asian mother stop you from doing you.
17. You don’t have to wait to start living life
So like every other tech, life-design obsessed millennial and their sister, I read the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. The most profound lesson I got was that I didn’t have to wait until retirement to actually enjoy life.
Why do all this work for 50 years and then be too old, frail, sick, whatever to actually start enjoying life? I can do that right now.
So I have been. I go travel when I’ve saved up enough money. I go on wild adventures. I try to see my friends and family as often as I can. I tell people I love them often. This is my best life.
I don’t want to wake up tomorrow, have a freak accident happen and think, “I wasted my entire life working and now I can’t even enjoy it.”
Time is finite. Don’t waste it. Live it.
18. People will want to funnel you. Don’t let them
Water is predisposed to follow the path of least resistance. Humans are pretty similar. If you walk around my campus in the fall, you’ll see every major bank, consulting firm and tech firm herding swarms of students into our auditorium. They’ve mastered the funnel.
Early in our lives, we’ll be presented neatly carved up funnels that we can enter because we don’t have to think about it. It’s idiot proof. It’s easy. It doesn’t require much thinking.
What does require work is carving out your own path. You have to do the shoveling, get your hands dirty, and you might not even know which direction you’re digging. It’s scary!
But I challenge you to at least take a look outside of the funnels. Explore a little. See what’s out there. There’s a good chance that there is a slightly more clunky funnel that is much better suited to your needs. You just need to point your flashlight in that direction.
And if you do end up exploring and come to the decision that a neatly carved out funnel is better suited to your needs, go for it. But don’t be a blind participant to the master funnel creators aka “The Man”.
Be conscious. Be deliberate. Be a proactive decision maker.
19. Increase serendipity
I had a tendency to plan out every 30 minute block of my life. I guess you could either say I had great time management or I was a total control freak.
Part of the last year was learning how to let go of my controlling tendencies. I learned how to ride the wave of uncertainty and adventure. And because of it, I increased my likelihood of serendipity.
I’d walk into places I wasn’t planning to walk into. I’d meet people I wouldn’t normally talk to. I traveled to places I didn’t think I’d ever visit.
Serendipity brings a whimsical wonder into life that’s sometimes missing. And it’s often said, the best things in life are often unplanned.
20. Great things are never done alone
I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. My perfectionist tendencies mean I have high expectations of team members that aren’t always met. Or I want things done a certain way. Or I’ve just had to work in some shitty teams.
And while I’ve managed to do some pretty cool things alone, I now believe the greater things are done in teams.
You just have to find the right team. That’s the challenge.
Great teams are complimentary. Your strengths cover your team’s weaknesses and vice versa. Your optimism balances your teammate’s skepticism. Everyone’s personalities and skills keep the boat afloat and moving forward.
It’s when you find that team, greatness can happen. So don’t settle.
21. Do your due diligence
One of the more practical lessons I’ve learned. This is applicable across the board. Research the company you’re about to work at. Research the country you’re about to move to. Research all the visa regulations and don’t show up at the airport and have the check-in counter tell you that you do actually need a visa to travel to Brazil.
Knowledge is power. Use it.
22. Start investing your money now
Another practical lesson for you. If you know absolutely nothing about the markets, put your money into an index fund or go to Betterment, Wealthfront, or Ellevest and have them invest your money for you for a tiny commission (I personally use Ellevest. Currently have a 10% return without doing a single thing. Cue disclaimer of don’t expect these results).
Betterment and Ellevest don’t even have a minimum balance! This means you can start with $1. So do it.
Sitting money is LOST money. Inflation is REAL. Compound interest is AWESOME.
Open your account and invest your hard earned money and reap those returns!
BONUS LESSON: Your mental health isn’t an expense. It’s an investment. So invest in it!
I grew up in a country where mental health issues were heavily stigmatized. Nobody talked about it. I didn’t know what resources I had. I thought I was crazy for feeling sad and depressed when there was nothing inherently wrong in my life.
The advice often given to me was just occupy myself. Do more work. Don’t think about it so much.
I realized somewhere around 10th grade that I did have mental health issues. I only started getting help for it a few months ago.
It took me 5 years to seek help for my depression and anxiety
Your mental health is important. If the resources are available, please use them or turn to someone who can point them out to you. Not investing in it can have real, long-term consequences.
Mental health is an investment worth making because the returns are priceless.
So that’s a little bit of what I’ve learned in the last year. I’m curious to see how these ideas will change or stay the same over the next chapter of my life. Until then, I’m going to keep doing me and I hope you do you :)