I am your 34-year-old self. A friend recently recommended to write a letter to you and share my advice. I know you – you are a strong character and probably know everything yourself, you don’t need my advice. But maybe, between studying, working and partying, you have a few minutes to read it. I’m a bit wiser than I was when I was your age – at least a bit. And I am sending this letter to you to tell you the things I wished someone had told me then.
You are just about to go on one of your biggest adventures so far – you are leaving for your semester in China in a few months. You may not realise it now but it will be a huge influence on your future path. I won’t spoil it for you, don’t worry. But I want to give you one piece of advice: Enjoy it! Make the most out of it and do not worry too much about the future. I know, business school makes you obsess about career paths and performance. But live every day as it comes and enjoy it to the fullest.
One of the most important things you should know is that your path should always be about your goals – not anybody else’s. Whether it is expectations from friends and family, competition at university or HR people at a conglomerate telling you that you have to go through certain career steps before you qualify for a certain position. Your life will be so much more than ticking boxes off an HR list.
You are still so young. Go out and try things. Do not obsess about your CV or those stupid lists. I know that your university puts a lot of emphasis on a polished CV, hard work, ambition. But it also puts you in a constant mindset of fighting every single gap in your CV. “But what if I have a gap of two months?”, I know you would ask that immediately. I tell you: Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Because if you did something enriching during those months, it will make you grow. It is not always about getting the best internship at the biggest or “sexiest” company. It is about being curious, daring to do new things, meet new people and learn.
And please, do not obsess about the starting salary. Business schools do this to improve their ratings: they encourage you to go for the highest starting salary possible because it improves their data. If your starting salary is less than USD 100,000, you are a loser. That is what they make you feel. But please, please, please, do not choose a job solely based on the salary. And do not choose it for prestige or the job title either. Assess it and analyse what you can learn. Can you make a difference with this position? Is it really what you want to do? And I emphasise the YOU – do not choose a certain job to make anyone else happy or proud but yourself.
If you feel you like to try something completely different, do it! What happened to your plans of studying Art History as a hobby? Maybe it is worth taking time for that now. I know that you want to finish your studies faster than everyone else, you are an over-achiever. But I have to break it to you now: in the long-run, it will not matter if you need one or two semesters longer than you planned. It will be about the experiences you have made, the person you have become and what you have learned.
Keep being curious. Explore. The world is your oyster and make the most as long as you can travel freely. Because I am telling you, there will be a time where you cannot. (It is hard to imagine but there will be a period of travel bans ahead of you.) Take every opportunity you have to explore something new, to meet new people and to push yourself out of the comfort zone.
Fall in love without being suspicious, without assuming that everyone is a cheater. Be naïve and enjoy the moment – who says you are going to marry that guy you met in your early twenties anyways. And not every man you meet is an asshole (pardon my French…), even though some will be. There will be heartbreak, there will be drama, there will be passion. All of them will make you realise what you want and what you do not want in a partner.
Take pictures. I regret that I was too lazy to take pictures on many of my trips. I know it is annoying to carry that camera with you – you do not know about smartphones as yet. But carry them with you and snap away. Capture all the beauty around you. The world is changing so fast. You will appreciate these pictures. Write a diary. Write down your thoughts, your fears, your happy moments.
Keep in touch with people. You are so good at socialising and making friends. Keep that and also use it. Later on, you will be able to visit friends all over the world, work internationally and explore so many new things.
And last but not least, dare to be different! Dare to be yourself! You always struggled to fit in anyways. Use it and create something out of it. Along your way, most people will not understand what you are doing. But it is not about making everyone else understand it. As long as you know what you re doing, believe in it and work hard for it. All the dots will connect later on.
Make your future self proud!
Thank you, Regina Larko for the idea to write this letter to my 20-year-old self. You can listen to her podcast episode here.