Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My Advice to 20 Somethings

I teach two online classes, both of which are in the realm of personal financial management. The problem I face however is that everybody, regardless of age, is interested in personal financial management and therefore it is difficult to tailor these classes to such a wide audience as the specific advice or recommended course of financial action varies depending on you age. But if there is one thing I would like to convey to a particular age or group of people it would be to the 20 somethings and that advice would be;

Don't bother working hard until you're at least 35.

And the reason I say this is simple; nobody takes you seriously as an adult and therefore will not give you opportunities to excel and advance until you are 35 or so.

I will concede that this was more of an intuition and was not brought about to a fully crystalized thought until I heard Rush Limbaugh say, "You really can't make any money until you're in your 40's" and after he said that (and I had myself a 3 hour drive yet to complete) I started to think about why that was. Sadly, I figured out why.

Let us say you are a really intelligent, really smart, really hard working 20 something. The major problem and the most debilitating disability you face to your career is that the rest of your peers are more or less incompetent ef-offs and losers. They expect to have everything handed to them. They expect that majoring in a fluff major like sociology is going to get them $60,000 a year. And, worse still, if they're like most affluent preppy Ambercrombie and Fitch suburbanite children, they have the parents that can subsidize them at that standard of living until they find such employment (or such a spouse that will provide them a similar standard of living).

This is not attractive to employers as such an attitude does not behoove any level of loyalty, responsibility, honor, integrity or reliability. This is also not attractive to employers as most children coming out of college (and I mean that in an insulting and "mean" sense) can't even tell you that Canada is to our north and make great fodder for Jay Leno's "Jaywalking."

The whole point is for those of you young, budding, idealistic 20 somethings out there who are smart, who did study hard and are mature, responsible adults, you have to realize that you are the victim of your peers. The "eagle who cannot soar with the turkeys" of sorts. And the reason I bring this up (and am more passionate about this than most of my other financial advice) is that your 20's are technically your physical prime or "youth." And to waste it trying to pursue a career or make something of yourself is foolish. Nobody is going to take you seriously because you are a victim of your generation's general idiocy and spoiled-brat-rotteness. Nobody is going to give you any semblance of responsibility or commensurate compensation because they are just going to assume you're incompetent just like the rest of the 20 somethings and will therefore relegate you to some mundane mediocre task with no hope of advancement or promotion.

Ergo, this is the real economic rationale as to why you should just throw away your 20's in terms of career and just enjoy life while you have your health. Go climb mountains, go become a ski bum, go to Europe and stay at youth hostiles, smoke, drink, dance and makey with the bam bam. Simply because any attempt at establishing some sort of "career" or "profession" is simply going to be met and stymied by skeptical (and rightfully so) baby boomers who are cynical about your ability to do anything competently.

And then, and only then, after you've gotten your fill of life and travel and general tomfoolery, plus maybe you're sporting a couple gray hairs, it is a must you get your masters degree towards the later 20's or early 30's of your life. This then adds credibility to your non-existent credibility that nobody will give you, until you pass that precious 30 year old mark and become (as accordance with Jewish culture) a "mensch." It will also leap-frog you over your competitors as you enter not only the work force, but employers deem you a viable candidate in the work force, simply because you're over 30.

Understand I mean this as sincere and honest advice, meant to help those of you youth out there looking for direction. I do not mean to offend you youth somehow claiming because you're young, you therefore must be incompetent. I am merely trying to prevent other youth from making the same mistake I did, and give you a better life than I had. And take it from me (and I bet you'll get the same response from similarly aged folk as myself) goofing around in your 20's and not bothering to start a career until your 30 is arguably the best financial advice you're going to get.


Shawn Abigail said...

... except that most of the people I've known who make VP in their company do so by the age of 35. And they do so because they have a lot of talent and work their butts off from right after they get out of university.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, and I wish I had read this 20 years ago. Not that I didn't act pretty much exactly as you wrote anyway, but I wished I knew nobody was taking me seriously.

BTW, bit of a booboo at: "...go to Europe and stay at youth hostiles..."

Although, having spent some of my youth in such places, hostile some of them are.

Sean said...

"nobody takes you seriously as an adult and therefore will not give you opportunities to excel and advance until you are 35 or so"

That's been my experience, I just started getting opportunities when I hit 35. Now I'm turning 37 in a few months.

Not sure if the "peer victim" theory is correct however. I see it as more of a hierarchical thing, a seniority thing, where you cannot be granted an opportunity until you've paid your dues. Occasionally a youth breaks through this wall, usually the result of having inside connections through their parents, or by inventing something brilliant and selling it.

Ramsey said...

Damn, why did I go straight to grad school after college.

Oh well hopefully some employers will realize that a 27 y.o. PHD isnt just your run-of-the-mill under-30 slack off.

::quits grad school to go join a traveling circus::

Hardboiled said...

You bely a mediocre past Captain. I went into and came out of university as a 'mature' student, and have had a good run. I ended up in high performance occupations and knowledge workers, and know of million dollar bonuses to people in their early 30's. I have seen 20 somethings driving 7 series BMWs. And I have worked with hungry 20 somethings pounding out 16 hour days, and making $150k per year.

You seem to have had a far different experience. And really, a bit of hipocrisy that a capitalist would tell young'uns to slack.

The paradigm that the 40's is the years of our highest earnings still holds, but certainly isn't as prevalent as it was 10 years ago. Cream always rises to the top.

Kasia said...

Canada is to our north

Unless you're in Detroit, in which case Windsor is to your south.

Anonymous said...

I think there is some truth in your observation and recommendation. However, younger workers probably have more opportunity in, for example, high tech than high finance, etc.

Adam said...

Yes... one problem I think you're hitting is that hiring criteria in your field is highly subjective. It's likely either based on previous successes (demonstrable), years doing it without losing a job, or just on third party qualifications.

That is going to tend to really lean against younger entries. A 25 year-old doesn't like have previous successes, probably not a very long track record, and third party qualifications would be entirely academic. Hence the obsession in these types of fields with doing your essay "the right way."

Someone coming fresh out of college with even a godlike mastery of finance and economics can't demonstrate their talents in a short resume or interview. Hiring managers look for buzzwords and hollow qualifications based on fifty year ideas about trustworthy institutions.

If you had pursued something like engineering or chemical engineering, you're dealing with smaller groups of peers. You're more typically dealing directly with companies trying to produce something, rather than manage finances in an almost abstract manner from prior productions.

Of course, my views are entirely limited to... well, myself and a few of my peers. I'm twenty, and graduated college two years ago, finishing high school at fourteen. I don't come from a highly esteemed university or background, and I don't know anyone or come from a prestigious university. I can't and won't B.S. an employer and I'm not particularly good at marketing myself. But I deal with companies that are wanting to make money, not manage it. There's an immediate profit motive there. Perhaps that is the difference.

Unfortunately, I think you chose a highly subjective and competitive field that gives more leaning to institution than it does to the desire to make money.

Anonymous said...

Let me deal with the other end of the career lifeline -

In my profession (which is not in professional athletics, but information technology) once you turn age 45 you are automatically considered functionally obsolete and unable to stay current with technology.

In short, you're washed up regardless of whether you are technically current or not and regardless of whether you can learn new technology or not.

So, assuming the Capn is right, in technology careers your effective career is only 10 years long.

I think the captain's advice needs a bit of a tweak and here it is -
if you are working for a large company, working extremely hard is useful only if you are recognized as a stellar performer e.g. the top 0.5% and put on the fast track. That's the one case where working your backside off pays. Otherwise, working very hard is not a good investment since it doesn't pay off.

The other exception is if you're working for yourself - but be careful that you own your business rather than the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the above. If you are over 45 and get laid off from a high-tech job you are generally unemployable thereafter.

Adam said...

Hrm... that's odd. I keep seeing guys in their 50's and 60's working as technology consultants. Unless you're talking about those 45 year-old Unix or COBOL programmers who refuse to learn new technologies, work within existing frameworks, and insist that things like object-oriented models and SOA's are crap.

Although, honestly, even after being in a computer engineering-related field for so much as ten years, you typically have tunneled yourself into a highly specialized section of development or research, or at least in project management.

I'm just not seeing this "unemployable after X years of age" thing. I do, however, see a lot of older men and women who refuse to deal with people who are younger than them, and have turned down jobs because it meant working under a 25 year-old.

Anonymous said...

Whooo hoo! Thanks! I've been a skibum for the past 3 years post undergrad. Not to mention, I've been backpacking through SE Asia, Central America, and South America (also did a 6 month stint in Europe). It's also given me a few gap year(s) where I know I want to return to school for a job I'm passionate about and will let me live the life I want (traveling, flexibility, long weekends, etc.)Nursing. My friends are definitely getting married and getting their first promotions in their corporate jobs; but, I'm glad I sacrificed some of the material comforts for adventure and living in my youth. It's hard relating to them these days (especially now that the wedding bells are ringing and babies coming. I'm still trying to water my plants properly)... but I know things are starting to settle and I'm not too outrageous with my fiscal responsibilities. I've learned to live like a minimalist, which I think one of the smartest lessons in life!

The ski bumming / world traveling life isn't for everyone; but I can't imagine my life without it! I guess it depends on what motivates you in life... (structure vs. adventure) (routine vs. unpredictable days).

It's hard now trying to kick into "Adult gear" (I think that's the hardest part) knowing when to call it quits and make the transition from skibum to career focus -- A lot of my adventurous friends will continue this lifestyle until they are 30-40...That's not for me. But it sure was great from 20-25!!

Best of luck to anyone who takes this advice!!!