This post is about a talk I recently delivered at my alma mater. Having listened to many speakers while I was a student, I always wanted to know what the speakers wished they knew when they were students which could have changed the trajectory of their lives. When I was invited to speak I did exactly that. I shared with the students things I wish I knew in my 20s.
#1 – More school / education means more income.
In my 20’s I didn’t have clear educational goals. My education was a lucky happenstance because of family, situational and societal factors. I am fortunate to have gotten where I am today. But the journey was not deliberate and planned. Educational degrees increase chances of success in life.
#2 – Struggle for existence and survival of the fittest are the realities of professional life. I only have 16% chance of success in my life.
If you ask 100 students how many of them will be in the top 16% to have the most successful careers (i.e. High Performers), I bet more than 85% of the students would raise their hands. Everyone blindly believes that they are blessed to have the most glittering career. I was no different. I later realized the harsh reality of the external corporate and business world is the ubiquitous Bell Curve. The probabilities of success is pre-determined. We just get slotted to the pre-allocated space for success based on our ability to outshine our peers / competitors. Continued education, acquiring new skills and staying relevant are critical factors for sustained success in life.
#3 – Age is not my best friend for learning.
As I said above continued education, acquiring new skills and staying relevant are critical factors for sustained success in life. Studies show that learning efficiency deteriorates with age. Ability to learn more with less efforts is at its peak at around 25 years of age. After that it takes a lot more efforts to learn / acquire new skills. If I were to appear for the Chartered Accountancy / CPA examination now, it would be exponentially hard for me to pass the exams.
#4 – Age, learning efficiency and success are all strongly correlated.
As I said above, studies show that our ability to problem solve, speed of mental processes, working memory, appetite for risks, develop deep learning, etc. are highest in the 20s. Knowing ones strength / passion and monetizing them at an early age tremendously increases the chances of success. Below is the list of successful people and the age at which they achieved meaningful success in their fields of strengths / passion. This list shows a strong correlation between age, learning ability and early success. However I tried very hard to keep me motivated even now and I added Henry Ford and Sam Walton to the list. Nonetheless the reality of early success is unquestionable.
#5 – Knowledge is useless without application
We live in a Knowledge economy and learning without application is waste of time. Traditional or passive learning is not very effective. When you apply what you learn (as the successful people in the above chart did), the chances of success is tremendously improved.
#6 – ‘Instant Gratification’ eventually kills my career
The single most effective test to assess potential of future success in life is the ability to delay gratification. The Marshmallow Test has proved beyond doubt that this finding is true independent of race, culture and geography.
In closing my talk, I told them that there are no guarantees for success in life. However I gave them the ‘Prescription for Guaranteed Misery’. I also reminded them of Charlie Munger’s advise – “it is far more important to avoid stupidity than trying to be smart”