I can't say for sure, but I would wager that in the grand scheme of things I am a rather young professional writer. I have achieved a number of accolades. I have built what I consider to be a healthy foundation for my future aspirations. But at the end of the day, I am only 25 years old, and much of what I know had to be learned the hard way.
Looking around at many of my peers, I realize my unique position. Somehow, I have found myself in front of a podium. What I write and say is not just "my writing" anymore; it is a representation of others like me--similar in age, career, pursuit, etc. We are Millennials. Compared to the world's leaders, we are very young. We are ambitious, we are lofty in our dreams, and we are constantly at odds with our own impatience. We know what we want, but at the same time don't know what it is we don't want. We are a unique generation in that we firmly believe we have all the skills to become whomever and whatever we believe, and yet we struggle to slow down and understand, step by step, what it will take to get there.
I am only halfway through my 20s, but already there have been seven things I can say for sure Millennials have all had to learn the hard way:
1. Nobody Cares
Let me explain: In the real world, there are no participation points--and if you are in an environment that awards participation points, get out, because it is only doing you a disservice.
Nobody cares that you "tried." Nobody cares that you "worked really hard on it." Nobody cares that you "didn't know." Nobody cares. What people care about is the final product, the end result. People care that you did what you said you were going to do. People care that you didn't run and hide when things got tough. People care when you put your pants on and you get done what needs to get done.
People care when you do more than is expected of you, and don't ask for a pat on the back in return. Nobody cares--so do it for yourself.
2. Time Is Money
I know we all heard this phrase growing up, but it takes context to understand it.
Every time you make a choice, you are spending time (money). Success, then, has less to do with talent and more to do with financial discipline--finances here referring to your time.
Lazy people say yes. They let life carry them like a ship lost at sea from one activity to the next. The key is to be the surfer, to ride the waves, to carve them, to use them to your advantage instead of letting them decide your course.
If you want to create things of value, if you want to accomplish your dreams, if you want to go where you truly want to go, then you have to ride the waves on your own terms. You have to say no to things. You have to learn to be disciplined with your time so that you can invest it properly.
Otherwise, everyone else will invest your time for you.
3. You Have to Network
The people you know are sometimes more important than what you know. After all, you could be the most brilliant designer or writer or project manager, but if nobody knows it then you're out of luck.
The reason your network is so important is because it is an easy way to increase your value. The more people you know, the more opportunities you will have at your fingertips. Networking is one of those easy ways to engineer serendipity.
You never know whom you might meet.
4. Doing Something Is Better Than Doing Nothing
The easiest (and most deadly) trap to fall into is the belief that you can't take that first step until you know exactly where you're headed.
People spend so much time brainstorming or thinking about all the possible outcomes before they take a single step. And then when they finally do take that first step, they realize all that theorizing was for nothing--and yet they repeat the entire cycle, wondering where to move next.
How on earth are you going to steer a stationary ship?
It is so much better to do something than to do nothing. Get the ball rolling. Start flowing. Steer as you go instead of trying to plot your course from land. The journey never goes as planned anyway, so just get on with it.
5. Hard Work Is Hard Work
We live in an age where it is very easy to recreate feelings of productivity and accomplishment without actually being productive or accomplishing anything at all. We check off our to-do lists. We receive "Completed" notifications. We can easily be made to feel like we are doing a lot, which leads us down a road of distraction instead of decision. We avoid the hard stuff because it involves prolonged process--and we would much prefer instant gratification.
If you look at the things that actually move the needle, the work that actually gets you from where you are to where you want to go, it can rarely be summarized in a checkmark or a "Done" notification. Instead, it involves rigorous analysis, tough thinking, and usually prolonged peace and quiet (a rarity in today's world). You have to actually think through the problem to find the answer.
If the majority of your time is spent doing tasks on your to-do list, I would question whether the work you are doing is hard work or busy work.
6. Invest, Don't Spend
I mean this both realistically and metaphorically. Don't get caught up in settling for smaller, short-term rewards when you can invest in larger, more fulfilling opportunities.
Realistically, I mean don't spend money you don't have, or try to live a life you can't afford. Metaphorically, I mean continue investing in your skills instead of spending your time celebrating your small accomplishments.
I am a firm believer that the people who are extremely successful in their 30s and 40s are ones that delayed gratification in their 20s. They invested in themselves and their skills. Conversely, where people tend to cap out is they celebrate prematurely. They bask in successes seemingly large in the short term but small in the long term.
That is not to say you shouldn't be happy about what you accomplish or achieve along the way. Just don't get too attached. There is more to be done.
7. You Have Time
And finally, the biggest lesson I have learned thus far: You have time.
You have time to figure it out. You have time to get it right. You have time to change, time to grow, time to create and become the version of yourself you are aiming to become. I know it doesn't feel like you have time, but you have time. You do. Trust in that, and enjoy the process more than imagining that overwhelming feeling of "I've finally made it." There is no end of the road, no pot of gold at the end of the tunnel. The joy comes from doing the thing in the first place, walking your path, and staying true to where it is you want to go.
Work hard, stay focused, but take a deep breath and realize you don't have to have all the answers right now. You are learning--and that's the point.