Whenever I discuss the topic of “work” with my friends, I notice a recurring theme: there’s almost always some aspect of their job they dislike.
One of my friends moved to Michigan over the summer to be a teacher and she complains that the commute is long, the schedule is time-consuming, and she doesn’t have as much flexibility as she’d like. She’s even considering moving back in with her parents and finding a job in her hometown.
Another friend I know has been working for an accounting firm for about a year. He says the pay is decent, but the work is monotonous and not something he sees himself doing long-term. He’s keeping his options open.
Another friend works as a graphic designer and says the work he does is interesting, but the pay is barely enough to cover his monthly rent. He’s actively looking for a new job.
This theme keeps popping up when I talk to people in their 20’s. There’s some aspect of their job they dislike enough that makes them want to find work elsewhere.
Finding vs. Creating
I hesitate to draw conclusions based on this small group of people I know, but I’d be willing to bet that many 20-somethings out there aren’t satisfied with one of the following aspects of their job: the type of work they do, the flexibility of their schedule, or their income.
And while these are legitimate complaints, I think the focus of 20-somethings is in the wrong place: we shouldn’t obsess over finding the perfect job with the perfect salary and flexible hours, but instead we should be actively working to create our ideal work situation with our desired income and flexible hours.
Specifically, there’s two things young people can do in their 20’s to work towards creating their ideal work situation: Acquire skills and save money.
It’s well-known that the people who enjoy their work the most are the ones who are good at it. People who master their craft have the ability to enter a flow state when they work, teach others what they know, and add real value to the world. All of these are key ingredients to loving work.
For most 20-something who lands their first job out of college, they don’t have any of these traits. They’re certainly not a master at their craft, they have little to no experience, and very few valuable skills. This means they don’t have the ability to command a high income, control their schedule, or dictate what types of projects they work on.
This is why the main goal for 20-somethings should be to learn as much as possible and acquire as many valuable skills as they can in their first few years of work.
The best way to do this is to kill your ego.
Don’t worry about making mistakes. Ask questions without being scared, volunteer to help on projects even if they’re above your head, and take notes. In general, drink from the firehose. You’ll fail more often than you succeed, but you’ll learn new skills faster than anyone else which is all that matters.
In my first job out of college I did all these things. I asked questions constantly, volunteered to help on difficult projects, and took free classes offered by the company to improve my skillset. I learned a boatload about Microsoft Excel along with the programming languages R and SAS. I was able to put all three of these skills on my resume and it helped me land my current job, which bumped up my salary from $52k to $80k.
Please for the love of god save as much of your income as possible from your first job. Keep living like a college student and keep your expenses ridiculously low. This has two benefits:
1. The money you save and invest in your 20’s will be the foundation of your financial life for the next 60 years.
2. Having money in the bank will give you more courage when negotiating your salary and asking for promotions as well as financial flexibility to leave a job you hate.
My financial advice for 20-somethings is simple:
Contribute as much as you can to a 401(k). Max it out if possible.
Contribute anything leftover to an IRA.
Invest anything leftover in index funds in a brokerage account (I recommend Vanguard)
Place anything leftover in a savings account (I recommend Ally)
Stop Looking for Your Dream Job. Create It.
Acquiring skills and saving money are the two things that will help you create a situation where you can have more control over your work.
The more skills you have, the more valuable you are. This means you can command a higher salary and often more flexibility to choose the types of projects you work on at companies. If you’re good enough, you can quit corporate life altogether and work for yourself.
The more money you have in the bank, the more flexibility you have to change jobs, courage to negotiate your salary, and financial backing to attempt being a freelancer or consultant without worrying about going broke.
Stop looking for your dream job. Voraciously acquire skills and save money until you can do the exact work you want.
My favorite free financial tool I use is Personal Capital. I use it to track my net worth, manage my spending, and keep an eye on my monthly cash flow. It only takes a few minutes to set up and it makes tracking your finances simple and easy. I recommend trying it out.
You can also sign up to have my most recent articles sent straight to your email inbox for free 🙂