Learn in Your 20’s, Earn in Your 30’s

Last updated on October 10th, 2018

“Learn in your 20’s, earn in your 30’s” is a simple mantra that I love. The specific ages are not important, but the message is. By focusing on learning now you can exponentially change your ability to earn down the road.

Picture two college classmates, let’s call them Bob and Sally. Bob is fairly successful and is making $150K/year by the time he is 35. Sally is extremely successful and is making $1.5M/year by the time she is 35. What was the difference in their career trajectories? It did not matter that Bob made a 20% higher salary out of school. Sally sacrificed on starting salary to learn, grow, and find the place where she could succeed over the long haul. This happens all the time. Being on the best long-term track is soooooo much more important than the size of your current paycheck, especially when you are young.

Why do most career services offices have this backward? I have nothing against career services offices or the people that work there, but they are stuck in a bind. It is very difficult to measure the long-term happiness and success of your graduates. It is easy to measure your graduates’ employment rate and first-year compensation. So that is what people measure and it is the key metric used in magazine rankings every year. Students are naturally pushed to take jobs when they are available and to think about pay in a stronger way than they should.

To maximize your long-term success, you need to identify what you truly want and then pursue it with a vengeance regardless of what people tell you. Sometimes you have to accept advice from various sources and then draw your own conclusions and pave your own path.

Entering my second year of business school, I turned down a job offer at a consulting firm where I interned during the summer. I wanted to start my own company and decided there was no time to look back. I not only turned down the job offer, but took one of their employees with me. A manager from the firm ended up quitting his job to join my startup. I then proceeded to graduate and make $25K/year as we got the business off the ground and searched for funding. Let’s just say I didn’t earn a gold star in the recruiting category for that move. But I am exponentially more prepared to succeed now that I have experienced the adventure of launching a business. I have learned how to build a team, how to hunt down customers and earn credibility, how to raise funding, how to build a scalable product, how to deal with tricky management issues, how to work in a rapidly changing market, how to build successful partnerships, and ultimately how to create and run an organization.

Regardless of my personal financial outcome as a result of Seamless Receipts, I am confident that this experience will pay huge dividends throughout the rest of my career. But it was tough at the beginning. I had to think different and resist outside pressures. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t suffice for a good career. Shoot for greatness. Throw your starting salary out the window and do something awesome regardless of the compensation. You’ll be better off for it no matter what happens in the short-term. You may not make it on your first shot, but in my opinion subscribing yourself to a lifetime of mediocrity is the biggest risk you can take. Pursuing a passion on the other hand, I don’t see much true risk in that.

Improve your resume, boost your interview skills, and make your next career move.

  • -UN

    Good one, Keith! 

  • Navaneeth888

    A very logical and a much needed advice to young grads. Thanks for the article, Keith!

  • Rao

    As alums we need to take messages like this back to our alma mater. Education needs reform to be more current, and students faculty and parents need to think beyond USNEWS rankings and McKinsey job offers. Your post is awesome, but the transition to the thought process you outline is going to be generational. 

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  • windskisong

    Awesome article, and echoes much that I’ve been trying to get across to people