5 20-Somethings Who Are Succeeding In The Real World

 Paul Paulsen
Paul Paulsen
While it can often seem as though the prospects of succeeding as a 20-something in this economy range between “unlikely” and “lol no,” there are still many people who are making things work in every field imaginable. Whether blazing their own trail or working the corporate ladder, these five people are deciding their own future, even while the economy is laughing at them.

1. Randeep, 28, Storyboard Artist

Despite starting his career in illustration as a freelancer — and a brief flirtation with the idea of being a lawyer — Randeep managed to work his way up, from client to client, to a job as a storyboard artist for a feature film studio. Though he began unsure of where he was going to end up, as nearly all freelancers do, Randeep was able to fulfill his dreams and now feels more sure than ever that working on films is what he was meant to do. “I’ve been drawing since I’ve been able to hold a pencil. The Little Mermaid was my first movie in theaters, and Aladdin was where I realized that people do this for a living.”

Though he has since stopped freelancing, he stressed how important it was to constantly be vigilant if you want to be successful independently — that the competition was fierce enough to make freelancing more difficult than full-time employment in some ways. “Time management is huge. You need to be really hustling in it if you’re going to be successful — if you’re out of the loop it gets really difficult.” Yet he does believe that our generation is one which embraces entrepreneurship overall: “I think people have seen how employees get treated in general and want something more. Our generation has an infinite amount of opportunities [compared to] our parents due to technology and a lot of people are more willing to take a chance and put things on the line.” When he decided to take this road, however, not everyone was universally supportive: “[Friends and family] were very apprehensive and worried because I had an even longer way to go than I do now (not saying I’m good, just that I know a few more things) and worried that I couldn’t make a career out of it. Persistence and pushing through, as well as attempting to learn as much as you can, pays off.”

2. Sarah, 25, Student Coordinator

After deciding that the American job market did not hold much for her after graduation, Sarah moved to Switzerland to be an English teaching assistant for grade schoolers, a popular choice for postgrads looking to see Europe on the (relatively) cheap. But as the time to leave approached, she decided that leaving was not an option for her. “I knew that I wanted to be in Europe, that I loved it here and I was much happier than I was at home. Being a teacher wasn’t a lot of money but it allowed me to live the life I wanted to live.” She immediately began networking with people in her department to see about potential options for staying, and stumbled upon another school who had a position open for student coordinator in their English language program.

“It happened that I sent the right email at the right time, and my degree is in educational administration, so it was the right fit for what they were looking for. If I didn’t have my references and connections from my teaching job, though, I would have never found it. They hadn’t listed it yet.” She insists that thinking outside the box when it comes to job opportunities is essential. “I didn’t really start with a dream job in mind, I just said ‘I want to stay in Europe,’ and went from there. When I was asking for help, I took every lead I could find. I probably sent 50 emails before I got one response.”

3. Chris, 27, Mechanical Engingeer

Since Chris was young, he knew he wanted to work for a German car company. His father was a big fan of German automobiles, and Chris had always loved helping him tinker around. But when he realized that a lot of the higher-level R&D was happening in Germany itself, he realized that taking German would be an essential component of realizing his dream. “I could have tried for a job in America, but I knew that my chances would be a lot better if I was able to put ‘German speaker’ on my resume. So I added it as a double major with mechanical engineering.” After four years and a freshly-minted degree, Chris landed an internship in the R&D department of one of his favorite makes, based in Munich. “At first it was really intimidating, and I felt handicapped by not being German — just reading the technical names for parts and measurements was insane. But you kind of figure it out as you go.” His internship became a full-time position, and he has been moving up in the department ever since. “When you start out in R&D, you often have a really narrow set of things you get to work on. As you prove yourself, you get to see the bigger picture.”

4. Paul, 24, Producer

Paul always wanted to work in film, but producing seemed like a more feasible route — at least in terms of business — than directing. But starting his own production company was a nerve-wracking undertaking, especially with the economy the way it is. “In the entertainment industry, people tend to stick to what they know, to more established names, people they’ve worked with. Budgets are being cut, and people are much less likely to take risks. It was scary, but then again, I was so determined that it would work, that I had to do it, that I tried not to think about the risks.” Instead of finding investors or loans, he was able to start in his school’s incubator program for small businesses, and insists that “the thing about production companies is you don’t need a huge amount of capital to start with.”

Beginning with only bare-bones production equipment and a few ideas for online videos, Paul parlayed his initial successes into prestigious clients, a trip to New York furnished by YouTube, and a revolutionary interactive web series which won a host of awards for its producer. Despite the successes, though, he sometimes worries that production will ultimately take him away from his original love of directing: “I have a schedule that keeps me from being involved in the creative aspects of things sometimes, and I have to hire people to do the work that I originally wanted to do. But business can demand that.” When asked if he feels that too many young people are trying to fit themselves in an already-tight industry, he remarked, “I think that a lot of people want to start something. obviously it would be cocky for every 20-something to insist they had a business to start, but a lot of them do. But I think it’s key to embrace finding fulfillment, even if it’s in a “regular” job. I think we need to stop denigrating “regular” jobs […] my family was very hesitant when I first announced what I was doing, but that’s because it’s a tough industry. It’s an industry where you need a strategy, and it’s not guaranteed to work.”

5. Cara, 23, Technology Consultant

Although the industry she was entering was undoubtedly dominated by men — and often dismissive of what a woman could possibly offer a board room full of computer nerds — Cara was insistent from day one that she make a career for herself in technology. “I’ve always loved computers, but I always felt like I had to prove myself because I was still a ‘girl’ in what was supposed to be a ‘boys’ world. I always had to be the best at video games, the best at programming, and the best at presenting myself, to be able to compete with everyone else. People want to dismiss you as a ‘nerd girl,’ which I’ve never understood.” But after her graduation with a degree in computer science from a prestigious program, she found herself with a host of options as to where to go for her career. “I knew that CS was going to be a field with a lot of choices as far as jobs, but I knew that a lot of them were not going to be very dynamic. Like, I could have been a programmer somewhere, but I knew that I would probably feel stagnant after a while. I considered going into game development — that’s where the cool kids go — but to be honest a lot of the jobs I was looking at didn’t pay terribly well, and didn’t have a lot of room for improvement. I chose consulting because I wanted to do something that was different every day.

While her young age and gender may present her with the occasional disrespectful client, or a manager who underestimates her capacities, Cara says she is happy about making her way in the technology field. “I love feeling like there is always something new developing, like I will always be learning. I’m proud to be in my field, especially as a woman, and I’m excited about my future.”


In every conversation, whether by email, phone, or in person, there was a clear sentiment of taking a leap at some point, of making a decision which was dangerous, or not universally popular. There were people looking at them, telling them (in so many words) that the career path they were choosing was not going to work out. But for each of them — whether entrepreneurs or someone who falls nearly in a hierarchy of office politics — the decision to pursue what they wanted was ultimately stronger than their apprehension. And all of them, if given the chance, would do it again. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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