1. Be brave and take risks (also cold call people if necessary)
There are two things I live by: I don’t regret taking risks and I don’t believe in obstacles. If you really, really want something, you will go to any length to get it. Practically, when it comes to getting opportunities, cold calling people is not a bad idea. I did it once. My friend heard my story and did it too and we both got what we asked for. It was a great experience for me and it reminds me that I will never know if I never try.
Because seriously, what’s there to lose? I know there isn’t, at least in my case. I’m young, I’m full of energy, I’m capable. If I take a chance, the worst thing that could happen is that I don’t get what I ask for. But if I don’t ask in the first place, I never get. Plus, I like the sense of control I have over what happens to me as I don’t just sit around and wait for it to come. I actively look for chances to take, which has always ended up with enriching experiences, wisdom and character.
2. Don’t worry about not knowing what you want; Focus instead on what you can do right now.
As soon as I turned 20, I started to go crazy about finding out what I really want to do with my life because I felt like I’m supposed to know now and I’m running out of time. This is silly. I don’t need to know now and I have plenty of time ahead to explore things and decide what’s good for me and what’s not. In fact, that’s the whole purpose of being a twenty-something. Or thirty-something, forty-something for that matter. It’s a discovery process that continues throughout our lifetime.
For the time being, it’s best to focus on your available resources and make decisions to maximize the potential of your current situation instead of obsessing about what you don’t know or what might go wrong. The thing is, no matter where you might end up later, you must start from somewhere and this is that place. If you’ve made decisions to the best of your knowledge and circumstances, there’s nothing to look back and think twice about.
3. There are people who are able to help you get to where you want to be but ‘where do you want to be’ is the question only you can answer.
I’ve learned that successful people are the people who know where they want to be and are persistent about getting there. If I don’t know where I want to be, even if I get somewhere, I won’t have a sense of success and no one can help me succeed. The mistake I made was to seek mentors while having the wrong expectations of what they have to offer. I expected them to know and tell me what I should do with my life while in reality no one but myself can give me such an answer.
However, it’s not to say you shouldn’t reach out and ask for guidance from more experienced people when you have yet to know where you want to be. It’s okay to not know now. Regardless, connecting with people and having an idea of different life choices and where they lead to is beneficial for you. The reason is that people’s specific life goals might be different from yours but lessons from mistakes and decision making skills are all transferable.
4. Do more, think less.
Thinking is good but over-thinking isn’t. It’s a waste of time and energy, which at 21 is pretty much all you have. Unfortunately, it’s also what you will never have more of. The older you get, the less time and energy there is. So, now is always the best time to go out there and do things. As long as you take action, eventually your life will get somewhere and fall into its place.
It’s true that reflection is necessary for growth and worrying can prevent you from potential danger but at the same time, they can hold you back and cloud your mind with anxiety and negativity. Sometimes it’s good to switch off your inner voice and just do. Personally for me, going outdoors is a good one. It refreshes my mind and helps ward off my anxiety.
5. You don’t have to explain your lifestyle choices to anyone which include what you do with your own body.
The other day, I dyed my hair from brown to blond and blond to dark brown in a day and immediately, I had many questions asked about why I did what I did with a judgemental tone, insisting that I should keep it a certain way. My first response was to come up with millions of reasons to rationalize my actions but then I was like, wait a minute, I don’t have to.
How about I just want to do it because it’s my own hair? The same goes for my body, or anything regarding personal lifestyle choices. It is simply none of anyone’s business and likewise, I don’t mind what people do with their body either.
6. The best thing that has ever happened to you is being able to be yourself.
I think it’s wonderful how nowadays individuality is valued so much. There’s no better time in history to be completely true to yourself and express that trueness to the world. For me, it’s also when I’m at my best. I realize that most of my achievements have come from me being myself and communicating that uniqueness, that me, to other people.
I have a voice and I raise it. I have a mind and I share it. I have a way of seeing the world and I show that this is what makes me different. I believe that being me is being enough. Being me is bringing to the table something no one else can. If I’m not being myself, I will not be able to find things that truly fulfil me and people who have the same values as I do. Plus, when I stay true to myself, I have this sense of rightness and it feels amazing.
7. What you think people think of you is more about what you think of yourself.
Throughout my teenager years till now, I have always struggling with social anxiety. I would over-analyse everything and it took a toll on my well-being. However, as soon as I realized that no one has actually said or shown anything to my face but it’s mostly in my head, I’ve learned to cope with this by blocking out thoughts that have no factual basis or are not going to cause a real problem.
The long-term solution I have is to talk to myself in a kinder way each day and understand not everything is about me so that when something goes wrong, I won’t automatically assume it’s me that’s wrong. I also try to take things at face value and stop making it a mission to please everyone. I figure all that energy is better spent improving myself and responding to people who take a genuine interest in me.
8. Do not let anyone or anything define who you are.
I have said this many times and I will say it again: You’re not just your body or your job or your relationships or anything you own. You’re so much more than that. You should never let anything or anyone define who you are. You’re the one who tells your own story. You are what you want to be.
If your friends or your partner try to either box you in a role or change you into someone else to suit them, they are not good friends or good partner. Good friends and good partner won’t make you feel like you’re not good enough or there’s something that needs to be fixed about you. And surely they won’t constantly add stress and negativity into your life.
If there’s anything I could tell my younger self, that would definitely be to stand up for myself and embrace all what I’m — even the flaws, the imperfections. At the end of the day, they are what make me whole and give me that sense of me. I don’t want to be perfect or have a perfect life. I want to experience life and be me.
And especially for those who want to go into financial services…
9. If you want to go into financial services, apply as soon as possible.
In my first year of university, I thought it was still too early to think about my careers so even though I did apply here and there, I didn’t even bother to put in any real effort. It just didn’t feel urgent to me at the time and I was still too carried away with the new freedom at university. But I really wish I had done something because it’s such a huge advantage to have early experiences and familiarise myself with the industry and its people.
It’s probably true in any kind of jobs that no matter how much you’ve researched the firm and memorized textbook definitions, you won’t get the same kind of confidence as when you actually step in the office, get your hand on actual work and talk to people. It shows in the way you present yourself and know what you’re talking about.
Plus, the recruitment process becomes ridiculously more complicated as your study progresses whereas applying for first year programmes only require you to hand in your CV and go through at most one round of interview. The real benefit is that it could fast track you onto a summer placement and eventually a job offer with no further assessment.
That being said, if you haven’t done anything much yet, don’t be disheartened. I’m a Psychology major with no financial background or experience (in and prior to my first year) but I still managed to score two internship offers by the end of my second year. I believe being keen and willing to put in hard work is the key to success. If you really want it, take action.