Recently, a reader asked me to write a post on this theme. And it threw me back a bit. Because it’s quite a big and intimidating question to answer!
After all, it sounds like life advice, which should probably be dished out by someone who’s a bit older and a lot wiser than a 30-year old blogger.
But what the hell – let’s give it a go! So here’s what I’d like to instil in my much-younger self, on the topics of work, life and money.
Firstly, realise your first job won’t be your last job. This is truer today than it’s ever been. Gone are the ‘job for life’ days. And younger people seem okay with this, generally changing jobs more often than past generations.
So keep in mind, your first job doesn’t have to be perfect. Your interests will change over time, leading you in new directions. And remember, so many people end up with jobs that they never imagined as a fresh-faced 18 year old, leaving school.
This is a good thing. As time goes on, you’ll grow as a person and realise what you really like and don’t like, in terms of job roles and work environments. Things like indoors vs outdoors. Loud vs quiet. Large team vs individual. High pressure vs low pressure. Constant problem solving vs easy repetition.
So don’t worry about having it all figured out straight away – almost nobody does! Think of it as a giant game of trial and error. There’s no wrong way to do it. And hopefully you’ll get a bit closer to something you enjoy each time.
I know it’s stressful to think about what you’re going to do with the next 60+ years of your active working life. But take it one step at a time. When combined with the money lessons below, all this work stuff will be optional before too long. And that takes the pressure off, allowing you to choose work for satisfaction, instead of a paycheck.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. But if you can, aim for an industry that you’re genuinely interested in. Not just what pays well.
That might sound obvious to some, and counter-intuitive to others. But the key to making work enjoyable is to find a job role that suits your personality, in an area which intrigues or fascinates you.
Maybe you’re a people person and love communication and deal-making. Or perhaps you’re quiet and prefer working with numbers and data. Either way, you’ll struggle to enjoy work if your job role doesn’t match your personality.
Also, if you’re doing a job solely for the money, it’s pretty likely you won’t be satisfied for very long. The lure of more money wears off pretty quickly when you dread getting up in the morning!
One of your main missions in life is to find work you enjoy for it’s own sake. Find a way to use your skills and abilities to help others. And you don’t have to be the smartest or most talented to do this. You just have to be passionate and keep learning.
What are you good at that other people struggle with? What do you love to do that others find boring? Or, what would you like to do even if you didn’t get paid for it? In answering these questions, you’ll likely find some good hints at what your ideal work is.
— Earning Power
There is some wiggle room here. If for some reason, you can get into a job or industry that pays very well, and the work sounds okay (but not fantastic), then consider diving in for a few years to cash in. With the condition, of course, that you save as much of this income as possible.
You’ll be able to build your Financial Independence Fund very quickly this way, but enjoy the journey a little less. That’s the trade-off you’ll have to make. But if you do it right, you’d likely have a modest mortgage-free home, or at least be semi-FI, in around 5-7 years.
No glory in winding up a rundown FIFO worker with a huge income, no freedom, and equally big spending habits.
This option is probably appealing if you’re not sure what industry/work interests you. Personally, I had no clue I’d be so interested in finance and investment until my early 20s. But by then, I didn’t fancy going back to finish school, then study something that I might not end up enjoying anyway.
After all, I’m sure most jobs are a lot different in practice to how most people imagine them to be! Besides, just because you like an industry, doesn’t mean it’s easy to choose a job within that industry to go after.
So instead, I continued on with warehouse work and am glad I did. Going back to study still doesn’t interest me, and I still wouldn’t know what type of job to go for! Somewhat ironically, I can now spend as much time as I want learning about finance or investing, without having to worry about making a career out of it.
All this is to say, there’s probably no right way to go about it. Where possible, follow your interests, but if there’s an opportunity to make a good amount of money doing something different, consider that too.
— Jobs and Training
I have no special insights into the future job market. In fact, I have no idea what’s going to happen. But if recent trends continue, the so-called ‘gig economy’ or casualisation of work means people running their own show is going to become more common.
It sounds odd, but there are more opportunities than ever before, at the same time there is less job security than ever before – including the opportunity to retire young by the way!
So if you like something and you’re good at it, you’ll be able to have your own little low-key business, providing services or stuff to people looking to outsource. Do it well, and the online marketplace will see word of mouth bring you more customers, as your reputation and brand grows.
The downside is, this income is naturally less reliable than a regular job. This means learning to manage money and be a good saver is more important than ever. Especially so since working for yourself means no sick pay, holiday pay, or superannuation. You’ll have to look out for yourself here by putting more money aside for these things.
In some ways, it seems university degrees are becoming a little outdated. As alluded to above, entrepreneurship may become more valuable than traditional education. The jobs market and people’s interests often change, so that after 4 years of schooling, either the job roles already have an abundance of candidates, or the graduate is no longer as interested in the field as they once were.
This means the last 4 years are effectively wasted. The graduate has debt to pay off, no savings and no work experience to show for it. On the other hand, with good money management, even a relatively low skilled job with modest earnings, like admin or dare I say it, warehousing, would see the young adult with a healthy pot of savings and well on their way to Financial Independence, at the same time the graduate is at a loss of what to do next.
I’m not saying to drop out of school, uni is bad or anything of the sort. But I’m sure all of us know at least a few people with degrees they don’t use, or are now doing completely different roles to what they studied for. Although to be fair, higher training does enable higher wages later on, and likely higher enjoyment too, provided your attraction to the industry and job role lasts.
But what I’m saying is, in Australia, uni degrees and high qualifications are certainly not necessary to live a good life or become financially independent. Because low wages in Australia are not that low! Our minimum wage is the highest in the world, and even then, most workers earn much more than this. And despite popular belief, the ‘high cost of living’ is not that high!
— Decisions and Direction
The best life advice I can give? Take 100% responsibility for your life and the choices you make. And don’t make excuses. Every excuse makes you weaker, mentally and emotionally.
Bad things may happen to you and it’s not your fault. But don’t be a victim. It’s still up to you to move on and overcome that. Don’t blame anyone else for your situation. Playing the victim leaves you powerless. And it feels like there’s no point doing anything because life just ‘happens’ to you.
But when you take responsibility, you’re taking back control and ownership of your life. That’s powerful. There are countless stories of people who turned their lives around, if you need motivation.
Also, don’t be too self-congratulatory when good things happen either. Luck will play a role, both good and bad.
Be your own leader. Don’t blindly follow others. They’re just taking cues from and following each other. Everyone is just guessing how to do life.
Decide how you’d like your life to be, rather than letting life decide for you. It doesn’t have to be precise, but roughly imagine what you want for your future. If you drift aimlessly, you’ll go around in circles and get nowhere. And I know you don’t want that!
Your health is far more important than you recognise right now. Without it, you have nothing. So look after yourself.
Exercise regularly. Drink sparingly. Eat healthy home-cooked food most of the time. And find a group of healthy snacks and meals you enjoy, and simply rotate through them.
These are the best choices for your health, and for your finances. Not to mention, you’ll feel a thousand times better than your peers who are getting UberEats four times a week and lounging on the couch because they’re too tired to exercise – when in fact, they’re probably tired because they eat crap and don’t exercise.
Learning to cook and plan your meals will prove immensely useful… and profitable!
— Confidence and Self-worth
Under no circumstances should you let your happiness rely on the approval of others. What matters is not what other people think of you, but what you think of you.
You’ll likely see your peers gunning for likes and popularity on social media. They look like they’ve got a great life and not a care in the world. But realise, they’re often doing it solely for attention and approval from others. And that isn’t healthy.
They grow to rely on this ego boost to feel good about themselves, and become anxious without it. Kind of like a drug addict.
Relying on others to feel okay about yourself is a sure ticket to unhappiness. Because you can’t control how other people feel, or what they say about you. That’s not a reliable source of self-worth. But you can control how you feel about yourself.
Your self worth needs to be built on who you are as a person. What good qualities do you have? Are you a nice person? Are you helpful? Do you have empathy and respect for others? What can you do with your life that you can be proud of?
The only approval you need is your own. Be content with yourself and choose your own path in life. Well meaning people will push their own ideas on you, or share their fears about the road you’re taking. But you need to live your own life, not someone else’s.
Money is a tool, not a toy. How you interact with it has the power to change your life, good or bad. So respect it.
Develop a healthy relationship with money, and with the right habits (like maintaining a strong savings rate), you’ll likely never have to stress about personal finances the rest of your life, because there will be an ever-growing surplus.
It’s my view that managing money is one of the most underappreciated skills on earth. It affects everyone across the globe. Managing money in different ways can create freedom and abundance (through saving and investing), or slavery and stress (through bad habits, debt, and expensive tastes).
Yet this skill is mostly overlooked as something we can get better at and eventually master. So as soon as you start earning an income, start diverting a good chunk into your Financial Independence Fund. This can be used to pay for a modest house, or once you’re ready, invested to create another income stream for you to build your future freedom.
And if you’re not saving, adjust your spending before you go chasing more money. Remember, there’s no amount of income you can’t spend. If you lack discipline, it might be best to automate your savings by having some cash sucked to another account on the day your pay goes in.
— Wants vs Needs
Learn the difference between your wants and your needs. If you do, you’ll be wealthier than most of the population, not just in dollar terms, but in life satisfaction. Because you grow to realise most of what we spend money on is completely optional, and not necessary for a happy life.
By living in Australia, you’re already living in one of the richest countries in the world, with the highest living standards in history. The ultra-rich of 100 years ago couldn’t even imagine how the average person lives today – the entertainment, food options, medical care, technology, all of it!
So you’ve already hit the jackpot! The secret is understanding (and then accepting) that with every decade that passes, we have more and more income, after paying for basic living expenses. So keep your lifestyle costs contained, and you’ll comfortably have an increasing surplus of cash to invest.
— Long-term thinking
What makes some people so good with money is the ability to think long term. Delayed gratification. To forgo something today for larger benefits later. Learning about compound interest is the best way to realise the importance of thinking long term.
Here’s an example. Investing $10,000 with an annual return of 7%, becomes around $300,000 in 50 years time. A one-time investment, with nothing added. With a 7% annual return, your investment doubles every decade. How good is that!
Any amount of money, invested wisely, has the ability to multiply itself repeatedly, forever. When you see what your savings could turn into, this helps you realise the importance of not wasting money. It did for me.
Related to above. When investing, don’t be convinced that a complex or exciting investment strategy will work better than a simple one. In fact, fancier, higher risk approaches often fail to live up to the hype.
And since most of your wealth in the first 10-15 years will come from saving, rather than investment performance, there’s really no need to chase higher returns.
Choose an investment strategy that is relative boring, reliable, and requires zero effort on your part. The goal is a passive income stream from your investments. No need to make it harder than it has to be!
I can’t even say I’ve perfected many of the lessons above! But I think they’re important nonetheless. Many of them interlink with each other. That’s because your health, wealth and happiness all ride on similar things.
So how can I sum up this half-rant, half-letter to my teenage self?
Take responsibility for your life and be accountable for your choices. Stay curious and keep learning. Find things to work on that you’re genuinely interested in. Look after your health, physically and mentally. Have a long term plan and goals to work towards. Realise how good you already have it, living in modern-day Australia. And understand that money is a tool, not a toy. If you manage it well, you can be financially independent in around 10 years or so.
These things, combined with healthy relationships, are a great start to living the good life. Finally, remember to stop and smell the roses – find something to be grateful for each day.
Now, over to you! What lessons or messages do you have for your teenage self? Please share in the comments…