I want to become a millionaire before I turn 30. I graduated a little over a year ago, so I still have several years to meet my goal. I’m working for a startup now, and while I don’t regret a second of it, there are moments when I wish I could violently shake my younger self for not taking certain opportunities or being ambitious enough.
In the last year I’ve accumulated more knowledge about starting businesses and making smart investments than all the subjects I ever learned in school combined. That’s not to say college was useless — studying political science and philosophy played a huge part in shaping how my mind matured, but one thing that college or parents fail to do is prepare you for real life.
Real life isn’t about getting a degree or finding a job and simply making a living for yourself. It’s about learning how the real world works, finding your place in it and choosing the smartest path for your abilities and passions. What’s my passion? I want to build things, things that help people and make the world a better place when I’m gone (that’s how UCSD kind of brainwashed me to think).
But to create technology, build schools and save the rainforest, I need money, and lots of it. That kind of money doesn’t necessarily come from working at a 9-5 job. The kind of money that you need to really build a legacy comes from investing in yourself, and college is basically the last opportunity to really build on yourself freely before you are thrown out into the deep-end. No matter how young you might be, it’s still never too early to build on yourself if you are aiming to be the next Richard Branson or Elon Musk.
Everyone’s experience varies of course, but whether it’s for the experiences or knowledge, here are 6 things I wish I did in college.
Learn what is actually useful.
You discover after graduating that your degree probably means nothing in the face of finding a job doing what you really love. Unless you are a technical major, you have learned zero skills. You realize after college that at no point in your life did good grades actually benefit you. Doing well in school might benefit you if you plan to go to grad school, but to focus solely on school while you are there would be a mistake. What is important and useful? Learning to code. Learning to sell anything to someone, including yourself. Being able to tell a great story. Learning to stretch a dollar and make it grow. Hustling is something that can never be taught in school, but you can learn it by taking risks, putting yourself in very challenging positions and learning how to survive. Your obligations in college are insignificant compared to the responsibilities you’ll have after you graduate.
You have to learn how to invest.
If there is a subject I wish I could have taken in college, it would have been investing. Learning how the stock market works, how to trade, and how to recognize business trends would have been invaluable. Yes, investing is like gambling, but losing money trying to figure out the difference between good and bad investments while you are young is still better than spending money from your scholarship or parents on stupid things like drugs, alcohol and nice things you don’t truly need — trust me, you might not realize it but you can afford the risk. The worst-case scenario is that you lose all that extra cash in college. The best-case scenario? You set up a really nice portfolio for yourself, maybe even enough to pay off your college debt and reinvest in bigger things.
Network with as many people as possible.
I’m a pretty big introvert. I didn’t purposefully avoid meeting other people in college, but I wish I was mature enough back then to really get out there and connect with as many talented people as I could find. They say college is the best place and time to make valuable connections in life, and to do that you need to have enough confidence to walk up to the brightest and most interesting people you can find and introduce yourself. You never know where those relationships can take you. Be confident in yourself; everyone you see is in the same boat as you. College is like one massively long networking event, and no matter what you end up doing afterward, having a huge network is truly invaluable.
Create a startup.
It’s never too early to experiment with starting your own company. It’s only after college when you become obsessed with becomeing and entrepreneur and creating a business that you realize you had nothing to lose and every opportunity to set up something pretty nice for yourself. Find smart people, whether they be engineers, business/marketing majors or just really good networkers, and put your brains together. There are entrepreneurial resources at your school that you don’t even know exist and that could give your most genius idea just the boost it needs. Sure, while your first venture might fail, it will also dramatically increase the chances that your second or third will be really successful. Fear nothing and just do it.
Party for the hell of it.
Even if you’re an introvert or don’t like partying for whatever reason, you should still go out and do stupid things while in college. You do it for the memories and to say you have tried it at least once, even if you might regret it. Being wasted in public, under the influence of drugs for days on end and/or attending blacklight underwear parties can never be the same after college … unless you become a successful investment banker — then it only gets crazier. I wouldn’t say, “Get it out of your system” — because that implies you’ll never have that kind of fun again — but you should definitely get out there, go crazy and make mistakes. That’s what living really is.
You’ve got to work out.
I did go to the gym in college, but less times than I’d like to admit. Now that I’m in the startup life, I wish I had set better habits for myself. After college when you are thrown into a work lifestyle, time and energy become a very precious commodity. You might find yourself working like it’s finals week every week; long hours sitting in front of a computer can really ruin you if you don’t make time to exercise. I’m blessed to have that insane Asian metabolism to keep me skinny, but you really realize how important being healthy and staying in shape is after college.
Don’t ever take your college years for granted — you are in for one of the most epic rides of your life.