Be Young & Irresponsible January 2013

Within the community of young entrepreneurs, there is a a romanticism of doing a startup when you are young. It’s almost become an expectation of young ambitious, bright people. Because I have been involved in the entrepreneurial crowd for the last four years, many of my friends that I made in this time era see me as an entrepreneur and expect me to be working on some new idea.

Meanwhile, I’m also expected to get a job and have a career. This is apparent when I meet new people that want to know what I do and when my parents constantly ask me how I’m surviving without a job and how I have enough money to get by without working full time.

By now, I’ve spent some time on the university route, the drop-out-to-be-an-entrepreneur route, the freelance consultant route, and the full time job route. Now I’m taking time to travel the world, and surprisingly, this has been by far the most controversial route I’ve taken, although I can definitely say that no matter what I do with my life, I’m often confronted with judgement and people that try to convince me to change directions and do something else. I’m finally getting good at ignoring everyone and doing what I feel like doing. It’s easier to ignore people’s judgements and advice when you realize that you’ll be judged and advised no matter what direction you go with life. There’s no escaping it, so you might as well go with the route that makes you happy.

That said, after having done the freelance route, the entrepreneurial route, and the full time job route - all sub-routes of a single career and industry, I have a thought or two on what I would do differently had I known what I do now and experienced what I’ve experienced. There’s a lot of support and romanticism around entrepreneurship and getting a shiny new ambitious job when you are in college and recently graduated from it, but I think that romanticism is misguided.

At that age, you are probably going to be somewhere in the 18-25 range and you are probably going to have no roots. You are probably going to have no home base. You will likely not be stuck owning any property. There’s a good chance you don’t have kids and are single. I see this as the perfect opportunity to travel and explore relationships - things you won’t have time for if you’re busy starting a company or have to schedule your life around being in an office five out of seven days a week. It’s the perfect age to take off with a backpack, a good friend, and a round the world ticket. You may never get the opportunity again - you’ll get stuck with promotions on the job, you’ll be managing people, you’ll have an equity cliff to hit, you’ll have a two year lease on a nice apartment or a mortgage, you’ll have a dog, a kid, a spouse, a car to make payments on.

And I can say, after a year living comfortably in Boulder with a full time job, that being rooted and having a home base feels amazing. Perhaps the largest reason to travel while you’re young and before you settle down is because once you’re comfortably rooted somewhere, you won’t want to leave. You’ll have a close group of friends, a comfortable apartment, a significant other, and a job. The hardest part for me in leaving Colorado to travel was simply convincing myself to give up my comfortable lifestyle and group of friends for a quite uncomfortable although much more satisfying and meaningful adventure.

A few months into my travels, I can say I’m really, really, really, really glad that I’m doing this right now and not when I’m older. While you can certainly travel at any age, the style of travel seems to change between the young and the less young. The vast majority of people staying in hostels are in their twenties and are excited to meet up with other people their age that are ready to make new friends and form new relationships. Travel can and should be about relationships, and relationships are readily formed when you’re surrounded by young single people that want companionship and connection while on the road. This is something that I imagine would be much more difficult to find when you are older - at a certain age, CouchSurfing and hostels seem to get replaced by hotels and Bed and Breakfasts, which are not oriented toward forming friendships and relationships.

And here’s the argument that we travel to make ourselves better, more enriched people. As my grandpa told me in one of our recent conversations, travel is one of the learning experiences of life. It’s all part of growing and becoming a more worldly citizen. It’s its own category of life experience and is valuable for its own sake. It’s worth cannot be fully described. You just have to try it. Nobody can completely explain how it will make you a better person. It’s important to travel while you are young and your world view is still forming so that you have the experiences to draw from for the rest of your life. Travel will probably change your views on every aspect of life and influence your long term career goals, so why not let it influence you at the beginning of your career when it has the maximum potential to affect you, to mold you into a better person, and to change your life’s path forever?

There are always going to be career opportunities out there - the economy goes up and down like a roller coaster. Job offers come and go. Startup ideas come and go. Companies are born and they die. And the problem is, so do people. Your age is only going to go up, so I find it a little bit insane to spend the best years of your life - the years that you are in peak physical condition and maximally sexy - working your ass off toward some goal that you have not yet fit into the grand scheme of your well-traveled world view. If you have not seen the world, there is so much room for your perspective on life still to change, and these changes will influence how you go about your ambitions. You would not start a company the same way before and after your travels - you learn things along the way. Different cultures do things differently, and it’s important to understand these differences so that you can better appreciate the way you do things and get ideas on how to do them differently.

And lastly, if you want to see the world, but you also want to settle down, you have to travel first. If you settle down and decide to travel later, you’ll find a constant nagging urge to leave and travel. That urge will get louder and louder as you get older, but you will also find yourself more and more settled and the gap between what you want to do and what you are doing will continue to grow. Get it out of the way while it’s still acceptable to be foolish and young. You’ve got the rest of your life to settle down and be responsible.