The Top 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 21

When I was 21 I thought I knew everything. Now that I’m “older” I look back and still think I knew quite a bit. Actually, as I work with college students, I’m often impressed at how fearless they are in terms of what they believe they know and can do–and they can. Somehow, along the way, as we age I think we become overly cautious. We learn more about what we don’t know and begin to second-guess ourselves. That’s unfortunate. I’d like to still be as fearless and “brilliant” as I was back then! Recently, I responded to a reporter’s query about “the Top 5 things” I wish I had known at 21. Here’s my list:

  1. That I could do it! I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for a number of years – my father and grandfather both owned their own businesses and I grew up in a family-owned business environment. But, after attending college, I kept being “lured” into one stable job after another and it became very tough to break away from a steady paycheck, great benefits and the camaraderie of being part of something “bigger than me.” A series of personal events in my life, including becoming an “empty nester” prompted me to finally take the leap.
  2. That traditional advertising is over-rated. While my business involves working with others on marketing/advertising activities, I’ve found for myself (and, actually, for many of my clients) that traditional advertising is not always, necessarily, “the answer.” Of course, neither is social media. But what *is* the answer varies greatly and can include many unique, creatives ways of connecting with target audiences–or intermediaries.
  3. That networking, relationships and delivering great products/services is what it’s all about. Much of my business has come from relationships I developed over the years, both personal and professional. Your reputation *will* precede you. At 21, know that the things you do now *will* impact the success you attain later.
  4. That success doesn’t happen overnight. It is not easy and it can be discouraging at times. I would say that the first year or two of trying to get my business established were fairly stressful (but in a good way); the last two years have been very good, despite the weak economy. As an entrepreneur, you can never be 100% confident of what’s to come (but, my friends in the corporate world remind me that *they* also are not sure of what’s to come either, so really it’s not that much different–it just feels as though it is sometimes).
  5. That it’s important to find focus, maintain that focus and turn to others to provide expertise in areas where you don’t excel, so you can stay focused on the things you are uniquely positioned to deliver. Don’t try to be everything to all people–this has been (and still is) tough for me at times because I’m interested in everything, hate to turn down new offers and really enjoy a lot of variety. Still, to be most successful, you really need to stand out from others and develop a reputation in some specific key areas of focus.

I do wish I had known these things at 21, although in hindsight I don’t think there is much I would change about my 21-year-old self. Every experience, good or bad, has ultimately led me to where I am today–a pretty good place, after all.


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