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Start Them Young

I’m hesitant to admit this at my relatively advanced age (late 20’s as of this writing), but I keep getting presented with more and more evidence which seems to support the notion that the most productive years of a person’s life are the years between their teens and twenties.

Especially in business and entrepreneurship, the most productive and valuable years are the teens and twenties. It’s no accident that most of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies were started by college students or recent graduates. At that age one has so many advantages over older people. To name a few:

  • The energy of youth
  • Nothing to lose (no family, no mortgage, no big investments)
  • Creative environment - universities are fertile hatching grounds for ideas, and recent graduates are still infused with creativity and possibility
  • A sense of invincibility and limitless possibility - you don’t know what you don’t know yet, so you’re willing to try anything. The world hasn’t jaded you yet.

Successful first-time entrepreneurs over the age of 30 are scarce in Silicon Valley. I suspect this probably carries over into other industries. Some of the most brilliant minds in science, business and academia did their most defining and revolutionary work very early on in their careers. Nobel laureates frequently earn their prizes for work done decades earlier during peak creative periods.

So the general rule seems to be to get started as early as possible. Don’t worry about failing, because if you take a huge risk and fall flat on your face at 17 or 20, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. But when you’re 36 and you’ve got a family and a mortgage, you can’t afford to be as cavalier about trying out a new business idea which might spell financial uncertainty for your family.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that older people can’t start a new business or produce great work. But the deck does seem to be stacked against us for the most part.

Other critical advice for young people: you’re not the only ones who know your younger years are your most productive. Business people realize this too, and they will milk young people for as much work as they can get out of them because 1) you’re cheaper than an older employee, and 2) you’ve got more energy.

Always keep this fact in mind, and make sure that you’re getting enough out of any business arrangement or job. Don’t let a company use the best years of your life just because you’re afraid to try something new or ask for more. If you’re going to fail, do it early on. But if you plan things out and work hard, you actually have a decent chance at succeeding – or at least at learning some valuable lessons for the future.

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