Why You Should Scrap That Ladder-Climbing Plan And Go Backpacking Around The World, Instead

All the latest trends in career development suggest young people—and, really, all of us—need to get on the ball early, or end up flipping burgers. The Bold Academy's Amber Rae doesn't buy it. Consider this the commencement address everyone needs to hear.

Attention all twentysomethings:

Backpacking around the world will not help your resume. Get on a career track. It's likely that a stranger will help you develop your career more than your best friend. Remember: Typos and sick days matter.

If you "live together first" with your significant other, you are actually more likely to divorce. There is no reason to believe that your twenties will be the best years of your life.

Those were a few pieces of advice from Dr. Meg Jay in the Business Insider piece, "Why You Can't Afford to Waste Your Twenties."

In her book, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter And How To Make The Most Of Them Now she suggests that if you follow advice about "finding yourself" you'll waste your twenties and be a wreck by your thirties.

How exciting!

I think Dr. Jay should have titled her book, Be Mediocre: The Ultimate Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder, Asking for Permission, and Living a Boring Life.

While I'm not advocating poor decisions, lazy behavior, and a hedonistic pursuit of self, I do encourage twentysomethings (and beyond) to tap into our hyper-connected Internet world to invent new careers, act on ideas, and create a life that drives them and the world forward.

If I had followed Dr. Jay's advice, I'd still be at my first job out of college. Although it was a burgeoning startup with a lot of room for growth, after 18 months of grinding, I knew intuitively that it was my time to go.

Instead, I spent three years living in six cities around the world, working on projects that challenged and enthralled me, in sectors ranging from publishing to technology to social impact to lifestyle design. I experimented with different ways of living, working, eating, sleeping, and playing to figure out what way of being resonated most with me. This ultimately led me to create Bold Academy, a life accelerator designed to give you the clarity, courage, and community to lead the life you’ve always wanted to live. In forging this path, I've fallen deeply in love, and sans Dr. Jay's advice, we moved in together after two months. (Sometimes you do just know.)

Did I waste my twenties "finding myself" and am I on track to being a wreck by my thirties? Absolutely not. Instead of focusing on what I wanted to do with my life, I used the journey of discovery to figure out who I am, what my purpose is, and what my talents are, which creates a powerful foundation for the rest of my life.

Sure, backpacking around the world may not help my resume, but last I checked, I don't actually need one. Neither did Zach Glassman, 26. Zach was a client of mine 14 months ago. When Zack, a commodities traders in Hong Kong, came to me, he was working in an environment that crushed his soul and encouraged him to be anything but himself. He felt desperate to figure out how he could get out of his way and do work that matters.

Within a few months, Zach left his job and embarked on a 10-month around-the-world trip which he dubbed "Passion Passport." He met with the people who inspired his journey, photographing and journaling his adventures—all with the hopes of inspiring others to add more adventure to their lives. Within six months, thanks to Instagram and having a compelling story, he became a featured user and built a following of 50,000 people.

He then turned his journey into PassionPassport.com, where he promotes the transformative power of travel through touching stories, stunning images, and a project called The Bucket List Initiative. The Initiative gives prospective travelers the opportunity to win a chance to live out their travel dreams. Thanks to the perspective and space that travel provided him, he now has clear goals to attack and implement a number of growth ideas in mind for 2013.

Typos and sick days stopped mattering for Zach when he set out to design a life that combined his talent for photography, his passion for travel, and his unrelenting desire to live a life of adventure.

What track is your life on now? What track do you want to be on?

Dr. Jay says that the twentysomething years are essential to getting on a great career track. I say invent your own. Betsy Núñez, 25, agrees. She came to Bold Academy eager to figure out her next steps. She was a sales consultant by day and social venture cofounder by night (and every other moment she could find). Neither Betsy nor her venture were moving at a pace she knew they had the potential to reach. While at Bold, she learned how to make fear her companion, cultivate and implement her ideas quickly, pitch, hustle, see endless possibilities, and most importantly, to fully commit to her mission of driving positive social change.

Post-Bold Academy, she left her job of three years and joined forces with her sister and U.S. Army officer, Emily, to launch their company, Sword & Plough, which repurposes military surplus fabric into stylish bags. The company took to Kickstarter and exceeded its funding goal in two hours, ultimately raising $278,00 (and counting). The idea has become a flourishing reality, and Betsy is on track to leave a legacy.

My point in telling you these stories is this: Anything is possible. You can create the life you've always wanted to, if you believe it to be true. Your twenties will be the best years of your life. Your thirties will be the best years of your life. Your forties will be the best years of your life. All of your years will be the best years of your life if you decide they will and design your life accordingly.

Screw all of the triangulated data of what is and is not possible for your life. Instead, get out there and figure out the life that resonates most with you.

It's your choice. So choose wisely.

[Image: Flickr user Viola Renate]

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  • MJB

    Did Meg Jay ever say not to discover yourself? Not to travel? Not to explore career opportunities? To be mediocre? No, she didn't. Your article is counteracting everything Meg Jay states. I have not read her book, but I have watched her TED Talk, and I felt that it was inspirational and encouraging; especially to those that ARE NOT actively thinking about what next steps they should take in their life and/or career. 

    I think you are ignoring the fact that there actually are people in their twenties who sit around, do absolutely nothing (or party their lives away), and wait for something remarkable to happen in their lives once they reach, or get close to, thirty. Jay is directing this at those people and is telling them to get off of their bum and to invest in themselves and their future. She is encouraging those in their twenties to take charge of their lives. To discover that they could live a conscious life if they made that choice. 

    I will say, she did mention not traveling in the article you hyperlinked, however I am not someone who would choose not to travel; others may not seek such adventure. Which is exactly what I believe her point is; If one doesn't have the money, cannot take such risks, they should at least focus their time on something that will give them some identity capital. Instead of fretting over the fact that they are not able to do certain things at this point in their lives. 

    Your article is so incorrect compared to how I viewed everything she had to say and I want you to realize how "high and mighty" you sound. Your life journey is EXACTLY what she is encouraging people to discover and go after, if they are able to. Perhaps I am not correct in all of my views on this matter but I do not want others to disregard everything Jay has to say. Her words are so necessary for some people and shouldn't be discouraged from looking into her work because of this article, which essentially claims that Jay is incorrect in all of her ideas. 
    Choose consciously to create your destiny, twentysomethings of the world. 
    Rant over. 

  • RosieTheRegulator

    There are ways to see the world on an under-privileged twenty-something's budget. You don't have to be rude and I don't believe the author is being "trite". He's being encouraging and motivational. He writes with passion which is something that a lot of people from my generation lack. 
    There are work exchange programs with hosts willing to take you in and give you room and board in exchange for labor. That's how I'm seeing the world but I'm afraid that a majority of my peers are afraid of getting their hands dirty or going without internet for more than five minutes. A trip of this calibre is potentially very scary. Yes, I could get stuck in a foreign country with no way home. However, I would rather take the risk and know that I fed my soul over feeding my bank account. I'll find a way to survive. That's just human nature.

  • Nancy

    Once again, wise words from an upper middle-class privileged white woman telling us to forego the realities of our families, our finances and of real responsibility to 'find ourselves'  - haven't heard that one before! I critique Amber Rae not only because of her trite, overly simplistic and self-promotional writing, but more specifically for her self-proclaimed mission to 'inspire us to live boldly.' Taking risks takes more than courage, it takes money and time and resources - four weeks' worth is ~$6,500 to be exact. In her imaginary world, Amber Rae narrowly defines the path to self-awareness. This is someone who is disconnected from what my generation knows to be true - that anything is NOT possible, unless we dedicate our lives to changing the status quo for those of us who simply can't afford to invent careers. Articles like this only perpetuate the problem. Just bad, bad aftertaste after reading this.

  • Hunt

    I agree with you, Amber, that you don't have to jump on the corporate ladder in your twenties - in fact, if I'm not mistaken, Meg Jay herself was an Outward Bound instructor for a number of years before deciding she wanted to go to grad school for clinical psychology. 

    I'm going to pull out a little snark though and roll my eyes at the idea that creating a "life accelerator" for other privileged twenty-somethings with $6500 to spare (or a network to raise that much money) on a four week inspirational boot camp is creating value for anyone except other privileged twenty-somethings who are feeling a little lost because they have too many choices. The idea that just anyone can "design [their] life" is almost offensive in how few people actually have the means to do so. 

    Also, I love the example of the suffering commodities trader [N.B. most bankers aren't bankers because they love their jobs] who gained 50,000 Instagram followers (!) and decided he loved to travel as a story of transformation/impact... Pretty sure people have been aware of the transformative power of travel for a long time, pre-banker-with-a-social-media-habit.

    Finally, I would encourage you to try writing in a style that's a little less trite ("anything is possible"), and doesn't come off as a press-release for yourself.

    Not against the fundamental message here, just trying to tamp down the ego a bit.

  • Camila Mendes

    Awesome post Amber! Having backpacked through over 20 countries myself, I'm a true believe in the unparalleled personal, and professional, growth that traveling provides! I really think if more youth took the time to travel in their 20s, the world would be a better place.

  • Aimee

    Thank you! My Mom gave me a copy of "The Defining Decade" last summer while I was in between jobs and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Unfortunately, even though I knew I didn't agree with it, I took Meg's advice and dove into another "career path" that does nothing for me. It's the articles like this one that light a fire under me to take hold of my 20's now and search for my passion. Thank you for combating this book- I've been looking for responses to it since last summer.

  • BehLem

    Thanks for this! Last night I watched a TED talk by Dr Meg Jay and I knew I didn't agree what she was saying but wasn't sure why. This is a really inspiring article and exactly the sort of thing I needed to read.

  • Debradouville

    I had two long sojourns in my 20's and also lived in 5 different states. It was the BEST THING I ever did for myself. Aside from helping me to understand that we are ALL connected, it gave me the confidence to know wherever I am in the world "I will survive". That Is a very important and healthy lesson to take forward with you through the decades.

  • Cecilia Harry

    Amber, I am envious of your experiences! I wish I had such diverse tales to tell during my 20s.

  • Bing

    The author's business is "lifestyle design", which is coaching other 20-somethings what to do with their lives. And not everyone wants to backpack around the world, and not everyone can make a living backpacking around the world. At some point, you need skills and some value you can deliver to other people that they're willing to pay for. It takes time to develop those skills and that value, and we all need to work on that sooner rather than later. That doesn't have to mean climbing the corporate ladder, but it means working on something promising while you're young because sooner or later, the call to have children knocks and we move into a different stage of life where responsibilities and possibly failing health require a decent income.

  • George

    If life were that simple than everyone would be doing it... I'm not saying it could'nt happen but sometimes people have other priorities they need to take care of. What would be the best way of making this my number one priority?

  • Wandering Flipflops

    "All of your years will be the best years of your life if you decide they will and design your life accordingly." - The best line in a superb piece. Currently designing my 30s to include as much travel as my 20s did. :) 

  • grant

    The life of a snail is boring to you (human), but it's pretty exciting for the snail. Let's find out our own snail world.

  • Gail Gibson

    Thank you so much Amber for your story. It resonates with me to the core. My twenties were all about travelling & discovery, having left university with a teaching degree & no direction. Together with my husband (by the way we lived together for 2 years then got married - almost 20 years ago!) we bought a one way ticket to Kenya and embarked on a 6 month memorable and life-changing adventure. From then on we are passionate travellers who have touched 5 out of the 6 continents and still have so much of this amazing world to see. Alongside travelling, my thirties led to my lightbulb moment when I finally realised it was my time to create a working lifestyle toward achieving my own goals and dreams. Since then, and now into my mid forties, the past eight years have been a fabulous continuation of my life adventure. As you say, it's all about choice and your choice alone is the way to making every year the best year of your life. I'm right there with you girl! 

  • Donna Svei

    I found my first career by talking with someone I met on that backpacking trip on a year off from college. I returned to school refreshed and with purpose. 

  • carolsanford

    Much better advice Amber than the soul killing advice of Dr. Meg where people get lost or buried in a job. Learning who we are and living from that is what makes life worthwhile and it can happen at any age. And one life can really make a difference as a result.  That old advice about careers has been dead for a couple of decades and yet some don't even notice. Thanks for an inspiring post.Carol Sanford, Author, The Responsible Business (winner of 4 international awards) and The Responsible Entrepreneur (out this fall) www.TheResponsibleEntrepreneur... for notification and newsletter