I heard a knock on our dorm door. My roommate and I look at each other, wanting the other one to take initiative–neither of us wanted to pause our FIFA match.
After an intense silence, he knocked again. I gave in and answered the door:
He was a kid about my age, standing about 6 feet tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. “Do you guys want to make $8,000 this summer?”
I have never seen that amount of money in my life… “Sure. How?”
He briefly explained an internship that he had just completed, during which he ran his own house painting business over the summer. I wasn’t sure what to think–after all, none of my teachers had told me what to do in a situation like this. So I filled out his clipboard with my information, and went back to FIFA.
Fast-forward 1 month, an info session and a couple interviews later, I was officially accepted into the program.
As the summer approached, more and more I thought to myself, what the hell have I gotten myself into? I’m only a freshman! I don’t have any experience running a painting business. I’ve never even painted a house before.
But they promised to train me and walk me through their system, and I had already committed (told all my friends about what I was going to do), so I embraced my uncertainty and went on with it.
That summer was the best and worst summer of my life.
Having zero business experience whatsoever, within 6 months I had successfully sold and produced $60,000, profited $9,000, hired and fired employees, all while living on my brother’s couch.
Between the countless 18-hour days, paint spills on roofs and driveways, employees carelessly breaking windows with ladders or not showing up to work, and getting yelled at by unhappy customers for things that weren’t my fault and somehow finding a way to make them happy (even if it meant painting the house myself into the night), I can hardly say it was worth it for the money.
However, the personal growth I experienced was unprecedented and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I learned how to take responsibility for things that weren’t my fault. I learned the power of communication and expectation-setting. I learned about business strategy, marketing, sales, management, you name it.
Most days I wanted to stay in bed and quit.
The blunt reality: THAT’S the price you pay for this kind of intense personal development. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it.
As the summer came to a close, I was definitely burnt out and ready to take a break. But I decided to do it again the next summer, this time teaching other interns how to run the business on top of running my own again. It was much easier that year, considering the mistakes I had learned from.
By my 3rd year, I was managing 18 college kids running their own branches across the state of Ohio, netting $750k in revenue. And I was good at it. All those failures had amounted to something. I had learned so much.
That year I won Executive of the Year, attended the annual retreat in Jamaica with the company’s top performers for the 3rd year in a row, and made over $50k while most of my friends were spending that amount of money to sit in class and complain about homework.
I don’t say this to brag–the point is, if you consistently and truly challenge yourself, after 3 years you’ll be pretty good at what you do. That’s a fact and it applies to everyone, including you.
They offered me a $70k salary to come on for a 4th year, manage more people and more revenue, basically doing the same thing I had been doing but more of it.
It was very enticing, and I initially accepted the offer. But something in my gut felt wrong. I felt like I was doing the same thing over again. To accept the offer would be to value immediate money and prestige over humility and long-term personal growth. And if my failure-ridden summers had taught me anything, it was that true challenge and experience are priceless compared to a nice salary.
Sure, I still had more to learn within the company, but I could feel my growth beginning to plateau. I wasn’t experiencing that exciting, gut-wrenching trial and error that I went through my first year. I knew I could challenge myself more.
So I did what any reasonable 21-year-old would do with a $70,000/year job offer.:
It took me a couple weeks to build up the courage to make that phone call, but I haven’t looked back since. I set out to consistently challenge myself and to continue failing, knowing that the money and fame would eventually follow if I stuck to that principle.
These are the decisions that define our lives.
To be alive is to grow.
That’s the point of all life on earth. Stay alive and keep growing.
That’s why we feel so unfulfilled when we remain stagnant. We crave challenges. We need adversity. Uncertainty is where we thrive. That’s why my gut told me to turn down more money than I’d ever seen at age 21.
You can literally see the shift in my mindset here. The thing that enticed me to sign up for the internship in the first place was the idea of making $8,000 in one summer. My failure-ridden summers had clearly shifted my values, which led to my seemingly strange decision three years later.
My point is this: Don’t jump into opportunities because they have the best pay, or because they carry the most prestige. The most valuable currency is your own personal development. This is especially true in your 20s. You can make a lot of money now, but if you’re not growing every day, you’re taking the easy path with a limited ceiling and it will eventually catch up with you.
Play the long game. Do the hard thing. Choose uncertainty. Choose growth. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Your future self will thank you.