I tend to roll my eyes at most rags-to-riches posts on LinkedIn. Many of them have the same feel as you-know-who’s “pulled myself up by my bootstraps with nothing but a million dollar loan from my parents.” Let’s see if I’ve got the gist: with a Harvard MBA, CEO friends, and the same last name as a Hollywood celebrity, you too can be a middle manager at a boring fintech company—just like me!
But the post I screenshat above is similar to my own experience. With no family money, a bad education, and dim prospects*, I taught myself to design and to code. I offered my services pro bono to some local clients I wanted to work with. Some accepted. I created a portfolio of those and other completely fictional projects. I continued to learn. I landed an entry level web design job. It ended poorly. I learned about office politics. I took a slightly better job. It ended poorly. I learned about paranoid managers. I learned more. I took on freelance clients, though it wasn’t enough to get by. I cranked up the learning.
Finally, I landed two big clients in the same week. They both required full time hours, so I worked 80 hours a week for 6 months. One of the clients’ freelance budget ran out. The other hired me on full time. I worked there for 8 years. I kept learning, more than ever.
I don’t believe that material possessions or the size of bank accounts are an acceptable measure of human success. But whereas before I wondered if I’d be able to feed my family, now I don’t (and I have a nice car).
When you decide it’s time to try like your life depends on it, a lot can change in a short time. Take the mental effort it takes to solve the daily Wordle, apply it to learning something you could see yourself doing professionally—first for seconds at a time, then minutes, then hours, then days. You’ll have a marketable skill. Repeat. You’ll have another skill. If you figure out in the middle of learning that skill that it’s not really something you’d like to continue long term, drop it and start learning another one. Kill all doubt about your ability to learn that skill. If you can get through this paragraph, you can learn that skill.
Now I’m starting to sound like a self-help book. Don’t worry, I won’t try to sell you my system of success.
*I acknowledge that I am a straight white male with average mental health and no physical disabilities and therefore had some advantage. But the relative point about effort remains.