What do you want to be? Tempus fugit, time flies

When I was admitted into the University of Amsterdam at the age of twenty, without a high school diploma, it opened my eyes to a whole new world. Finally the moment had come to enter college, to go do what pretty much everyone says will tame your wild spirit, where you’ll end up with ten times as many friends as you started out with, and acquire lasting memories and experiences and knowledge you’ll benefit from for the rest of your life. Ipsa scientia potestas est.

But… does the following sound familiar to you? You’re leaving the lecture hall, still tired from the night before or from sleeping too little or waking up too early, and you’re thinking: why am I doing all this? Why did I enrol in college? What on earth am I going to do later, where will I be and what will I do to make a living and raise my children with? I don’t want to get up early. I want to stay in bed.

Empty words. The next morning you’ll just get up again and head back to the lecture hall. Faithful as a dog.

When I was sixteen, I got to work for the CEO of a quoted company for the first time. He asked me to help him develop a point of view on the usage of the internet and online technology within his industry. My first question to him was: “Do you ever use the internet yourself?” — naturally, you need to actually understand a point of view before you can promote it. At first, it was quiet on the other end of that oak table. “Could you show me how it works?”

I’d had my own internet company for a year at the time, and that was seven years ago last August – it’s been eight years since I started my journey. 

I’m often asked to be a guest lecturer at universities, to tell my story there. It’s the story of how, in spite of the ambition-discouraging culture of mediocrity we have in the Netherlands, as a fifteen year old I started a company that’s staffed by around ten people by now, and how I believe people at a young age can already start looking for the line of work they’ll be happy with later, and how they can already get started with that as an independent entrepreneur or by looking for a suitable (part time) job. And no, that’s not easy. Easy would be to avoid the question, to worry about it later.

Last week I read in the paper that during the next few years, 20% more farms will be put up for sale. This is partly due to the crisis, but is mostly caused by the ageing population of the Netherlands. The next government term, more than half a million labourers will leave the working population by reaching the age of retirement (or by being tired of not having reached that age yet, which is possible if they’ve saved up enough), and that means it’s time to exchange the farm for a walking frame.

Sorry, I shouldn’t be cynical about that, my mother has one too. 

But apparently large numbers of people are already leaving the working population, and there’s more old people leaving than young people entering the job market to take their place. That’s not likely to change soon after the next four years. In the meantime, society is becoming more and more complex with many new technologies being introduced in the areas of industry, communication and elsewhere in society, and meanwhile in business, the remaining baby boomers are worried about filling the new higher-up positions. That means there’s a lot of opportunity for young graduates. So now is the time to seize that opportunity, preferably even before leaving college. What kind of job do you want to do? What makes you happy?

What I want to say is that if you really want to, now is the time to think about what your real ambitions are, and live up to them.  Do you want to found your own company? Will you be a freelancer working for several companies, to avoid being on a payroll? Do you want to spend a year abroad to gain new knowledge, and find out if maybe you’d want to live there? For employees too, the job market offers many opportunities for talented people right now: just write a letter to the CEO of the company you’d like to work for, and tell them about the job or initial position of your dreams! Or something else that gets you closer to your dream, of course.

You’re never too young to start working on your career, to start building up a good network (is there anyone in the business world that you’d like to meet? Maybe it would be a good idea to send them an email today – at least half an A4 page – in which you explain why, and invite them to go have lunch somewhere — your treat, of course) or to work your way towards your dream job, because you won’t attain that in one go, by and large.

If you don’t really know yet, ask your friends or other people who know you well for help. Where would they say you’d do well in society? Choices are almost never permanent, don’t be afraid to make them! If you take that leap of faith and make a career choice, you’ll usually still be able to go off in a different direction too.

Time flies, a year is gone before you know it, don’t wait too long!

Industria, the Technical Business Administration Student Association from the Technical University Eindhoven, asked me to write a foreword for the Yearbook 2009-2010.

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