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By Leo Babauta

I had a 15-year-old write to me and ask about figuring out what do do with her life.

She writes:

As a high-school student I’m constantly being reminded to figure out what to do with my life, what career I would like to have and so on. I definitely feel huge amounts of pressure when my teachers and parents tell me to figure out something now. I’m young and I don’t want to make a mistake and ruin my future. I know what I like and what my interests are but when I read about a job related to those interests I always feel as if I wouldn’t enjoy it and I don’t know why.

What an extremely tough thing to figure out: what to do with your future! Now, I can’t really tell this young woman what to do, as her parents might not like that very much, but I can share what I’ve learned looking back on my life, and what I would tell my kids (oldest is 21 and still figuring things out, but I also have 17- and 16-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl).

Here’s what I’d say.

YOU CAN’T FIGURE OUT THE FUTURE.

Even young people who have a plan (be a doctor, lawyer, research scientist, singer) don’t really know what will happen. If they have any certainty at all, they’re a bit deluded. Life doesn’t go according to plan, and while a few people might do exactly what they set out to do, you never know if you’re one of those. Other things come along to change you, to change your opportunities, to change the world. The jobs of working at Google, Amazon or Twitter, for example, didn’t exist when I was a teenager. Neither did this job.

So if you can’t figure out the future, what do you do? Don’t focus on the future. Focus on what you can do right now that will be good no matter what the future brings. Make stuff. Build stuff. Learn skills. Go on adventures. Make friends. These things will help in any future.

LEARN TO BE GOOD WITH DISCOMFORT.

One of the most important skills you can develop is being okay with some discomfort. The best things in life are often hard, and if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you’ll miss out. You’ll live a life of safety.

Learning is hard. Building something great is hard. Writing a book is hard. A marriage is hard. Running an ultramarathon is hard. All are amazing.

If you get good at this, you can do anything. You can start a business, which you couldn’t if you’re afraid of discomfort, because starting a business is hard and uncomfortable.

How do you get good at this? Do things now that are uncomfortable and hard, on purpose. But start with small doses. Try exercising for a little bit, even if it’s hard, but just start with a few minutes of it, and increase a minute every few days or so. Try writing a blog or meditating every day. When you find yourself avoiding discomfort, push yourself just a little bit more (within limits of reason and safety of course).

LEARN TO BE GOOD WITH UNCERTAINTY.

A related skill is thriving in uncertainty. Starting a business, for example, is an amazing thing to do … but if you’re afraid of uncertainty, you’ll skip it. You can’t know how things will turn out, and so if you need to know how things will turn out, you’ll avoid great projects, businesses, opportunities.

But if you can be okay with not knowing, you’ll be open to many more possibilities.Read more on uncertainty.

If you’re good at discomfort and uncertainty, you could do all kinds of things: travel the world and live cheaply while blogging about it, write a book, start a business, live in a foreign country and teach English, learn to program and create your own software, take a job with a startup, create an online magazine with other good young writers, and much more. All of those would be awesome, but you have to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty.

If any opportunities like these come along, you’ll be ready if you’ve practiced these skills.

OVERCOME DISTRACTION AND PROCRASTINATION.

All of this is useless if you can’t overcome the universal problems of distraction and procrastination. You might seize an opportunity because you’re good at uncertainty and discomfort, but then not make the most of it because you’re too busy on social media and watching TV.

Actually, distraction and procrastination are just ways of avoiding discomfort, so if you get good at discomfort you’re way ahead of most people. But there are some things you can practice–read more here.

LEARN ABOUT YOUR MIND.

Most people don’t realize that fear controls them. They don’t notice when they run to distraction, or rationalize doing things they told themselves they wouldn’t do. It’s hard to change mental habits because you don’t always see what’s going on in your head.

Learn about how your mind works, and you’ll be much better at all of this. The best ways: meditation and blogging. With meditation (read how to do it) you watch your mind jumping around, running from discomfort, rationalizing. With blogging, you are forced to reflect on what you’ve been doing in life and what you’ve learned from it. It’s a great tool for self-growth, and I recommend it to every young person.

MAKE SOME MONEY.

I don’t think money is that important, but making money is difficult. You have to make someone believe in you enough to hire you or buy your products/service, which means you have to figure out why you’re worthy of someone believing in you. You have to become worthy. And you have to learn to communicate that to people so they’ll want to buy or hire you. Whether you’re selling cookies door-to-door or an app in the Apple store or trying to get a job as a cashier, you have to do this.

And you get better with practice.

I worked as a clerk at a bank and then a freelance sports writer when I was in high school, and those were valuable experiences for me.

Protip: save an emergency fund, then start investing your earnings in an index fund and watch it grow over your lifetime.

BUILD SOMETHING SMALL.

Most people fritter their time away on things that don’t matter, like TV, video games, social media, reading news. A year of that and you have nothing to show for it. But if you did a sketch every day, or started writing web app, or created a blog or a video channel that you update regularly, or started building a cookie business … at the end of a year you’ll have something great. And some new skills. Something you can point to and say, “I built that.” Which most people can’t do.

Start small, and build it every day if possible. It’s like putting your money in investments: it grows in value over time.

BECOME TRUSTWORTHY.

When someone hires a young person, the biggest fear is that the young person is not trustworthy. That they’ll come in late and lie about it and miss deadlines. Someone who has established a reputation over the years might be much more trusted, and more likely to be hired. Learn to be trustworthy by showing up on time, doing your best on every task, being honest, admitting mistakes but fixing them, trying your best to meet deadlines, being a good person.

If you do that, you’ll build a reputation and people will recommend you to others, which is the best way to get a job or investor.

BE READY FOR OPPORTUNITIES.

If you do all of the above, or at least most of it, you’ll be amazing. You’ll be way, way ahead of pretty much every other person your age. And opportunities will come your way, if you have your eyes open: job opportunities, a chance to build something with someone, an idea for a startup that you can build yourself, a new thing to learn and turn into a business, the chance to submit your new screenplay.

These opportunities might come along, and you have to be ready to seize them. Take risks: that’s one of the advantages of being young. And if none come along, create your own.

Finally: The idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.

Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.

You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.

Lastly, what do you do when your parents and teachers pressure you to figure things out? Tell them you’re going to be an entrepreneur, start your own business, and take over the world. If you prepare for that, you’ll actually be prepared for any career.

This article originally appeared in Zen Habits and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user Evil Erin]

By Sophia Amoruso

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. –Roald Dahl

Chaos magic is the idea that a particular set of beliefs serves as an active force in the world. In other words, we choose what and how we believe, and our beliefs are tools that we then use to make things happen . . . or not. Though this comes from a school of magical thought, it actually seems really practical and “no duh” to me. If you believe something, other people will believe it, too. You can’t convince someone else–whether it’s a potential employer, a loan officer at the car dealership, or someone you’ve been crushing on–that you’re amazing and terrific if you don’t actually think you are. This isn’t the false confidence that comes from getting a bunch of “likes” on your Instagram selfies, but a deep-down, unshakeable self-confidence that persists even when things aren’t going all that great.

A big practice in chaos magic is the use of sigils, which are abstract words or symbols you create and embed with your wishes. To create a sigil, start by writing out your desire in a single word, a couple of words, or a short sentence. Then remove all the duplicate letters, then all the vowels–basically, you can do whatever you want here–until you’re left with a bunch of lines that you can combine into one symbol. Then you put the piece of paper in a book, in your wallet, or some other place where it won’t get lost, and just forget about it.

The real “magic” of sigils is that you’re only forgetting about it on the surface level. Taking the time to think about what you really want and doing something about it, even if it’s just drawing some lines on a piece of paper, embeds these wishes into your subconscious, and then your subconscious makes it happen, even when the conscious part of your brain is busy doing something else.

I treat my Internet passwords as modern-day sigils, embedding them with wishes or promises to me, or even financial goals for the company. (Hey, I never made any claims to be normal here.) That way, every time I go to log in anywhere, I’m subtly reminding myself of what I’m working for. This kind of intention setting has worked for me. Dozens of times a day, as I tap out a few strokes on the keyboard, I’m reminding myself of the bigger picture. This ensures that when I’m bogged down with day-to-day bureaucracy and details, I don’t lose sight of what I really want.

I’m not trying to say that this kind of intention setting will always work, because you can’t just type “abajilliondollars” whenever you log in to Facebook and all of a sudden become Warren Buffett. It is, though, a heretic’s version of kneeling by your bed and saying a prayer every night. It’s intention setting. It doesn’t have to be as hard and fast as saying “I want a job at a fashion company,” but it can be something like “I want a creative job” or “I want to have fun at work.” Keep reminding yourself over and over that this is what you want, and you’ll soon find that the more you know what you want, the less you’re willing to put up with what you don’t.

One of the best things about life–a reason not to go blindly after one goal and one goal only–is that sometimes it will take you to something that is way cooler than anything you would have consciously set out to do in the first place. I never had one particular goal or dream that I was working toward; all I knew was that I wanted to do something awesome, and was open to whatever shape or form this awesomeness took. I wanted to be a photographer; I wanted to go to art school; I wanted to play in a band; and when I started the eBay store, all of this came in handy even though I would never have associated these things.

My interest in photography gave me an advantage over other sellers who didn’t care about lighting or composition. My days of being the tardy employee at the record store gave me a cultural and musical understanding that was more unique than if I’d just listened to garbage-y pop on the radio my entire life. None of these were things I ever expected to add up to something called a brand, but they contributed to all the ways in which Nasty Gal is just a little off and a little surprising. All of that flailing about, trying new things and finding out that I liked some of them and hated others, ended up amalgamating into something very real and very meaningful, and in the end, made me capable of providing a life for myself.

While I truly believe that you must have intentions to fulfill your dreams, I also think you have to leave room for the universe to have its way and play around a bit. Don’t get so focused on one particular opportunity that you’re blind to other ones that come up. If you think about one thing, and talk about it all the time, you’re being too obsessive. You might ruin it. If you let yourself meander a bit, then the right things and the right people fall into place. Some things are worth fighting for–don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely a fighter–but I really think that what is right should be easy. My dad has always said that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and it’s so true. If something’s not working out, but you keep hammering at it in the exact same way, go after something else for a while. That’s not giving up, that’s just letting the universe have its way.

–Reprinted from #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso with permission of Portfolio/Putnam, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Sophia Amoruso, 2014.

By Lindsay Lavine

“Susan Cain is not depressed. She’s deep in thought, with her elbow on her desk, head resting on her hands. Yet colleagues would regularly come up to her and ask if she was okay. She was fine, she’d explain, just very focused. “For people to work best, they need choice,” says Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Employees work best when they can move freely back and forth between quiet and more social spaces, she says. Cain cites psychologist Russell Geen’s research that gave introverts and extroverts math problems to complete with varying levels of noise in the background. The groundbreaking study found introverts performed better with soft background noise while extroverts did better with louder background noise.

Here are three reasons Cain says business owners should consider changing their workspace design to accommodate introverts:

1. IT OPTIMIZES FLOW

“Introverts like being around people, [but] they want to do a deep dive in their work,” Cain says. “[They want to] focus, get in a state of flow, with deep thoughts.” In an open workspace, you’re subject to interruption, such as a tap on the shoulder, which breaks your concentration, Cain notes. Having a workspace that allows introverts to go into a private, quiet room is a social signal, letting others know the person doesn’t wish to be interrupted, she says.

2. IT FOSTERS FRIENDSHIPS

Traditional open office space is difficult because conversations can be overheard, Cain says. In order to speak candidly, people need to have some degree of privacy, she says. In her book, Cain suggests friendships are formed in these moments. Having a space where one or two people can work quietly, yet have some privacy, is important, Cain says.

3. IT PROVIDES A PLACE FOR EMPLOYEES TO RECHARGE AND BE THEMSELVES

In 2011, the Huffington Post made news when it installed two nap rooms (Napquest I and Napquest II) in its offices to allow writers and editors a quiet, private place to recharge. (Due to popular demand, a third’s been added.) People may have been intimidated to use them at first, but once Arianna Huffington and her team used them, that signaled it was okay, and other employees signed up, Cain notes.

As for a downside, Cain says there isn’t one. “I don’t see any drawbacks to a workspace that gives people choice,” she says.

In her earlier example, a furrowed brow or frown would imply anger as opposed to deep thought. Having a workspace where you didn’t have to worry about managing others’ perceptions based on your facial expressions allows people to focus on their work, Cain says.

So, how does a company go about creating these spaces? It doesn’t require a full-scale remodel, Cain says. Most businesses can find spaces within their general layout.

The key is to create nooks and crannies for employees to transition into and out of, Cain says. A cozy, inviting environment where you have permission to be yourself, she explains. The spaces can be personalized with various seating options (table and chairs, couch, benches, depending on the space) and lighting.

In June, Cain is teaming up with furniture manufacturer Steelcase to introduce a series of workspace solutions tailored to introverts.

Introverts are often stigmatized, and Cain’s working to set the record straight. “[There’s a] myth of what a team player is–introverts want to do great work for the greater good, but they need a place to have uninterrupted thought,” she says”.

By Lindsay Lavine

By Vivian Giang:

“Getting fired might not be the most ideal way to learn a lesson, but the drive that comes later may be exactly what some people need to elevate into heights of success they could only reach after a bad burn.

Once it happens, there are two things you can do: you can either mope around feeling ashamed and defeated, or you can take the opportunity to become the best version of yourself you’ve ever known.

Some of the most successful business leaders today are those who walked out with that pink slip and seized their opportunity.

The late Steve Jobs once told a group of Stanford graduates that “getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to [him].” Like Jobs, after businessman Mark Cuban was fired, he, too, became a beginner again, but this time, for his own company.

Wall Street powerhouse Sallie Krawcheck became a leading example for professional women everywhere by rising quickly back to the top of the financial world after losing her executive job at Bank of America.

Here are some leading examples that show there’s certainly life after the pink slip:

Photo by Peter Foley, Bloomberg via Getty Images

SALLIE KRAWCHECK, OWNER OF 85 BROADS

She’s one of the most powerful women on Wall Street and made a name for herself as chief executive officer at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. and later Citi wealth management business division. This year, Krawcheck was named one of our most creative people in business, but even this influential woman didn’t escape a very public ousting as head of Merrill Lynch’s global wealth management division in 2011.

Krawcheck tells Fast Company about that period of time that initially felt like “a punch in the gut”:

I certainly knew I wasn’t in the new CEO’s ‘inner circle,’ but my prior career experience had been that good business results, delivered in the right way, win out. On that day, Merrill Lynch was in substantially better shape than when I was brought in two years prior.

I was given 20 minutes from the time I was told until the announcement went out; I wasn’t able to reach my father by phone, so he learned about it on TV.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, this treatment made my leaving the company easier; it was a hard truth that I had been spending more time with these folks than with my own family, and the job had been receiving the majority of my waking attention.

Over time, I recognized I had been given a gift, which became more obvious when both of my children later experienced health issues, and I was able to give them my full time and attention. And, on the professional front, it taught me to look at business opportunities through the lens of the broader positive impact they can have, given the trade-offs we are forced to make in pursuing them.

In 2013, Krawcheck bought professional women’s organization 85 Broads and has increased the company’s revenue by more than 100% since.

MARK CUBAN, OWNER OF DALLAS MAVERICKS, CHAIRMAN OF THE AXS TV CABLE NETWORK AND A “SHARK” INVESTOR ON ABC’S PITCH SHOW SHARK TANK

We see the outspoken investor every Friday night on ABC’s Shark Tank, but Cuban wasn’t always the successful businessman we know today. In the early 1980s, he was sleeping on the floor of a tiny apartment in Dallas with five buddies and working as a salesman at a computer store.

The job paid him $18,000 annually, plus commission so when Cuban got an opportunity to close a $15,000 deal where he was going to make $1,500, he went for it and asked a co-worker to cover for him at the office.

The next day, Cuban was fired.

Instead of wallowing in misery, Cuban used the experience as a determining factor to never work for anyone else.

“I was thrilled to death,” he says. “My worst fear was that I would have to stay.”

That’s the thing–sometimes you know a job isn’t right for you, but unless something traumatic changes the way you think about business, you might end up staying in a bad job just because you didn’t know any better.

Less than a decade after receiving his pink slip, Cuban sold his first company MicroSolutions and made around $2 million.

Image: Flickr user TechCrunch

KATHRYN MINSHEW, FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE MUSE

Before her successes at The Muse, Minshew had another company–one that she had put her entire life savings into–only to discover one morning in 2011 that she had been locked out of the system by her former colleagues.

She tells Fast Company about the events that occurred after:

I sometimes joke that, when I lost my first company, I spent the next three weeks alternating between the fetal position and the whiteboard. Those days were unbelievably awful, and I felt completely humiliated in front of the team I’d recruited and my friends and relationships. I couldn’t believe I had failed so utterly.

And yet, in that failure there was also an edge–the desire to start over, and to do things better the second time around. That’s where the whiteboard came in. After the first few days of utter dejection, I started thinking coherently again.

With my cofounder Alex, who was in the same position, we started chipping away at a very dangerous idea: what would we need to consider starting over? Eventually, the answer became concrete enough that we felt we were capable. A few days later, The Muse was born.

A few months later, Minshew’s company raised more than $2 million in venture and angel funding.

ABTIN BUERGARI, FOUNDER AND CEO OF MODUS EDISCOVERY

When Buergari was in law school, he was hired by a company to conduct “electronic discovery,” which meant digging through emails, instant messages, and other documents to discover useful information for litigation.

When one customer asked Buergari to find documents as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, Buergari asked his boss if he could try specific technology which would sift through the documents quicker. His boss turned down his offer since “electronic discovery” is meant to be expensive and for use by lawyers. If Buergari cheapened and quickened the process, he would also drop the value of the services and his boss did not want their e-discovery process to be cheaper, says Buergari.

Instead of agreeing, Buergari persisted and even offered to quit and become a consultant instead so that he could try out the new technology. That’s when his employer decided to fire and sue him, which led him to drop out of law school, live off of credit cards and, of course, start his own company.

“When everything is hard … you just have to stay strong. That’s when you know you can be a leader that drives a company forward,” he says.

Last year, Buergari’s company was listed on Inc.’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies with $18 million in sales and 1,120% growth in the last three years.

ANTHONY SALADINO, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF KITCHEN CABINET KINGS

Like Krawcheck, Saladino also describes his experience as “a hard punch to the gut,” but without being fired, this former “Mr. Nine-to-Five” would have never forced himself to fall forward into entrepreneurship.

Still the experience was tough and Saladino thought, at the time, that it was the worst day of his life. It turned out to be the first of many better days, he says:

A few hours after the initial shock was over, anxiety set in. Mistakenly, I did not have a substantial savings safety net, so with the sudden loss off of income I was very concerned with how I was going to cover my monthly bills. The worst part of my firing was that it was not because of poor work performance or budget concerns. I was fired only because the owner of the company who was a family friend, had a personal issue with someone in my immediate family.”

With my back to the wall and no financial assistance coming from anyone, I was left with two options. Feel sorry for myself and sulk, or go out there and make it happen. The very next day I sprung into action. I vowed to never have my fate in someone else’s hands again. I was going to start my own company and control my own destiny.

The path of the least resistance was to leverage my existing contacts, knowledge, and skill-set and open an e-commerce company selling kitchen and bathroom cabinets nationwide.

Today, I look back on that day as one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned that life is all a matter of perspective. Bad things will happen to everyone, but it is how you respond which separates the winners and the losers”.

By Vivian Giang

By Jane Porter

“Not long after Steve Blank‘s videogame company Rocket Science Games lost $35 million for its investors, his wife noticed he was acting a little strange.

“I was coming home and going to bed at four in the afternoon,” he says. The year was 1996. At the time, Blank, now the mastermind behind the Lean Startup Movement, was devastated. His company had been on the cover of Wired and the press had called him and his team “the first digital super group.” People believed Rocket Science would be responsible for revolutionizing the video game industry.

But the revolution never came. Rocket Science turned out to be a spectacular failure. When Blank’s investors dropped the company, he went through what he likes to call “the six stages of failure and redemption”–shock and surprise, denial, anger and blame, depression, acceptance, and last but not least–insight and change.

We were one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. To have our customers tell us our games sucked–I couldn’t believe it,” says Blank. “When the company was finally shut down and all the rubble stopped bouncing, I started thinking about what I could have done and why I didn’t do it.”

Accepting his failure took well over a year. Six months later, he heard from the VCs who’d pulled their funding out of the business. They wanted him to evaluate their portfolio. Seriously? Blank was in awe that they’d make such a request.

The company had failed, they told him, but they still thought he was a smart business guy. Not long after, Blank went on to found E.piphany, which developed customer relationships development software and earned its investors $1 billion a piece in returns.

Here are six lessons Blank learned from his first failure that helped him succeed the second time around:

1. DON’T BELIEVE YOUR OWN PRESS RELEASE.

Your business is about much more than you let on in your marketing spiel. Blank got swept up in all the press and positive attention his business was getting, letting practical matters like whether or not they were actually able to monetize their ideas slip through the cracks.

‘”If you can’t differentiate your press from bullshit, your tenure as the founder and CEO is short,” says Blank. Focus on the cold hard numbers–“not the echo-chamber of press and PR most founders live in,” he says.

2. IF YOU HATE YOUR CUSTOMERS, YOU’RE SCREWED.

When Blank realized his core customer base was 14-year-old boys, he couldn’t help but feel put-off. He wanted to build video games with complex and compelling storylines, but his customers were more interested in killing stuff.

“You can’t blame your customers for who they are,” he says. Still, he couldn’t help resenting them. Once you disconnect yourself from customer needs and desires, unless you get really lucky, says Blank, you’re in trouble. “If you find yourself hating your customers, you should shut down your company.”

3. CONFIDENCE AND STUBBORNNESS ARE NOT THE SAME.

Founding a company and developing an innovative idea means you’re taking a risk. It requires a healthy ego and some hubris. But there’s a thin line between having the confidence to know what you need to do and feeling like you don’t need to listen to anyone but yourself.

Blank didn’t have an advisory board of people who were guiding him when he started Rocket Science. “I would have been better helped by having people in the domain I trusted who could say, ‘Steve, you should understand what you are about to do here,'” he says.

4. TEST YOUR IDEA OUTSIDE THE BUILDING.

Rocket Science developed four different games from the get-go. Feeling the pressure of shipping them out in time for Christmas, rather than testing one game with customers and figuring out how to make it better, they went in full force.

Blank’s lean startup model comes out of his realization that ideas need to be tested and iterated before you get too deep into developing them. Users hated the first two games Rocket Science made, but it still pressed on and made two more. “That was a pretty big wakeup call,” says Blank.

5. YOU SHOULD BE LOSING SLEEP OVER IT.

Entrepreneurs need to be able to convince investors, customers, and potential employees that they are worth taking a chance on. That’s a key requirement if you want to scale your startup. Believing in your goals and future plan is important, but don’t ever let the risk involved escape you.

“You should lose sleep over what you are saying, not feel smug and satisfied,” says Blank. “At Rocket Science, I believed every word I said.”

6. FIND SOMEONE WHO CAN SLAP YOU SILLY, NOT TWIST YOUR ARM.

Blank often let his board call the shots. Even when he didn’t agree with them, he would relent to a decision they made because they were the ones with the money. But often that meant going against what he felt was best for the business.

Having advisors outside of his board would have helped him better weigh his options. “I wish I would have had some great advisors who would have slapped me silly,” he says. “If you don’t stand up for what you believe is right, then you don’t deserve to be the founding CEO.”

By Jane Porter