These Guys Rolled the Dice in Their 20s and Killed It. Here’s Why You Should Too.

When he was 20, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft. At 21, Steve Jobs founded Apple. At 25, Orson Welles scripted, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, JK Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter and Alexander the Great became the King of Persia.

People do amazing things in their 20s. But not without taking risks.

Gates and Jobs both threw away top-shelf university educations to get their ideas off the ground. Welles only got Citizen Kane up after having his first two movie proposals rejected. Lindbergh risked his life to rise from relative obscurity to world fame, Rowling lost her job for writing Harry Potter at work and Alexander the Great rolled the dice in every battle he fought to become one of history’s most successful military leaders.

Without taking big risks, none of these people would have accomplished anywhere near what they did. And theirs is a lesson anyone in their 20s should learn; now is the time to take a chance.

You can afford to do it. You’re wired to do it. And you can always sleep when you’re dead.

Here’s why.

You can afford to take risks now.

You’re young, brash and have most of your life ahead of you, and that means there’s plenty of time to get back on your feet if you take a big fall.

As you get older the ramifications of taking risks and failing are magnified as financial realities bite, your body loses its vigour and people become more wary of taking a chance on you.

George Bernard Shaw – an Irish playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics – nailed it when he said that “youth is wasted on the young”.

So seize the opportunity to take a punt now, while you can still afford to.

You’re wired to roll the dice.

The human brain doesn’t reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s.

One of the most studied areas of change in young adults is the prefrontal cortex – the bit just behind your forehead – that’s used for weighing up risk and reward, problem-solving, prioritising, thinking ahead, self-evaluation, long-term planning and regulation of emotion.

A lower functioning level of your prefrontal cortex means you’re more likely to take risks before your brain fully develops. This is part of the reason why the older we get, the more conservative we generally become.

Being wired and willing to roll the dice is a benefit of being in your 20s that if you don’t use, you’ll soon lose.

You can sleep when you’re dead.

If you’re going to work really hard in your life, now is the time to do it. Your brain is powerful, your body at its physical peak and you can find the time and freedom to learn, work and explore anything you want to. And, you can run on very little sleep.

Some argue this is because for most of human history, we’ve typically been having children in our 20s, while others say that it dates back to our hunter-gatherer ancestry and the requirement to stay up late to lurk in the cover of darkness.  The scientific explanation is that our internal clocks actually shift just after puberty from being early to late and stay that way until our mid-20s.

Whatever the case, time is on your side, which means now is the best time to bust your gut doing something you love. After all, you can sleep when you’re dead.

So get out there and roll the dice. Explore crazy ideas. Take big risks. Chase what you really want now and it will come to you much sooner than you think.


Image: SCFiasco, via Flickr