What advice I would give my 23-year-old self

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Whoa, another blast from the past. I originally wrote this post in 2013. What advice would you give your 23-year-old self? At that age, you’re just starting out. You’re full of potential and haven’t been worn down by life yet (hopefully). However, this is a very personal question. Everyone has different life experiences and shortcomings. This is not a generalized topic like the series I wrote about retirement advice for young folks. My advice to myself probably will be a lot different than yours. Well, let’s see what I have to say and maybe you can think about what you’d tell yourself. What could you have done better?

*Updated 2021.

Advice I would give my 23 year old self
“If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

Let’s see where I was when at 23… I just got a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer engineering and I was already working at Intel. The future Mrs. RB40 was struggling in the Peace Corps back then so I only had to worry about myself. Ah, the good old bachelor days. Financially, I was doing okay and did not have any debt. On the other hand, the only “asset” I had was a beat-up ancient Toyota Cressida. I was saving more than 15% of my salary and was just starting to invest in the stock market. That really was the beginning of the journey for me. I did pretty well overall, but if I had a time machine, here is some advice for young RB40.

Go It Alone

When I first started working at Intel, it was challenging and a lot of fun. I learned so many new things and met a bunch of really smart people. The income was nice too. I never had much income so I loved having some money. I spent a lot, but I saved a good amount too. Frugality was already built into my character because my family never had much when I was young.

Working at Intel was a nice start, but I think it was a mistake to work in a huge corporation like that. Now that I know more, I would tell my younger self to take more chances when you’re young. You have very little at that point so there isn’t much to lose. Take some chances and go work for a small company or try self-employment. Working in a big corporate company is safer, but it didn’t suit my personality. I never liked going to a pep rally or being part of a big organization. I’m more of a loner type than a team player.

Politics was a big part of the corporate culture and I wasn’t any good at it. In hindsight, I should have quit Intel much earlier. My potential was limited in a big corporation and I probably would have done better in a small start-up. I worked better in a small group or by myself anyway. I should have worked 60+ hours per week for myself rather than for a big corporation.

*2021 – I still think this is good advice for young RB40. Take some chances. What have you got to lose? You learn a lot more from being self-employed or working in a small company.


Networking is one of my biggest weaknesses. It’s hard for me to build relationships and form lasting friendships. I would tell my younger self to put more effort into networking and learning from mentors. I was always much more comfortable talking to my peer group rather than older, more experienced folks. I think the lack of mentors and role models really hindered my personal growth in the long run.

*2021 update – Now that I’m older, I don’t think this is good advice anymore. It’s probably better to work on your strengths than weaknesses. So what if I’m no good at networking? I still survived and thrived. Work on your strengths and specialize.

Emerging technology and media

The last 15 years was a very dynamic time in technology. I should have paid more attention to things like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I started Retire By 40 in 2010 and I feel like it would have been much better if I kicked it off a couple of years earlier. There are so many opportunities to make money with new technologies and if you get in early, you would have a huge head start. It was tough because I was working 60+ hours per week quite often in my 20s and just wanted to have fun when I got out of work. It’s also hard now because Baby RB40 doesn’t give me much spare time. Maybe once Baby RB40 starts school, I can seriously get into new technologies.

*2021 update – Wow, time flies. There seem to be some new hot technologies every year. If I paid attention, I could have started a channel on TikTok, a podcast, or something like that. Now, I can barely keep up with all the new apps. I think this advice is good for a young person. Pay attention to new tech and get in early if you can. You never where you’ll get traction.

House hacking

I lived in an apartment when I was 23 and bought a house a few years later. Now, I think it would have been smarter to buy a duplex in a good location instead. I could rent out one unit and learn how to be a landlord. Living at an older duplex would have given me a lot of opportunities to learn more about home repairs and maintenance.

*2021 update – Hey, I made this one a reality. Now, we live in a duplex and rent one unit out. It is in a nice walkable area with many restaurants and shops nearby. I should have purchased a property like this when I was 23. It would have been way cheaper back then.

Minimize video games

Man, I spent a ton of time playing video games in my 20s. It just sucked up so much time that could have been spent more productively. My excuse was that I used it to decompress, but Mrs. RB40 said I was always getting mad at the games. I could have used those wasted hours to learn about the stock market or the emerging technologies mentioned above. Oh well, live and learn. These days I rarely play video games. It just isn’t that fun anymore.

*2021 update – These days, playing video games isn’t a problem for me. However, our son is somewhat addicted. He spends a ton of time gaming every day. It’s fun for him, but I think it’s a waste of time. Hopefully, he’ll get it out of his system at some point. When he’s 23, he can use the time much more wisely.

These words of wisdom are very specific to young RB40. I guess everything worked out alright because I’m a happy stay-at-home dad these days. I’m not stressed out and life is great. Working at Intel gave us a big leg up financially, but I got burned out completely before 40. Who knows what would have happened if I took the other direction instead? I probably would still be working and there wouldn’t be a Retire By 40 blog. Life is kind of funny, isn’t it?

What would you tell your 23-year-old self? Don’t forget to tell us how many years it has been since you were 23. I will be 48 later this year for reference. 

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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