By Polina Marinova
September 26, 2016

You’re about to graduate from college with honors. You’ve made a few industry connections. You’ve laid out your career path. Everything looks like it will go according to plan—until it doesn’t.

When we asked this year’s 40 Under 40 what advice they would give their 20-year-old selves, we heard a variation of the same answer: Ditch the plan and trust your gut instead.

“Many college students get stuck in the trap of feeling like they have to go into a certain industry or line of work because all of their peers are doing it or because on-campus recruiting pushes you in that direction,” says Matt Salzberg, co-founder and CEO of Blue Apron. “Many 20-year-olds don’t realize that there are many possible paths to success.”

Here are the best nuggets of wisdom from Fortune’s 40 under 40:

Katrina Lake, founder and CEO, Stitch Fix (No. 29)

Katia Beauchamp, Katrina Lake and Michelle Zatlyn
Benjamin Rasmussen for Fortune

I would encourage myself not to be so focused on specific career paths. As I’ve gotten to know many executives, few people take a predictable and straight path from A to B. I would encourage myself to broaden my lens of career interests knowing it won’t define where I end up.

Adam Grant, professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (No. 28)

Courtesy of Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

You’re too intensely focused on your goals. Develop your peripheral vision—you’ll open yourself up to better learning opportunities.

Danielle Weisberg & Carly Zakin, co-founders, The Skimm (No. 38)

Adam Watstein

Danielle: Be confident that it will all work out how it should.
Carly: Don’t be so attached to your plans, enjoy the adventure.

Tim Ferriss, author and host, ‘The Tim Ferriss Show’ (No. 28)

Getty Images

You are the average of the five people you associate with most. Also, don’t try to be normal. Use the fact that you’re weird.

Hooi Ling Tan, co-founder, Grab (No. 17)

Courtesy of Tan Hooi Ling

Take opportunities and risks, go out of your comfort zone, and don’t look back in regret. Make the best decisions based on the information available, and just go with the flow. Don’t try to plan a perfect and fixed path for your future self. Experience, learn, adapt and continue to grow. And just as importantly, enjoy the learning process.

Joel Gay, CEO, Energy Recovery (No. 13)

Courtesy of Joel Gay

I was quite the jock at that point of my life and was playing soccer professionally in Belgium. For an inexplicable reason, I dyed my hair bleach-blonde. My advice? ‘Ditch the hairdo, guy.’

Joe Zadeh, vice president of product, Airbnb (No. 22)

Courtesy of Joe Zadeh

Trust your gut more. I had a lot of ideas that people said were crazy (e.g., joining Airbnb as an early employee) and I’ve never been disappointed when I trusted my gut. It’s the times I didn’t listen to it that I regret.

Kim Posnett, managing director and co-head of technology investment banking, Goldman Sachs (No. 16)

Mark McQueen

Travel the world, see different things, meet new people. Expand your lens and expose yourself to different perspectives.

Thomas Saueressig, CIO, SAP (No. 5)

Courtesy of Thomas Saueressig

Be self-confident but be yourself and remain authentic. It is the only way to build trust which is the very foundation for any relationship. I would also say: keep an open mind for new ideas and cultures and stay curious about the unknown. You never know what you might learn! Never stop learning and make sure you have mentors and coaches.

Morgan Vawter, chief of analytics, Caterpillar (No. 26)

Courtesy of Caterpillar

1. Savor your failures now. They’re laying a path for you to succeed in the future. 2. The things you do in your spare time—writing code, and analyzing data—aren’t wasted hours. These passion projects are building the foundation of your career. 3. Trust your gut and buy more tech stock.

Brendan Bechtel, CEO, Bechtel Group (No. 1)

Fortune Magazine
Mackenzie Stroh for Fortune

Be patient — it’s a marathon not a sprint. (But don’t stop sprinting!)

April Underwood, vice president of product, Slack (No. 34)

Courtesy of April Underwood

Focus more on asking questions rather than answering them.

Joey Levin, CEO, IAC (No. 11)

Courtesy of Joey Levin

If a company comes along promising to organize all of the world’s information—and starts successfully doing that with usage through the roof—invest in it, don’t compete with it.

Katherine Power, co-founder and CEO, Clique Media Group (No. 35)

Courtesy of Katherine Powers

Learn to code! And always wear sunscreen.

Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO, Twilio (No. 6)

Courtesy of Jeff Lawson

Always keep sight of the fundamentals of business. Never get so divorced from the fundamentals of the business that you can’t become profitable in relatively short order. You want to balance being aggressive and growing fast with keeping sight of the shore.

Payal Kadakia, founder and CEO, ClassPass (No. 32)

Courtesy of Payal Kadakia

The people you surround yourself with will be one of the biggest influences on who and what you want, and it’s YOUR own choice who you want those people to be.

Moxie Marlinspike, founder, Open Whisper Systems (No. 31)

Courtesy of Moxie Marlinspike

Be careful what you get good at.

Marie Kondo, author and founder, The KonMari Method (No. 36)

Courtesy of Marie Kondo

Go out and experience many things. Through those experiences, create the foundation that will help you brush up your sense of decision-making.

Sophie Watts, president, STX Entertainment (No. 25)

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 26: STX Entertainment President and Chief Content Officer for Motion Picture Group Oren Aviv, STX Entertainment President Sophie Watts and STX Entertainment Motion Picture Group Chairman Adam Fogelson attend the premiere Of STX Entertainment's "Bad Moms" at Mann Village Theatre on July 26, 2016 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I was very rock and roll at 20, I was in the music scene at the time. I would probably say—I asked Steve Martin this question once. He said, I wish everyone had told me everything’s going to be OK. That’s probably it.


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