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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Travel the world, see different things, meet new people. Expand your lens and expose yourself to different perspectives.
Thomas Saueressig, CIO, SAP (No. 5)
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)
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)
Be patient — it’s a marathon not a sprint. (But don’t stop sprinting!)
April Underwood, vice president of product, Slack (No. 34)
Focus more on asking questions rather than answering them.
Joey Levin, CEO, IAC (No. 11)
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)
Learn to code! And always wear sunscreen.
Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO, Twilio (No. 6)
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)
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)
Be careful what you get good at.
Marie Kondo, author and founder, The KonMari Method (No. 36)
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)
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.