I Was Broke and Lost at 22. Here’s How I Made Enough Money to Retire by 28

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I Was Broke and Lost at 22. Here’s How I Made Enough Money to Retire by 28

What was your career like when you were 22 years old? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Dandan Zhu, headhunter, career coach, investor, and podcaster, on Quora:

At age 22, I was managing my family’s Chinese restaurant in Boston. I had just graduated from a fancy, preppy college, and as my internships proved, I hated finance and any type of job related to sitting in front of a computer screen working with Excel and analyzing meaningless data, while earning anywhere from $35k to $50k.

In other words, I had no idea what to do with my life.

At the same time, my family was going through a tough time, and needed me to run our family’s Chinese restaurant while they all took a gap year to pursue various business matters. I had to hold down the fort and I was not happy about it, although it did give more time to find myself.

While I was lost in this limbo land, working for free for my family in a job I had no passion for, I knew that life had to be more than this. I started reading motivational and self-help books. Zig Ziglar was the first author who gave me hope. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was another book that worked wonders. I also started renting out our house’s rooms to Craigslist tenants, which foreshadowed my real estate ventures later in my life.

In those days, although I had to work seven days a week for eight months straight, I got an opportunity to manage the company and employees. I learned so many valuable skills that year, including:

(1) People skills, customer service, patience, persuasion, emotional intelligence, and management skills. I had to manage people double my age, and I learned valuable human interaction and communication skills while I also managed our customers, vendors, marketing strategy, operations, and employees.

(2) Always stop to smell the roses–appreciate what you have and the people around you. Although by all accounts, I was doing something so unimpressive compared to my i-banking classmates, I still managed to boost my own morale and continue building my self-worth and confidence. Despite my crazy work schedule, I tried to continue doing the normal things a 22-year-old should be doing, like going out with my friends.

Sure, I smelled faintly of Chinese food, and everyone had to meet me at the restaurant while I got changed into party gear, but we always had a grand old time! None of my friends thought less of me because I didn’t have a fancy corporate job, and I made many new friendships that I still cherish today.

(3) Don’t be bitter about anything. Realize that you could have done things differently if you had the confidence within yourself. You’re not the victim. You actively chose whatever decision you took; no one else forced you at gunpoint.

I was always an avid singer, and I won a chance to go to China for a special American Idol-equivalent contest, but unfortunately couldn’t go because I chose not to abandon our family business; there was no one who could help me manage the business while I went off trying my hand at stardom.

At the time, I felt so bitter–so misused, mistreated, and wronged by my family’s pressure and reliance on me to run the restaurant.

If it weren’t for them, I thought, I’d be famous already. Or at least I would have a shot! The truth is, I realize now that I never had the confidence to become a professional singer, despite it being my favorite hobby and passion. My inability to join the contest was actually my own choice. I could have bought a ticket and abandoned my family if I truly believed I had what it took to be a famous pop star in China.

Ultimately, I decided not to do it. So it’s not their fault; it was my decision. My family felt guilty, and I regret being angry at them when I should have directed the blame toward myself. Self-victimization is the worst way to treat yourself and others; it’s a delusion that negatively impacts your mindset and relationships with others.

Ultimately, year 22 helped me achieve freedom from self-judgment and self-deprecation.

I stopped putting myself down by comparing myself to others. I was doing the best for my family. I shouldn’t be ashamed of it! Even though I was not in a job other people would be impressed by, I was doing the right thing for my family.

I finally had a year to think by myself, for myself, what my strengths are, which I discovered were people skills. I didn’t even know it at the time, but my hospitality experience developed my people skills by leaps and bounds.

Furthermore, the books I read gave me the confidence that if others could do it, I could, too. Therefore, from ages 23 to 28, I jumped into the world of sales, becoming a top-billing headhunter. I then learned about real estate and became a landlord. Early this year, I quit my corporate job due to my financial security through careful financial planning.

By age 28, I was able to retire off of my successful career and investments.

I live in an apartment in Brooklyn with roommates who help offset my rental costs. I now work to spread the knowledge I learned to help others achieve financial freedom through a career in sales, successful investing, and believing in yourself.

Nowadays, I work every day like I used to, but now it’s for my own business, on my time schedule. I write, teach, do motivational speaking, and coach others on the Dandan Method to job search. I hire my own business partners and contractors I work with as I build my business.

All I can say is that the future is bright. Believe it, and bring your sunglasses along for the ride.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+

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