The Best Advice I’d Give My Teenage Self…

Start reading business books. Then start an actual business, something you can do on evenings and weekends (mow lawns, sell comic books, freelance web design, whatever). Then start another business. Then another. Trial and error until you’ve got the basics down and can run something sustainable, profitable and hands-on. Then start looking into systems, automation, outsourcing, passive income. Remove yourself from the daily operations.


Because the sooner you can get money flowing into your pocket comfortably and without having to work long hours for it, the more time you can devote to the cool stuff in life.

This became very apparent to me over the last month or so. I’ve been hitting the gym six days a week and steadily whipping myself into the best shape of my life. I’m finding it easy to devote lots of time and energy to exercise because I don’t have a regular job to go to. I’ve built a nice, mostly-passive income stream and it’s freeing up my time considerably.

Could I get in such great shape if I had a regular 9-to-5 job? Of course. But it would be much harder. I go to the gym now when it’s quiet, when everyone else is at work and the bench is empty. I can sleep in if I feel my body needs more rest, no clock waiting to be punched. I can take a nap after lunch if I need it.

I’ve just started to get a taste for this. I have only one passive income stream, and I realize anyone can get lucky and stumble into a single stream. So in the coming months I’ll be looking to build others. Good to diversify, and lots more to learn about this kind of business.

The payoff is huge. Perhaps not in monetary terms, but certainly in terms of time. Right now I’m focusing a lot of my free time on exercise, but there are so many other things I’d love to devote significant time to in the future. I want to learn languages and martial arts and musical instruments. I want to read more books and get back into public speaking. I want to learn how to lifeguard and scuba dive and fly airplanes. I want to learn how to fix a motorcycle and build a fire and tie all kinds of knots. I want to learn more about behavioral economics, psychology and philosophy. I want to go more places and meet more people and experience them all unrushed.

By the time this article publishes I should be laid out on a Cambodian beach, turning a quick border run into a nice vacation. I’ll check email sporadically and read a few books and try get myself a nice tan for the first time ever.

Now for those of you who’ve been following along since I quit my day job back in 2010, you’ll know that I’ve had plenty of struggles getting to this point. It hasn’t all come together for me overnight. But it has certainly all been worth it, without a doubt. And I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface here. I know bigger and better rewards are up for grabs.

This is why I wish I’d started my entrepreneurial journey back in my teens. Instead I waited until I was twenty-five years old to take my first business baby steps. But hey, better late than never. Some people never get started at all, and so they never free up the time to do all that cool stuff.

I’ll leave my teenage self with a few to-do’s to help get the journey started…

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    1. Hey Niall,

      Just curious, do you ever feel scared about what will happen if your passive income stream ever dries up?

      I’m starting to earn a nice chunk of money from passive income now, but I always feel like I should be working more (especially on other streams) as I’d be pretty much broke tomorrow if it stopped.


      • Not really worried about it, to be honest. Knowing I can make a good living by hustling and picking up web design gigs is a huge comfort. That’s another reason why I encourage everyone to figure out active income first. You can get lucky (like I did) and find a nice passive income stream, but luck doesn’t have much to do with running a sustainable and profitable hands-on business.

        So if my one primary passive income stream were to die tomorrow, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I wouldn’t be going hungry either. I’d just have to go back to hustling 40+ hours a week until I found something easier.

    2. Nice one mate. I know you’re a bit hush-hush on some of your businessey type things on the side but I think we’re all keen to read/hear along with it? Along w/ the monthly expenditure reports we’re (I’m) keen to see how it’s all falling into place?

      We got the false-start (not failure) of the first initial attempt at passive income moons ago when you started but now it seems something is flourishing? Keen to know more. Of course is up to you how much you blog about & share.

      • Two reasons why I can’t reveal too much about my passive income stream:

        1) The guy who brought me into this did so on condition that I don’t go blabbing about the details.

        2) It’s not a limitless market. The more people who do what I do, the less money there is to go around. I’m really not sure how long it will last, since I hear through the grapevine that new people are getting in on it regularly.

        • Dido on the fact there are no limitless markets. My Dad used to say there is no free lunch, and despite reading a lot of very motivational business books I found out he was right. The very nature of opportunity is fleeting, in a real market good ‘deals’ or jobs only last for so long. Income does not have to be married to time spent working, but the term passive doesn’t paint the whole picture.

    3. Really enjoy this post.
      Sure wish I’d get courageous and do this. Must review your ‘get over shy’ post again.

      Thanks, Niall.

    4. I am totally inspired by your business strategies! After working 15 years in a field I’m not too excited about for chump change, I’ve decided to take a leap and try to start my own business(es) with the ultimate goal of having passive income. I’ve been hesitant of trying, but I’ve always been adventurous in every other aspect is my life so why not my financial livelihood?! Thanks for the inspiration.

      • Yes! Go for it. Might take a couple of years like it did for me, but like I said up above, it’s absolutely worth it.

        I heard a saying recently that really resonated, went something like this: Entrepreneurs spend years working like most people won’t so they can spend the rest of their lives living like most people can’t.

    5. This video is fuckin’ awesome Niall! There is something about this short and simple, yet powerful message.

      1pm on a Monday at the gym… awesome!

      Keep rockin’ man!

    6. Really the best advice, thank you for writing this! I’m 18 and already started working on it (also read The $100 Startup).

    7. Great post Niall. Inspirational stuff. Important just about to start fitting a door in my 9 to 5 job. Its fine right now because it allows me to devote time to training with no stress, but i can’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life

    8. One thing I can promise that you don’t want to do is lifeguarding Niall; it is *intensely* boring.

      I must confess, this is the first post of yours I’ve seen that has made me jealous. I thought your travelling lifestyle is pretty cool, but I like familiarity, home comforts (and I hate packing) so I was never jealous of that. I always a couple of 2/3 week holidays per year as ample for my wanderlust needs.

      To see that your income streams are coming with work days with work hours which are totally at your discretion is something which definitely makes me jealous though. Are your income streams quite certain now? Oh and, what exactly is “passive” income? I’m guessing it’s coming from people paying subscriptions to you but I could be wrong.

      I have promised myself never to be in an work environment where a boss is physically present and my income streams at the moment come from two jobs with a decent degree of flexibility (and equally importantly, no boss on my back), but you truly are living the dream. Fair play boy – and Happy Birthday!

      • Hey James,

        By lifeguarding I mean learning how to save someone from drowning. I don’t actually want to sit in a beach tower looking through binoculars for hours on end.

        “Are your income streams quite certain now?”

        Never fully certain, but for the past few months I’ve been able to pull in about €3k each month, and I expect I’ll be able to keep that up for a while yet. But you never know, could all come crashing down tomorrow.

        What exactly is passive income? Income earned without having to work for it directly. Traditional employment rewards time with money. That’s active income. Your pay is in direct correlation to your time. Work more, earn more. Passive income means you do a lot of work up front and then (hopefully) sit back and watch the money roll in steadily for a long period of time. You’re exchanging value for money instead of time. A classic example is writing a book. If you can write a best-seller, you only have to do the writing once, and then it can bring in money for decades after without you having to do much else.

    9. Hi! Well, when you told the advice you had for your teenage self, I was surprised, wasn’t expectating that at all! (I probably did a ugly face when you revealed it ahah)
      I’m 20, in my second year of Biomedical Engineering studies in college and, honestly, I don’t really want to worry TOO MUCH about the future, you know? I just don’t want to stress at all about business and stuff.
      Now I’m a bit confused, I don’t know if you’re advice is “the best” (I was expecting you to share a totally different advice), but I get why you say it. The question is: is it really beneficial to spend time NOW (when I’m still studying and “carefree”) in order to not spend it in the future, when I have a job “9 to 5”, for example??
      Kisses from Portugal
      P.S.: You’re looking good, ahah 🙂

      • Hey Monica,

        This isn’t the best advice for everybody. No one size fits all. For me though, I can certainly say it would have served me better to invest some of my teenage years into learning business. I don’t have any regrets (because regrets are useless), but I could have saved myself a few years of 9-to-5 and been out there doing fun things instead.

        It is possible to take this too far though and work too much when you’re younger and miss out on all the fun stuff and never really let yourself get to the point where you kick back and reap the rewards of your efforts. Even for me it’s pretty hard to let go and unwind. Realizing when enough is enough can be tough.

    10. Niall, look at where courage and belief gets you in 5-6 years.

      I’m actually really surprised that you’ve only been at this thing for 5-6 years. I’ve found the 5 year mark to be a sweet spot in my life. It’s validating to see it’s been the same for you. Gladwell says 10,000 hours. I like the 5 years of consistent action and belief route much better 😉

      Now, this is where it gets really good…and this is what keeps me optimistic about the world…can you imagine where you, and others on similar paths to yours will be in 5, 10, 15, 20 years?

      There are so many people on the path right now; maybe we’ll change the world in a significant way as long as we keep at it. 🙂

      Who knows?

    11. Hey Niall! Good post, as usual. As for the books, I haven’t read that Personal MBA yet, but one that is really giving me something is The Lean Startup by Eric Tries. It turns the art of business’ creation into a science, introducing a systematic way for testing your assumptions: pure gold.