Ah, the elusive 30 Under 30 list – a parade of inadequacy for us mere mortals who couldn’t quite make the cut. But is this celebration of youthful achievement actually a breeding ground for unethical behaviour?
It’s no secret that the pressure to succeed early in life is at an all-time high. Social media is constantly bombarding us with stories of 20-something CEOs and self-made millionaires. The number of teen millionaires is even on the rise. You heard that right – teen. From TikTok stars to entrepreneurs, there are plenty of young people out there ready to prove that no matter how successful you are, there’s always a kid doing it better.
It’s no wonder that young people feel the need to accomplish the impossible at breakneck speed. But it comes at a cost.
Forbes’ 30 Under 30. For many, it’s how you know you’ve made it. A dazzling celebration of all you’ve achieved. But recent scandals involving their alumni paint a disturbing picture of what can happen when we prioritise early success over ethics.
When the stakes have never been higher, and the competition has never been fiercer, what lengths will people go to succeed?
Criminal acts, apparently. You don’t have to do much digging to find that a growing number of those featured on the list are facing criminal charges or even jail time.
Take Charlie Javice, the founder of the college financial aid platform Frank, and an alumni of the 2017 Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Education list. To many young entrepreneurs, she’s an inspiration. The embodiment of self-made. But all is not as it seems. In 2021, Charlie’s company was sued by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly deceiving customers about its fees. The lawsuit alleges that Frank charged hidden fees to its customers, who believed they were using a free service. Javice and Frank have denied the allegations, but the case is ongoing.
Another revered alumni, Sam Bankman-Fried, became one of the wealthiest people in the cryptocurrency industry after his ascension to CEO of FTX. He was featured on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Finance list in 2020, but only a year later, FTX was sued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for allegedly violating anti-money laundering laws. FTX agreed to pay a $150 million settlement to resolve the case.
The trend doesn’t stop there, though. According to a study by the nonprofit organisation Prison Policy Initiative, the incarceration rate for people in their 20s is at its highest level in decades. It’s easy to draw a link between the two. Increased social pressure to succeed, greater exposure to lifestyle content from younger and younger millionaires, an upswing in ‘hustle culture’ and the glorification of the ‘grind’ all culminate in an attitude that tells you success is possible – you just have to be willing to do anything to achieve it.
While it’s important to remember that not all young entrepreneurs will find themselves in such positions, these cases do raise questions about the pressure to achieve success early in life and the potential consequences of prioritising wealth over ethics.
So, what does this mean for the rest of us? Are we sacrificing ethical innovation for the sake of celebrating young success? Should we reconsider our obsession with age-based achievements like Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list?
The answer is a resounding yes. It’s time for us to rethink our definition of success and the pressure we place on young people to achieve it. We need to stop idealising the concept of ‘wealth by any means necessary’ and start valuing experience and wisdom.
This isn’t a critique of Forbes specifically, and there’s a parallel positive in inspiring young people to dream, but the 30 Under 30 list is symptomatic of a deeper issue and is, inadvertently, spreading a toxic message. When the message is ‘achieving great things before you turn 30 is more valuable and impressive than achieving them after 30’, the pressure to achieve youthful greatness drives some people to take shortcuts.
But how do we do move the needle? Well, for starters, we need to stop treating success as a destination and start seeing it as a journey (boring I know).
Success, for the majority of people, takes time. It takes failure after failure. It takes lessons learned, hardships faced, struggles overcome. It takes consistent hard work. Quick success that skyrockets individuals to obscene levels of wealth is inspiring – but it’s also unbelievably rare – and holding ourselves to the same standards as those lucky few is demoralising at best, unethical at worst.