• When she graduated in 2009, it was the height of the recession. She went back home to waitress at her parents' restaurant in Boston, all while watching her friends start their careers.
  • By recognizing the skills that she had, Dandan was able to land a gig as a junior recruiter at a headhunting firm in New York. By age 25, she was earning $215,000 a year.
  • She taught herself real estate investment strategies, saved as much as she could, invested as much as she could, and was able to leave her job at age 28. At age 30, she's now a millionaire.
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As a finance graduate in the height of the 2009 recession, I was lost and confused at 22. Following my parents' advice, I chose finance as my major, just to realize I didn't enjoy any of the finance internships I held. Since I had no job and my family could use the help, I went to waitress at my parents' restaurant in Boston, becoming increasingly frustrated about my future. As my friends went off to their 9-to-5s to start their glorious careers, I was stuck doing the job I'd held since high school.

As the year flew by, I knew I had to get serious about my life. After all, my immigrant parents didn't work so hard to provide for me and send me to college just for me to come back and waitress at their restaurant. More importantly, I was ready to sink my teeth into my future and create a successful life.

By 30, I was able to find a career I love, build wealth, and now continue to help others as an entrepreneur in my profession. Here is how I went from waitress at 22 to millionaire by 30, and my best advice for others who want to do the same.

1. Realize your strengths and weaknesses

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While I lacked the skills to create a successful career in finance, I worked with what little skills I knew I definitively had. Through my entrepreneurial endeavors and hospitality jobs during high school and college, what I excelled in was communicating and influencing others, reacting on the fly, and working long days on tough jobs that were both physically and mentally challenging.

I saw a big appeal in sales roles. I knew I possessed many advantages compared to my peers due to the heavy objection handling, sales, and people management experience I had interfacing with all personality types during my hospitality jobs. Luckily, a headhunting firm saw potential in me and hired me to become a junior recruiter. I packed my bags, left my waitressing job, and arrived in New York City with a dream in my pocket to hit it big as a recruiter.

Don't double down on your weaknesses; find a career that will allow you to leverage your strengths and profit.

2. Work as hard as possible to be the best

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Since I was used to hustling to make a buck, I was truly honored, astounded, and immensely motivated by the money-making potential in recruitment. I vowed to become a top producer and conquer the billing leagues. Since I was raised by tough immigrant parents who constantly pushed me and taught me to work hard, I thrived under the high pressure sales environment of recruitment.

From day one, I worked with a vengeance, breaking records on phone times and KPIs (key performance indicators), working over 12 hours a day, seven days a week whatever it took to learn the job as fast as possible. Despite making countless mistakes along the way, I became a standout hire, breaking billing records and getting recognized internally as a high-potential future leader. At age 25, I was breaking $215,000 in income a year.

When you commit to something that you know you could be good at, give it your all, blindly believe, and persevere to success. Anything less will result in suboptimal results.

3. While I maximized my income potential, I decreased my cost of living


In order to achieve my dreams of becoming wealthy, I adopted smart financial habits. I implemented stringent cost controls from the day I landed in NYC mostly due to the low base salary, my level of student debt, and just striving to survive while I was still learning the business and had no commissions coming in.

I rarely took taxis (once a quarter was a luxury), lived 45 minutes away from work in an obscure neighborhood for cheaper rent, mostly cooked or ate discount foods, only shopped clearance on the rare occasions I would let myself buy something, and practiced countless other cost-saving measures. I used an Excel spreadsheet to track my spending and budget for everything.

Even when commissions started rolling in, the name of the game was to keep things status quo. Other than the occasional luxury goods and vacations I would go on (again heavily discounted, and I still monitored how I spent my money), I refused to upgrade my lifestyle in any significant way. To this day, I still live in my neighborhood because it lets me sock away money at a faster rate due to very reasonable rental costs.

If you spend all your money, you're just shackling yourself to having to work harder and longer to pay yourself back. Prioritize your financial health and set yourself on the right path to adopt wealth-creating habits.

4. Invest as much of your net worth that you can into something you deeply understand


By the time I was 25, I had already saved up over $100,000. I would consistently invest 75% of it or more in the stock market. While I wasn't a genius equities trader, I knew enough to be dangerous and make some decent returns; nothing crazy.

I finally decided to truly study real estate investing. That became my obsession. After work, at work, on weekends, that became my second job: teaching myself real estate investing strategies by reading books on tax law, real estate investing, and listening to audiobooks on the subject.

After I bought my second property, I quit my job at age 28. After five years of being a consistent top producer, I felt confident that I no longer needed to work for someone else. For the last two years of my 20s, I bought and sold more properties, becoming a millionaire by 30. Now, I'm self-employed with a healthy investment portfolio and my own recruitment business, DG Recruit.

If you don't learn to invest and invest as much as humanly possible when you're young, you're missing out of a lot of opportunities to increase your net worth. Study and master debt instruments, the positive qualities of debt, and don't be afraid of leveraging debt.

Long story short

I achieved such fast net worth growth in a relatively short period of time by combining and maximizing multiple strategies at the same time in a concentrated, focused manner: earning, saving, and investing as much as I could.

I continued to educate myself outside of work and school, and executed my plan without being afraid of decisions, timing, and risks. My most important advice is to take action while you still have the chance to take risks. Don't overthink things. Analysis paralysis kills so many great opportunities. Instead, be decisive and go for it. The worst that could happen is you'll learn something new along your journey.

Dandan Zhu is a headhunter, investor, and entrepreneur who coaches, trains, and recruits top talent in recruitment and sales positions. As an immigrant coming from humble beginnings, Dandan struggled through culture shock and difficult family dynamics until her early 20s, when she realized she wanted more from life. She went from being a waitress at 22 to a millionaire by 30 through her recruitment and investment career and now shares her methods through her businesses and advice on DG Recruit , Dandan Global , and her daily posts . Tune into her podcasts DG Recruit and Daily DANDAN for more insight, guidance, and coaching on anything related to careers, success, and recruitment.

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