I've been an observer on this site for a few years. In my mid-40s but use the site to keep current on how younger guys look at the business, career expectations, etc. Thought I'd do this AMA in order to pass on what I've learned (though it's your call as to how much you want to generalize from my specific experience.)
Background: No real estate experience before going to Business school (top 20 school but certainly not a top 5). Post-MBA, went to work in real estate capital markets in NYC. Did that for three years. Learned some stuff and got the "pedigree"/credentials associated with an MBA and Wall Street experience.
This is important: I quickly realized that most of my colleagues were as smart or smarter than I was, and just as motivated. Not really a surprise, as most people on Wall Street are intelligent and driven. For me, though, I decided that it made little sense to build my career in a place full of high-caliber competition. Some guys live for that, but I don't; I'd rather find an area with less competition, fewer highly motivated people, etc. and go that route (Peter Thiel sort of covers this in Zero to One.)
So, I left NYC for another city (between the coasts), and got a job with a local multifamily developer/investor. Spent two years doing that, and then (roughly 11 years ago) left with another guy to start our own apartment development group.
We started with about $50K between the two of us, and a 300SF office. We kept at it, stayed aggressive (but didn't take foolish risks) and fast forward to now, we've so far done about $500 million (cost basis) of multifamily and mixed-use development in our market(s). We've gotten paid reasonably well along the way (some years better than others), and have managed to build up meaningful net worths.
We've had a great time doing it, and most importantly, as owners of the business, we own our time as well.
I'll save "lessons learned" for the answer portions of this AMA, but one thing I can say for certain - the great thing about the real estate business is that if you're reasonably intelligent, use common sense, and GO AFTER IT, you can be very successful in a relatively short period of time.
So ask away - I'll answer just about anything, and will reply as time permits.
Mod Note (Andy): top 50 posts of 2017, this one ranks #18 (based on # of silver bananas)