You didn't hop on that AOL train before America Online took over the world and turned its CEOs, programmers and secretaries into multimillionaires.

Your chances of winning the lottery are ... you know.

And that eccentric, rich uncle you always thought would pull through for you, well, it turns out he's just eccentric.

So what do you do if you're 25 and you just wish you could retire? Like, now.

Stop deluding yourself.

Some career experts think that if you feel this way in your twenties, then you haven't found your calling. Others advise finding activities to enjoy outside of work and you'll not feel so desperate to quit. And, if you really are desperate to leave, stick it out and save, invest, max out every retirement plan you can find. You may not be able to retire at 30, but you may not have to work until you're a card-carrying AARP member, either.

Find the Right Place

"The economic reality of life is we all have to have jobs," said Tim Hoerr, president of LifeVision Inc., and author of "Thank God It's Monday: A Tool Kit for Aligning Your Life Vision & Your Work."

Sometimes, if you feel that you want to retire and you've only been in the workplace a couple of years, it means you aren't in the right job for you, he said.

"Step back from your situation. Ask yourself, `What are my personal values? Where are my competencies?'" he said. "Decide what type of work is really in authentic alignment with who you are and where you're going."

There are many opportunities open right now because of the long economic boom, he said. Take advantage of that.

Now is a good time to grab a job that you always wanted -- unemployment is still at an all-time low.

Tom Welch, career coach and author of "Work Happy, Live Healthy," agrees. If you're just working to get to the weekend, you should try to find out what you really want to do during the week.

Use the talents and skills that you enjoy using, he said. Make a list of your accomplishments -- things that made you proud when you did them. Identify what made you so proficient and find a job related to those skills.

And then go to your family and friends, he said. Tell them what skills you think you possess and ask, "If you were me, what would you do?" A lot of times, Welch said, outsiders will come up with some interesting job ideas you never would have thought of.

Bruce Pomerantz, a licensed psychologist based in Chevy Chase, said he sees a lot of young workers expecting too much, too fast.

Step back and look at what your overarching goal is. How does work fit into that? If you focus on the meaning of your work, he said, it may not seem such a chore.

All Work and No Play . . .

You should learn to integrate your non-work life with your work life, said Hoerr. The more you can, the less stress you will feel about work. And maybe you won't want to drop-kick it anymore.

"I see many twentysomethings pouring more and more into their work," he said. "It's not about working harder. It's about being more creative. And you don't get more creative by adding on 20 extra hours a week."

You need to pay attention to diversions outside of work. They will make you feel fresher on the job, and you will probably be able to produce better in terms of both quality and quantity, he said.

Hoerr also said if you think you need to take time off, ask for it. Take a few weeks and get to "a place where you can be quiet and contemplate and sort through it."

It's better to take time off than to risk finding out 10 years down the road that work really wasn't all that fun, he said.

"There's really a movement toward a real practical balance and integration of these non-work roles," he said.

"I think a month or so leave is terrific. Sometimes that's what it takes. I think employers are getting much more open to the fact that their most important resource really is people. When a 25-year-old comes and asks for a sabbatical, companies are more apt not to dismiss that like they did in the '70s or '80s."

A Strategy for Early Retirement

But maybe you still want a way out of work, one that won't leave you begging for food. Say you're 25, making $40,000, and you seriously want to retire at 35. Good luck, and get ready to take some serious risks. Your goal "would require you to invest very aggressively," said David Ciccone, vice president of investments at Salomon Smith Barney Inc. (Ciccone didn't laugh out loud at the question, which is a good sign.) "Anything's possible because of the way stocks are trading today."

Before you start trading, though, he said, make sure of one major thing: Under no circumstances should you have any credit card debt. Ouch.

Don't use credit cards for anything that you can't pay off by the time the bill arrives, he advised.

Instead, save, save, save. Max out your company's retirement savings plan, and if you can, open a Roth IRA as well, he said.

In five years you can take out any money you put in -- and you can take it out tax-free. Be sure to have aggressive growth-oriented mutual funds in the Roth.

When you first decide to put your money into stocks, join an investment club, Ciccone said. It's an easy and inexpensive way for young workers to learn the ins and outs of trading.

Ciccone discourages very active trading because it creates both tax liabilities and unnecessary transaction costs -- though he still, of course, recommends getting a broker.

How about a non-monetary investment? Ciccone suggests buying a house. This is the perfect time to purchase a home, he said. It's a great tax break, and when you're in your early twenties, you often can have roommates or tenants whose rent will help pay the mortgage. And these days, buyers only need to put 5 percent to 10 percent down, Ciccone said.

If nothing else, he said, "a person could be very established by 40, if not retired."

If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at joycea@washpost.com