I often ask my young kids what they want to be when they grow up. Afterwards, I have a slight sense of guilt because it feels like I am trying to rush them through their childhood – but that isn’t really what spurs the question. What is on my mind is the old adage, with maturity comes clarity, and I wish I had some of that knowledge in my formative years. The truth is I was one of those kids who had some ideas about possible careers and life goals but very little idea how to get there. I am pretty sure my guidance counselors never encouraged me to think of actions I could take to be more purposeful in the direction I was headed.
Thinking about this lead me to wonder – if I could give my boyhood self any advice, based on all I have learned through the years, what would I say? Had I approached school, career, and life decisions with this knowledge I might have made a bigger impact. Some decisions might have led me in different career directions but I suspect many would have just made me a more well-rounded adult (I wish I had taken 6 years of Spanish classes seriously).
So here is the advice I would give my younger self.
- You don’t know it all so listen first and talk last. It isn’t hard to have a strong opinion. That doesn’t make it the best one. Force yourself to let others share their perspective first. This will allow you to see their side of the situation and better formulate your opinion. People will appreciate that you listened and they will respect your opinion more.
- Building a few strong, meaningful relationships is more important that building a voluminous network. Today, I see people trying to maximize the number of connections on social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn instead of fostering relationships with a handful of people who they can really trust and collaborate with in meaningful way. Casually knowing a lot of influential people won’t benefit you nearly as much as these deeply meaningful relationships will.
- What others think of you matters but it matters less than what you think about yourself. Like many people, I am my harshest critic. Figuring out what you can control and what you can’t is critical. Learn from your mistakes while also having a thick skin. Lots of people have an opinion on how you could be better. Your attitude and approach has a compounding effect on your success in life and in work.
- Change is always hard so how you approach it matters. It is incredibly difficult to change the real flaws of our character or the imperfections of our life. No matter how much I envy people who are laidback, Type-B individuals, I will never be one of them. Focus on modifying your actions and adapting in a reasonable and measurable way. Lasting change will happen when the improvement is a habit (e.g. it takes 28 days of action to make exercise and healthy eating a routine).
- Reach out of the box and be bold. Just because someone achieved success one way doesn’t make it the only way. The most innovative, successful people in history had a lifelong commitment to trying something new despite what all the naysayers said. Take chances on going after the tough jobs and assignments because, if you don’t, someone else will and you will find yourself right where you were.
What is the advice you wish you knew when you were 18?