By Christopher Russell May 03, 2016 1 Comment 439
Does my 22-year-old self need my advice?
This topic is difficult; it seems to ask for something definitive, some over-arching summary or distillation of a lifetime’s learnings, but that sets the mark too high. Even if I could distill such advice, it would only relate to that 22-year-old in his time and place; it would not be applicable to anyone today. For that matter, who am I to presume I know more at this age than a 22-year-old does? Who’s to say I wouldn’t benefit more from his advice? And why deny my 22-year-old self the pleasure, pain and fulfillment of searching and finding out everything for himself? Much of what I hold dear and valuable today is so because of the striving that was necessary to attain it.
Thirty years ago it was the time of Ronald Reagan and the cold war. China and India were much different and Japan was ascendant. It was a time of high inflation and an economy that had not yet been globalized. Most people looked to join an established company and stay close to the region in which they were born. Corporate jobs were nurturing, with 9 to 5 workdays, pensions, paid leaves, and family health insurance available for $28 a month.
That context would be downright alien to a 22-year-old today. When I was 22 I was married, employed full-time and a home owner. How do I explain that context to a generation of millennials? By the age of 24 I was traveling in Asia as a consultant. What would that translate to today—Internet-based individual contributor of some sort?
The question is, do I have any advice that is timeless? Maybe.
I was reading Seneca this morning. His letters to Lucilius were advice to a millennial of his time. Many of his thoughts would ring true, even mundane to modern ears. Maybe civilized good sense is timeless. “Be true to yourself.” “Strive to lead a virtuous life.” Sounds like folksy advice to the modern ear but was common 2500 years ago.
10 Basic Things to Think About…
Here are a few things I might dare to share with a 22-year-old, just because they are top-of-mind for me:
- Think long and hard about how you define success. What is winning? How will you know if you have won? That is a dangerous age where you really don’t know what you want to do with your life. You have no anchor and no compass and you’re susceptible to ‘just going along’. It’s tricky at this stage because your directional compass is still forming. Assume a choice, choose a direction and move through action. You’ll find your way along the way.
People will tell you to set goals. But before you set goals you need to understand your own values and your own strengths. Your definition of success will change over time. Assess your directional compass early and often. Take action and don’t be afraid to learn as you go.
- Be aware of all areas of your life. Life is a portfolio. You have to define, or at least understand that portfolio. Most people will separate the different areas of their life such as:
- Work and Career
- Relationships and Family
- Physical Health
“We all know there are many kinds of wealth: emotional wealth, relationship wealth, intellectual wealth, physical wealth, in the form of energy, strength and vitality, and, of course, spiritual wealth: the sense that our life has a deeper meaning, a higher calling beyond ourselves. One of the biggest mistakes we humans make is when we focus on mastering one form of wealth at the expense of all the rest.” – Tony Robbins
It’s worth thinking about how you want to allocate your time and energy across that portfolio. This is what people mean when they talk about ‘life balance’. There is no right answer and it will change over time, but it is worth investing some thought in early. A useful metaphor is to think of these life areas as gardens. How you tend to them will determine how they thrive.
- Practice self-awareness. I say practice as opposed to ‘learn’ or ‘achieve’ because it is not something that you will ever master. It’s an ongoing active practice.
Carved on the temple at Delphi it says ‘know thyself’. Before you can tend to others or be of service in this world you have to understand yourself at the component level and be comfortable in your own skin.
- Say yes to hard things; say yes to important things. In general, at the age of 22 you should be saying yes to almost every opportunity as long as it aligns with your values. This will shift over time as you find those things that are important to you. Then you can focus on saying yes to those things that are personally important.
- Think bigger! We consistently under-appreciate what we are capable of. Everyone you know has doubts. Most of them feel like pretenders, like fakes, like someone made a mistake and the day is coming when the world will show up to take it all back when they will be found out!
Everyone has this self-doubt. Ignore it. You can universally do more than you think you can. You are universally more than you think you are. Start early in life to set bigger, scarier goals and take bigger risks.
- Be patient and have grit. It is a curse of the young that they want instant gratification. If you want to find the really important things, you have to hang in there when it gets hard. I’m not advocating that you work for lost causes or against your own values. I’m simply saying that there is virtue and effectiveness in hard work and persistence.
- Get out. Get out of your own head. Get out of your office. Get out of your town. Get out of your country. Get out of your comfortable group of friends and have adventures. Meet people, do things, see the world, listen, learn and absorb. You’ll be glad you did.
- Add value, be a good citizen, give more than you take. Many complain that the young don’t respect what they have or take everything for granted. I’m not sure if that is true or just the perspective of the older generation. Either way it’s important to realize that the quickest way to gain value in this world is to selflessly give value. Don’t be a jerk; it’s not about you. You are just one of 7.4 billion souls in this neighborhood and none of them owes you anything.
- Establish the habits that support your life. You will find that once you know what you want and what your purpose is in this world you will need some structure to pull it all off. What are the daily routines you need to create and live by? Reading? Writing? Exercise? Or some other sort of practice that will help you cultivate your gardens?
- Think broadly and execute narrowly. We have a tendency to specialize in our careers and lives. We get forced down narrower and narrower paths until our skills and knowledge are single-dimensional. This might seem good for the current context of your life, but is a risky proposition in the long run. Allowing yourself to be herded into specificity of vocation makes it hard for you to think out of the box and innovate.
At the same time that specificity is required when you do know which way you are headed. When you need a brain surgeon you don’t want them to send in a philosopher. This is the dimensional balance you have to learn how to strike, and it’s not easy.
Well, now that I have assembled these ten pieces of wisdom, it occurs to me I probably shouldn’t try to give any advice to my 22-year-old self. Instead I should be a good listener, then give him a hug and tell him to go out and grab the wolf of life by the ears and hold on.
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