Updated: Feb 19, 2020
I was flipping around the channels the other day and stumbled across the scene in one of the Back To The Future movies where Biff went back in time to give his younger self a copy of a sports almanac from the future. It got me to thinking about what I would do if I could do the same thing. Here are ten things I wish I could tell my younger self:
Show up and do a little more than everyone else. You can set yourself apart from the vast majority of the world if you do nothing more than just show up on time every day. Can you be counted on everyday? Do you look for opportunities to do a little more than is expected? You will stand out from the crowd if you just do these two things.
Bloom where you are planted but keep your head on a swivel looking for redirects. The happiest people I know and the ones making the biggest impact in this world are the ones that make the most of their current situation yet remain open to new opportunities when they arise. This is not settling for mediocre. This is making your current situation the best it can be while you are there. It is changing what you can and being content with what you can’t change. If you feel led to take an opportunity when it presents itself be sure to leave well. There are many poor ways to leave and only a few good ways. I have seen too many burn bridges unnecessarily out of ego and selfishness. It can bite you in the butt later.
Plan for the future but stay in the moment. Set goals, write them down and refer to them regularly. A goal is just a dream until you write it down. Then live in the present, not in the past or future. Be where you are. Enjoy now.
Develop a life motto and mission statement. This can give much needed clarity when faced with the decisions of life. My life motto came to me in college while watching Jim McMahon interviewed before the ’86 Super Bowl. He said, “I don’t want to be a nice guy, I want to be a good guy.” It stuck. Sometimes you need to do the right thing even if it isn’t perceived as nice. My mission statement did not come until many years later: ‘To help others see their potential and move towards it.’ Both of these have been great guardrails to help me sort through the various opportunities presented over time. They have given me clarity and confirmation along the way as well.
Play well with others. I have found the biggest cause of failure, both at work and in life, is the inability to get along with other people. I know a lot of successful people who are not the smartest or most naturally talented but they know how to talk to and get along with people. A big key here is selflessness. C.S. Lewis defined selfless as not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. I like that. I need that.
Choose your friends wisely because you will become like them. Consider the handful of people who you choose to spend the most time with weekly. Do they inspire you to go for more, push you to be better and challenge you to grow? Or are they holding you back, dragging you down or distracting you from being your best? It doesn’t mean you snub others. It means that you don’t let your guard down when with the crowd but spend the majority of your time with those who will inspire you to more.
Find good mentors, ask them thoughtful questions and invite them to tweak you. Have formal mentors that you meet with regularly as well as those with whom you have one-time conversations. Ask people older and farther along in life meaningful questions. “Tell me about your biggest success, your biggest failure, a missed opportunity, best career advice you ever received, best relational advice you ever received, your top three book recommendations…” It’s a win-win. You gain wisdom from their life experiences and honor them at the same time. Everybody loves to talk about their favorite subject…themselves. A key point here would be to take notes and keep them for future reference. I use a journal. Being mentored propels you forward much faster than alone. Sun Microsystems did a 2006 study of 1,000 of their employees. Those who were mentored received pay raises and promotions at a rate five times greater than those not mentored. Their retention rate was about 50% higher as well. Look for those you can mentor as well. It is a blessing to you and it has benefits. The mentors in that same study received pay raises and promotions six times faster than their peers.
Read great biographies of people worth emulating, especially those who gave of themselves for the benefit of others. Allow a great person from history to mentor you. Start a notebook of great quotes. One of my favorites is by G.K. Chesterton…”An inconvenience is an adventure misunderstood.”
When you are struggling ask yourself, “What am I telling myself right now? Is it true?” This is self-talk. According to Psychology Today we have anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 thoughts a day and for most of us 70% of them are negative. You can be a great counselor if you do nothing more than help others identify the lies they believe and replace them with the truth. Learn to counsel yourself. It can save you from some really poor decisions when you are freaking out as well as help avoid years of regret afterwards.
Be thankful…for the many blessings you have right this second. You might be in a real life mess but you can still be grateful for plenty in the midst of your problems. This does not discount the seriousness of your situation but an attitude of gratitude can give you some much-needed perspective in the moment. Consider the last five things you complained about…how many were First World problems? Probably all of them. Did you have access to clean water today? How about air conditioning in August, heat in January, three square meals, the ability to walk, talk, see, smell, taste, feel or hear? How often do you say, “thank you?” Do you thank those who serve you? When was the last time you wrote a hand-written note to thank someone? It is becoming a lost art. How about writing someone who invested in you in years past? A teacher, coach, boss, neighbor, family member? Get some stationary that fits you so that it is handy. Then regularly ponder who needs a note. My goal is to write three notes a week. Make someone else’s day and you will find that it will make yours as well.
These are ten things that I wish I had heard and adopted when I was younger. Your life is the culmination of all the decisions you make big and small. Had I heard and acted upon these, my perspective and thinking would have changed. I would have made better decisions as a result. I hope these challenge you to think about your thinking. When you change your thinking, you change your life.