This month the editors of Thrive asked its contributors to consider contributing advice they would give to a younger version of themselves. I couldn’t resist. This topic is something I have thought about all my life, and in my darkest hour, when I was divorcing my first great love, fighting a custody battle and struggling to stay afloat financially, I distinctly remember thinking that If my future self came to me and said, “this will be the best thing that ever happened to you” I would curse future self as a fool using expletives that are not yet invented. But looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, and while I might not have followed the advice I now give, give it I will:
Relax Kid, Things Are Going to Be Alright
I was a weird and worried kid who suffered (I learned much later in life) from a rare (so rare in fact it has no name and no one is looking for a cure, at least according to my former doctor) anxiety disorder. I was a worrier, hell I was so well practiced at worrying that I could have gone pro if there was such a thing. So the first bit of advice I would give myself is to refocus all that nervous energy into planning, to stop focusing on what might happen in favor of goals I would like to achieve. Occupying your mind is a great way to overcome anxiety. I wasted too much time worrying about things that would never happen, and it cost me dearly; life after all is finite And besides, worrying is about as effective at changing anything as throwing rocks at clouds is at making it rain.
As a young man I was very risk averse. I took the safe route—got a job making a great Union wage in one of the Big 3 auto companies, married and lived as close to being a model husband can be when one is 25 with issues with impulse controls. I was following the recipe for success that was no longer viable. The world had changed but my recipe remained the same. Then one day the sky fell in on me, my wife moved out leaving me with an 18 month old so that she could pursue her dream of having meaningless sex with nameless strangers. I learned that doing things according to some preconceived formula for a successful was a sure ticket to misery.
Learn To Cut Your Losses
I spent the first half of my life working for companies and individuals who paid me in potential—work hard to help me build this company and one day you will be richly rewarded. I ended up working for more than my fair share of duds who ended up going out of business because a lot of start ups are poorly run by dim bulbs. Wait for the job that best suits you and never accept a job from a point of weakness. It can be scary when you need a job and you have a less than an odorous offer to consider, but you need to have a little faith. Instead of waiting for them to ask where you see yourself in five years, ask THEM where they see you in five years. And really consider their answers.
Never Stop Learning
I hated school, but I have always loved learning. And life is full of rich lessons for those willing to learn them. Learn from good people, learn from bad people, everyone has something to teach you even if you are open to learning from them.
Executives Are Not Smarter Than You
I always thought that executives were these Olympian gods who were smarter than all around them. They ascended to greatness because they were just better at being the boss than anyone else. Then I spent two decades working with and coaching executives, I met some who were really smart, and others who were dumber than mandrills that ate lead paint chips in their youth.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness, But Poverty Can’t Buy Anything
Like most of us I have had my financial ups and downs—I’ve been rich and I have been poor and I liked being rich better. That having been said, I realize that living within one’s means is indeed a way to be happy. Buddhists believe that all suffering comes out of desire. Maybe, but I have found that a lot of suffering comes out of trying to be someone else, especially if you do it to please someone else. Which leads me to my next point…
Always Be Yourself
Being yourself is about living according to your core values—what you define as the difference between right and wrong—and don’t let anyone tamper with that. There are people—not just ad men and leaders, but your peers—who will always try to mold you into what they think you should be. Screw that. Fly your freak flag daily, “the people who can’t’ hear the music think the dancer mad”. Don’t ever let anyone keep you from hearing the music or dancing. The people who want to change you fear you.
I love the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. One single line sums up how I feel. “Trust yourself, while all men doubt you, while still allowing for the doubting too.” So don’t let people tell you that you are making a huge mistake, but consider that you MIGHT well be making a huge mistake. But never lose sight of the fact that it’s your mistake to make, and that the only true mistake is failing to learn from your mistakes. But it is important to consider that you could be wrong—for every misunderstood genius there a million perfectly understood fools.
And So Young Phil…
There you have it, with one final note. It’s been said (but people argue over who said it) that “most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be” so if you only take one piece of my advice, take that one. Choose to be happy. God knows you have earned it.