I attended a business awards event a few weeks back. The question asked of all the nominees on stage was:
What advice would you give your younger self?
There were some funny responses (“Dump that guy!”), and some serious responses (“Study harder. It makes a difference.”). All of the answers were interesting and sparked good discussion at our table. Though I am thankful for every twisted turn and every difficult thing that has ever happened to me—because it led me to where I am today—there are still valuable lessons learned that, given the chance, I would gladly share with my 20-year-old self.
- You are the sum total of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
I had a lot of friends in my 20s. Some of them I am still best friends with today and find value and inspiration in their company. Others drifted away as we grew apart. There was one friend with whom I loved binge watching DVDs of “90210” while eating Doritos and Oreos. We never got out of our sweatpants.
I outgrew this phase. If you don’t want to be turned into the habit, quit hanging out with the person who enables the habit. Spend time with people who drive you to be better, who you admire and who lead lives that you aspire to live. Go outside, take the sweatpants off and make some new friends.
- Fuel your body for the life you want to lead in the future.
Having energy that is consistent and reliable and being able to bounce out of bed happily is a result of a clear head and a healthy body. Nutrition is the base a successful life is built upon. You can’t work toward goals if you’re too tired to get out of bed or if your body is aching because of the extra weight you’re putting on your joints.
If I could go back and do it again, I would immerse myself in the nutrition information coming out of the Slow Food, Whole30, and Vegan movements of the last 10 years. Books like “The Calorie Myth,” “Crazy Sexy Diet,” “Bulletproof Diet” and Michael Pollen’s brilliant synopsis (Eat food, not too much, mostly plants) are how I live my life now. I wish I had started that nutritional discipline earlier.
- Tip generously.
I know you think you can’t afford it, but the person who is serving you also can’t afford it. By virtue of you eating there, you can afford it more. So tip 20%. And the bellboy at the hotel? Tip him a couple bucks. And the person who drops you off from the shuttle bus at the airport, tip her also. You won’t miss the $2 in the end, but that $2 will make a big difference in that person’s life. Also, giving feels good. Studies show that giving makes you happy. Start that attitude of gratitude now.
- It’s okay to reach out.
Sometimes, it feels like everyone is having fun without you. And you know what? They probably are. So put yourself out there. Send a text. Call someone. Invite a friend to a show you want to see. Don’t sit around and wait for life to happen to you. Make the effort. Be okay with rejection. Strengthen your social bonds deliberately. Action is always better than the alternative.
- Read more than everyone else to outpace everyone else.
Learning is the key to doing extraordinary things. No one starts out knowing how to run a company, travel the world or be a great long-distance runner. There are people who have done this, however, and perhaps they’ve been so successful they’ve written a book about it.
It turns out that many people have written many books about the very subject you’re curious about, and the very areas in which you want to excel. Read those books. Put them to practice. Improve yourself by learning more and by learning faster. While you’re at it, turn off the TV.
- Meditation is the key.
I’ve always had The Monkey Brain (you know, that voice that doesn’t turn off, that frantic energy, the bouncing leg, the inability to sit still for a lecture). It’s been with me as long as I can remember. I’ve worked to tame it into submission in different ways over the years with varying degrees of success.
If only I found meditation earlier.
The first 30 days of morning meditation, I white-knuckled the 20 minutes every morning. It was hard to sit there. I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel like it was making a difference. And then, after the first 30 days, I noticed a difference in my emotional equilibrium. I was strangely… calmer. I cared less about things that really didn’t matter in the end. The zen was very apparent when our house blew up (literally).
We moved our family of four, five times in three months. And I stayed focused, positive and yes, even calm. I wish I found meditation earlier. Credit to my dad for pointing out that a big glass of red wine wasn’t the only way to calm down after a stressful day, coupled with my Mastermind Group doing the Oprah 21 day Meditation Challenge. I’m up to 30 minutes a day most days of the week and find the benefits to show up everywhere in my life, but especially in meetings and when interacting with my young children.
- To do what others can’t, you have to do what others won’t.
Success doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen by sitting on a couch or by skipping the homework. Success happens with tiny incremental amounts of daily effort. The slog. The boring struggle. That’s what produces success.
This means you need to get up earlier, be more disciplined. And it means turning down the late night party so you can get a good night’s sleep and get up early the next day to work out. Or not buying the latest, greatest color of skinny jeans that came out so you can invest that $70. You name it, success is often about delaying gratification; something that many people struggle with. Good news though; willpower is a muscle. You can get better at it through practice.
- Hard work isn’t the same as peak performance.
Working long hours isn’t a badge of honor if you’re not efficient. Sleep enough so that you make the most of your work day. Work out so that you can be focused for long stretches of time. Get rid of distractions so you batch your time. Multi-tasking is a myth. We all do it but it turns out we don’t do it well. If you find yourself reading the same sentence over and over again, or struggling to do a focus-based task, take a walk, take a nap, or just call it a night and start over the next day.
- Don’t take it personally; it’s not personal.
No one is thinking about you. Quit thinking they are. They’re all too worried about their own situation. So when you think someone has insulted you, not only did they probably not insult you, but they’ve most likely moved onto other things. Don’t let them take you down a notch by distracting you or living rent-free in your head. Move on to the next thing and focus on how you’re going to reach your next goal.
There are many things that I look back and wish I had done differently. But, I think of where I am in my life, who I hang out with, who I’m married to, and my kids, and realize that every single thing that seemed to go ‘wrong’ was a step on the path to now. It’s sobering, it’s freeing, and it’s exciting all at the same time.