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5 Things I’d Tell The 20-Year Old Me

Let's go "Back To The Future"

Photo Credit Karl Fredrickson

This is a big year for me. I turned the big 40. People at work call me, “Sir” and are increasingly coming to me for mentoring, coaching, and leadership advice.

And sometimes when staff sees me they pretend to be working. (Don’t think I haven’t noticed.) 40 is also a time for reflection.

I’ve made a lot of dumb mistakes along the way, but that’s just part of life. What I’m more curious about is if I went back in time like in the movie “Back To the Future” would I listen to my future self’s advice on how to make life better?

If could go back to my 20’s, these are the five things I’d say to my younger dumber self. I’m hardheaded so I hope that I’d listen to myself…

1. Prioritize Character Over Connections:

Over the past month, it seems like every day there’s a parade on the news of men in positions of authority with a stellar career who are being fired, stepping down, or under investigation because of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior with women.

By now the shock factor has worn off and with a bit of voyeurism and excitement I wonder is who’s next?

I don’t know if these men were like this from the beginning or did they become predators once they reached a certain level and developed a taste for power. One thing is certain; this situation has confirmed that no matter how talented, skilled, or accomplished you are, an upstanding character is an invisible trait that speaks louder than words.

When I started my career, I’ll never forget when the person leading orientation said,

 “All the career success in the world will not compensate for failure at home.”

My takeaway: Talent, skill, and connections may open doors, but it’s your character that leaves it open.

When you refuse to participate in things that don’t seem appropriate, call someone out for stupidity, or when you don’t let others change your principles don’t be embarrassed. Don’t worry about what others will think or say about you.

Stick with your core values and keep your boundaries.

Being a person whose character is known for integrity or values is like bug repellant. It will keep certain types of people away from you. It also means some people might not like you and that’s okay too.

In the end, most will respect you.

See yourself as a company and let one of the pillars of your brand be an unshakable character. Integrity and values are not sexy words. People won’t talk about it at work and it’s not something that’s brought up during meetings.

You don’t normally put words like integrity and incorruptible character on your resume. But be a person of high ethical character and that alone will pay off in the long run more than networking or taking on more student loans.

2. Find Your Gift Not Passion:

Over the years, there have been so many great commencement speeches touting the importance of “finding your passion” and “do work you love.” These speeches are inspirational, engaging, and remind me of unicorns.

Why?

Because I’ve never met anyone who sat down, wrote their passions, and then immediately found work they loved. It only works that way in inspirational commencement speeches.

Instead, I’ve seen and have personally experienced, the power of finding one’s gift. By gift, I mean a talent, ability, or endless curiosity for something that comes naturally.

 Locked in on your gift as soon as possible and don’t get distracted once you think you find it. You don’t have to 100% certain at first. Stick with it and look clues.

Telling kids to go find their passions is nice but impractical. Passion is something that eventually finds you and develops after you commit to something long enough.

It’s more likely you’ll end up in a good job that doesn’t fulfill all your needs and that’s okay. What matters is what you do with that opportunity.

Wherever you find yourself working, use that experience as an opportunity to invest in yourself, grow your skills, and develop your gift whether it’s during work hours, after work, or a combination both. 

Eventually, you’ll be able to use your job as an incubator for your gift and as a bridge to your vocation (work you deeply care about).

Sometimes life will offer you clues about your area of giftedness like when people ask for your help in this one specific area, or when something you do seems to come naturally to you but not others.

You might find clues when people give you a standing ovation, recognition, or when you volunteer some part of yourself to help others in a way that feels most natural to you.

The goal is to marry your area of giftedness with your strong interest (love/hate/curiosity/passion) in something and stick with it.

Commit long enough to know if this something that’s for you… Don’t dabble.

Then do it over and over and over and over…

3. Focus on Consistency Not Willpower:

There’s a debate going on about willpower by some smart people with PH.Ds. Some experts say it runs out, others say it doesn’t and some say we can train it like a muscle.

I’m not sure who’s right. 

And I don’t care.

You don’t have to be dependent on willpower to get stuff done or reach big goals. This year I published my first Leader by Choice: 7 Decisions That Spark Your Purpose, Passion, and Perseverance and one of the main reasons I was able to finish this 2.5-year project is because of one simple habit.

I wrote consistently.

That’s it.

I didn’t focus on writing a 50,000 word book. I focused on waking up at 5 AM and writing for 30 minutes 6 days a week. After a few months, it became a habit.  There’s nothing mystical or sexy about that.

When finished, I’d put an X on my calendar (shout-out to Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break The Chain method). That’s my equivalent of a mike drop, but every day.

I never thought about how much willpower I was consuming. And I didn’t rely on motivational videos or inspiration to strike for me to write. Those are nice, but I wasn’t dependent on them.

It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to accomplish. Whether you’re writing a book, exercising, parenting, or starting a business focus on small, concentrated, and CONSISTENT daily action.

The power comes from consistency.

4. Do More by Doing Less:

Bill Gates said, 

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can accomplish in ten years.”

He’s right. Again. Sometimes I can’t stand smart people!

Anyways…

I’m definitely among those who suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS). Sometimes I’ve been thinking about so many shiny projects and ideas that I couldn’t complete anything.

It took me a long time to realize the key to getting more done is to do less. It’s better to accomplish one thing well then do 10 poorly or not even finish.

So how can we focus on fewer things?

Focus on the stuff that really matters by identifying your life’s priorities and planning from there. Your life should revolve around your real priorities and not the shiny objects in front of you.

Once you know your priorities you can plan your long-term, short-term, and daily goals. 

The goal is to focus as much of your energy on a limited number of areas.

Don’t let the shiny stuff block out life’s most important things.

5. Invest Your Time Don’t Spend It:

Did you know that one hour of time does not always have the same value? I wish someone had told me earlier that time has value and should be invested instead of spent.

For example, one hour spent playing with my kids or talking to my wife is worth much more than one-hour scrolling through Instagram or watching cable news.

In the same way, one hour spent planning for my business is more valuable than one hour working on a repetitive task that can be outsourced for $5.00. Time is truly the most valuable resource on Earth but we’ve been brainwashed into believing it’s worthless.

The reason Facebook and social media apps like Instagram sell for billions of dollars is not because of the technology it’s because these companies have figured out a way to distract us. Surprised?

Your time is priceless; act like it! 

So what to do?

Give your hour of time a monetary value and calculate the Return on Investment (ROI) for your activities in your work, business, and personal life.

Don’t be a superhero who does it all. Focus on the stuff only you can do.

I’m the only man who can be a father to my kids or a husband to my wife. Those roles can’t be outsourced or ignored and can only be done by me, therefore, these activities have the highest ROI.

I’m the best person who can write the vision and goals for my business so these activities have a high ROI as compared with minor tasks like web designing, making logos, or managing social media accounts.

Outsource that stuff! Someone else can easily take that role so these activities low ROI.

Treat your time like an investment and do your best to get the highest ROI at all times. 

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