Wisdom//

I Just Turned 50. Here’s What I Wish I Had Known 25 Years Ago

A CEO reflects on the lessons he'd share with his younger self.

Sergey Tinyakov/Shutterstock
Sergey Tinyakov/Shutterstock

I turned 50 this year, and with the gravitas surrounding that milestone, I began thinking about all the things I wish I’d known at 25.

The thing about good advice is that people rarely take it.

The truth is, I know that 25-year-old me probably wouldn’t be able to understand the advice — or at least, he wouldn’t be ready to receive the message.

A lot of times, you just have to figure things out for yourself.

You have to learn some lessons through experience. But if you’re in the right frame of mind to accept advice, you can internalize it and potentially avoid mistakes.

So, here are the five things I wish I’d known a quarter-century ago:

1. Pay attention to what has your attention.

Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code, wrote that his main rule with his children is to watch what they stare at. That’s what they’re interested in, so you want to help them focus on it.

I followed this practice with my kids but then realized I could also apply it to myself.

You can reduce a lot of noise around you by noticing what fascinates you.

Put all your energy there — that’s what matters. If you aren’t quite sure what you’re paying attention to, you can easily fix that. Go back in your calendar and note what you did. Where were you? How did you spend your time?

You may be surprised at where your attention is being spent.

Tally those things up to see what fascinates you. And then take advantage of that knowledge. Just know that it will continually change.

2. Forget the low-hanging fruit.

It’s human nature to go after the easiest and most achievable goals first.

But growth occurs during the toughest challenges — the difficult, complicated situations. That’s where you find the action and the value.

When it comes to work, what’s most difficult is often counterintuitive.

Knocking out all the little tasks on your to-do list is satisfying, sure. But it’s much more demanding to sit down, think deliberately about a subject, fill a blank page with your thoughts, and hatch a plan. It may feel like you’re “doing” nothing. Yet this hour or two of effective, precise, disciplined, and integrated thinking can be worth a month of hard work.

The payoff, of course, is that this will save you tons of time down the road — if the low-hanging fruit doesn’t get in the way.

3. Don’t chase brilliance.

People often feel like they have to be the very best at anything they do. They pick one or two activities and refuse to try anything else, simply because they know they’ll be bad at them initially.

I’ve been having this conversation with my oldest son a lot recently. Kids today are under immense pressure to be the best at what they do, so everything seems like a competition. It’s easy to see the consequences of that play out in the decisions they make about trying new things. Why would they try something new when they know they won’t be great at it?

I always tell him, don’t be afraid to fail.

Don’t be scared to act a little awkward, to shake things up.

Follow your interest, even if it’s something you’re not sure you can accomplish. You don’t have to be brilliant to get far in life.

4. Build your network by figuring out how to add value.

When I was younger, I was fairly conscious of the importance of building a network, meeting people, and making friends. But I didn’t really appreciate the concept of adding value or understand the method behind doing that.

It’s one thing to meet with someone, get their business card, and send a LinkedIn request. It’s another to actually provide something that could be useful to them.

Instead of leaving it at the LinkedIn connection, take time to do a little research.

Let them know, “Hey, I’ve been doing some work on XYZ company, and I found three great articles when researching. Here are the links and some of the things that I’ve learned. I would love to see if you might be willing to contribute to my knowledge or point me in the right direction.”

You want to be known as someone who adds value to whatever situation you find yourself in.

5. Be careful with advice — even good advice.

You only want to gain knowledge from people who have experience. Listen to what they have to say because they know what they’re talking about. They understand the rules.

But I would be a little careful about what particular advice you listen to. In many cases, it’s best to ignore or disregard advice.

You don’t want to blindly follow every piece of information people hand out because a lot of it is very generic. So, you’re essentially going to do what everyone else is doing.

A better way to think about advice is to try to understand what happened to the person who is giving it.

Ask yourself, why did they do something a particular way? How did they end up in that position? Does this advice make sense in my own situation?

You don’t have to follow the advice I’ve outlined in this piece to a T. But I can say for certain I wish my 25-year-old self had understood it.


Originally published on Medium.

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