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Your Younger Self Is A Better Leader (and here’s why)

Tapping into the courage of your younger self to lead the life you want

Over the weekend while I was supposed to be folding clothes, I found myself lost in the music from the MTV Show, I Love the 80’s. This show was a walk down memory lane and a slam dunk for the network given that nearly any video ever created likely lives at MTV (launched in 1981).

The music of the 80’s wasn’t necessarily amazing. In fact, some of it was bad enough to make a cat tear at its own ears in disgust. Some music like Queen, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Guns n Roses were so memorable that hit songs from these artists will pack any dance floor event if the majority of the dancers were born in that decade.

I experienced this great freedom as I listened to video after video. Expose. Bon Jovi. Whitney Houston. My mind drifted back to being a 10 year old kid watching these videos and dreaming. Like the person who thought, “Hey, let’s create a network that shows music videos 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”, I remembered when my dreams included lace gloves, neon nail polish, and spike belts. Yup, I wanted to be a performer…a singer, specifically. Even without a pail, I can carry a tune. I love to dance and my “come hither” look is impeccable. However, I never put any of that to a test that could have led to a different career. Today, the reality is that I’ve learned to be more courageous and I’ve wrestled the parts of my personality that kept me from picking up a microphone and singing a mean version of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”.

So why would the musings of a 70’s/80’s baby be relevant in the world of business today?

You Fail When You Don’t Chase. Even though I was a member of a high school singing group (think EnVogue meets The Supremes) and took music classes in college, not once did I ever consider singing as a potential future career. College is the epicenter of try anything. If there is one place where you’re allowed to try something and screw it up…it’s in college. New food. New philosophies. New…love connections. ANYTHING. And even though every time my roommate left our room, I grabbed a brush and belted out the latest but failed to grab a microphone at an open mic or to show up for an audition. I didn’t chase what could have been an opportunity for me. Instead, I went with my objective…get that degree, get a great job, and live the life my parents hinted at through my formative years.

What’s my lesson? Chase what’s important to you. Whether it’s the next position/promotion or a new product idea, love yourself enough to chase your idea. Yes, you may fail in execution but you’ll still be leap years (and I mean L-E-A-P) ahead of the average person by simply showing up.

Crawl. Walk. Run. Most of the time you will not know the exact, right way to accomplish a task. Most hiring leaders will not hire you because you already know the answers or for your consistent ability to regurgitate the latest tripe from some on-trend business white paper (and there’s lots of those out there and yup, at some point I’m going to right one too). Hiring leaders hire for your ability to creatively solve a problem and contribute in ways that the existing team is not able.

It’s ok to crawl and test ideas. These are the first moments of exploration and when you will figure a million ways to not execute and, if you’re ready for it, a few that will work. How do you do this? Present an idea to your boss or a trusted colleague. Take on a project that no one else wants. Give yourself a goal to reinvent an existing process. Then ask for feedback.

Get your confidence and walk. Walking is a few longer strides than the ones prior. Pump your arms. Refine your idea and talk with more colleagues, more network partners, more people that can help your idea into reality.

Then run…jog or sprint, it won’t matter. But this means opening up your chest and moving fast to an end goal. Prepare to move forward without even thinking because you’re so excited to reach the end. Flip your hair. Wipe your brow and tell your legs that you’re going to make it no matter what.

Get Your Freedom. You know why I enjoyed performance when I was younger? It’s freeing. You can feel experiences way more than any book you read. It’s the soul stirring rendition of a Whitney Houston song that you sing in the shower into the nozzle. The feeling that you feel in the pit of your stomach when you reach for that note and hit it is freedom and it feels good. As you try new things in your leadership journey, enjoy the journey because you are doing the implausible, particularly if you’re technically brilliant. Your brilliant brain was made for not only technical leaps but also soft leaps of interpersonal excellence that also gives you freedom.

Whether you’re an entry manger or a middle manager (or whatever), you own your ideas and your experience. Don’t be afraid to dream in your 9-5 as well as your personal life. Don’t fear chasing something that you feel passionately about. Great leaders have a vision and a desire to bring it to life then watch it grow. Too many of us (myself included) have traded in being Diana Ross 2.0 for being Cubicle/Office 2.0 and it doesn’t have to be that way.

We receive 365 (355 if you assume a % reduction for sick days, vacation, and lazy days) opportunities to pursue what will make us happiest and fulfilled in life. Yes, you have a mortgage and a car note. You also have the right to grow and to change. A little bit of magic and dreaming can actually improve your perspective in the world of 9-5 or in your own business. Remember the “freedom” of experience? Try new things and don’t be afraid to recreate your leadership path even if you’re not currently on one. Find that freedom.

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