As I prepare to watch my daughter graduate from college in a few weeks, I can’t help but think back to my own college graduation. I was so focused on the career I wanted that I didn’t take time to appreciate the college experience. College was a means to an end, so I accelerated the process and graduated in 3 ½ years. I had big goals and, with a laser focus, I was determined to achieve them. I am certainly not suggesting that focusing on goals is a bad thing. However, there is some advice I’d give to my 21-year-old self if I could.
Find your balance
Don’t be so focused on what you want to achieve that you miss the value of the journey to that achievement. There are people and experiences along the way that will enrich your life and bring joy if you make time for them. Research shows that those who have fulfilling connections with friends and family live longer, happier lives. Nurturing those relationships is a great investment that pays off in many ways. Find the right balance of your career, personal development, family, fun, etc.
Carve out time for yourself as well. It is often the last thing people do with all the other demands of life. The thing is, investing in time for you will help you be more effective in all areas of your life. Whether you find 10 minutes to meditate, an hour for a hike, or an entire day to spend as you like, find ways to carve out that time.
Choose the impact you’ll have on others
One of my favorite quotes comes from Maya Angelou:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
You will go farther in all aspects of life if people associate you with positive emotions. You will get more business, advance in your career faster, attract a positive group of friends, etc. Do people feel your confidence as well as your compassion? Do they feel understood, inspired, valued, challenged, and energized when they are around you, or do interactions with you leave people feeling intimidated, marginalized, bullied, or overwhelmed? Pay attention to how others feel during and after an interaction with you. If that isn’t how you wanted them to feel, choose a different impact. This isn’t to say that you control how others feel, but what you say and how you say it influences how they feel. Choose the impact you have on others.
Make thoughtful sacrifices
Accomplishing your personal and professional goals will involve some difficult decisions and sacrifice. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you will have to say no to some good things to say yes to what is the most important to you. Say yes to the things aligned with your goals and make sacrifices wisely.
Experience gratitude every day
You’ll find that life passes much faster than you think it will. Some days will certainly be harder than others, but if you look for something to be grateful for, you’ll find it even on your worst days. It may be that at the end of a particularly challenging day, you are grateful to go home to a family who loves you. It may be that while grieving the death of a loved one you focus on your gratitude for the time you had together. On the best days, you’ll have a long list of things for which you are grateful. On the worst days, you may be grateful to have a job, a home, or your favorite meal. Gratitude has a powerful positive impact on people and it costs nothing. It is a great way to start a day. Make sure to experience gratitude every day.
Keep moving forward
One of my favorite Disney movies is “Meet the Robinsons”. It is about a young inventor named Lewis, who lives in an orphanage. Lewis faces many challenges in the movie, but his positive attitude and “keep moving forward” approach make him very resilient. The motto “Keep moving forward” originated from Walt Disney himself and is a great one to live by. There will be big and small challenges coming your way, personally and professionally. Keeping a positive attitude and reminding yourself to keep moving forward will help you bounce back quickly. As Lewis discovered, success doesn’t happen overnight; it is the result of putting yourself out there and often experiencing multiple failures. If you’re failing, you are trying. Don’t wallow in the failures. Learn from them and keep moving forward.
Never stop learning
Thanks to my dad, the words of Charlie “Tremendous” Jones are always in the back of my mind:
“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
Learn through formal education, seminars, reading, and other people. Look for ideas that challenge your thinking or you won’t grow. Seek out people who grew up with different experiences and beliefs than you did and listen. How do they see things differently from you and what can you learn from that?
It is common to gravitate toward information that confirms your beliefs and people who are like you. That makes life comfortable, but allows for no learning or growth. Real learning happens when you stretch yourself, and that can be uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Never stop learning.
Yesterday’s advice is today’s wisdom
I don’t have a time machine, so I won’t have the opportunity to share this advice with my 21-year-old self. I will, however, share it with my 21-year-old daughter as she prepares to leave college and grapple with the challenges that will come her way.
Though 21 has come and gone long ago for many of us, this advice still holds true and is worth the reminder to continue to apply it to our lives today.
- Balancing the areas of our lives can continue to be a challenge, whether it is balancing time dedicated to work, home, health, and family, or breaking each down further and balancing the needs of your team, your project goals, your direct reports, and your continued professional development. Finding the right balance continues to be important.
- We will always need to be mindful of the impact we have on others. As we become parents, grandparents, mentors, team members, and leaders at work and in the community, making sure our perception about how we are impacting others aligns with the reality of that impact is as important now as it was when we were 21 and just starting out.
- No matter our age, when there are goals we are trying to reach, there will be the need to pause and consider which sacrifices are needed to achieve them.
- As the years go by, our collection of life experiences can give us more and more to be grateful for, while the demands of life can make it more difficult to pause and focus on gratitude and what we have.
- Life will continue to throw unexpected challenges and hardships our way, and we need to keep moving forward.
- In this digital age, we have so much information coming at us that it may feel like we are continuing to learn and expand simply by ingesting it. But unless we are mindful of the confirmation bias we all naturally gravitate toward, it can have the opposite effect. Purposeful personal and professional development continues to be important.
What advice would you add that you would have given your younger self that still holds true today?
Dr. Heather Johnson is a nationally recognized speaker with extensive experience developing leaders. With a doctorate in Psychology and over 20 years of business experience, she works with leaders to quickly identify individual and team performance obstacles and develops customized solutions that lead to rapid change and lasting results. Heather facilitates public and in-house workshops that deliver personalized, practical, and immediate results. Some of her most requested topics are: Influence, Emotional Intelligence, Team Building, Communication, and Strategic Planning. For more information call contact us here or call 651-322-7821.