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5 Things My 20-Something Self Should Do, 30 Years Later

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Wriiten by: Jon Mertz

Most days as a 50-something I feel more like a 20-something. The difference is a few wrinkles and hindsight. Nothing mentors better than shared experiences. (tweet to share) Part of the reason why I feel like a 20-something is because of what I have learned from Generation Y (aka Millennials). And the reason for this post is due to an email exchange with Heidi Oran.

Heidi wrote her thoughts about what she learned over ten years and how those lessons may have helped her when she was 20-something. Now, it is my turn. I have a few more years to look back. By doing this though, it provides a broader perspective when you take the two together.

What I Would Tell My 20-Something Self Now

If I was given a replay card, here are five things I would definitely do in my 20s.

#1 – Take the time to write life goals and philosophy.

As a 20-something, I never wrote down what my life goals were or how I wanted to live, work, and lead. I always felt that I intuitively knew each. Looking back, if I would have taken the time to do this, I would have been more patient in my career development. More than this, I would have built a stronger foundation in which to lead from, develop on, and prosper from.

Although my career and life have gone far, I realize now that writing down life goals and a philosophy to life and leadership are really the fuel to keep between the lines as well as go the distance without as much maintenance along the way.

#2 – Have a walk-away, walk-on fund.

I am lucky. I have never had an ethical situation at work in which I needed to just walk away. On the other hand, I have had many unexpected events happen. Seven years into my career, I knew the path I was on was not going to be the right long-term one. Add another seven years when the first dot com bust happened in early 2000, the barren job opportunities was scary beyond belief, especially with a young family.

Having that six month fund to be able to walk away or walk-on from the rubble would have wise to have. There always unexpected events that happen, and being prepared is more than a motto. Even if the worst did not happen, having the financial foundation to take a month off between jobs would have been refreshing for me and those closest to me.

#3 – Be wise financially earlier rather than later.

This advice is related to the previous one. In financial matters, time is your friend. Savings grow through time, surviving the downs and taking advantage of the ups. Just as time is your financial friend, spending is your enemy. Spending to create clutter does not survive the test of time and value. Getting this balance right sooner rather than later will enable much in your life.

Money does matter in the way it enables confidence to make changes, support meaningful work, and building a foundation to enjoy the simple things in life. Plan and act accordingly.

#4 – Invest in engaging relationships.

I loved my college experiences. There is no other environment in which people come together to learn and exchange ideas. More than this, we challenge each other and we become great friends. And then we graduate and time creates a distance between these interactions and friendships. The lesson within is always to find and have those four to six friends who you can have engaging conversations with. Create that collegiate environment no matter where you are and where you work.

More than anything, I miss those relationships and conversations. Keep building those type of relationships as you move from college to work life. Keep a community close to you and get together often to talk, challenge, and more.

#5 – Set family values and goals.

Although we talked about it, I wish we would have done it. Early in our family life, we purchased the book by Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. It takes effort to sit down with your family and complete this but I believe we would have been a stronger family if we had actually done it. Creating foundations, I have learned in hindsight, matter. They matter a lot. Trust me.

Being a “happy wanderer” in life can run you in circles rather than taking you down a path hand-in-hand. Creating those bonds will create greater happiness. This is not about making each individual conform. Just the opposite. Celebrating the differences of each family member is important to do. With our uniqueness though, there is a common bond and responsibility for each member to recognize and support.

These are a few highlights that I would tell my 20-something self, if I could go back.

Lessons are not one way. Each age group can learn from another. (tweet to share) I have learned much from younger leaders. Younger leaders also need to be open to the insights of older leaders. We don’t have to adhere to what we each have to offer. However, we will gain in strength by considering what each has to offer.

My teenage sons would probably roll their eyes at me if I tried to convey these lesson learned now. Two points. One is each person has to learn through their own experiences. The stubborn ones will likely make more mistakes than the ones willing to listen and glean. The second is this… maybe, just maybe, when my teens are in their 20s, they may be more curious about what I write about and find this. I hope it will provide some light forward for them. In the meantime, I hope it sheds some light for all the great 20-somethings out there now.

Beyond the Lessons: Truths

Beyond the lessons arise certain truths. Truths are just the things we know we should do in order to build a meaningful career.

Here are truths that helped me.

  • Keep reading to learn, grow, and connect with stories.
  • Write to better yourself in thoughts and actions.
  • Hard work delivers much.
  • Character matters, all the time.
  • Results matter and they matter more when done collaboratively.
  • Cover the details. They will be the difference between succeeding and failing.
     

Hindsight delivers clarity yet we cannot live by looking back. (tweet to share) We need to live forward. Learning from our experiences will make us better at whatever we do. Sharing our experiences may help someone else along their way.

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