The past few months have included a lot of soul searching for me, for reasons I’m not going into now (although I may at some point). For a long time I thought I was just unlucky, that no matter what I did I would always be second best. After leaving my job last year, I slowly began to realize that I was wrong of course, and that it was my own attitude that led to many of the negative things going on in my life. I wish I had realized this earlier in my life and that made me start thinking about what other things I wish I could go back and tell myself when I graduated college back in the halcyon days of 1998.
1. Don’t be complacent – It’s very easy to get used to life and to not question anything. Things may not be amazing, but they’re good enough. Your relationship is fine, but not as great as it used to be. You’re not smiling when you wake up every day, but you’re not falling asleep in tears either. Things are just fine. I learned that this emotional stagnation is just as dangerous to one’s well being as is weathering the worst of tragedies. The human brain is an amazing thing, but it needs to be fed. It needs engagement and stimulation. Without these stimuli everything else in the body suffers. You get aches and pains and you start looking at the travel calendar and dream of places you think are too far away to ever visit. To live that life you dream of though you can’t just wait for it to happen, you have to stop being complacent and make things happen.
2. Don’t be afraid – The movie Defending Your Life came out in 1991 and starred Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. Hopefully you’ve seen it (because it’s excellent) but the gist is that after people die they are judged based on how fearful they were while they were alive. It shows how fear holds people back and prevents them from living truly memorable lives. It took a long time for this message to take root in my soul, but once it did the effect was extraordinary. I stayed in meaningless jobs for years because I was scared of the unknown. I was scared of not having a steady income and frightened what would happen to me. Little did I know that my life only became truly excellent after I stopped being scared.
3. Don’t lose your spark – For a long time when I was a DC lobbyist, I felt as if my energy had disappeared. When I first started working I had a certain spark, a desire to do everything as well as I could and, in most cases, exceeding expectations. Then after a few years I lost it. I didn’t like my job, I didn’t care and learned that I could meet expectations without trying very hard. I got bored, sedentary and lost whatever zeal for life I had. This didn’t just affect my professional life, I lost that spark in every aspect of my life as well. Changing jobs brought back that spark and once again I’m working as hard as I can to be successful. I wish I could go back and give myself the obvious warning to beware losing that spark, that excitement for life. Without it nothing else really matters.
4. Don’t stop working out – In college I rowed crew for a couple of years and was in actually good shape. In grad school I was 6’2” and weighed 160 pounds, a little on the light side but not unhealthy. Needless to say 15 years later I have not kept up this same level of fitness. I wish I had. After finding my partner though I stopped and then work and other pressures of life took all of my time and that was that. Falling out of shape though has severely affected me not just physically of course, but emotionally as well. I lost confidence and self-respect and that led me to a horrible cycle of self-loathing. I started drinking more, eating more McDonalds and just gave up. I figured that it didn’t really matter. And of course, I was wrong. Exercise, even moderate amounts is key to feeling better not just bodily, but mentally and I wish I could tell myself to never stop living that lifestyle. (Just wanted to note that I’m in the process of changing those lazy ways)
5. Don’t be so trusting – I don’t know why but I’ve always been incredibly trusting of other people, some would call this gullible. It’s a personality trait that has both helped and hurt me. I’d like to be able to go back and keep all the positive aspects of this trait and lose the negative ones. Relationships, both personal and professional have led to some fairly disappointing endings because I just refuse to see the negative in people. For people who know me personally they may find this hard to believe, but at my core I really am a Pollyannaish kind of guy. While I don’t want to be gullible, I don’t want to become jaded and completely distrusting, I enjoy seeing life through rose colored glasses at times.
Honorable mention – Buy Apple stock. And Google stock. Enough said.
What are some things you would go back and tell your younger self?