If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would you say?
At a four-day leadership seminar @IMD, I did an exercise that helped me think through the important messages I would relay.
Our team coach asked us to draw a quadrant with four pictures to tell the story of our life.
In the first quadrant I drew a picture of myself reading books in school and playing basketball. It reminded me of the early days of my life. I was, in many ways, a “ridiculously average” kid. My parents were ordinary working class and did not have huge ambitions, but they made sure to give us as good an education as possible. I think that’s one of the most important things a parent can do to give a child the chance for prosperity and success. I was curious and hard working so I took advantage of my opportunities.
In the second quadrant I drew a picture of my own kids. They are the most important people in my life. Nothing is too hard when I think about my kids. I feel so devoted.
Next, I drew a picture of me standing on a plateau at a dizzying height. Why? Because sometimes I feel scared and even insecure about the heights I’ve climbed in life.
In the fourth picture I drew a very nice house on an island with an ocean view. That’s where I want to end up – writing books, reading and enjoying a peaceful life.
Those four pictures helped me clarify what’s important to me, where I’ve come from, and where I want to go. That was all I needed to think about the message I would write to my 18-year old self. Here you go:
You don’t know me yet, but I am your older self and I think about you a lot.
I know that you are confident and determined but I also know that you are more worried and insecure than you let on. That’s okay. It’s all going to work out for the best – even the tough experiences. You have a great life ahead of you. Here’s what I want to tell you:
Don’t be scared. At every new height you will find new place of safety. Seek it out. You can do more than you think. And you can do it by yourself. Don’t worry too much about what’s right in front of you. Try to look into the distance like your driving teacher taught you. Life is changing fast. Stay confident and stay on track.
Buy a good quality set of luggage. You dream to travel the world right? You used to say that you don’t belong where you grew up, you are a citizen of the world. So you will go places, meet new people, encounter new ideas and experience unusual situations. Get prepared.
At the same time, don’t kill your past. Remember where you’re from, no matter where you go. One day life will bring you back. Your roots are your fortune. And invest in your friends. Your connection with them should be strong enough to last a life time. After all love remains in the balance sheet.
You will be alone a lot. Don’t worry, that’s okay. Listen to yourself. Pay attention to your own emotions. But don’t forget to be sensitive to other people’s emotions too. [Tweet “Winners don’t take it all”]. They leave money on the table. Be kind to people and be kind to yourself.
Don’t compromise on your dreams. As your future friend Phil Harkins says, “Don’t settle.” Shoot for the stars both professionally and personally. Find your purpose. Don’t do things just because you HAVE TO. Do them because you WANT TO. Otherwise you will experience regrets that will hurt you a lot more than failure.
Finally, I know that you want to control everything but you can’t. That’s okay. Life will bring you where you need to be. Be patient and wait – it will come. Success is like a marshmallow. And while you’re waiting for life to unfold, live the adventure in front of you and enjoy the journey along the way. I know you are going to have an amazing time.
I liked this exercise a lot. At some level, I think it has a healing effect. It’s so easy to look back on your life and wish you had done this or that thing differently. But we need to love and appreciate the person we were back then if we are going to understand and support the person we are today. Most importantly, connecting to your younger self helps you not only reflect on the life you’ve led so far, it also gets you excited about the years to come.
It is actually more than okay. Very lucky to be alive right now. The rest is all a bonus.
Illustration Fred Nouri