I have often thought about how I got to where I have ultimately arrived. I can tell you that the route was not always straight forward. There were many times where the road forked and I had to make a decision. Life is like that. Those who know me, know that this next statement is hard for me to say out loud, but in looking back, I believe that I have been successful. I never got the chance to travel into space as my ten-year old self dreamed and schemed about. I didn’t become famous like the people you hear about on the evening news or read about in a magazine. I did not create an invention or build a business that made me rich and famous. But I was a recognized teacher for twenty-five years and impacted some five-thousand students one way or the other. I started a tiny business and sold it to a small business that I helped grow into a much larger one. And while I was there, I helped hundreds of couples fashion their financial goals and built plans to help them reach those goals. I think that those achievements equal success just as much as traveling in space, or creating a famous persona would have.
Recently, as I was concluding a mentoring session with a soon to be successful business entrepreneur, the client posed this question, “If you could give advice to your thirty-one year old self, what would it be?” The question floored me, not because it was unique, seems every famous person has been asked some version of this lately, but rather, that it was being asked of me and secondly, that I had no immediate response. I had to think about it and that started the whole process of considering whether or not I had been successful and what were the important pieces I’d learned along the way?
Eventually I settled on the fact that success had come one accomplishment at a time. It was a journey made up of the opportunities I seized and the decisions I made. It depended on my following a set of core beliefs and the characteristics that came about because of them. I realized that if the answer to his question would be useful, it had to be something I have always believed in, keeping it simple. Again, those who truly know me are rolling their eyes right now for I am not a man of few words, but, in the end, I have always been able to simplify the concepts.
With that in mind, I broke it down to three key pieces of advice for my thirty-one year old self and also for my young entrepreneur.
First, I would tell my thirty-one year old self to take responsibility for his actions. Consider the outcomes of the decision to be made and own your mistake if it doesn’t work. We cannot always consider everyone else’s stake before our own, but if we just do it most of the time, the result is trust. Trust leads to relationships and relationships lead to success. The flip side of that argument is ownership of the mistakes you will inevitably make. As hard as it is to admit you were wrong, it is the only move that will begin to restore trust and earn forgiveness. It is what truly demonstrates that you can be humble and it is from that ability to be humble, that true recognition of your worth becomes clear.
The second piece of advice I would give my younger self is to always be ready to take risk. I need to be careful here, no pun intended. While I believe that taking risk is necessary to ultimately achieving success, it is vitally important that you at least seek to control the risk. You cannot eliminate the risk and still have reward, but you might be able to limit it or at least provide a safety net if you should fail. When you leave your teaching career to pursue an entirely new endeavor, you will be taking a big risk. You will risk a pension, a guaranteed salary, and great benefits, but you will have some control. You will have developed the skill set to handle the new position, but even more important, you have a new idea that will build the relationships you need to survive. When we are young, we tend to be risk takers, but they are based in a sense on immortality and tend to be physical risks. As we age, our ability to take risk diminishes, thanks in part to our experiences and a tendency to negatively over think the outcomes. I would tell my thirty-one year old self to keep taking measured risks. Do not let opportunities pass you by just because you fear the risk of failure when in fact you might be risk missing the opportunity for success.
My final piece of advice would be to always seek perspective. In life you will deal too often with people who lack perspective. They will be convinced that their view of the world is the only view. In that lack of perspective, they will miss the big picture and often the chance for change that would have made them successful. Without perspective, they have very little information for making their decisions. They lock ourselves into what worked before and miss what is needed now. Without perspective, you will never hear someone else’s great idea, and you will never hear the logic in the counter argument. Perspective keeps you fresh, non judgmental, and open to new ideas; those same ideas that just might bring you success.
I never made it to space, but maybe I inspired a student along the way to finish my trip. I never built a major business, but maybe my mentoring helped someone else build one. I never made the cover of Time Magazine, but maybe I inspired someone to dream and their dreams will one day land them on the cover.