Advice for my Younger Self

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.

A Question of Distance

I write a piece each week for a project called Story Worth which my daughters purchased for my birthday. It seems they actually want my memoirs, go figure. This week’s assignment was to write about the farthest trip I ever took. What follows is my answer to that question.

This is an interesting question as there are two different answers. If we consider total distance, regardless of the means of transportation, it would be our family trip to Italy in 2006. We flew into Rome for that trip and then over the course of two weeks, traveled to Positano in the south of Italy, and then crisscrossed the country ending up in Venice. From there we crossed again to Siena and Florence, and eventually returned to Rome. This trip was an incredible adventure and a cherished family memory. We discovered so many things and both viewed and learned an incredible amount of history as we traveled from city to city. Along the way we formed a friendship with the families who accompanied us on our tour. These were people we had not known before entering our hotel in Rome. People whom we never would have known except that fate had put us together. The beauty of travel is not just the scenery and the history you experience, but the people you meet along the way, fellow travelers on the journey.

That trip was by far the farthest distance wise, but if I think about the longest driving trip I ever took, it would be my drive to California and back in the summer of 1977. That summer, my brother and I loaded up my 1974 Mustang compact and headed west for California. It would take us three days and numerous stops along the way before we would arrive in Sacramento, but we made it. I could tell you of the adventures along the way, but most were sworn to secrecy and the statute of limitations has not yet been lifted. I can tell you that among some of the records set, one was touring both Yellowstone and Mt Rushmore on the same day. Even the park ranger questioned how we accomplished that one.  Along the way, we slept under the stars, that was until we thought we heard a bear, explored an abandoned gold mine at two in the morning, and met countless characters along the way. That trip was a bonding experience for my brother and I that will forever entertain us each time the story is retold and would establish a friendship that has lasted to this day.

Never discount the value of travel. The world is such a large and diverse place. Each new place you visit and every new person you meet adds to the whole of your being. Take time in life to travel, whether it be to far off lands, across your own country, or just in your state, look for the beauty, make new friends, and always enjoy the ride.

When the Trail Ends

I have been spending a lot of time hiking trails lately. They are generally quite well marked and often carry signs reminding us to follow the trail and stay on the trail, but what happens when the trail ends? Most of the time we are on trails that are just loops and if we do in fact stay on the trail, we end up where we started. But what if the trail is one of those that lead us out to a point and then expect us to return the way we came. I ran into one of these on my latest hike and the metaphor was worth exploring.

I found myself at the end of the point with this spectacular view. I could take my picture and then turn back, but what if? What if I stepped off the trail and followed the rocky shoreline that lead beyond? It would not be the safe trail I had just left, but where would it lead me if I was willing to put in the effort? What would lie just around the bend? I didn’t follow the urge that day, but I thought about it, and even regretted not having tried. Eventually, I returned to the trail and back tracked my path to the starting point.

I think the trail is a metaphor for life. We are all on a trail. The trail leads us through our decisions, through our careers, through our life. We can trust that the trail we are following is the right one. We can follow it precisely to where it leads. But what if the trail comes to an end? Do we turn back around and go back to where we began? Do we loop endlessly around repeating the same things day after day? Or do we ignore the stay on the trail sign and step off? Do we take the risk and make our own trail? Sometimes our trail, the trail we were following, does come to an end. I contend that only if we are willing to do the later, to make our own trail, can we truly experience life the way it is meant to be.

When we blaze our own trail, we must assume the risk, but without risk, there can be no reward. I am not promoting recklessness, rather I am encouraging resourcefulness. You can never know what was just around the bend unless you find a way to continue the trail. That next step you take may be the most important step you ever take. Where is your trail leading? Will you stay on the trail or make your own?