Five Pieces of Advice I Would Give My Younger Self

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I recently asked some of my readers what they would ask me if they had the chance, and I got many similar questions.

“If you could go back to your twenties, what would you have done differently?”
“If you could turn back the clock, what advice would you have given your younger self?”
“If you had the last forty years to do over again, what would you have changed?”

It's a universal question. We all have regrets or wish we could have gone back and done things a little differently, and I'm no exception. Here are five things I would tell my younger self.

Advice I Would Give My Younger Self - Father and Son Talking
Photo courtesy Pixabay

1. Do Your Best and Forget the Rest

Made famous by fitness guru Tony Horton, this quote has become my motto. There is so much in this one-liner that it is tough to unpack, but the thing I love about this quote is that indeed all you can do is your best, right now, in this very moment.

“Do Your Best and Forget The Rest” – Tony Horton

For a long time, I took this to mean if I did my best in the past, I should be proud of it, but if I didn't give it my all, then I had reason to be upset with myself. That line of thinking doesn't do justice to the last half though, “forget the rest.” You should evaluate past mistakes and learn the lesson, but if you are focused on the past, you are not going to do your best right now. Forget about the past, it is gone, you can't change it. Do your best in each moment, with each decision, right now. If you live like that each day, you will have a life you can be proud of.

2. Try New Things

You aren't going to know what you like and don't like if you don't try new things. Commit to trying out some new things each month to see what you like and don't like. Give them a chance before you call it quits though, it sometimes takes a little time to warm up to new things and new people. Here's a hint: you like physical activities like soccer and hiking, learning, coaching, Toastmasters, and new challenges. Many people and activities will grow on you, so don't immediately dismiss them.

3. Healthy Relationships Are Key

Healthy Relationships are Key - Friends talking around a fire

For a long time, I thought that the key to success was working hard and being good at my job. That's certainly part of it, but creating relationships with others is the real win. Working hard and being good at your post will help you build trust with others, but it takes a little more than that to really get to where you want to be. Real success requires building healthy relationships.

It's the same outside of work, if you aren't building healthy relationships, you are unlikely to be happy. Notice that I said healthy relationships as not all relationships are healthy. The key to creating healthy relationships is healthy boundaries as Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend outlined in their book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.”

You also need to put yourself out there, to invite other people into your life. I'd tell myself to get involved in Toastmasters, in small groups at my church, and in sports. I'd say start creating spaces for others to develop relationships, rather than waiting to be invited, start inviting. Read “Click: The Magic of Instant Connections” while you're at it, it'll help you a lot.

I'd also tell myself that there are more than seven billion people on the planet. If you met ten new people every second or a million of them every day for the next twenty years, you still wouldn't have met them all. Don't worry too much about pursuing unhealthy relationships, there are plenty of healthy relationships to be formed. If you are putting all your time into bad ones, you won't have time for the good ones.

4. Questions Are More Powerful Than Answers

At one point I was really proud of everything I knew and wanted to give everyone else answers. I've read many thousands of books including an entire 30 volume encyclopedia set from cover to cover and have a ridiculously long string of letters behind my name from various certifications, so I don't think it's a stretch to say I'm a little more well-read than the average Joe. The funny thing about knowledge is that the more I learn, the more I realize I am just beginning to scratch the surface of human knowledge.

At some point, we have to realize that we don't know everything. Not only do we not know everything, it is impossible to know everything. Take a look at this little video of just how insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of things. How can we be so arrogant as to think that we know much of anything about a universe this incomprehensibly large? Most of what we believe we know to be fact is merely our perspective, you'll figure that out when you start getting exposed to new cultures who believe their set of “facts” are accurate.

When you learn to embrace the fact that you cannot possibly know everything and that most questions have more than one right answer, something interesting starts happening. You stop being scared to ask questions, which means you learn faster than ever before. Knowing the right question to ask is the key to finding the answer. I even occasionally ask questions now when I know the answer because it makes the other person stop and think and also gives me another perspective.

Involving others in finding the answer rather than merely giving them the answer is one of the best ways to lead and learn some new things along the way. There is rarely only one right answer, and when you let others give their perspective, you'll often be able to work out a better solution than either of you could have come up with on your own. When you give up the need to be the guru, you can finally start taking advantage of what others know, and that is one of the most potent forces you can harness.

5. You Become What You Do Regularly

All of us are born with natural talents. Some of us are naturally good at recognizing patterns. Some are good with relationships. Others are physically talented. We can not change those gifts we are given, our genetics.

If that was the end of the story, then no one could grow. Luckily it is not. I'd tell my younger self to immediately read the book “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.” This was one of the most influential books I've ever read as it explores the ability our brains have to physically adapt, to change, to grow based on what we do on a regular basis. It's the book that helped inspire me to start this entire personal development community which has now touched many thousands of lives.

It matters little what we occasionally do, so don't be afraid to try some new things to see if you like them. What matters a great deal is what we do on a regular basis. If you work out three or four times a week and eat right, you will become physically fit. If you go to Toastmasters and sign up for roles, speak, and get feedback every week, you will become a better speaker. If you write every day, you will become a better writer. If you work on computers every day, you'll become a better technician. If you paint every day, you will become a better painter. If you are generous regularly enough, you will be seen as a generous person. If you do anything on a regular enough basis for long enough, you will become that person.

As Bob Ross would say, talent is a pursued interest. Anything you're willing to practice, you can do.

Bob Ross - Talent is a Pursued Interest. Anything That You're Willing to Practice, You Can Do.
Bob Ross on Talent

That's not to say we can get good at everything though! It is much easier to become great at something we are already good at, so build on your strengths (read “Strengthsfinder 2.0”). Focusing is key. Figure out what you want to become, and then start doing the activities that you know will get you there. You can't become world class at everything, so don't try to do that, simply pick a few things that you enjoy that you believe are good for you and work on those consistently.

It's easy to get discouraged when you don't see progress, but remember you cannot go to the gym once and expect to look like a body builder, that takes years of dedication. It's the same with anything you want to become really good at.

Above all, don't be afraid to say no to things that add no value. You don't have to be busy all the time, and saying no allows you the margin to focus on the things that really matter. Learn when to say yes, and when to say no, and you'll do well.

Oh, I almost forgot. Go buy some Apple and Google stock.

About the Author 

Don Smith

Former bank director who enjoys helping people master their finances. Father of five, founder of The Personal Growth Channel, and business owner.

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