Over the years I’ve listened to quite a few interviews with some pretty successful and influential people. There’s one frequently asked question that I’ve always found to be particularly thought provoking:“If you could go back in time, what advice would you give that younger version of you?” It’s a question designed to bring forth the most important lessons learned, the secrets of success. One of my favorite responses to this idea wasn’t in an actual interview, but rather expressed in the Brad Paisley song, “A Letter to Me”. Every time I hear it, I take one of those nostalgic trips down “memory lane”. Invariably, one memory will rise to the surface. It was a pivotal moment in my life (although I didn’t know it at the time) and, like most others, I pivoted the wrong way!
In my senior year of high school, my dad approached me one day with what many would regard as a great opportunity. He said that if I would be willing to get a part time job to help out with some living expenses, he would pay my way through college! Who wouldn’t jump at that? Me! I respectfully declined and proudly proclaimed my plan: I was going to join the navy, get married, settle down and raise a family. I can still hear his reply verbatim, “Son, I’ve been down that road and I can tell you that the bridge is out. But my father told me the same thing and I didn’t listen either. I guess you’ll have to learn the hard way like I did.” I remember thinking at the time, “That went pretty good!”. I had expected a long lecture, but the whole “what are you gonna do with your life” talk lasted about 5 minutes, almost as long as I had spent laying out my future plans! As you might have guessed, things didn’t work out too well.
I categorize it now as one of the worst decisions of my life. I’ve spent countless hours wondering just what the crap I was thinking, and what, if anything, could have been said that might have helped me avoid the years of poor choices and heartaches that were to follow. If I could write a letter to me, what would I say? What would Brad Paisley do?
Dear 17 Year Old Me:
Love, 51 Year Old You
P.S. Good luck
I realized my dad had been right. He knew I wouldn’t listen. I understand the frustration he must have felt. I’ve felt it! I still couldn’t shake the notion that there must have been some way to avoid this train wreck. Then one day I recalled a scripture from Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” That was it! Everybody knows you cant tell a teenager anything! I’ll write another letter to me, and I know now just what to say…
Dear 5 Year Old Me:
Congratulations! You did it! Today you tied your shoes all by yourself! I know you’re pretty excited, and Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you. So am I, but for a different reason: You learned to tie your shoes! Now that’s a big deal! The biggest thing to celebrate is all the times before today when you asked, “Mommy, can you show me how again?”. That’s something grownups call seeking wisdom, and it will be the key to unlock every door you’ll ever want to go through! Remember these few things and there will be many more great accomplishments to celebrate!
Stay Humble: There is no shame in not knowing how, only in not asking how.
Stay Persistent: There is no shame in failing, only in giving up.
Stay Teachable: Every success you achieve will be the result of decisions you make by first seeking, listening to, and following the counsel of those wiser than you. Likewise, every failure, every wrong turn you take, will be the result of the choices you will make all by yourself.
This doesn’t mean everything’s going to be easy. Life’s going to throw you a lot of curve balls along the way, but you’re going to do just great!
Love, 51 Year Old You
P.S. Just a couple quick things: 1) Try to be a little nicer to your sister. You’re gonna really need each other later on. 2) In about 12 years Dad’s going to offer to pay for college. Take him up on it! Trust me…your plan doesn’t turn out so good.
So, If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What are the most important lessons learned, the secrets of your success? What would your letter look like? I’d love for you to leave some comments here, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks! I’ll talk to you next week!