“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” ~ John M. Richardson, Jr.
(CNN) — In an episode of the popular sitcom “30 Rock,” television CEO Jack has a hallucinatory encounter with his future self, from whom he receives life advice that helps him avoid major mistakes.
Most of us would also like to know which choices and decisions we make as young people will benefit us later on — or come back to haunt us. Although there’s no way to step into our own futures, we can get a very good sense of what mistakes younger folks should avoid. We can ask our “future selves”: our elders.
The rest of the article is kinda predictable so I thought I take this chance to provide a slightly different take. I remember when it clicked for me that starting something was almost always harder than the actual task at hand. I also came to really appreciate piecing work out into manageable chunks. So with that in mind, here are some of the things I would like to highlight for my younger self:
1. Toys: Can you remember what you got for Christmas when you were young? Can you remember what you got last year? Typically things don’t matter. The toys I remember I remember the most from my youth are notable because what I did with them.
I remember telling stories to my brothers with a hand puppet, Klinker the dog. I remember some science fiction books I got one year from Uncle Ellis and and Aunt Alison. I remember my first bike that I shared with my three brothers. I don’t remember the other stuff that was given to me as I grew up.
I’m not saying toys are to be avoided, but I suspect that less is more. And giving gifts to all of your relatives doesn’t make them love you more. Giving memorable gifts can be fun. But don’t worry if that isn’t your thing.
2. Education: What a loaded issue. Your whole life will be defined by your parents’ ability to instill a love of learning in children. Maybe it will be through reading. Or it could be by playing games with you. It is impossible to read too much to a child.
If you were lucky enough to have a parent who found your sweet spot for learning (some of this is a genetic thang) and then helped you progress to the point where you owned your learning needs, share this with the children in your life. That is a legacy that will be remembered by so many people; family, friends, acquaintances.
I can name the people who moved me closer to finding out who I destined to be. Starting with my parents, my siblings, my favorite teachers, each of these fantastic teachers made me what I am today. Who will remember you as a special teacher?
3. Sex: Tied to education, believe it or not, will be the success of your sexual self. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this definition of yourself begins with your parents. Loving, caring, and demonstrative parents help young people learn that sex is not to be feared. Have you ever seen your parents kiss, express love for each other, and gently help you with any questions?
Because I was an avid reader and because a school mate Joe Locastro gave me his dad’s old issues of Playboy in my Junior high days, I came to love the female form in an unabashed way. Having a genetic predisposition towards shyness (beat out of me by 20 years in the military) reading about human relationships of all kinds helped me define what I wanted to be. Because my parents respected their children and each other, I learned to respect others.
4. Choices: We are called upon to make many choices in our lives. Will I go to college? Who will I pick as my soul mate? Where will I work? Should I have kids? I think I might tell a younger version of myself that for any decision, there are a lot of right answers. Do your research; talk to your family and mentors. Then make a choice. Plan ahead as much as you can but don’t stress over any one decision that you may not have full control over.
Help your children make the right choice. Your conversations with them will help define them. Make them fun, informative and don’t overdo it. I remember taking my son Aaron in the backyard in his high school daze and talking to him thusly:
“Aaron, we really appreciate your work at school and around the house. When you do a good job, it is so impressive and we all benefit. But when you don’t show up, do the job that needs to be done, everyone suffers. So I am going to have to fire you because you are not as reliable as we need you to be.”
I remember his jaw dropping and then he got it. How will you help your children to be more aware what their choices mean to not only themselves but the people who surround them? Will your extended family and friends consider you someone that will provide interesting and valuable advise as needed?
5. Service: My dad, the preacher once told this story. Imagine for a moment that you are a part of a tapestry that represents the universe. You may feel that you are are such a small, insignificant part of the whole picture. How can I make this universe a better place? Now imagine that you go about trying to make that very small part as beautiful and healthy as you can. You plant trees, pick up trash, work hard and treat people with respect.
Even though you can’t see the impact on the whole tapestry yourself, the tapestry is better looking. But some people will notice too, and they will copy what you are doing, expand upon your efforts and your sphere of influence grows in a positive way. This tapestry becomes a much nicer tapestry because of your positive influence. Sometimes, that is the best that one can give.
If you went back to the past to spend some time with a younger you, what would you share? What message would you have for yourself?