A former colleague of mine, Tony Uphoff, wrote a post for his LinkedIn page with the tantalizing title, “A Note to My 22-Year-Old Self.” What an interesting idea. Tony wrote his piece as he was reflecting on the college graduation of his daughter. Since reading it earlier today, I’ve been preoccupied with his idea, and had to do one myself. Tony, you may be starting a trend among us Baby Boomers. So here’s my offering for #IfIwere22. (BTW, that's me on the right in the photo above, a tad younger than 22, but as close as I could get.)
Dear Mitch, I’m writing to you from 2014 as you are wavering about whether to stay in your first job out of college in 1979, and I’m here to give you some perspective on your life and some things to think about. First, to ease your anxiety: everything turns out fine as you enter your 58th year. Now, here goes (in no particular order).
1. Be Patient: You’re going to leave that job as an editorial assistant at a New York publishing company because you feel you’re not moving fast enough. To be a college-educated, middle-class 22-year-old in the 1970s is to be in a hurry. Graduate, get a job, get an apartment, get married, have children, advance in your career, make money. You will move on to interesting other jobs but none of them will ever really move you. Eventually, you will find the right job for you, which will be working for yourself – like your father did, and his father before him. Eventually you’ll realize life is not a race, but it will take a very long time and you will sacrifice a lot for not realizing this sooner.
2. Keep Reading Books: You were an English major in college and then worked in book publishing. You were a reader. But over time you will find it harder to focus your attention on reading books, although you will continue to be a voracious newspaper and magazine reader. (You won’t believe what happens to newspapers starting around 1994!) I don’t want to give away too much of the future, but there are going to be things that happen in society that will cause distractions to you and everyone else that will make your straight hair curl. Try to resist all the shiny objects and keep reading books. Ultimately it will make you more grateful about life and more appreciative of the world.
3. Marriage: Wait, wait, wait. I know you: you’re a 22-year-old in a hurry. But take your time finding someone to spend your life with. Find someone who’s your temperamental opposite: a Type B (or Type C if you can find one) to offset your Type A.
4. Prepare for Change: You will get into a groove for a very long time and be convinced that the groove will not change. Not only will it change, it will turn the world upside down and inside out. We’re talking Alice in Wonderland stuff. If you can possibly help it, prepare yourself as best as you can for momentous change that will take place over the next few decades, and don’t make decisions that assume things will stay the same. (Sorry I can’t be more specific about what I mean. You’ll have to figure it out yourself.)
5. Take Pictures and Keep a Diary: When you’re much, much older, almost everything you do and say will be easily recorded for posterity. But not for a while. I know film is expensive, but get a decent camera and take a lot of pictures – of people and places that are important to you, or just interesting. And when you take pictures of people, shoot what’s around them – the cars, the storefronts, the little details. You’ll be glad you did.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself with Others: This is the most important advice I have for you. Over the coming 35 years or so, you will know many people—some who you grew up with—who will achieve astonishing wealth in business, write best- selling books and plays, become stage and screen actors, song-writers, award-winning journalists and more. You will be intensely bothered by this for far too long. You’ll think, “Why didn’t I do something like that?” Fortunately there will be someone in your life to make you realize that who you are and what you’ll do with your life is fine (better than fine) and you’ll stop saying, “If only.” You’ll be a little embarrassed for your feelings of jealousy, especially as some of your friends get sick and die and you come to appreciate how good your life is, and always has been. But it would be better not to go there in the first place.
There. I hope this was interesting for you. But you never listen to me, anyway.