Mentor yourself, but with help. My birthday went by a little while ago. It wasn’t one of the ones with a big zero at the end, but it meant a lot to me because it was the same age that triggered a major shift in my father’s career. I decided to take a bit of conventional wisdom and flip it. Rather than mentor myself, I decided to ask someone how they would mentor their younger self. I asked someone who is about thirty years older than me, what they wish they’d known thirty years earlier. It wasn’t something from an ad or a consultant.
For much of human history, cultures respected elders. Experience is valuable and experience is only gained by living. Even as recently as a hundred years ago, seniors were seen as resources. Got a question or a quandary? Ask someone who may have experienced a similar situation. Got doubts about a choice? Ask someone who probably had to make the same one. Pick the right person and the response is real, not ideal; realistic, not idealistic.
Now, questions, quandaries, and doubts are raised and presented to Google’s search engine. How many answers have you received by the end of any normal workday? The answers may include experience, but they probably don’t include nuance.
I wanted nuance, insight, and a realistic response from a friend who is reflecting on their life while also understanding how my life is similar and different. I invited a friend who is about thirty years older than me to hear from him what he wished he could tell his younger self. The total cost was an hour of my time and the price of one cup of coffee for him and one cup of tea for me.
My worries are about how to make life sustainable and enjoyable for the next thirty years. I expected to hear the kind of advice we hear in ads and from professionals: save for the future, live frugally, eat healthily, exercise, stay active, get ready for inevitable health issues.
I heard something different and unexpected. He wished he’d spent more time learning how to express himself through his violin. Thirty years earlier, he knew how to play, or rather, perform with the instrument. Technically, he was proficient enough to be in several ensembles. He did enjoy the music and the performances, but now he realizes how close and yet how far he was from so much more. Playing the music well was an accomplishment. Expressing his emotions, well, that’s something he now knows is possible, but that he missed by not pursuing the deeper side of the very instrument he was already proficient at.
Other things have happened in those thirty years. Entire generations can be born and birth the next generation. Careers can be started, developed, and retired from. Especially now, entire technological advances can be invented, integrated, and discarded. Thirty years ago the Internet was novel, dot matrix printers and dial-up modems were normal, cable TV was challenging broadcast television, the Soviet Union was collapsing and everyone knew Japan was going to dominate the world economy.
I worry about how I’m going to provide for myself for the next thirty years. Real estate is promising, as is consulting with creative people, teaching, speaking, writing, and several of the initiatives others have presented to me. I’m old enough and have had enough fun that my body has developed a list of annoyances that could develop into nuisances into …? Thirty years is a lot of time. Am I working on the right opportunities or ‘should’ I take the time to learn yet another new career or revitalize my interests in math, physics, and engineering?
Switch the topic to the world and thirty years means a lot of changes. Digital Singularities, sea level rise, agricultural concerns, national instabilities, societal changes, and a long list of natural disasters make my personal changes and choices almost insignificant. Change has never been so rapid. Do plans even make any sense?
And, he wishes he’d spent more time doing more than playing the violin. He wishes he’d spent more time expressing himself through solo and probably solitary performances.
So, put aside the money, medical, physical, and global concerns. How can I apply his lesson to my life? What do I wish I’d known thirty years ago?
The first thing that comes to mind is trusting myself, trusting my intuition. I can replay several key occasions that turned out poorly when I did what others thought was right instead of what I felt was right. That’s true in relationships, career, and finances. My choices weren’t perfect. My intuition probably wouldn’t be perfect either, but my life and my current situation would probably be much better.
One point perspective creates a limited version of a multi-dimensional life. I’m glad for his insights and advice. I’ll be glad for others, too.
He had his violin. Maybe I should sign up for voice lessons, again.
Oh, but to have bought more AOL, to have sold CSCO sooner, to have held onto FFIV, well, let’s see what can happen in the next thirty years.