What Advice Would I Give my Younger Self?

Recently I did a talk for the Posse Scholars in Chicago about how to develop relationships that can open doors for internships and jobs. The audience consisted of about thirty very engaged and interesting young men and women who were either in college or about to go to college. They had qualified to be Posse Scholars, participating in a rigorous process designed to find high-school-age leaders with smarts, good judgment, and motivation, and chosen to participate in a support program at some of the top universities and colleges in the country.

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After my presentation, I opened the conversation to take questions from the audience. One young man asked, “What advice would you give your younger self? What would you say to yourself when you were our age, now knowing what you know?” That was a very interesting question. Here is the answer.

When you start out in a career, you never really know for sure where it will lead you. You want to begin with a goal based on self-knowledge, which includes understanding what you do well and what you find deeply interesting and satisfying in terms of content. As you make your way to that career goal, your ultimate objective might well shift and change. It often happens that along the way you find a path that takes you off the road you envisioned and in an interesting and appealing new direction. That’s okay. Do not think you have to stay with the goal you set for yourself originally.

However, it is really important to have a goal. Without a goal you can feel adrift and lose your sense of purpose. I counsel many people who have been “wandering around in the career woods.” They chose a path or simply started on a path because it was easy or it was something they were told ought to be good for them. But they did not affirmatively choose it. As time went on, it proved to be unsatisfying. They come to work with me to try to figure out the right career direction. Sometimes they just need to find a career direction that plays to their strengths based on shifts in the world or changes in their own priorities. It’s all okay.

One of my favorite songs is Gerry Rafferty’s “Get It Right Next Time.” Here are some of the lyrics.

Out on the street I was talkin’ to a man
He said there’s so much of this life of mine that I don’t understand
You shouldn’t worry yes that ain’t no crime
‘Cause if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time…

You need direction, yeah you need a name
When you’re standing in the crossroads every highway looks the same
After a while you can recognize the signs
So if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time…

You gotta grow, you gotta learn by your mistakes
You gotta die a little everyday to try to stay awake
When you believe there’s no mountain you can’t climb
And if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time, next time…

I would tell my younger self it is perfectly okay to feel confused at the crossroads. Know that it will be a worthwhile journey if you are true to yourself: follow your talents and strong interests, affirmatively choose your goals, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t worry if the goal changes over time because you never know where life will take you and if you get it wrong you’ll get it right next time.