Michael Wade: Things I Wish I Knew in My Twenties

I came across a list of 21 “Things I wish I knew in my twenties” by Michael Wade and was impressed by the insights he offered. Here are my top eight.

Michael Wade: Things I Wish I Knew in My Twenties

looking back after the rapids, make a list of things I wish I knewMichael Wade wrote a list of 21 “Things I wish I knew in my twenties” in 2007 that I came across recently and was impressed by his insights. He has written a good book, “Random Thought: Brief Reflections and Moments of Clarity,” that collect other aphorisms he has posted on his ExecuPundit blog. Each of these nine section titles is another piece of guidance from his post.

This too shall pass.

“And by the successful, and the unsuccessful, let it be remembered, that while occasions like the present, bring their sober and durable benefits, the exultations and mortifications of them, are but temporary; that the victor shall soon be the vanquished, if he relax in his exertion; and that the vanquished this year, may be victor the next, in spite of all competition. It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”
Abraham Lincoln in “Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society” (Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sep-30-1859)

It’s so hard to remember the full range of possibilities, most of the time we get anchored in the recent past. When you’re winning, it seems like you will keep winning, and when you are losing, it can feel hard to turn around. I think another thing that’s hard to anticipate is that your desires change. In your twenties, you can remember you used to enjoy climbing on a jungle gym or applying crayons to a coloring book. But it’s still hard to anticipate that your tastes will continue to change.

The journey from A to B often goes from A to Z, M, and D before arriving at B.

It can be tempting to view a task, or a project, or a career as a smooth straight thrust. But many tasks and all projects and careers involve exploration and a fair amount of trial and error as a result.

“A windmill is eternally at work to accomplish one end, although it shifts with every variation of the weathercock, and assumes ten different positions in a day.”
Charles Caleb Colton

Seek balance in all things.

When I was solving optimization problems in homework assignments for my management science degree, the answers were always at a “corner point” or the intersection of a set of constraints. It took me a while to realize that real life is not often like that. Picking a solution that consumes all of your budget or all of one or more assets is rarely optimal in the long run. It’s hard to predict how much time, effort, money, expertise, good will, etc.. will be required to complete a project. Keeping a reserve provides flexibility and buffers you from the inevitable setbacks and shortfalls.

Master a skill, then master another.

Mastery requires perseverance and critical self-examination. It means that you have to invite welcome criticism and stretch your capabilities by deliberate practice where you are weakest, not strongest. I think you have to become at least a good author or a good speaker. Mastery’s great accomplishments require time and a willingness to release a sequence of prototypes.

“You have to become the center of your education. Once you accept that, you’ll  understand that learning means figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to be.”
Wynton Marsalis in “The Humble Self.”

You are far from the only nervous person in the room.

Walking along the edge of a cliff makes most people nervous for good reason. Fear of embarrassment or loss of status, on the other hand, is rarely a good reason. Being nervous can make you react defensively when it’s not warranted or go on the attack because you mistakenly believe that you are under attack. If you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, keep your eyes and ears open and stay calm. I find a good night’s sleep, meditation, and adequate preparation–where possible, some events are impossible to anticipate–all make significant contributions to equanimity.

Don’t burn bridges. You may need them sooner than you think.

Always give two weeks notice when quitting a job. Make whatever requests that would enable you to stay clearly and politely before you give notice–and don’t accept a counter-offer. If they won’t take you seriously when you ask politely don’t threaten to quit as a tactic to convince them you are serious. Don’t break up with a lover in an email or a text. Excessive formal politeness is preferable to profanity, sarcasm, parting advice “for their own good,” or a detailed review of past shortcomings and failures. Graceful disengagement pays the best long term dividends.

Keep your word. Do what you say you will do.

The easiest way to keep your word is to be very careful about what promises you make. Learn to negotiate, not only to clarify other people’s expectations but also to minimize your commitments. Have a plan for delivering on your promise before you make it, take the time to develop one even if pressed. Be careful to make pledges only about events and actions that are under your direct control.

“My old Father used to have a saying that ‘if you make a bad bargain, hug it the tighter.'”
Abraham Lincoln in a letter To Joshua F. Speed,  February 25, 1842

Try not to trip over the rocks on your way to the horizon.

“Try not to trip over the rocks on your way to the horizon. Don’t let your grand vision distract you from what is needed to achieve it.”
Michael Wade in “Things I wish I knew in my twenties

It’s hard in the grip of an idea to map the path clearly from the here and now to the first viable realization of your vision. I think it takes multiple distinct mindsets to craft a vision, to poke holes in it and discover it’s shortcomings, and to craft a realistic step by step plan to achieve it in phases. The challenge is to avoid getting trapped in one perspective.

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Image Credit “Mountain Rapids” by miq1969  licensed from 123RF (Image ID : 78311254)
I thought this was an apt metaphor for the navigating the turbulence of your twenties.

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