“What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?”
It’s a popular topic among speakers and writers, waxing on about wisdom they would pass along to a less experienced version of themselves, somehow hoping to maximize the value of lessons learned or capitalize on missed opportunities over time.
Given the chance to visit with the kid who had just walked across the dais, taking his first steps into uncharted territory along an uncertain path, one thing is clear:
I’d be doing a lot more listening, than talking.
Because the circumstances we’re facing moving into 2022 place us at a similar threshold: transitioning from a period of intense learning and discovery, embracing nebulous opportunity with passion and verve, fueled by hope and an optimistic belief in the promise of tomorrow.
So, when it comes to understanding what to do next, my approach to a New Year conversation with myself would definitely feature “two ears, no waiting.”
The Familiar Old
At 22, my Academy classmates and I had survived four years of tumultuous and transformative change, a collective experience fueled by a competitive spirit that taught us volumes about ourselves and enriched our view of the world around us.
Catching the occasional glimpse of a near distant future provided patchwork images of a life grounded in tradition, structured within a hierarchy of how things should be, based on how they had always been.
As much as we yearned for that day to arrive, it was only natural to struggle with thoughts of leaving the comfort of “known” and become totally reliant on the “unknown” to illuminate our path moving forward.
While these past two years haven’t featured a structured curriculum, there is no denying the breadth and radical nature of learning that has taken place.
It’s also been a desperately competitive environment, with multiple voices hypothesizing a future state, trying to scratch and claw their way to relevance in what will equate to a post-graduate society.
Truth is, as soon as we cross that all-too-familiar threshold, and find ourselves once again reliant on the unknown, it will be how we choose to apply lessons learned that will matter most.
Caution: Clarity Ahead
Making the most of the opportunities in front of us will require the level of passionate, youthful enthusiasm that emerged when the elevator doors of professional life first opened, and we stepped brazenly into our future.
For me personally, that transition was a time filled with incredible clarity and unlimited confidence.
Free to focus my ambition on what mattered most each day, I visualized an approach to leadership that embodied my inherent strengths, gathered practical experience along the way, and achieved a level of performance that translated into selection for Command as my second assignment.
Many of the choices I made didn’t follow established rules or traditional logic . . . they came straight from the heart, representing the best course of action given the situation at hand.
Translating that experience into insights given our current situation would include:
Simplify Your Perspective
Clarify connections among the complex by eliminating the unnecessary, allowing for more strategic convergence of instinctive ability and inherent desire to perform.
With all due respect to the value of a well-rounded education, how many of the courses or subjects you studied in school do you apply to your daily commitments and performance?
Chances are, very few.
While we’ve learned volumes about ourselves and the world in general over the past two years . . . and the learning keeps coming in daily doses of insight and awareness . . . we’re presented with a similar challenge in the volumes of information made available based on someone’s studies, research, or opinion.
Like chaos, it is all designed to fill a perceived gap in knowledge and awareness. You don’t need it.
Now more than ever, it is critical that you safely wade through the myriad of voices struggling for relevance and influence and listen to the only voice that really matters – yours.
Trust your intuition, that instinctive reaction that may or may not defy logic and reason. Determine what has value, then remove or ignore what doesn’t; allow for clarity of thought and vision as you pursue what “feels” right for you.
Seek Inspiration Over Influence
Why you do what you do has everything to do with who you are.
I struggle to embrace what social media and other communication platforms identify as an “Influencer”, those with a purported expert level of knowledge of a related field, product, or lifestyle.
I also recognize the hint of subtle hypocrisy, given that I publish my writing on social media platforms and have consistently championed the ability of leaders to “influence the behavior of those looking to you for guidance.”
My challenge is that the influence being targeted has no depth . . . it remains surface level in appeal, swaying emotional thought and reaction without consideration of judgement or character.
This again adds to the chaos, blurring connections and confusing the decision of what’s best for you.
Remain true to who you are . . . allow character to become currency in exchange for a steadfast commitment to personal values and beliefs.
Capitalize on personal awareness gained since the world hit “pause”; seek traditional and consistent sources of inspiration that drive why you do what you do: music, art, nature, your family, faith, literature, etc.
Empower Community Through Fluidity
Fluidity is the hallmark of regenerative growth and leadership.
One of the more memorable takeaways of my transition from academic to professional life was an evolved sense of community.
While an academic class does represent community, it is also very structured and almost tribal in its existence. We’re all pulling for you, but if you don’t make the grade socially or academically, we can just as easily bid you adieu.
A professional community, on the other hand, is perpetually unstable.
It’s not a matter of “in” or “out” . . . more a matter of “do or die”, relying on an ability to navigate change with elegance and grace to achieve predetermined goals and objectives.
As hard as we try, no one can hope to solve the world’s problems on their own.
Appreciating the role fluidity plays in establishing and maintaining the health of a community is paramount to emerging from the recent past with the proper vision and enough energy to enact lasting change.
Repeating The Past
My academic path was paved in partial credit . . . understood the process, had trouble with exact results. It was a learning style perhaps better suited to a vocational or artisanal field of study, but those weren’t the cards I played.
But that probably eased my transition into professional life . . . understand the process, work toward a result.
I remember feeling an incredible sense of peace as I walked across the dais that morning, leaving the chaos behind, recognizing that clarity of vision and intent were somewhere out in front of me.
“Just keep moving” my inner voice whispered, motivating me with the courage to take one step further, inspiring me with the confidence to know I wouldn’t be walking alone.
As a side note . . . the Academy ensured your transition by requiring all physical belongings be removed on Graduation Day by 1700 hours (that’s 5:00pm in sailor talk).
The only evidence that remained of your presence over the previous four years was your transcripts. It was time to move on.
We’ll take a similar approach and walk headfirst into a New ’22.
This is Tall Tim, and I Am At Your Service!