An Open Letter to My Twenty-Something Self

In less than four months, I will turn the BIG 3-0. (Gulp!) Looking back on the past eleven years I have been a working adult, I know that not every moment was one of my best. In fact, I cringe at the memory of choice times when I lost my temper with my boss or someone who did not share my view. Or the times, when I put trust in others and was wounded…or even worse, failed myself.

So, if I could pull off a Heroes/Hiro’s moment and visit my former self, this is what I would say, in no particular order:

  1. Grass Is Not Always Greener: Miserable now? Well, it could be worse. Be thankful for what you have now. Jumping from job to job just because you are having a hard time adapting to the culture (or the people are having a hard time adapting to you) is not the solution. Beware, you could jump from the frying pan to the fire. When times are most challenging, find lessons learned in the most difficult of situations. Have a rotten boss that enjoys micromanaging to the nth degree? Write down and think about what kind of boss you want to be. How will you divvy out tasks or request updates on assignments? To learn how to manage, you must first be the worker bee.
  2. Respect is Earned, Not Freely Given: You cannot command respect. Also, don’t confuse respect with being liked. You don’t deserve anything, you earn it. Of course there will be those that play the game to climb the ladder. In some instances, you will have to conform to playing the same game, but do not rely exclusively on charm to get you ahead in life. Earning respect comes from experiencing success and failure with grace…maybe not at the time, but in retrospect. Experience does not come from age, but from the amount of times you put yourself out there. So, what are you waiting for?
  3. Not Everyone Will Be Your Friend: Face it, not everyone will like you and you will not like everyone, but the workplace is not about creating friendships. There are relationships that can and should be forged in the workplace that do not require friendship as the foundation. You don’t have to be someone’s friend to respect and work with the person. You are in a business environment, not the school yard. As I learned in the South, kill them with kindness. Focus on being kind to yourself. Master the internal likeness and the external relationships will be smoother and better defined.
  4. Live The Experience Before Calling Revolution: Even if you are 100% sure your way is the best way before you personally experience the process you are wanting to change, keep your mouth shut and go with the flow. Learn how things operate. Not everything is as it appears. Before breaking the rules, learn why they exist. This context will better position you to be the change evangelist you aim to be.
  5. Attitude Speaks Louder Than Words: I do not have a poker face. If I am pissed, you will see it…and hear it in my voice. Holier than thou? Yep, you will notice a tone in my voice and in my writing. Even when you say all the right things at the right time, it won’t make a lick of difference if the meaning is not also felt and heard. You may be the best candidate and have everything the job or promotion requires, but if you have a chip on your shoulder or going through life caring about a who’s who list, you will not be on anyone’s short list…at least not the list you want.
  6. To Get, You Have To Give: Sounds like an oxymoron, but if you want recognition, you have to recognize others first. Share with and recommend to others before you ask that action of another. Don’t expect to be given a pat on the back. Don’t reach for it. A compliment must be freely given to be freely received. Be humble. Put other people in the spotlight and they will return the favor…maybe not on your timeline, but at the perfect time.
  7. You Are Replaceable: Get over yourself. Think you are the only millennial that understands social media or can crank out posts or crunch numbers? Think again. Anyone out there can do what you do…and better. If you have an attitude or carry yourself like you are better than those around you, you will be replaced. Most organizations hire for skill, but fire because of personality. Don’t be a casualty of an over inflated Ego. Be the ouroboros.
  8. Learn Other Job Functions: It isn’t your job? Shucks, that is too bad. Today it is your job. Don’t like it, you are replaceable. You will wear multiple hats over your career…or even in your current job. Take each of these jobs as an opportunity to learn more. Even if it is not in your realm of responsibility, becoming familiar with the responsibilities of those around you will help you put context around why the other person thinks and experiences work life in a different way. You never know when that skill or knowledge will come in handy. The more you get your hands dirty and broaden your view, the more doors to opportunity will open.
  9. Go Above And Beyond: Take initiative to expand on the framework given or research a topic in more depth. Even if you do not have the skills for the job, the desire to go out of your way to learn and adapt will go a long way. Exceed expectations…not just those items expected from management, but those you expect from yourself.
  10. There Is No Trophy: At the end of the day, not everyone on the team will go home with a trophy or medal. Do not expect to be recognized for doing your job. This is what you were hired to do. Go above and beyond to please yourself and make yourself a more well-rounded professional. Every person is just as unique as you. When you least expect it, you will be recognized.

Everything happens at the right time. If you try to force or control life, life will come back and slap you into reality. Perhaps those of you still in your twenties can identify and not make the same mistakes. Or does this sound like a bunch of clichés? Ignore at your own peril. Sometimes, it is better to learn the hard way. The lesson resonates a lot longer.

Any lessons learned you want to add?

Share: Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn0Email this to someone
  • Steve Woodruff

    Mine would be a tempering of your first point: There is such a thing as corporate culture. You likely cannot change it, and not everyone will “fit” everyplace (including you). When considering a position, look beyond the paycheck and the title – is this the “team” you will flourish with?

  • Anonymous

    Phew. Brilliant stuff, my friend. As I’m nearing the 30 point myself in about a year and a half, I’m doing the reflection thing as well. Going along with the second point, I would have to say that starting off on the right foot is much better than having to catch up. I learned that in college.

    Asking for help when you need it is important – it’s a win win situation mainly because your job is to get things done. If you have a question about a certain operation, after you get the answer you can continue being the best at what you do. Kick that thing called pride out the way.

  • Sharon P. Goldstein

    Being quick to reply does not convey intelligence necessarily. Pausing for 30 seconds to compose a better response will make people think more of you in the long run.

  • Early 30 something

    Regarding getting my first jobs… I wish I’d done more internships during school. When graduated, I found it difficult to convince recruiters that “I can do it” just because I say I can. I didn’t have much of a work history as proof. I bet this is even more poignant in today’s economy.

  • Diane Zapata

    Excellent blog. I can tell you that I see a lot of these mistakes made in the work place today, by many different age ranges. The days of entitlement are over! This is a good way to check yourself. Thank you for this thoughtful blog.

  • Lauren

    Indeed. Age is not the only culprit. I love this quote, “Youth is a quality, not a matter of circumstances,” by Frank Lloyd Wright. We should not judge because of age. I want to have a youthful spirit, just not make ignorant mistakes.

  • Lauren

    Internships are a great sandbox to learn and make mistakes…don’t forget to observe others in the workplace. Finding ways to put theory into practice is needed throughout entire career.

  • Lauren

    Right on! easier to start off on right foot than back track. Also, asking for help is a great learning opportunity and empowers the person(s) you are asking. Great way to build relationships.

  • Lauren

    For sure. Tamsen wrote a great post about this on BrassTacks not too long ago:

  • Elliot

    Never tell YOURSELF ‘what I should have done ten years ago in hindsight,’ just tell it to the people who ARE ten years younger than you.

  • Lauren

    Exactly why I am posting on this blog.

  • Guy Martin

    Excellent post, and, in reality, applicable to a lot of folks of all ages – I’m already well, 10+ years past you, and have to check myself on some of these.

    Alas, I work with some folks (customers mainly) who need to re-read your list. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Lauren

    And I have a feeling I will need to re-read this list for the rest of my life. Each day is a learning opportunity. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • Drew Hawkins

    Learning new job functions is the biggest one to me. If I balked at having to perform tasks “outside my job description,” I would’ve most likely been fired by now. When I was hired, I assumed most of my job would be social media/community building for our company. Over time I’ve handled a huge variety of tasks in several departments – tasks outside my skill set and comfort zone of ability. Did I have fun with it? Not every time. Did I learn something along the way? Absolutely. Those challenging times will be beneficial in the long run

  • Amy Garland

    Wow, talk about a smack in my face! Funny how I stumbled across this post (and your blog as a whole) today, and it comes at a much-needed time. (I opened the Social Fresh newsletter, clicked on a link to the Top Rank blog, saw your comment.) I had a couple of comments/thoughts, but I see that most are just echoes of others’ comments.

    1. Like you said in a reply, I will most likely need to come back to this post again and again as a reminder.
    2. Glad to see someone said they see this behavior across all age groups. I will also be 30 this year (10/13 – still have time!), and I wonder how much more humble our parents were at our age. From what I’ve heard about millennials, is it really just us who’ve supposedly had this attitude as a group? (And I’ll admit, I am definitely guilty of the millennial attitude from time to time.)

    Looking forward to future posts!