By Liz Massey, February 2018 Issue
Several years ago, my office book club read “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course On Making Your Way In The World” by Stanford professor Tina Seelig. Her main message to younger adults was this: the choices you make now can open up an entirely new world for you later on. She emphasized that creativity can be learned and that remaining optimistic can lead to better luck, because you’re more approachable and observant in that frame of mind. And she included a tip that I found useful when I read it (at way past 20!) … when making a difficult decision, ask yourself “how do I want to tell this story later.”
Seelig’s advice got me thinking about mentoring, especially in the LGBTQ community. It was much harder to find a strong mentor a generation ago when I was a young adult. But many of our kids still suffer from a lack of hope and a lack of role models. Projects such as “It Gets Better” and the Trevor Project have done a wonderful job of keeping our kids alive, but mentoring shows them precisely HOW it can get better.
I’ve often pondered, since reading Seelig’s book, what I would tell 20-year-old me if I could go back in time and have a heart-to-heart with myself. I would hope that young-me would listen to now-me. At that age, I was just on the cusp of coming out and still afraid of admitting when I didn’t know something. Sometimes I used my good grades as a shield against trying something new at which I might fail. I became a lot more humble, and curious, once I moved out on my own. All of this taught me that the key to having a message that a younger person can listen to is to be the sort of human being who can remember what it was like to be young.
There’s a lot I would want to share with Liz the Younger, but if I were short on time I could boil it down to five points.
1. Don’t let fear rule your life.
I would emphasize that struggle is inevitable, but remind younger me that problems can also provide unexpected opportunities.
2. Trust your gut.
I had amazingly accurate hunches about people and situations as an adolescent and young adult. The problem was, I rarely followed them. Intuition is like a muscle – it grows stronger when you put it into action.
3. Stretch yourself.
This is a natural outcome if my younger self put #1 and #2 into play. Life is a lot more rewarding, not to mention fun, when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
4. We’re all in this together.
School is terrible at teaching healthy approaches to teamwork. But reciprocity and lifting others up is most of what makes life as a human worth living. It is also most of what makes organizations of all sizes healthy and effective.
5. Persistence wins the day.
Young Liz was actually pretty persistent, but I would let her know that this was a trait worth amplifying. And I would remind her that our opponents have a vested interest in getting us to give up, so one of the most revolutionary things she could do is simply continue to exist.
If had a few minutes remaining with 20-year-old Liz after the advice giving but before returning to my own time, I would read her a quote from Seelig’s book, because I know at that point she could have used some reinforcement about embracing what she already knew would be a unique life path.
“All the cool stuff happens when you do things that are not the automatic next step,” Seelig wrote in her book. “The well-worn path is there for everyone to trample. But the interesting things often occur when you are open to taking an unexpected turn.”
In my case, “unexpected turns” happened when I moved to Phoenix at the age of 28 … when I took a job making industrial training videos that my friend told me about … when I asked my now-partner out on a date at Souper Salad. I could not have predicted how these things would change me at the time, but now I know that being open to the unknown can lead to unexpectedly beautiful new horizons.