Given the chance what advice would I give to my younger self? Not that I would listen…

May 1, 2013

photo copy 10
The pots and pans say I’m domesticated…

For an internal agency thought piece, I was asked to provide words of wisdom to me as a 22 year-old, just starting out in Adland. Others in gyro management were asked to do the same. These pearls would then be circulated throughout the network. Mostly just for fun.

But lessons are lessons and this seemed as good as way as any to give and receive them. As part of the exercise we were also asked to dig up photographs of ourselves from that time period. This is harder than you might think, especially if you, like me, were 22 before the advent of digital photography. It’s amazing how few photos I have of myself as a young man. I found the above winner and reluctantly submit it for your amusement.

Therefore, my first piece of advice: take more selfies! Kidding. Besides, I know you’re doing that anyway. So, other than telling my 22-year old self to buy gold coins and stock in Apple what would I suggest?

First thing: Be curious. Do not shirk learning in favor of seeking pleasure. Better said, seek pleasure from learning. Then, figure out what you’re good at and become really good at it. You might not achieve greatness but you won’t suck either. Thankfully, despite my careening ambition I carried my childhood love of learning into adulthood. I also chose writing as a “path” and, despite all manner of distractions, never stopped doing it.

The harder question: What new advice would I tell my younger self?

For starters, I’d tell me not to be so uncomfortable not knowing something. “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer, especially if it’s the truth. As a young man, I thought I knew so much… that I was hard wired for being right. I was wrong. Curiosity is a great virtue. By definition that means having questions. Not answers. Amazing how long it took me to figure that out. So, to all the 22 year old creatives out there (and anyone really) my biggest piece of advice is to ask bigger questions.

Old me enjoying a cigar…

Here’s another. Stick with the winners. At work (or anywhere) seek out people who have a gift, be it a skill you covet or even a big heart or both. Chances are they will not be unwilling to share.

This may come off as superficial but a great piece of advice I’d give my younger self is to dress better. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, wearing sweatshirts and faded jeans every damn day is not a key to success. Working in a creative department has always meant come as you please but I bet I would have been taken more seriously and sold more work if I would have looked a bit more put together. Probably would have had more dates, too.

Finally, I wish my younger self had been nicer. Like a lot of twenty-somethings in advertising (then and now) I was, at times, a sarcastic and overly competitive SOB. So unnecessary. Begrudging my fellows to get ahead was foolish at best and likely a detriment. Working at a big agency, as I did, created tribes. We often competed on briefs. I’m all for healthy competition but I could have done without the snarkiness.

Alas, I doubt I would have listened to older and wiser me. Some things must come the hard way. Karma is real.


5 Responses to “Given the chance what advice would I give to my younger self? Not that I would listen…”

  1. In my experience, ambitious people in their twenties are vigorously competitive and define their own success relative to that of their peers. As a result, your friends’ success and continued indulgence may require your failure (relatively speaking). So I’d tell my younger self: Make sure that 90% of your friends are outside of your industry. That way, the work you do will be judged not in terms of the modest success that your competitive friends may have in mind for you, but in terms of your creativity and success in coming through for clients and raising your own bar. Your best friends will change, and you will change. You should enjoy the moment while it lasts, but keep moving. Try to be a better friend, but don’t mistake shared ambition for shared goals or values.

    Théo Wallace – UW Madison ’85

  2. i think that is cool answer freind should be always friends

  3. vassvdm said

    Hi Steffan, great post! I wish I could give a whole bunch of advice to my younger self (although it would probably freak him/me out)… I’ve just launched a first version of a new online workplace focused on meritocracy and transparency: I’m looking for talented writers. If you have a minute could you check it out and tell me what you think? Have a great day!

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