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A Letter to Myself at 20

By: on June 11, 2019 in Advice

I don’t always participate in T-SQL Tuesday, but this month’s topic appealed to me. Hosted by Mohammad Darab (blog | Twitter), his idea is to write a letter to my 20 year old self and give some advice. I hope you find it both useful and entertaining. Enjoy!

Dear Allan,

You’ve learned a lot in just over a quarter of a century – sometimes not the way you would have liked, but hey, welcome to life. It’ll be a journey, not a destination. Below are some tips that will serve you well.

Working Harder is Not a Life Goal

Besides work, you will average over 50,000 miles a year on planes and play in two big bands as well as a few different small ensembles (among other things you do). Your schedule still tires people out (something you’ll hear often). You’re just as busy – if not busier – today than you were at 20. However, you require more than an hour or two of sleep. Remember to eat and drink. Listen to your body. You’re not invincible. You’re no good to anyone if you’re tired, run down, or sick. You’ll never have perfect work/life balance but taking time for yourself is important. Sometimes a simple recharge – it could be a quick power nap or a week off at the right time – can make all the difference in the world.

Turn off the computer and have a life outside of work. That last bit of whatever will still be there in the AM to finish. Life is about moments – as you get older and time goes by quicker, this becomes more apparent. Spend time with people and in places that matter because they – or you – could be gone tomorrow. At 20, 40 or 50 seems old. It’s not. You will experience loss and pain. Celebrate the good times, don’t wallow in the bad ones. Memories are forever; don’t miss them because you were stuck in front of a screen.

Try to save a few shekels along the way from all that hard work. Don’t pass up that Roboto mask or seeing Rush in Los Angeles in 2015, though. However, all the money in the world will not buy happiness or health. The former comes from within, the latter only if you do what I say above.

You Can Say “No”

“No” is an acceptable answer to many questions and situations. Saying “yes” to everything makes you a doormat, even if well intentioned. You can’t be all things to all people, nor will you please everyone. Also related: exposure bucks don’t pay the bills. Your time has value, even if you choose to give it for free. If you don’t and people don’t like it, that’s their problem. You will always have haters no matter how much good you do or help.

Make major decisions with the bigger picture in mind. Be able to pivot if necessary. You have a great gut instinct. Trust it.

Choose People Wisely

While you are ultimately responsible for yourself and your actions, surround yourself with people (friends, family, colleagues) that support and love you but at the same time can be honest and kick your behind when needed. You need people in your life who won’t put you on a pedestal. Having people in your corner that have your back and can offer trusted advice is crucial.

Unfortunately, some people will disappoint and hurt you both personally and professionally. When your Spidey sense is tingling, listen. Don’t let the haters and those who hurt you harden you or control your narrative. Rise above the noise.

Side people note: every interaction you have with people – good and bad – matters. You’ll see the impact of this more and more in the years to come. Be confidient and humble. You don’t know it all. Definitely don’t worry what people think or say.

Go with the Flow

You may or may not still be known to be outspoken, opinionated, and passionate (stop chuckling, people). As you get older you realize that life has a funny way of not always working out as you thought it might. Loosen up and go with the flow where possible. You have a terrible poker face, though. People will make memes about you (you’ll find out what a meme is). Have a laugh.

Worry about what you can control, don’t fret (too much) over what you can’t. This will serve you well personally and professionally. Always push forward, don’t live with regrets, and don’t let the stress consume you. Playing “what if” or living in the past is not productive.

Perfection Is the Enemy of Good (or Done …)

You are and will always be your own harshest critic. The bar of quality you set for your work is impossibly high. This is a blessing … and a curse.

Remember how you thought it’d be fun and awesome to write books? Yeah, about that. They’re rewarding, but a LOT of work. You won’t make much money, so being an author is not a “retire early and live on the royalties” plan. With your attention to detail and level of perfection expected (among other things that will happen along the way …)  the books you write are never simple to birth – think along the lines of having quintuplets. You will inevitably disappoint some people with how long it takes and feel bad about it. Get over yourself. Good and done is better than perfect and not done yet.

I’ll leave you with one last thought: Tokyo is every bit as amazing as you thought it would be, but if you can, get there about ten years earlier than I did. The CD shopping will be even more insane.

Love,

Your 47-Year-Old Self


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