If you could go back in time and talk to yourself two years ago, what advice do you think your younger self would have given you today? Wouldn’t that be cool? While they don’t get to go back in time, our students get something that’s close. I teach a course that’s the final step for students in our program. The first thing I ask them to do is to think about how they have changed in the last two years. After they’ve had a chance to reflect, I ask them if they would really like to know how they’ve changed. At that point I give them a letter they had written during the orientation to our program where they were asked to write to themselves at graduation. It’s very interesting to see how they respond to themselves. In some cases they aren’t surprised. They are the same person, or they expected what they saw from their younger self. In other cases there are chuckles, tears, and big AH HA looks on their faces. As one student commented, I had forgotten what a happy person I used to be. Some have experienced great pain in that two years, while others feel so much wiser, experienced, and mature. And finally, some feel strengthened because they are the same person then as now. As another said, this is really tough because I don’t have words to express what I’m feeling. Whatever the case, their younger selves are good teachers and mentors.
In his book Crucibles of Leadership, Bob Thomas highlights research he conducted on the lessons that leaders have reported learning in the hardest of times. My take on a few of the lesson his leaders reported looks like this…
· Rely on others because you need to trust other people.
· Remember that sometimes events conspire to make you the person you are.
· Ask questions as often as you give answers.
· Failing is necessary to get you to where you need to go.
· Trouble will not last forever.
· Any risk you are asking others to take must be worth you yourself taking.
In many cases, the advice from the younger selves of our students sounded much like this advice. Being intentional about where you are going requires you to be intentional about where you’ve been. There is wisdom in the voice of you at a different time. What advice would your younger self offer you? What experiences have caused you to lose sight of your optimism, your hope, your convictions, your vulnerability, and your strength? Here are two suggestions. First, take the time to reflect on how you’ve changed in the last two years. And second, take the time to write a letter to yourself two years from now, and then give it to yourself when you get there. You might have some good news for yourself down the road.
Thomas, R. J. (2008). Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.