A Letter to the Next Generations: Roll with the Punches

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I really jumped at the chance to write one of these letter to the next generation. I wanted to because I believe the generations following mine and the ones after have more challenges and opportunities than I could have ever dreamed.

Take an  issue like global climate change: it really doesn’t matter where you stand the on the issue because whatever the perceptions and reactions to the issue since it’s leading to policy changes. This will will lead to massive macroeconomic political and changes … and the perception becomes reality and policy which begets changes and so on…

The pace of change is the real topic. I think  the next generations coming of age in the next twenty to thirty years will find greater changes and more challenges than any generation before it. The world is a very different place than when I was age twenty, years ago.

With all this said, I would like to offer some advice and a few observations to the next generations. Mind you, some of these observations were acquired by having several mentors over the years, people (some older and some younger) who took the time to smooth the sharp edges and help me learn the unwritten and unspoken, but nonetheless deeply important rules and behaviors. Some of these things, I’ll admit, were learned on my own and probably at great cost in terms of failed projects and ventures but even failure provides lessons …especially when things have gone horribly wrong. Failure is a good teacher.

I cannot promise what I am going to write here is going to be much different than what my predecessors have said in this series. Ill only say that your mileage might vary as to how much benefit you derive.

The first thing’s first … Be aware

Today, things are far more complex than the “before time” (before Internet). There is much more complexity because Internet, media and “always on” technologies have enabled it to be. If you consider things like air travel was basically nonexistent before the Second World War and now it’s way of life for many. Another example: even after the end of the Second World War there were no coordinated system of roads and highways. After it was built, the United States saw amazing growth among goods and services as well as mobility and options for social and economic development.

Just as roads became a huge disruptor to that status quo, Information Technology and the Internet have enabled an outright displacement of how we work build and play.

My point: it would be good to know the trajectory of things like trends and developments; and try to see where things are going and do your best to be ahead of the curve.

Just like trying to hit a moving target you should aim where that is going to be. …Not where it is now or has been.

Have plans but don’t invest too much in them

In Technology, we have Moore’s law which states that innovations will continue to progress so as to render the current generation of technology obsolete every two years. I think Moore was an optimist. I think things move much faster than this anymore.

Technologies aside, there is a version of Moore’s law for almost every job, industry and enterprise out there. It might not be two years, but the way we do our work and conduct our lives will be structurally and fundamentally different in the next decade if not a just a few years.

Making plans and considering choices  in the long term might seem like a good idea, but most plans assume a level of assumptions that things remain somewhat static and unchanged. That’s going to fall by the wayside,  pretty fast. The point is to have plans …but be flexible. Things are going to change and it’s best to have an eye for it and adjust those waypoints as needed.

Learn to listen to everyone; try not to dismiss anyone

There is a story about how Albert Einstein really did speak to people of different classes and statuses in the same thoughtful manner, whether that person was the President of Princeton University, a student or even the janitor. People who listen – really listen, learn things and can use that knowledge to enrich their lives. Develop your listening skills.

You need to take the time to rest and play

This might seem obvious, but I see fewer and fewer people really taking time to enjoy the life they are building. You might need to work hard and you career will be important but you need to rest and spend time with the people who are significant and are meaningful to you. Every once in a while you need to get out and get away.  Taste. Smell the sea and air. Climb a mountain. Just see some green & breathe fresh air.

Balance and personal growth: Pay attention to your physical plant

Have fun but take care of yourself. Strive to have balance in your life, body, mind and career. Eat healthy , take time for exercise and recreation, and get good sleep. This will go a long way to building stamina, making good decisions and judgement. These things are how a happy, healthy person ages well. Being able to age well is going to be absolutely important in determining whether something will have a positive and successful outcome. This will go a long way in developing a sense of situational awareness.  As well, it will allow you to ascertain you have what it takes to meet the challenges of your next endeavor and the next… and the next…

The world is changing: Use the past as a guide, not as a rule

Pay attention to trends but rely on your own experiences. Trends are wonderful things, and there are great tools and technologies which will reveal more and more useful information about them.  But is today’s trend a solid march or is it tomorrow’s fad? The future is malleable and there are pesky things like economic recessions, unfriendly and hostile governments that will disrupt those other things.

It’s like play a game of pool: a single ball can completely change the outcome of a game.

The key is to study the trends to learn how to use them to your advantage, but allowing diversification as needed.  As you progress in your career (and life) you will learn things you never would in school.  With that, you gain insights and experience. Use that … and be flexible.

Be loyal but within reasonable boundaries

Loyalty is something pretty malleable and it  means different things to different people. The amount of loyalty given will vary in the basic social contracts of what good relationships be they… whether they are your boss, employee or spouse, customer or buyer – all require trust and a measure of loyalty. You need that reliance and loyalty to get something both sides of that contract want. But it means different things to different people.

Be clear about the equality in your social contracts and its underlying fairness as to the extension of your loyalty to others.

When it’s out of balance, you probably should consider change.

Be able to say no… but understand it is not always the best answer

This is about limits and pushback. Theoretically we can always say no… one thing that seems apparent is that your generation(s) seems to know when to say no….and sometime you don’t; it is matter of discretion. The issue here is that there are times when you have to think “bigger” picture and often “no” is said before it should be “yes”.  Strive to understand those large pictures issues before you say no. Realize those decisions have consequences that you will have to live with.

Be optimistic… understand the world is a mess… but it always has been

It’s difficult to fathom the problems that have led up to the issues of things like structural global warming, racial and gender inequity and social justice. These things have been around for centuries and the solutions to these issues, to date, have been less than stellar. On the face of it, most of these issues are daunting and they can be overwhelming. They cannot be ignored. Nothing will get done unless we start defining the problems and that requires connection and dialogue that is going to require stamina and a whole lot of optimism.

Develop a core well of optimism, a deep one because it will sustain you and get through a lot of the setbacks and challenges.

And when things do not go as planned and they will go wrong. That well of optimism will provide calm and safety and the spirit that allow you to press on

Network, network. Learn to express yourself

Networking is the process of meeting people and talking about your career, their career and exploring any sort of mutual benefit that may arise as a result.  I don’t mean just in the career sense. We all have and want friends.  You should try to find your “tribe”… Cultivate people who can help you. These are not necessarily your peers, but potential mentors, bosses and support bases. Join special interest group, industry conferences, meetup.com organized meetings, and even the local Chamber of Commerce mixers.

We all need useful people to help us along but it’s more than that you need to form larger networks of connections. Strive to build and cultivate those human connections particularly those who don’t look and think like you. This gives you a sense of perspective and grounding. Like good wine, hardly anything beats a great conversation.

Find a mentor, be a mentor

It is also a good idea that the first (or second) thing you do is locate people who can help you, teach you and help you get grounded. After a few years in the seat, consider paying it forward and doing it for someone else.

Go deep, plant your flag and extend

Whatever your life goals and career might be, pursue them for the right reason, and then master it. Strive to be good at it and extend and leverage that knowledge. Actually, doing this will serve two purposes:

  1. It will give you great personal satisfaction over time and lend itself to the kind of personal growth; where others see only shape, diving deep allows you discern pattern, color, texture …even art.
  2. That depth increases your value and appeal to those who might want your services and expertise.

Follow your bliss and pursue your passions but…

For years, I have railed against salutatory speeches like the kind you hear at graduation ceremonies. These things that are full of exhortations for young people to “follow your bliss” and “pursue your passions… the money will follow”.  This might be true but I have never seen this.  I get why someone would say this. They want you to be all inspired and excited about the journey ahead but I think it’s a problem because the message is patently ambiguous and can be completely unhelpful, if not harmful, to your future happiness.

However, I do think there is a convergence between where that “bliss and passion” might be and where you might be able to get someone you to pay for your efforts. An example, take a  writer who has a passion to travel but no one will pay the writer to just travel. The writer creates a travel blog that details tips, insights and travel deals. He, perhaps has a e-commerce site that specializes in travel-oriented items and adds value to the narrative.  This was simplistic, but I do know of several people who have done something like this. Probably the best situations are those where you have you engender high amounts of both–a life on your own terms.

Finally, realize that change is constant and even desirable, do your best to embrace it.

Joe is a business and software consultant and is a principal at LearnGrow LLC, a consulting firm,

He is based in the San Francisco East bay Area.

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