To be 22 — for many, it means just getting out of school, entering the real world of work, and having an entire career and life ahead. It’s too bad that when I was 22 I saw it differently—I thought my life was almost half over.
My fear was founded by my personal experiences: My father died unexpectedly a week before my seventh birthday. I grew up thinking that I would die young as he did. I was afraid I would not have the time to do everything I wanted to do and I made decisions based on that belief. Some decisions were good, and some, made in a race against time, driven by fear, were not so good.
If I could go back to my 22-year-old self I would tell him to stop thinking that there was never enough time. I was wrong, and wasting my energy worrying about it wasn’t worth it.
It turns out that I was blessed with more years than I expected and I’ve learned many things from experiences that came with this gift of time.
It’s all about making everyone else better. In my 20s, I was all about me. I wanted to be relevant; I wanted to be a shining star. I wanted success so badly that I took on special assignments hoping to get recognized. I preferred working on my own—it was so much easier and faster when I could do it all myself! But wow, I missed out on a lot. Collaboration makes everyone and everything better. I wish I knew that in my first decade at work.
Do what you enjoy. I was so driven to get into leadership roles that I didn’t get to have as many years doing the things that I enjoyed myself. I only coded for a small amount of time. I didn’t lose my understanding of coding when I became a manager, but I missed what I left behind. I really liked it and sometimes think about what I could have created in the world if I had hacked more myself.
Ask more questions, listen more. I thought I had to know all the answers. Now I know that to be untrue. We never have all the answers. And, sometimes having the right questions is much more valuable.
Play harder, and play longer. I was in such a rush to get everything done before time expired that I forgot to recognize that youth also wouldn’t last forever and I should make the most of each moment. I wish I spent more time outside chasing balls and having fun.
Insight comes from everywhere. I spent the beginning of my career looking up to people who were established and successful. I wish I understood the value of learning from all sources. Now in my 50s, I am constantly inspired by 22-year-olds who want to be a part of the conversation from the beginning and who have so much to offer. I get the most satisfaction from working with young entrepreneurs—such as Zain Jaffer at Vungle, Adam Goldstein at Hipmunk and Bill Clerico at WePay—who are out to disrupt the status quo, but who show me how dedicated they are to learn in every possible way.
Always keep learning. It turns out life didn’t end for me at 20 or 30, or 40 or 50, and it also turned out the journey has been a lot more rewarding than the accomplishments I raced to achieve. Most of all I wish when I was 22 I knew how sweet it could be; I wish I had understood that it would keep getting better.
Understand the energy and serenity that comes with giving back. I now spend most of my time involved with efforts that help others achieve their destiny. I’ve learned that it’s not just the right thing to do, but that it brings me more satisfaction and joy than I could have imagined. I wish I started giving back to the world sooner.