What I Would Say To Myself at 21

I find myself often having a fun conversation with my 8 year old daughter that usually starts with the statement from her, “When I grow up daddy I want to be a ….” It’s an insightful exchange filled with questions, but I’m always reminded of the old joke, “why do adults ask young people what they want to be when they get older? Answer- because adults are still looking for a good answer ourselves!”

When young people ask me for advice about succeeding as they enter adulthood a couple things go through my head. First it still takes me by surprise and is a bit surreal so when that subsides, I accept that there may be some value in the mistakes I’ve made and the experiences I’ve lived. So I try to reply by thinking about what I know today, and what I wish I had known when I was 21 and what I would have done different. While the world has dramatically changed since “my day”, I believe some things remain constant, and should be brought to mind for those trying to find their path to “success”.

If I could sit down and have a conversation with my 21 year old self, here’s what I’d share:

It’s not about me. It’s about we.

Back in “my day” we used to say there is no “I” in “Team” – as corny as time has made that saying it still holds true. Be ready to combine your strengths and overcome weaknesses to solve issues together. Life is a team sport, and a player who makes the team great is far more valuable than simply a great player. Successful individuals play for a cause greater than themselves, and never for individual achievement. Working together, teams and great team players create the best outcomes.

Always be a learner.

It’s more important to have a high Curiosity Quotient, or CQ, than a high IQ. You ever notice the most interesting people to talk to are the ones asking all the questions. People who have a genuine sense of curiosity seem to be on top. Recently I had an opportunity to meet Sen. Marco Rubio, and as I was walking through the property at work with him he was full of questions and genuinely interested in my answers. This I have found is a common trait of successful people. So ask questions…lots of questions. Not only will you learn things but your sincere interest in what others have to say will build the relationships you may likely need for the future.

Fall in love with the problem.

We all remain a work-in-process. I encourage tomorrow’s leaders to fall in love with the problem, and not their own solution. To achieve this, be curious enough to seek inspiration and solutions from outside. This can be achieved by asking yourself two questions: (1) Who has solved or attempted to solve a similar problem outside our industry or company, and what can I learn from their experience? (2) What are at least three ideas I have considered before selecting my final recommendation, and can I explain to others why I believe this is the best solution? If so, then lean in and accept the reality that both failure and success offer a chance to learn. I have learned I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom. So go for it.

Add value to the organization.

With every task you take on, ask yourself: How can I add value to this? Now I could talk about this at length, and will in a future post but for now here is what I would tell myself of 21 years…
Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who not only understands the value of their role but also knows how to increase that value? I have found that the boss is willing to pay a more for an employee like that – everyday, all day. So here are six clear ways to add-value to your organization:

1. Save money
2. Make money
3. Improve efficiency of a process or procedure
4. Improve quality of a product or service
5. Fix an existing problem
6. Prevent a future problem

While your job description may appear to be a list of tasks, those tasks are designed to achieve specific, valuable outcomes for the company. How you do them influences the amount of value the company receives—and thus, the level of value you’re contributing and YOUR overall worth to the company.

Take for example, you were a department head whose role it is to purchase supplies. Sure, you could simply follow the standard procedure, place orders for items from approved vendors, and ensure the purchased products are received. Or, you could find simple ways to improve your value like…

• Researching vendors to find more competitive pricing and making informed recommendations to decision-makers.
• Aggressively negotiating with existing vendors for better pricing.
• Creating a “supply sharing” program between departments so inventory doesn’t pile up in one area while another is always in need.
• Purchasing in bulk when appropriate to increase savings.
• Strategically purchasing to take advantage of sales, rebates and discounts.
• Offering tips to help staff members reduce waste of supply inventory, and perhaps starting some kind of competition or reward system to inspire participation.

These value-add tactics aren’t defined anywhere in the job description. It takes a few extra seconds of thought and a little imagination, but using these strategies, you could save the company thousands of dollars per year.
I know my younger self may have said, “I can’t do that stuff! It’s outside my scope of responsibility.” I hear you. You’re already busy and these things take time. Perhaps you fear others will think you’re overstepping your boundaries. I say…RISK IT. Give it try. Find a few minutes here or there to step up your game in the value department. If you achieve positive results, no one will complain.

Volunteer for the job that no one else wants.

By taking on the most difficult and unwanted assignments, you’ll stretch yourself and grow more than staying within your comfort zone. Every company has something that no one wants to do. Stepping up makes you stand out from others and builds your reputation as the invaluable go-to person.

Technology alone will not provide all the answers. It starts with people – and it’s important for millennials – and the rest of us as well – to realize that the biggest victories belong to those who see the value of “we” more than “me.”