How a Voice From the Past Reminded Me of One of Life’s Most Important Lessons …
Create a Life By Design, Not Default!
I’ve got some good news and some bad news about creating your own destiny, and there’s still time for you to make the right choice!
Episode 18 - How a Voice From the Past Reminded Me of One of Life’s Most Important Lessons
Several weeks ago, I was up in the attic looking for an extra suitcase, and I came across a box of old high school notebooks. I couldn’t resist the urge to pull a few of them down and read some of the notes and thoughts I’d written years ago.
As I scanned some of the covers, there was one in particular that caught my attention, it was labeled “Life Problems.”
It’s kind of an unusual name for a high school senior class, and it was derived from a very nebulous description of a required psychology course. Most of the class content was based on lectures, with an occasional guest speaker delivering a presentation that was supposedly relevant to looking at the world from a larger, more adult perspective.
Most of the speakers were other faculty members. For example, the football coach talked about his experiences in the Korean War, and the home economics teacher delivered a sermon on nutrition and healthy eating.
But neither of those presentations impressed me.
The one that made the most impact came near the end of the year, delivered by an administrator from the local junior college. Like some of the other presenters, he spoke about the future and the part we would most likely play in it.
And what was ironic is that most of the students initially found this man’s speech a bit insulting, if not outright condescending. At the time, it made me wonder why someone thought this particular individual had anything beneficial to say.
I found over a dozen pages with notes from his presentation — about half from the actual lecture and the balance I added after the content began to sink in.
As I reviewed those notes, I realized that what he said was actually more relevant today than it’s ever been, and, I thought it might be interesting to recreate the highlights of that presentation. So what follows is my reconstructed version, delivered in first-person to preserve the impact of the message.
Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of success point 360.
“There are thirty-five of you in this class, and according to the predictions that are conferred upon every new class of graduates, you are, by default, America’s hope for a better future.”
“You are the next leaders, the next innovators, the next business owners. Some of you will go to college and you’ll eventually add to the number of lawyers, doctors, nurses, airline pilots, pharmacists, teachers, and other professions that have educational prerequisites.
“Others will choose to go to work immediately and join the ranks of bus drivers, bank clerks, heavy equipment operators, sales associates, carpenters, painters, auto mechanics, and a hundred other professions that offer the option of learning while you’re on the job”
“And what does our society promise you in return? “
“Our culture bestows upon every new generation a heavy dose of optimism, extending the invitation to transform your dreams into reality. We tell you that everything is possible, that anyone can pursue the job they want, and go after the goals they set. Because life offers every new graduating class an opportunity to start fresh and build a life based on success and influence.”
So let’s start off with a question: “Why such an optimistic sendoff? Why is the so-called older generation so generous with its legacy of hope, and inspiration, and encouragement?
“Because we know life is going to deliver a few revelations, usually in the form of feedback about what you’re doing with your life.
“Some of this feedback will instill you with a sense of pride, satisfaction, and accomplishment. And some of it will come as a surprise, something you didn’t see coming. And this is the kind of feedback you should pay attention to . . . the kind that forces you to take a hard look at the path you’ve taken and, occasionally, convinces you to change your direction in life.
“Part of my reason in being here today is to tell you about one of those surprises . . . …and to let you know it could be the most important thing you’ll ever learn about life and how you eventually feel about yourself in the long-term.”
“I’ll preface what I’m going to say by telling you that some of it is good news, and some of it is not so good.
“I’ll start with the not-so-good …
“For the majority of you, the biggest surprise of your life will come years from now, perhaps when you’re in your fifties or sixties, and you look back and can’t believe how insignificant and uneventful your life has been.
“The dream career you hoped to have never panned out. The girl you planned to marry? She ran off with the football captain. And the plans you made to see Europe or visit the Far East never came together.”
“You’ll realize that much of your life didn’t turn out the way you hoped it would.
“And when you wonder why, you’ll tell yourself there wasn’t enough time, or the breaks didn’t fall your way, or you waited too long for the right opportunity.
“Whatever the reason, life moved on without you, leaving you and your dreams in the past.
“What’s the good news?
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“You can redirect your actions and reset your internal compass to move toward the things that are most important to you. And I have to warn you, that might mean making a decision when everyone around you is procrastinating, or it might mean taking a different direction with your life, even as your friends call you crazy for not following the crowd.
“There’s a few shortcuts and suggestions I can offer, but before I talk about the specifics of that process, I want to talk a little more about who you are right now— in contrast to who you think you are — because I’m sure very few of you have taken the opportunity to take a long, hard look at yourself.
“After talking to thousands of students in my capacity as a career counselor, here’s what I’ve learned about a typical high school graduating senior:
“Most of you don’t have goals.”
“Yes, some of you may have a sketchy idea of what you’re going to do next year and the year after that. But when it comes to major life goals, you simply haven’t thought about it.
“Oh sure, many of you have applied to college and plan to spend the next four years studying a subject you believe will create some sort of launching pad for your career. But I doubt you’ve really considered what that degree will be worth and how you’ll use it to your advantage.
“Right now, as young adults, you’re along for the ride, waiting to see what the future brings, waiting for new and exciting opportunities to be placed in front of you.
“You’re taking life day-by-day, and every day is different because you’re young and the world is still new to you.
“From your perspective, you have all the time in the world to begin building a successful future.
Here’s a newsflash: that will change.”
“As the next few years pass, and the tint on those rose-covered glasses becomes fogged with the drudgery of an eight-to-five job, the kids that came unexpectedly, and a lack of income compared to an ever-escalating pile of bills, you’ll rarely think about the future.”
“Because it will take everything you’ve got just to get through the challenge of another day.
“And so you’ll manage to struggle along, week after week, month after month, telling yourself things will eventually get better.
“I realize the situation I just described may be hard to understand on a personal level — because you’re thinking,
‘He’s not talking about me. That will never be my situation, my story. I’m smarter than that.’
“But the facts, the numbers, they tell the truth — about the number of people who die broke, the number of marriages ending in divorce, the number of workers who lose their jobs in industry-wide layoffs, the huge number of people who need food stamps and unemployment benefits.
“These numbers are not new; they’re the same numbers that have haunted every new generation, as they make their choices, live their lives, and try to survive.”
But like I said before, it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to be one of those who looks back on your life as you turn sixty and wonder: ‘What happened to the time? Why didn’t I do more with all those years?’
“So here’s the big question: How do make sure your life turns out to be productive and prosperous? How do you give yourself a fighting chance to live a rewarding life, one that gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you take that look back?
“It comes down to one simple strategy. Find someone who has done what you want to do, who has lived the kind of life you want to live, and model their behavior and actions.
“For example, if you’re following the path laid out for you by your parents, family, or friends — the people you see and associate with every day — then you’re following a familiar and comfortable mindset.
“But where will that take you? To a very similar occupation, income, and lifestyle.”
“But what if the life you want to live is completely different than the one being lived by your parents or other family members. What if the degree of success, independence, and the type of work you want to do doesn’t match your family’s life experience?
“Then your parents and family are not the right models for you. It doesn’t mean they’re not good parents, or good aunts or uncles, or that your friends are lazy or have low self-esteem.
“It just means you have a different direction in mind. And since it’s your life, why not honor it?”
The process isn’t difficult, and you already know how to take the first step.”
“Define your priorities, then identify others who have accomplished similar things.
That means finding examples of those who have chosen a life path that makes sense to you, and that will provide you with the lifestyle, financial reward, and satisfaction you want.
“And once you’ve identified who these people are, find out as much as you can about them by asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:
“What personal and professional characteristics did this individual demonstrate?
“What education did she have?
“What course of action did she take to achieve success?
“The more specific the answers, the better the basis for creating your own life-plan.
“And for those of you who think I’m suggesting you follow in someone else’s footsteps, to try to duplicate their life instead of living your own, That’s not what I’m suggesting at all.
You’ll never be exactly like someone else. Your own preferences, ideas, and priorities will influence how much you decide to take from the example of others and put into practice in your own life.
Be warned that there’s some discipline involved, in giving up the quick and easy for a longer term promise of doing something that’s important to you.
And I also know how much your generation loves to proclaim your need for independence and self-expression, and I hear the comments all the time:
“You can’t tie me down like that, I’ve got to be free to leave my options open. There’s no telling what new opportunity is going to be waiting for me tomorrow, or next month, or next year.”
“And so you’re tempted to go with the flow, to coast through life, waiting for some imagined benefactor to arrive and turn your life into a never-ending flow of excitement, fame, and fortune—the kind of life that lives in the world of movie make-believe and television dramas.
“If that’s your plan, you’re taking a huge risk. Because you’ve got no plan at all.”
“And if you don’t have a plan — one that you’ve created, one that reflects the things in life that are important to you — make no mistake, others will furnish you with theirs. And you’ll end up living your life and spending your time helping them arrive at the destination they’ve chosen.
“In essence, you’ll help them accomplish their goals, their dreams. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong in spending your career that way, because you’ll generate a weekly paycheck, in the end, there’s a good chance, when you take that look back, you’ll likely feel those pangs of regret, wishing you’d done something different with all those years.
“Right now, you have the luxury of youth, of time — to make mistakes, to learn, to experience for yourself what’s best for you.
“And I said earlier, I encourage you to look around and determine who — out of all the people you know and from the people you’ve learned about in history — has lived the kind of life you want to live.
“Then . . . start asking questions”
And don’t limit your questions to subjects centered on their professional life. Try to put together the most complete picture you can – For example, “Were they married? Did they have kids? If so, how many? How much education did they acquire? And in what field? And if they had a lot of formal education, was it important to them in their profession? What did their career path look like? How much money did they make? Is that enough money for you, or do you see yourself making a higher income? How did they spend their time away from work? What recreational activities did they participate in? Whom did they associate with, both on and off the job?”
“Yes, it’s a lot of questions. But the more questions you ask, the better prepared you’ll be. By gathering as much information as you can, your resulting model will be more accurate, giving you the ingredients you need to build your own map, and to move you from where you are now to where you want to be.”
Some of you are squirming in your seats right now, because this isn’t what you were expecting, and it’s made you uncomfortable. But the truth is often uncomfortable, and I would suggest using that discomfort to look deep, to examine your priorities, and decide what’s important to you, and what you’re willing to give up to acquire it.
Because you are just starting out, I could suggest that the moral of this story is to start young — that you can’t afford to throw away the opportunity of starting early in the pursuit of success.
But that’s only half true.
The real take-away is no matter where you are on your life-path, no matter what kind of history you have, or the breaks you didn’t get, the time to start fresh — the time to begin a new journey — is always now.
It’s never too late to take a look around and determine who could be a possible mentor. And you don’t have to restrict yourself to just one individual. You can combine the compatible characteristics, habits, and actions of several people into a composite that represents the kind of person you want to be, living the kind of life you want to live.
Will this process guarantee you a spot at the top of the food chain, living in one of those big houses on top of the mountain with the view that goes on forever? Will you achieve the kind of success that gives you the freedom to travel, to invest in the things that are important to you, and to help your family grow and succeed in their own lives?
I don’t know. Because There Are No Guarantees in Life
But I will promise you this: Pursuing your ambitions — the ones you choose for yourself — will help keep you motivated, give you purpose, and a reason to create a life of adventure and discovery.
So along with developing your resume, develop the desire to do meaningful work on your own terms — to live your life by design instead of default.
That ended his presentation, and looking back at it in hindsight, there’s a couple of things I found significant. Especially how this person’s perspective about life and work, and how to raise the bar on both, was outside the conventional or traditional viewpoint of the time.
The idea of modeling, of finding someone who has done what you want to do, and then adopt the same methods and practices, was, at the time, a very innovative concept. Ten years later, the idea of modeling would be presented as one of the basic concepts of neuro-linguistic programming. And since then, it’s been shown to be a very effective method of learning the steps required to become the kind of person you want to be.
Hey, that’s it for this episode. There’s a transcript available at successpoint360.com, and if you have questions or comments, you can leave a voice mail by selecting the appropriate link on the main header of the succespoint360 website, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.
© 2020, Roger A. Reid, All Rights Reserved