I had the good fortune of recording a podcast with Marc Randolph, cofounder of Netflix, about his upcoming book—That Will Never Work. (You can hear the podcast on our website and Apple Podcasts on September 18.) My final question to him—what advice would your older self give to your younger self about starting Netflix? His response—“Relax.”
Funny enough, that’s the exact same thing that I find myself telling both my employees (and my kids) on a regular basis as they worry about the “grave” consequences of a problem at work, a wardrobe issue (my kids—not the office team) or a misunderstanding between them and someone else at home or in the office.
Funnier still…I continue to work on that issue as I struggle to balance the pressures of performance with the rational knowledge that all the worry in the world will not change a thing.
I, too, was once asked about advice to my younger self by Marcella Allison, a top direct-marketing copywriter and a big advocate who helps to develop young copywriters. She invited some of the powerful women in her life—I was honored to be included—to contribute to her book Why Didn’t Anybody Tell me This Sh*t Before? about their messages to their younger selves.
After my conversation with Marc, I went back to see what advice I had given to my younger self for Marcella’s book. While it focused on lessons in business, I think some of the lessons apply to all of our lives…
1. Let go of legacy. I’ve had to deal with the issue of legacy with regard to what my father created and envisioned when he started Bottom Line versus the business changes we have had to undergo to adapt to the digital age. I think that there are many people who live their lives feeling obliged to do what the family expects them to do. Marry the right person…pursue the right career…go to the right college or even go to college at all if it’s not the right path. It’s important that children live their own lives and pursue their own passions. And it’s unreasonable of parents to expect otherwise. Individuals are shortchanging themselves when they live their entire lives feeling obligated to fulfill someone else’s real or implied wishes.
2. Forget, “Because I’ve always done it that way.” This was vital to Bottom Line’s changing business. But frankly, I think it’s vital to individual growth to step out of one’s comfort zones and test the waters of new ways and new places. Our younger generations, in particular, seem to be very risk-averse because they have been raised in an environment that provides constant feedback and grading. We are training them to follow the rules and regurgitate the information provided. Independent thought is often punished rather than rewarded. One of the most notable ways to increase self-esteem is to realize that you can find comfort in the uncomfortable and act in ways outside of the norm. Sometimes it’s a big challenge, and sometimes it’s merely sitting in a different chair at the dinner table or taking a different route to/from work.
3. Life is change…prepare to pivot. This is kind of a corollary to banning from your lips the phrase, “Because I’ve always done it that way.” Life changes in an instant—for the good and the bad. A tragic accident or diagnosis, of course, flips the world upside down. But a surprise phone call with a new opportunity can do the same thing…as can finding a stray dog and adopting it…or rain on your beach vacation. Big, small or in between, you have to expect the unexpected and be ready to roll with the punches. Power outage, Internet down, car doesn’t start, your favorite restaurant goes out of business. None of these is a big deal, but all require an adjustment…and a positive attitude in order to adapt successfully.
4. Be kind to yourself. One of the things I have noticed in myself and that I see in so many others is how hard we are on ourselves. Type A overachievers and perfectionists are never satisfied with their performance. There is always some perceived disappointment or feeling that it wasn’t enough. I do this to myself with every meal I cook—the meat is overdone…the vegetables are bland…the muffins are a little dry. I also did it with the 10k race I trained for and ran in May. But it’s not just the Type As—there’s also a whole group of people who have received messages of disappointment and criticism throughout their lives from family, friends, teachers, bosses…and, as a result, see themselves through a tarnished filter.
There are enough people in the world who are going to criticize you for whatever reason. It’s totally unnecessary for you to do it to yourself. Instead, give yourself messages of love and encouragement. Not false adulation…but appropriate acknowledgment for what you’ve done well and where you have earnestly tried your best even if the outcome wasn’t what you desired. I had a friend in college who used to look in the mirror and tell herself how attractive she was. No, she wasn’t conceited. She said, “No one else is saying it to me, so I might as well say it to myself.”
If you don’t want to give yourself positive messages, at least watch how often you give yourself negative ones…and stop!
There’s a classic line about no one ever putting on his/her tombstone that he wishes he had worked more. In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware, a former hospice clinician, says that many people wish they chose to be happier.
The thing that all of us old people realize as time goes on is that life is easier than we make it, even the hard stuff. And that if we relax a little more and love a little more, the rest has a way of working itself out.