Ever since the Virgin boss penned an open letter to the younger Richard Branson as part of LinkedIn’s ‘If I were 22’ campaign, countless more influencers have been sharing the advice they’d give their former selves. We round up some of the best hindsight shared by business leaders from around the world as part of this on-going trend.
Suki Thompson: London, Founder and Chief Executive of Oystercatchers
Understand your own super strength. At school you are taught to work hard at the things you don’t do well to become an ‘all rounded’ good person. Stop that! Understand what you do brilliantly and spend 90 per cent of your time honing that skill. Use the rest of the time to find people around you to fill in the gaps and learn a few general skills to keep you on track!
Sandy Jen: San Francisco, Chief Technology Officer of Meebo
[In my younger days] most of my stress was self-imposed. My parents never put any pressure on me, but for some reason my own expectations were incredibly high, and if they weren’t met, I felt like I was failing. As a teenager, I probably had the blood pressure of a 40-year-old executive. But after getting a pretty decent job in the software industry… I started to question why I stressed so much. I stepped back and asked myself a very simple question: What really matters to me? As long as I was enjoying what I was doing and learning, life was so much easier and so much better.
So what do I do now? I choose the ways in which I measure myself. I am in control of what makes me happy. I appreciate the things I have, the people I love, and the experiences I gain. I can stop and smell the roses whenever I feel I need to. In the grand scheme of things, I am but one tiny person amongst billions, and my personal stress level is probably the least important factor in making the world a better place. So, my advice to my younger self is this: chill out. There are lots of things to stress about, but there are many more things that you’ll miss if that stress consumes you.
Lindsay Pattison: London, Global Chief Executive of Maxus
Trust your instincts on people – some colleagues and clients will become your best friends, some never will. Don’t take things personally, but do take responsibility. A tricky balance [but] it’s not all about the work but the relationships, the confidence you give others and the spirit in which you work.
Janneke Niessen: Amsterdam, Co-founder of Improve Digital
Public speaking: learn to love it. I would urge my younger self to seek professional speaker training much earlier in her career. The benefits would have been huge. When I did find myself in a position where I was expected to speak eloquently on a panel or as a keynote, it would be hugely daunting. Then in early 2013, I was attending a tech conference and I asked the organiser why there were so few women on stage. His response made my blood boil. “Women are generally bad speakers,” he said, straight-faced. This was my trigger moment and from that day forward, I vowed to prove him wrong by becoming a more confident, inspiring speaker myself and to strive to correct the gender imbalance that’s so pervasive in the tech sector.
The first step was to seek professional training. Skill led to desire, and more speaking opportunities followed. This in turn boosted my profile, and a virtuous cycle set in. All of this culminated in one of the proudest moment of my career – my very first TED Talk.
Claire Diaz-Ortiz: Argentina, Author
When I was 22 years old, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. The people around me, however, had lots of ideas. Parents. Academic advisors. Campus recruiters. Friends. Random people at graduation parties. Everyone, it seemed, knew a whole lot about what I should be doing. I ignored their well-meaning wisdom: I moved to Mexico. I wanted to hear myself think. I had squeezed an undergraduate and a master's degree into four years at Stanford with two part-time jobs and two theses to boot. I needed to slow down. Way down. And [when I got bored of Mexico] knew it was time to move on. I couldn’t be happier that I took advantage of the freedom I had.
Over the next few years, things began to fall into place in more orderly fashion. The book I wrote became published. The blog I started led me on a long road to starting a non-profit in Africa, and then going to business school, and then becoming an early employee at Twitter. And, in retrospect, it all tied up pretty nicely. But, if we're being honest, it all started by not having any idea at all, and thinking that that was okay.
Mo Settubtim: San Francisco Founder of The Happiness Planner
At one point in my life, I was multitasking like an expert. I got myself involved in three start-ups plus my own consulting work, another writing gig, and managing [my] blog. I thought I could manage. But I was wrong. I felt overwhelmed. I was multitasking too much. I don’t regret my decision for taking on too many things. Although none of them succeeded because I did not focus, I learned a great deal. And I believe the process which you may feel like you have wasted time in is actually needed for you to grow and learn so that you can be ready.
So here’s the advice I’d like to give to my younger self: Focus on one thing at a time. You can have it all in life, but not all at once. And if you don’t keep your focus right, you might not achieve anything. You need to put all of your energy towards it — whatever it is you want to achieve the most in life. You have to keep your eyes on the big picture. What is that one main goal? Make it a priority. Focus on one thing at a time. Achieve your goal one by one. Make a to-do list and a bucket list and work towards ticking them off one by one.
Naomi Simson: Sydney, Australia, Founding Director of RedBalloon.
I had graduated with my economics degree from the University of Melbourne, a year early, ready to take on the world, thinking I knew it all. I was taking my role at IBM in its World Trade Centre headquarters in New York very seriously. How life would change after that dinner... how we live, the impact the Internet and smartphones would have, the abundance of information that would be available to us, or the fact that the World Trade Centre would not be there – unfathomable.
I laugh at my own naivety and seriousness now. I was so earnest, diligent, and concerned. I would be fearful of so many things, worried that I would not get ahead. I was a very serious young lady, in my navy blue suit. I would tell myself to have fun, to rush less, breathe more, eat raw food and take up yoga. Allow myself the space and time for creativity and self-expression. Take a moment to nurture my friendships – in person. Call them, make a plan, do something together – share experience. Laugh out loud every day. A poke on Facebook does not a friendship make.