If I were 22: Think Hard, Work Hard, Play Hard

I’m generally a sucker for graduation speeches, and especially with May being the height of graduation season, I always find myself watching / reading a few this time of year whether in gratitude or an inspired heart.  Aside from the favorites like Steve Jobs’ now fabled speech that he delivered at Stanford in 2005 on ‘staying hungry, staying foolish’ or George Saunder’s simply insightful reminder of erring on the side of kindness, what caught my eye this year wasn’t another hit graduation speech, but the simply posed prompt from LinkedIn to its network of influencers on “If I were 22”, where business and social influencers like Sir Richard Branson  and Deepak Chopra (one of my personal favorites from the collection) share advice they would impart on their younger selves.

And what would you tell your 22 year old self?  For me, 22 seems both like a blink of an eye away and galaxies away.  Your 20s are as much, if not more, about coming into your own as it is about building fundamentals (skills, habits, mindsets) that will carry you through the rest of your life.  For many of us, particularly in the US, it’s the first time you really have a chance to break away from ‘convention’ — if you’re lucky, you’ll likely have just graduated from college within the last year.  Instead of following a more or less standard set of classes to fill your day with, you’re given the choice to figure out what you want to do to fill your day with, whether it’s dedicated to a craft, an idea, further education, or settling in at home — the path and choice are yours to make and own.

Which only makes it natural, if you think about it, that 22 should be about thinking hard. Not necessarily about where you want to be in 20 years (although your thoughts may very well lead you there), but about what makes you thrive. What gives you meaning in the every day, what you can learn and continue to apply — even if you may no longer find yourself within the walls of a formal classroom.  Think about the habits in daily life you want to cultivate, and just as you explore hobbies, explore and experiment with habits that will bring out the most productive and fulfilled you.  As I’ve grown older, I’m increasingly hesitant to dole out advice along the lines of ‘follow your passion, and the rest will follow’, but I do believe that being thoughtful about your passions and how it lends itself in a meaningful (and practical) way.  Embrace change and think about building a better future, even — and especially — if it’s different than the one you’ve always been told.  Don’t let your 20s become a lost decade of whizzing through without taking the time to stop, smell the roses, and think.

Growing up, I’ve always been taught and seen the power and importance of working hard.   Hard work lies at the heart of the American Dream.  And in our 20s, it’s something we should seek to embrace rather than shirk away from.  It doesn’t always mean choosing to slave away at the 100+ hour a week corporate job — but it does mean working hard in building things that are meaningful to you.  Realize that working hard isn’t just about the job you’ve chosen to take that puts a roof over your head and food on the table, but it’s also about working hard on projects and ideas that challenge you to grow in other ways as well.   Work hard to never stop learning, never stop questioning, and enough to recognize that failure is part of the process of working.

And like Sir Richard Branson said, have a blast. Playing hard is always important, and cliche as it may be, when you do what you love, it’ll always feel like you’re playing hard (which is why thinking hard about the life you want on a day to day basis is so important, even — and especially — when we’re 22). I’ve always found that some of the most impactful decisions and epiphanies (not to mention some of the best memories) have come while I was playing hard, with people who inspire me and whom I’ve been lucky enough to call friends.  Playing hard is also about finding your tribe, connecting with your community, and exploring everything the world has to offer.

To be 22 again, I think these are principles that we’ve always known to be true, but may not have always had the words or thoughts to articulate them.  Age is but a number, and while we have milestones like graduations to mark the march of time and progress, we can create our milestones at any age — to thinking hard, working hard, and playing hard.

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