Last Updated Aug 9, 2010 8:20 PM EDT
Take a deep breath. Take a deeper breath. Imagine that you're 100 years old and you're getting ready to die. Before you take that last breath, you're given a wonderful gift: the opportunity to go back in time and talk with the person who is reading this blog post today, to help this younger version of yourself have a better life -- both personally and professionally.
What advice would the wise 100-year-old you -- who finally knows what really mattered in life -- have for the you that is reading this blog post? As you think of the older you, whatever advice comes to mind, just do that.
In terms of performance appraisals, this is the only one that will matter. At the end of the day, the only person that you will need to impress is that old person that will one day look back at you from the mirror. If that old person thinks that you did the right thing, you did. If that old person thinks that you made a mistake, you did. You don't have to impress anyone else.
Some good friends of mine had the opportunity to ask old people who were facing death what advice they would have for their younger selves. Three themes emerged:
1. Be happy now. Don't wait for next week, next month or next year. A common regret of old people was, "I got so focused on trying to get what I did not have, I failed to appreciate all that I did have. I had almost everything. I wish that I would've taken the time to appreciate it."
I 've asked thousand of parents around the world to complete this sentence, "When my children grow up, I want them to be..." One world is mentioned more than all of the other words combined -- no matter what country I am in. What is that word? Happy.
Do you want your children to be happy? Do you want your parents to be happy? Do you want the people that love you to be happy? Do you want the people who respect you at work to be happy? Then, you go first. They want you to be happy, too.
2. Build relationships and help people, especially friends and family. When you're 100 years old and you look around your death bed, no fellow employees will be waving good-bye. You'll finally realize that your friends and family are the only ones that care. They are the ones that matter.
Of course, building relationships and helping people are also keys to ultimate satisfaction with your professional career. I have asked many retired CEOs an important question about their professional lives, "What were you most proud of?" So far, none have talked about have large their offices were. All they talked about were the people they helped.
The main reason to help people has nothing to do with money, status or promotion. The main reason is simple: the 100-year-old you will be proud of you if you did -- and disappointed in you if you didn't.
3. If you have a dream, go for it. If you don't try to achieve your dreams when you are 25, you probably won't when you are 45, 65 or 85. None of us will achieve all of our dreams. The key question is not, "Did I achieve all of my dreams?" The key question is, "Did I at least try?" Old people almost never regretted the risks they took that failed. They almost always regretted the risks that they failed to take.
No one else can tell you how to find happiness, who to love or where to find meaning. Only you can answer these questions. The best coaching that you will ever receive will not come from any other person, it will come from inside you.
So, what advice would the "old you" have for the you that just read this post? If you don't mind sharing your thoughts with other readers, I'd love to hear them.