In my lifetime, I have been the recipient of all kinds of advice – good and bad, solicited and unsolicited, helpful and hurtful, and some that was just downright strange (the English professor who was convinced I should work for the FBI comes to mind).
Even the Bible has something to say about why we should value advice: "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors, there is safety." (Proverbs 11:14)
Sometimes the problem is not so much that there's a dearth of advice, but rather whose advice do you listen to? After all, lots of people are probably willing to give their opinion on how you should live your life and what choices you should make, and that's all well and good, and yet at the end of the day, you are the one who has to live your life.
However, there is ONE kind of advice I always pay attention to and oftentimes solicit – the advice people would give their younger selves. Framed this way, you are more likely to hear something that has meaning – if not for your own practical use, then certainly as a way to widen and inform your understanding of the human experience.
The concept of giving advice to your younger self is fascinating to me. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to hop into a time machine, travel back to pivotal moments in your life, tap your younger self on the shoulder, and say things like, "Go sit next to that girl in the back row; she could use a friend," or "You will forever regret it if you do not speak up right now," and "Do not eat the fish tacos. DO NOT EAT THE FISH TACOS!!!" (Valentine's Day 2014). Alas, time machines haven't been invented yet (or have they?), which is why, sadly, the smell of salmon continues to make me nauseous.
As many of you are transitioning out of MVS, I thought it might be fun to leave you with some advice from those of us at the MissionNetwork/Mennonite Church USA offices. Remember: This is not prescriptive for you and your life necessarily; it is simply advice we would give our younger selves. And to those of you moving on, Godspeed my friends! It's been a pleasure getting to know you. Stay in touch!
Advice to my younger self:
Anything you see was made by somebody or made possible by somebody. That somebody could be you. You have the ability to do whatever you want, but once you start down a career path, it's much harder to change direction. Make every effort to learn everything and explore every possibility.
Develop good references while you're in high school and college. When you apply for jobs, the one thing that can make the difference is knowing the right people, be it a good reference, or somebody in the company you're applying at.
Be professional, well organized, and free from distractions during a job interview. I've seen this make the difference between people who got a job and people who didn't.
Everyone you meet has something worthwhile they can teach you.
Buy as much Bitcoin as you can. Pour every single cent you have into buying Bitcoin while it's at 35 cents apiece, and hold it until November 2017.
The winning numbers for the Aug. 23, 2017, lottery is 6-7-16-23-26, Powerball 4. Take a lump sum and invest it.
The Cubs win the World Series in 2016 in seven games, in extra innings, after a rain delay. I know it sounds unbelievable. By the way, they'll be playing Cleveland, so get ready for some heartbreak. Get your bet in now.
-Matt Lehman Wiens, MMN outgoing director of Donor Relations
If I could give advice to my younger me, I would say not to worry so much about controlling the future. Since graduating from college, I have dealt with anxiety. I have learned that anxiety comes from wanting to control future outcomes. Something I have learned the hard way is that I do NOT have superhuman powers to do that. We will make mistakes, we might not get the jobs we interview for, or get into the graduate schools we wanted to, or end up living in the geographical location of our dreams … but, regardless, we get through those things and survive. I would have NEVER imagined that I would end up being the director of a voluntary service program. If things would have turned out "my way" in a lot of cases, I would not be where I am today. Control what you can, but also try to just enjoy the ride! Things happen for a reason ... don't dwell on the "why." It might be revealed to you in ways you never imagined!
-Lizzy Diaz, MVS Manhattan alum 2015, director, Mennonite Voluntary Service
"When choosing between being right and being kind, choose kind." What job you end up with, what career path you follow, what type of work you eventually do, is not what matters. The relationships you build along the way will be the lifeboat that helps you survive the next few decades.
-Linda Krueger, HR coordinator and MVS alum, Americus, Georgia (with EMBMC) 1980-1983
One bit of advice I received years ago was: Never pass up the opportunity to look into/interview for different positions even if you are happy with what you are doing. You might find your dream job when you least expect it.
-Scott Hartman, director of Event Planning, Mennonite Church USA
I would tell my younger self to not be as concerned with what job I want to do (like figuring out my dream job) and building a "successful career" as I am with what kind of person I want to be. Because, first of all, what truly defines a successful life is who you are, not what you do! Second, it's nearly impossible to know exactly what you will want to do for the rest of your life when you are in your 20s. In fact, many of the great jobs out there are not included on any career lists (like my job, for example!), so it just takes time and life experience to find them. What I have found is that as you try out different jobs/tasks, you discover what things you are really good at and what things are energizing/life-giving for you – and that might even change over time. Rather than thinking about where you want to be at the end of your work career, just focus on the very next step.
-Tonia Martin, MVS alum (San Antonio 1995-1996) and Program Human Resources care coordinator
I think I had a lot of negative self-talk as a young adult, thinking I wasn't smart enough, talented enough, qualified enough to aim high. I often set the bar low for myself and took the path of least resistance. I have begun challenging myself more now since my late 30s and 40s, and am pleased with the results. I don't always reach the higher bar, but it isn't because I didn't give my best effort. I would advise my younger self to not settle for mediocre when a little more effort or confidence would make a difference.
-Sharon Norton, Personnel counselor/Journey International program director
Pursue what interests and excites you more than what you've been told makes a "sensible" career choice. High earning potential is no substitute for high satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment, and joy in what you do.
-Mike Sherrill, director for Asia and Middle East
Soon after getting married, I learned that you can figure out what your spouse expects on their birthday by observing what they do for you on your birthday. Communicating with coworkers is often like that, and they will communicate their expectations by how they communicate with you. Often, I get reminded that what works for me may not work for others. Everyone has their preference, and figuring out your own preferences will help. Teammates who like the same style as you are easy to communicate with. Working with others is where it can get tricky. At times, you have to negotiate with a coworker on how to effectively communicate back and forth, and both of you adapt.
In work situations where there is a conflict and you have a personal stake in things, ask a third party to step in. They can see things without emotion or bias, and their counsel is easier for others to hear. Emotionally charged situations are best navigated by people who have no personal stake in the matter.
-Ken Regier, director of Program Human Resources
The fear of failure and rejection is actually worse than failing and being rejected. With every choice you make there will be tradeoffs; you can't avoid risk, so you might as well get comfortable with it. (Also, I wasn't kidding about those fish tacos.)
-Carmen Hoober, Personnel counselor, Program Human Resources