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Thursday, 4 March 2010

10 things I wish I had known when I was 17

I have 3 sons and a daughter. My eldest son is 17 years old next week and I shall be having a chat with him during his 17th year probably over a pint. There are certain things which I wish I had been told at the age of 17 which might have made things easier and which might have helped me to get to where I am now more quickly. Of course, that is not to say that any of this advice will be heeded and such is the nature of youth that you think you know better. Also some of the advice is boring and requires hard graft. I just feel it needs to be said even if it is not heeded.

So here is my list of things:

1. Read more. I am vociferously wading through loads of books now which are expanding my thoughts and giving me so many invaluable ideas. Some of the books I have read have changed my life. I just think what I could have achieved if I had read some of these books earlier in my life.

2. A goal is just a dream with a deadline attached to it. It is important to have dreams because with dreams comes passion and you need to have passion in what you do. Passion is vital. If you are not passionate about what you do then you are effectively wasting your life.

3. Analyse your gifts and your talents. What do you do that no one else does as well. What do you absolutely love doing and everyone says you do really well. It could be dealing with people, it could be working outdoors, it could be nature, working with deprived people. Then having identified them, try to build a future that incorporates those talents / gifts. Remember as Confucius said if you love what you do, you will never have to work another day in your life.

4. Avoid settling down too early. When you have a wife and children, your priorities change and it is more important to make sure you have a steady income to pay the rent and feed the hungry mouths. If you have no commitments, you can sleep on floors and live on a shoestring and sleep on sofas and it doesn't matter. I wanted to be a film composer and a good way to get into the business is to be an assistant to an established composer who will teach you the trade. However, you cannot expect to get paid for a while and so sleeping rough (even in the studio) is the reality until you get established and your mentor deems you worthy of paying. You can only do this if you have no wife and children.

5. Don't waste your life watching TV and playing video games. There really is nothing of benefit to be achieved from these activities. Sure, watch a bit of TV and play the odd game but life is so rich and so varied, there really must be better things to do with your spare time (like reading).

6. Don't lose contact with all of your friends. Your friends will do all sorts of interesting things and you never know when you can both be of mutual benefit to each other in the future. Facebook and Linked In are great for keeping in touch with a wide circle of friends even when they dissipate all over the world. Use these valuable tools and try to give some value to all of these friends.

7. Give value first. In fact, you could go further and say give without expecting to receive back. By giving without receiving you increase the respect people give to you and you increase your influence. Read Seth Godin's Linchpin on this. He is spot on in his analysis and is one of the world's great thought leaders.

8. Build relationships to further your success. Relationships are the key to the whole portfolio of skills most young people are going to need moving into the connected digital future. This links with the point about friends. However, this goes further and means you are trying if you can to build a tribe of followers. This can be done with blogs, myspace, bebo, twitter. Pick your tools.

9. Think about your core values and write them down. This is your moral compass for the life ahead. This is your code of ethics, your modus operandi. If you are religious, this is easier to do but if you are humanist, it is about treating others fairly and giving back something to society.

10. Remember to respect your family at all times. You will need them in the years ahead. They could be the best mentors you ever have. Make that weekly phonecall to your parents if you have left home, keep in touch with your siblings. Share your achievements and try to help them. Don't just see them as a source of investment or top up cash.

OK that's enough for the time being. As I said, I will have that conversation but who knows how much will go in but I have to pass it on because I wish someone had done when I was 17.