Last Saturday night I was the “plus one” at a high school reunion, where people were frankly in shock. It had been 30 years – 30 years! – since they’d all been together at Lakeland Regional High in Wanaque, New Jersey.
How will you account for three decades that start the moment you begin life, without adult supervision?
How will you explain the lapse of time between now and when you did or didn’t get into your first choice of college, maybe started spending student loan money like you’d never have to repay it or just up and started working or maybe drifting?
One thing for sure. Be careful of getting a job. You might look up 30 years later, waiting for retirement to kick in. Working at a big box store or whatever you land at 18 can be addictive. When you’re too young, the feeling of money in your pocket never gets old… until you do. Then in 30 years you wind up faced with the lives of adventurers and risk-takers, and you’re in the mirror with the same old, same old.
Imagine walking into a hotel ballroom with a deejay playing the soundtrack of your teenage years. Will you still be schlepping your high school sweetheart around the floor?
Imagine the tyranny is over. The dominance of jocks, the secrecy of nerds, the relentless buoyancy of cheer squad and the brotherhood of hipsters smoking in the parking lot – all behind you. (Actually, the hipsters will still go out into the parking lot to smoke.)
Here’s what I observed in place of these old roles. You become a person over 30 years. You drop the attitude, the chip on your shoulder, and the previously endless scrutiny of who’s hot and who’s not. Instead you remember so much, so fondly. Everyone talks to everyone. There are hugs and tears and the whole group dancing badly on the dance floor, in some strange geometric shape that simply means “we survived!”
Fear your high school reunion. Let that motivate you to live a life with stories to tell, adventures you’ve had and failure that taught you resilience and perseverance and came with a big dose of optimism.
You’ll probably be wrinkled, fat, bald or looking older than you ever thought possible. But, it’s all good if happened with the excitement of life experiences.
Now get to work on living – really living! You’ll need stories to tell.
No matter where you live and where you want to work, there’s probably an ocean between you and what you want. No, I don’t mean the vast body of water that covers 71% of the planet. It’s not that you live in the UK and want to work in the US. Not that kind of ocean.
It’s the ocean of thoughts that swim around your brain. Constantly circulating thoughts, feelings, and past experiences.
These include the hurts, insults, misunderstandings, false accusations, lack of validation and other debris leftover from all the people who ever spoke to you unkindly – accidentally or intentionally. All the efforts you made that went unrewarded. All the dreams that couldn’t be sustained, in reality.
This internal pollution typically isn’t visible at the surface.
I know. I have an ocean, too. I’ve had to dredge it, sift it, cleanse it and recirculate it. It’s actually part of the work I do regularly, along with checking my calendar and making my bed. It’s a daily ritual. So, when I speak to you, my ocean is clean and clear. That freshness allows me to simply say what I mean. Ask what I need to know. Listen to what you say. Hear what you mean.
In almost every interaction, I see all the old trash that litters the present consciousness of the person I’m speaking to.
Largely, this is my job. I am a communications and career coach. When you speak, I listen for what will move you forward and what is holding you back. If my ocean of thoughts were littered with the remnants of uncomfortable past experiences, I would not have a clear mind to help you read yours.
While you may rarely speak to a communications coach, most everyone else you speak to knows what I know, just in a different way. They sense that something is wrong with you. They might think you’re unqualified, overqualified, defensive, evasive, irritable, moody, inconsistent, unreliable, nervous, rude or just nutty.
If you have not succeeded, it’s largely because you are sinking in your own ocean. The undertow keeps you from being entirely present and clearly engaged with the people and opportunities around you. That’s what’s cluttering up your communication and stopping people from trusting you, liking you and caring about you. That’s why they are reluctant to hire you, promote you, award you a raise, invest in you and otherwise help you get where you want to go. It’s why you’re stopped, stalled, irritated, and find yourself stuck with “difficult” people. It’s why you don’t get a response to your resume or calls, it’s this sense that you’re somehow not “right.”
The fix? Get yourself a stack of index cards. With every negative thought – like a desire to complain, procrastinate, challenge authority or otherwise undermine yourself – take a card and write it down. Then ask yourself: “Who first told me that?” “Who gave me this impression of myself or the world?”
Do it now and never stop. Oceans need lifeguards. You are yours. If you want more tips on this, email Nance@NanceRosen.com. Subject line: Ocean.