Today is my 50th birthday. Holy cow, how did that happen??
Anyway, I’ve been thinking for some time how I would “celebrate” my birthday here on the blog. I’ve toyed with quite a few ideas, but kept coming back to the original idea of writing a letter to my younger self. My friends Shonali Burke and Nancy Davis, and Shonali was the first one who encouraged me to write my own take on this for my birthday.
So yeah, I’m 50 today. And I’ve decided to write my letter to an 18-year old Ken Mueller, back in 1980. Feel free to steam open the envelope and take a peek at what I have to say to myself.
You’ve just turned 18 and are finishing up your first year at college. And boy do you have so much to learn about life and the world. I just want to take this time to point out a few things and perhaps give you some advice on how to live your life.
Your work & career.
You’ve just discovered your love of radio. Nurture that. It will take you on an amazing journey, though it won’t even be close to the one you have planned in your head. Every job you have will be another piece of the puzzle that leads you to where you are headed. In fact, you’ll just about stumble into every job you have.
Here’s the thing you need to focus on: a job is not work. If you approach it as work, it will become drudgery. You will resent your job and will spend your days waiting for the whistle to blow at 5 p.m. You will spend your days working for the weekend. If you’re going to spend 40+ hours doing something every week, make sure you enjoy it. It is not work, it is a vocation. It is something for which you have trained, and something you will hopefully do because you love it. Over the years you will have jobs that seem like work at times, rather than something you enjoy. Understand this: that is your choice. Your attitude about what you do is what makes the difference, not what other people do, or how they treat you.
Your family and friends
Right now, you’re a little awkward, and that may always be a part of who you are, but don’t worry, in a few years your full personality will develop, you’ll find yourself and come out of yourself. During your college years you will begin to come in to yourself, but a lot of your personal, and professional, development, won’t really come until your late 20s when you’ve already started a family and are working in NYC. That’s right: NYC. Go figure.
That awkwardness of yours is going to be hard at times, and right now you’re wondering about girls and the whole relationship thing. Over the next year or so you might get your heart broken. And you might break a heart or two. But don’t worry: in a little over a year you’re going to meet the girl you will spend the rest of your life with. You’ll have your ups and downs, but she’ll be a fantastic wife and give you three wonderful children. Cherish that. Treat her well.
On the other hand, guard your heart. You’ve always been the type to keep people at arms length. You don’t let many people in to see everything. That’s OK. That will protect you at times, but don’t shut people out, especially your family. No one is meant to go thru life alone. But here’s the thing: some people will hurt you. And in turn, you’ll do the same to others. Not intentionally, but you will make decisions and do things over the years that hurt others, even those closest to you. Work hard to preserve relationships, but remember: in the end you can’t change other people’s minds. They will make their own choices, and sometimes that will hurt you.
Guess what. You’ll survive.
I’ve already mentioned your love of radio, which comes from a love of music. The path you travel will be far different from the one you envision for yourself. But you’re headed into some exciting territory, and your love and study of communications and radio will always be central to that. Remember last semester when you took that FORTRAN computer class? You labored over a thick stack of IBM punch cards that went through a reader, fed into that huge computer in the computer room, and spit out some simple equation like 2 + 2 = 4. Pretty crazy, huh?
You may not believe this, but by the time you reach my age, a computer more powerful than that one that fills up an entire room will fit in your pocket, and almost everyone will have one! Sure, it sounds like some space age dream, but it’s true. We won’t have flying cars, or live on the moon, but we’ll have pocket computers that will allow us to communicate with virtually every other person on the planet. You’ll make friends all over the world with whom you can chat on a daily basis. And while you’re certainly not a techie, this will all play a part in the career path that is chosen for you.
This simple phrase is one you need to hold on to. This phrase should be at the center of everything you do in your life and career. Seek to help others. There’s nothing wrong with advancing your career and your lot in life, but it should never be at the expense of others. Our culture values money, looks, fame, and power. Too often these come by focusing inwardly. Don’t fall for that siren song. Whether you work with businesses or non-profits (and you’ll work with quite a few of both), remember: always put others first.
The real you.
In closing, don’t ever lose sight of who you are. Be you. Don’t ever feel like you have to pretend to be something you aren’t, just because you want others to like you. That’s a waste of time. If they don’t like Ken for Ken’s sake, then that’s their problem. And let your sense of humor shine through. Sure, not everyone will “get it”, but don’t worry about that. Enjoy life. Enjoy all that you do. Enjoy your family.
Oh, and I’ve got a little tip for you: the 1980 baseball season is just starting, and your beloved Phillies will win their first ever World Series this year. If you get this letter in time, maybe you can make a wager or two and change our financial destiny. And this won’t be the last World Series victory you see, but this team will certainly turn your hair gray, and the championships will be few and far between. But at least they’ll throw you a bone every few decades. Wish I could say the same for the Eagles.
Enjoy your 18th birthday, Ken, and hang in there. You’ve got a pretty wild ride ahead of you. Embrace it.
Ken (the 50-year old version).
Thanks for sticking around and reading my letter. If you’re a friend and you have any interest in participating in my birthday, you can give me the best gift by contributing to a good cause. One particular cause that is close to my heart is the work being done to fight homelessness by the Water Street Mission in Lancaster (client). Please consider making a financial gift to them as a birthday gift to me. Thank you.
- Honoring the Women in My Life for International Women’s Day (inklingmedia.net)
- A Letter to My Younger Self (waxingunlyrical.com)
- Partnering in Social Good (waxingunlyrical.com)