On New Year’s Day, Silvia Spiva asked me to offer some words of wisdom to two friends who were turning 30 this year. I was surprised, yet honoured to be asked. I don’t consider myself to be particularly wise or knowledgeable. However, it is a rare person who can see themselves as they are seen.
I promised her that I’d write some words once I had time to reflect on what I would say. When such advice is requested it is easy to offer an immediate answer like “Eat healthy” or “Always wear shades”, which discharges the duty but does not answer the question. I wanted to answer the question without offering a list of duties or tasks the person must accomplish or avoid.
To the extent that I have wisdom or insight, I offer the following comments. I do not know either of the men personally so the comments are focused on the public life which precludes personal or spiritual life. To provide advice on a personal life or a spiritual life, one has to have a better understanding of the person, their background, and their current context. As I have neither, I can only provide some words on their public status and what I know about the public domain. I hope my comments can be useful.
Integrity. As both of you are turning thirty, you will have already achieved a measure of success. You will have already been asked and answered, whether you know it or not, the integrity question. Integrity is fundamental to a rewarding public life. If you have it, people will trust you and rely on you. If you lose it, you will spend a life time trying to recover it or living with its loss. Without integrity, you are not as trustworthy or reliable. You may be asked to sacrifice some of your integrity for short term success. Is the success worth it? For some people, the answer is yes. They gladly become the willing executioner. If you have not already experienced it you will find that many organisations, and some people, will demand or at least politely suggest that you need to be flexible with your integrity. They will ask you to bend to their or the organisation’s will. In other words, you need to sacrifice your integrity for their ends.
Faith. Faith is more than a spiritual characteristic for here it means being part of something larger than you. Our professional or public lives have meaning and are rewarding to the extent that we are part of something larger than ourselves. For some people, that can mean public service. For others, it can be working within an organisation. They want to serve either the public or the organisation’s ends. For others, it is to join a cause or movement. Whatever you decide, turning thirty is when you have to consider what is the larger project, idea, or movement that you want to be part of. Seek these out and see where that adventure takes you. If you take a small slice of a larger problem, you can find a way to make a difference. You may not solve world hunger, but you might find a way to identify potential drought spots before they become severe.
Live your life. As you turn thirty, you are now officially in your middle age. As your life span is about 80 years, when you pass 27 you have arrived in your middle age whether you realize it or not. You have to decide what life you want to live. You may find that you have been living with someone else’s expectations or demands, such as finishing graduate school, or completing an apprenticeship, or founding a company. Over the next decade, you will be shaping your career. If you seek out larger projects ensure that you are pursuing it for your own reasons. If you seek money or fame, they come at a cost. Make sure the price is worth the cost.
Acceptance is not resignation. As you pass into middle age, you will have to accept certain things. This does not mean you are resigned to them. For example, you will not be playing professional sports. If you have not achieved this by the time you are 30 or on track to achieve it by then, it is unlikely to happen. The same is for a number of other pursuits. If you want to run for president, you need to have already laid the groundwork for it. You can only reap what you have sown. If you have not sown the seeds for success in March you cannot harvest them in November when they are expected to bloom
Less glamour does not mean less fulfilling. In an age of mass culture, the prevailing ethos will suggest that success or meaning is measured by public criteria. The criteria may include something glamorous or publicly acclaimed, such as fame, status, power, or money. The prevailing ethos, with a focus on celebrity and status will suggest that if you are not pursuing these or obtaining these your career or life is less fulfilling. The lack of glamour does not mean that what you do or what you want to be is less fulfilling. You are at the point where you have to decide what matters to you and to pursue it. As your choices close off other opportunities, realize that life’s contingencies are not your fate. Instead, a life lived as you want is harder to achieve and is more rewarding than a life lived to others expectations or to their standard.
Lastly, there is the question of how you get anything done in this world. You may believe the common idea that all that matters is the individual to get things done. You may have also been encouraged to believe that networks matter most to achieve your success. Both of these have their role, but neither explains what really works.
Organisations matter. If you want to get anything done, you need an organisation. A network is not an organisation until it actually delivers results and responds to what you require. Organisations may be fluid, they may even be structured like networks, they may even be “virtual” (whatever that means) but they never disappear. Only with or through an organisation will you be able to achieve what you want. Organisations provide the context within which you can flourish and leverage your individual talent. Over the rest of your career and public life, the more you understand organisations and develop your ability to organise, either across or outside your networks, the more success you will have as well as your ability to manage or at least adapt to life’s contingent events.
I hope these words of “wisdom” help without being too obvious or being grandiose. Revel in your youth and marvel at your opportunity.