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Dear Younger Me…

Jun 1, 2019

As written for Fargo, INC

The year was 1987, and I had just graduated from college and embarked on my first real job in my profession.

Oh my, how naive I was and how much I had yet to learn, even if I didn’t realize that, myself. I wish I had been given some insight and idea of what it would be like. So, in this month’s issue which focuses on culture, I decided to author a letter to my younger self, some 32 years later with a bit of  advice that would have been beneficial to have.

Dear Stephen,

Congratulations! You’ve made it. Now what? As you enter the “real world” (as you have heard referenced so many times over the past year), I want to share with you my nine principles for a successful and rewarding life. Here goes:

  1. Professionalism — Dress and act Show up to work on time, return messages promptly, and remember that details matter. Be patient and courteous. Convey dignity in everything you do and say. Exhibit best practices day in and day out, not just when it is convenient or advantageous.
  2. Responsibility and accountability – We have all been given a huge responsibility to cultivate success in our professions and in our This responsibility requires accountability to do a good job, to be available to help out or answer a question when necessary, and owning up to one’s actions. This might entail saying “I’m sorry” and truly meaning it, not just because it is what is needed at a particular time. It means you’re accountable, not just for your own job, but for the integrity of the mission of your entire organization. Your actions and behaviors will also have a positive or negative effect on your co-workers and those you serve. To use an old cliché, “walk the walk and talk the talk.”
  3. Collaboration – Collaboration is plain old-fashioned It is the process by which we pull together for a common purpose, work hard, help each other out, fill in where needed, and do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Sure, we all have a certain and specific set of duties and responsibilities, but collaboration goes beyond our individual jobs. It’s fluid and is constantly adjusting until team goals are met.
  4. Have fun – Remember how much fun it was to hang out in the neighborhood with friends? Take time to inject some fun into your everyday Change things up, exhibit enjoyment in your work, or be the source of amusement from time to time. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy where you work and what you do; otherwise, your work will become joyless and life is far too short for that.
  5. Passion – It may sound superficial, but you must have passion for what you Passion isn’t something you can simply manufacture at will. It is a powerful, compelling desire to do the type of work your organization provides. The satisfaction you derive from your daily work will be vital to sustaining your levels of energy and excitement for what you continue to do. Often, the quiet, behind-the-scenes accomplishments drive this inner passion, carrying one through a challenging day or a stressful situation. Finding passion in what you do is key to the individual and collective success of an organization. No amounts of money or benefits can take the place of passion for what you do.
  6. Work smart – Be prompt and Increase your intelligence and performance capabilities through constant learning. Don’t get caught up with micromanaging, watching the clock, or minute scheduling details. Know your strengths, but also be willing to ask for help if you need it. You might stay an extra five minutes to get something done, today, that contributes to fulfilling your vision for tomorrow.
  7. Community and the bigger pie – It’s not just about It really isn’t. It never was, and it never will be. While employees are always a business’s most important asset, you need to give back, help out, show a caring attitude, and display a greater concern for the larger community. Even small contributions make a big difference. I encourage you to volunteer and assist in ways that do not directly benefit you or your family. While not required, it will grow you and round out your awareness of other people, their challenges, and their needs.
  8. Be a better version of yourself each and every day – Be better today than you were Be better tomorrow than you are today. The only person you need to compete with is yourself. The choices you make and the lessons you learn will aid you along the way. Sounds a bit corny, but at the end of your life you will be evaluated by the example with which you lived your life. Are you reading to improve your personal and professional life? Do you set goals and take time to really evaluate how you are doing? Do you take any continuing education, or do you continue to learn well beyond college? Don’t compare yourself to another employee or to someone else. Consider how you are growing as a person.
  9. Invitations and opportunities — Accepting invitations to join an organization or place of work will help you cultivate success and meet new As such, you will have much to contribute; however, you’ll also enjoy the opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Managing additional duties and responsibilities will be challenging, even difficult, at times. Regardless of whether you agree with someone or not, or despite the fact that things may not always go your way, continue to care about those you meet and work with each day. In the end, what kind of person you are, how you have accomplished your work, and what kind of care you have shown others, is all that matters.

I hope this bit of advice and wisdom helps.  Now go forward and do the very best you can with what you have.  Take a few risks, work hard, and stay humble.  I look forward to seeing what you do with your future.

Your future self,