Advice to a niece on her 21st birthday

Our niece Sarah was 21 recently. With typical flair, her Mum suggested we all gave her one piece of advice on being an adult. Adding to the pressure these were to be written on post-it notes and stuck on the family fridge for all to see.

Pausing briefly to ponder whether at 62 I had lived long enough to rise to the challenge, I came up with:

Don’t let anybody else define you.

Several months on it still feels like a good choice. I’m actually quite pleased with it. It’s no longer on the fridge though, I have noticed.

But it’s not a piece of advice I have found easy to apply to myself. 

Actually I still don’t. Perhaps that’s the point. From parents, to teachers, to peer groups, to managers, to the culture of organisations we join, to (heaven forbid) coaches and mentors, to life partners and maybe also to younger generations there are people we encounter in our journeys who from time to time feel (and can let it be known) that they know what’s best for us.

Try “You should be a teacher when you grow up”

Or “Keep your head down and you’ll do fine here”
Or “What you ought to do is this”
Or (always a winner) “If I were you I would do this”.

There may of course be real pearls of wisdom here. It’s important to have the grace to listen and take on board what may be truly valuable for us.

But we are unique, and it would seem that part of life’s journey for many is finding that uniqueness and learning how best to apply it. “Best” is another value judgement of course. Who’s needs am I working to meet? Mine; my family’s; those of a specific community; maybe even those of many people less advantaged than me? And if I go down that latter path, how best to do it? Plenty of advice to be had there as well.

I write about this because it’s reflected in hundreds of coaching conversations. They can be summarised as “What am I best at?” and “How do I best apply it?” And that in itself is a lifetime journey, with the answers evolving as our lives evolve.

So – things for me to go on thinking about…

Who am I allowing to define me right now?
What’s my uniqueness and am I applying it for the best?

Any age - 21, 41, 61, 81 – always good questions to be thinking about I suspect.