I have, upon occasion, had a little bit of fun with the idea that I can write a letter to my younger self, and give said younger self advice about how to proceed in the world. Of course, such a thing is absurd, and so it is nothing more than a flight of fancy for a writer to indulge. But, as I think about it, it seems that that particular activity could actually have a very useful purpose. Let me tell you how.
My wife works for a giant corporation, one of the leaders in the senior living/nursing home industries, and my wife loves her job. It’s easy to see why: This corporation operates with zero debt, is very intentional about how and where it expands, and treats smart, hard-working employees with respect. You can always tell smart companies by the fact that they don’t reward titles or degrees or ambition — they reward results.
Anyway, this particular smart company has recently introduced a new initiative, and the rollout has only been in a handful of the communities operated by this company. But, having introduced the idea in a portion of the whole, they have asked all of those involved so far to put together a presentation for the remaining communities about what they screwed up, what surprised them, and what was harder than they thought it was going to be. They’re hoping to extrapolate from those lessons general themes that they can employ on future projects.
In other words, they have asked those with a little bit of experience to share their experience with those about to go through the same thing. It’s not at all unlike writing a letter to your younger, other, self.
I find this — sadly — remarkably smart on the part of the corporation. I know there are many industries that employ internship programs, and even education utilizes mentorship programs now, with the idea that more experienced people can share their wisdom with younger people. But, it has never been my experience that such relationships are as intentional as this one at pointing out the things that we don’t know we don’t know.
How great would it be for more companies to be that purposeful about experience? Do you think it might be useful for Dan McMinimee to pen a letter to his successor as Superintendent of Jefferason County Schools, sharing all the surprising little details that have made his job difficult? It might go something like this: “Dear whomever, keep in mind that in two years the Board of Education that hired you might be kicked out of office, and whatever operational paradigm you were operating under, could be summarily thrown out the window in about 17 seconds. And, oh yeah, sometimes the voters don’t operate on the same assumptions you do, and might not go in a direction which seems patently obvious to you. Have fun!”
So, while I have some fun with the idea of educating a younger version of myself through time and space, there is actually a tiny nugget of reality attached to the idea. Think about how much smarter you would be if, next time you do a major home project, the first thing you did after finishing was to write down everything that went wrong. Because, if you’re like me, after a few years, you only remember the end product, and not the process. Then, next time you have a project, look back on your notes, and try not to repeat those mistakes. It could make things infinitely easier over time.
See, time is the one resource we have absolutely no control over. But, if we bend our will towards managing the movement through time with purpose, perhaps — just maybe — we can harness the wisdom of our older selves in the now and future.
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com