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Advice to my younger self, c. 1989 and c. 1999, that's good for 2010 (Part 1).


Picture credit:  Me!  Me and my college mates in 1993

I made this post a bit (a lot!) too long and fairly personal, but you can get the gist of it by scanning the coloured sections.


As an adult, I've lived through two decade changes, and I'm about to see another.
1989 turned to 1990 (eighties to the nineties);  1999 turned to 2000 (nineties to the naughties); and 2009 is about to become 2010 (naughties to the tens).  I give that explanation for the benefit of the hard-of-thinking, which is a bit daft 'cause no reallygoodthinking.com readers are hard of thinking!
"Traditional scientific method has always been at the very best, 20 - 20 hindsight. It's good for seeing where you've been. It's good for testing the truth of what you think you know, but it can't tell you where you ought to go."  Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. 

OK, so I'm going to ditch thoughts of a scientific or systematic approach to understanding the last two decades.  I won't attempt any complicated tests or try to extract hard and fast rules that could be universally relevant for everyone. 

And I won't even dream of suggesting I can tell myself, or anyone, where we ought to go with our future.
Here's what I will do though: 
I'll use hindsight and my gut-level thinking to give my 1989-self, and my 1999-self some advice. 
It won't cover everything, just a small selection box of significant events and ideas I've picked at random.  It won't tell me, or you, where to go next, or give us details about how to approach the next decade (if we're lucky enough to live through it - hey, there are few certainties, right?) but it might provide a few useful pointers. 

If you find them helpful, that'll be great.  If not, well........
Advice to my 1989-self for the coming nineties decade.

Dear Ian,
*  In just a few years, the thing you fear more than anything else in the world will happen.  You know it's inevitable.  You just don't want it to, and you often think about how you could stop it.  But you know you can't stop it.  Your grandmother, the one person who has given you love and security your whole life, the woman who brought you up and is always there for you, will die, and you're understandably afraid of being completely alone in the world.
*  Right now, you believe losing your gran is the one thing you could not cope with.  But you will cope.  Not only that, you'll discover inner resources, a kind of security and self-reliance that sets you free from fear, and makes you less dependent on external circumstances.  Course, through the coming years, that inner security will be tested again and again.


Gran and I, 1994.
Sometimes you'll be overwhelmed, but each time you'll find your inner strength again.  It's hard to explain, and where it comes from is a bit intellectually mysterious, and my advice to you, Ian Aspin of 1989, is to relax a bit, and trust that inner peace, it is there to be found.  
*  Oh and it's not just inner security that'll bring amazing riches during the coming nineties.  Soon you'll meet and marry someone who could easily be described as the most loving, giving, thoughtful person on earth, for which you'll always be grateful.  Now then, you didn't see that coming did you?

Make sure you appreciate Lawrence and Sandra, the lovely people who let you share their home for several years.  You're just a lodger, but they treat you like family, making you so comfortable that you don't really want to leave and move into the first house you're trying to buy.  Remember, sometimes, being too comfortable for too long causes us to miss bigger opportunities

*  Sandra always used to say "don't let the good get in the way of the best".  You'll still be friends with Lawrence and Sandra and their daughter Dawn for years to come.  Oh yea Mr. Nineties-Aspin, good friendships, meaningful relationships, are so important

Learning to care deeply about people will be a great help to you, and you will get so much more back in return

*  In '89 you are fortunate enough to have a good job and it's fairly enjoyable.  The thing is, it's not playing to your strengths, engaging your passions, or ultimately very valuable in terms of making a meaningful contribution to the world.  Your work gave you a promotion and the biggest pay rise ever, and you leave. 

Smart move.  After all, unlike for some folks, leaving this job isn't going to land you in too much trouble, I mean, what's the worst that can happen?  You're lucky enough to live in a society where choices exist, and few people really have no option but to stay in a soul-less routine.  Plus, you have no family to support right now, so making the change is easier for you than for those with dependents and so on.

Lin and I, 1995.

*  So you'll leave your job to go to London to study something you're totally fascinated by and read about and think about at every opportunity anyway.  You will have the most excellent three years of undergraduate education and wider learning. 

*  But just before you go, you'll discover you've nowhere near enough money to cover your tuition fees and living expenses but decide to go anyway - somehow you will get through.  My advice is trust your ability to get yourself all you need

You are resourceful and throughout your time at college, you will find ways to earn enough money for all you need.  Your holiday jobs pay well thanks to experience gained from previous work, plus, you'll win a small scholarship which'll come in handy at just the right time. 

The lessons you learn here, about hustling for the stuff you really need, building connections, refusing to take no for an answer, and making the most of what you have, will serve you well in your businesses later on. 
*  Your passion and enthusiasm will carry you a long way.  You've always been interested in the big questions, and sometimes wrestling with those landed you in quite a few, um,  adventures.  You've struggled finding life's meaning and purpose, but don't worry, because as the years pass, things will get clearer and clearer and you'll learn to be at peace even when things don't make so much sense.
*  In the final year of your degree, you work for free at a magazine and decide you want to be a journalist.  That way, you can play to your key strengths by using your curiosity, desire for understanding, and passion for asking big questions. 

*  When you graduate, you'll struggle for a couple of years to get where you want to go.  You'll have to do some crappy jobs to get by financially,  whilst gaining experience working for zilch pay in radio.  You apply for loads of jobs and get nowhere at first. 

*  Along the way you'll gain lots of experience writing, reporting, presenting bits and pieces here and there.  All that builds up and gets you into paid work on a great network programme.
*  You seek the advice of lots of senior media people, but it turns out few will really care about helping you.  Some will even deliberately mislead you, but you'll learn from that and it will eventually help you make better judgements and increase self-reliance

*  My advice is to take what you can learn from these people, but realise, for all kinds of reasons, people often say they'll do a thing, or claim to be something, but their real agenda may be toward something quite different.  It's life.  It's how some people are.  The trick is, don't rely too much on any one person or organisation for anything. 
*  Eventually, you land a job at one of the world's most famous media companies and wonder where all those brilliant people are who always got the jobs you didn't.  You'll learn that business and life doesn't usually select on the basis of best people, best ideas, best methods, best anything. 

*  It works on the basis of agendas and control of power, egos and ambitions.  It's seldom about big picture thinking toward the greater good, or changing the world in a positive way

Lawrence, Sandra, Lin, 1993.
*  You realise the idea there's a precisely right or wrong way to do things soon seems quite ridiculous to you and you ask more questions about what is truly important, what is meaningful, what matters

*  It won't take long Mr. Nineties-Aspin to see this way of thinking is not the norm for many people who appear happy to live a life of quiet conformity, moving almost as if in a coma, toward increasing levels of social status, physical comfort and mediocrity.  Well get used to it, because that may not change much at all in the coming years.

*  You can see you are great at some things, I mean really good, and everybody knows it.  But there are other things at which you are really bad.  Actually, you are not really bad at all, you are just unmotivated, you don't care about them. 

*  But here's the problem:  other people care about those things. They draw attention to your weaknesses, and even though the contribution of your strengths is outstanding, these sticklers want you to conform in your areas of weakness too.  They can make your life miserable, if you let them. 
*  You might work for years to improve some of your weak areas and still be only mediocre.  This approach will detract vital energy away from your strengths and you'll end up being a half-arsed also-ran in every way. 

Focus on what you love, what you're potentially great at, and on what fits into your big vision for your life (don't worry, you don't know all the details of this big vision yet, but you can see clues shining through even now).
*  Well, I want you to be smart.  You'll find ways to make things work for you instead of against you.  You'll be clever to find win-win ways to handle everyone and everything to mutual advantage, and you won't be drawn into unhelpful patterns and thinking.
*  You'll travel to places and meet people that'll make you truly appreciate just how lucky you are.  In the busyness of everyday life, don't ever forget that, and recognise much of your good fortune comes through the apparent randomness of being born in a relatively prosperous and safe country. 

*  Try to see how your actions impact upon other people and upon our planet, and then work to minimise those negative effects.
*  After some very excellent years working in journalism and broadcasting full-time for other people, you'll get chance to be a partner in your own business.  At first you'll work evenings, weekends, and days off, having a blast alongside your day job as a TV news reporter. 

*  Soon, you'll be doing your own business stuff full-time.  You'll learn so many lessons about success, failure, ecstatic enjoyment, frustration, winning and losing

*  My advice to you, 1989 Ian, is to not be so busy each day that you fail to be consciousEnjoy it.  Savour all the adventures.  Be grateful for the opportunities, the people, the projects, because it won't go on forever.  And that's true of everything you'll do. 

Nothing, no matter how good (or bad) goes on forever.  You know that.  Be conscious of it, and you're time in the nineties will be easier, and far more enjoyable.
So that's it, some of the advice I'd give to the Ian Aspin of 1989 going into the nineties and it'll serve me well if I take it for 2010 too.  I'll be back later with some things I'd like to say to my 1999 self as I hit the new millennium.

Enjoyed this post, here's another you'll like too:  Fail better, see 2009 differently, and suck the marrow out of it.
Thanks so much for reading.  Hope it has been of some use.  Love hearing what you think.  What advice do you want to give your younger self?  Please do let me know!  Much love, Ian.

Your comments:

headstuffng says:
01/01/2010 01:16:29

That was really great Ian. How unique. And how incredibly insightful. I have enjoyed this aspect of your efforts for most of a year now and I look forward to including your thoughts and ReallyGoodThinking in the next decade - incorporating them where I am fortunate enough to recognise the opportunity. A heatfelt thank you and my very best wishes to you and to your family and loved ones for 2009.
Janine Murray says:
31/12/2009 21:48:30

Interesting take on reflection! I enjoyed the read Ian ... I should take some time and think about what I would tell the 1989-Janine! Summer of 2007, I was a little worried about what I perceived was going to be the most stressful part of my fall and winter. Little did I know that the thing I was concerned about was going to be the least of my worries! Other circumstances and events occurred (including my getting diagnosed with cancer and having a very complicated surgery), and I learned what I had been taught all along in church: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself." (Book of Matthew somewhere) ... Anyway! Blessings to you and yours, Ian, for this coming new year! Thanks again for all the good you share! Janine


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  • Ian AspinLocation: Lancaster Lake District, UK
  • Bio: I’m passionate about my work:TV journalist, producer, presenter, business ideas person. I care about: family, friends, helping people, finding meaning, running