The Travel-Back-in-Time Advice Column: resources/resourcefulness

They gave me an option: travel back in time, visit my sixteen year old self, we give you thirty seconds to talk to ‘him’, errr, me . Thirty seconds to tell me what I needed to do for a life, what I needed to consider, what choices I needed to make. Thirty seconds isn’t a ton of time to lay out a life’s direction, but it was all the time offered.

I can’t believe I didn’t focus more on love. Snakebitten or cursed, at fault or faultless, that’s been a minefield (hardly an ideal candidate to manage match.com; more suited to travel without a significant other, I suppose).

What I told my younger self had everything to do with avoiding the easy way out, the shortcut, the path well trod; it came down to hard work. This recurring theme of the shortcut is not endemic to me, but everyone…it’s the riddle of resources and resourcefulness. Sometimes America puts up hurdles to the long-established doctrine of the self-made millionaire (or billionaire), but still it’s in the fabric of who we are, or aspire to be…we set our destiny.

Recently I gave some editing advice to a younger colleague (she’s doing night work at a JUCO) on the why’s wherefore’s and whatnot’s of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (since early days, that one poem haunts, erasing years of emotional progress and intelligence and work, hard and sometimes not). I see a man who yearned to be a poet, hardly a moneymaking enterprise in a world where money was a necessity. Frost laments the artist’s choice, hard as it might have been, not just for the money, but also for the right to be heard and respected. His was art for the ages…today you can listen to a musician and pay your dollars for the iTunes download, but in Frost’s day, his was a gift to humanity and not much more.

So, what about the resources versus resourcefulness dilemna? I was told by an uncle that a ‘young man with a little money in his pocket can make a fortune’…but then, where did Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, and those guys get their startup dough? I don’t think any of them came into VC riches and set the world ablaze using OPM. They just set about their work, and came up with products and services that had incredible universal appeal.

When I look around the spectrum of kids going into college these days, the language I hear is straight out of B-School 101…ROE, ROI, First Round, Anti-Dilutive, Preference Rights, etc… These are first year college students! I don’t hear much about ‘the work I’m going to put in’; ‘the product I wish to build’; ‘the service I will code myself’. Those people are out there, for sure, but we need more resourcefulness and less resources.

I told myself to go to work every day, learn, and sweat. Create something; don’t trade paper. Add value to humanity with product or art or vision. Shrug off the naybobs. Pursue the dream, wherever it may lead. My heart was (and still is) in skiing, a pursuit that seemingly made no one much money…I used to live among the instructors and patrol guys in Tahoe, and believe me, they never had much. But I ignored that, I just said ‘do what’s in your heart’.

Nothing is more priceless than sleeping well at night, knowing the shortcut was avoided. I want kids to get that…I want to get that. No matter how old you are, no matter the mistakes or wrong paths, go back five, give yourself thirty seconds to talk, and see what advice you’d give yourself. Commit yourself anew to resourcefulness, and avoid the shortcut. Go to work.