Advice from an Elder

By Joe Boyd

We live in a youth-obsessed culture. A quick glance at the way we market and sell products makes that clear. While traditional cultures had a way of honoring their elders, most of us modern Americans tend to struggle with that. This, I would submit, is to our disadvantage.

It’s countercultural today in America to honor our elders, yet they hold the wisdom we so desperately need. This was clear to me as I prepared this spring to return to Cincinnati Christian University, my alma mater, to be a commencement speaker. It may be the first time in my life I felt like a true “elder” (read, “old person”). I graduated 23 years ago. Here in front of me were dozens of young adults on the verge of a great adventure. I couldn’t help but think back a few decades to when I stood in their shoes.

When I was 22 and graduating from college, I had what many younger people have: youthful confidence and very little wisdom. I had a very clear plan for my life’s path, and I followed it through for a few years.

Then things happened. I can now look back and see that my present life is actually better than the life I thought I would have, but that’s only with the benefit of time.

Time Travel

The whole experience had me thinking, What would 43-year-old Joe Boyd say to 22-year-old Joe if he had the chance? If I could travel back in time, pull that wide-eyed kid out of the procession line for two minutes, and unload my wisdom on him, what would I say? It would probably go something like this:

Psst. Hey, kid . . . over here. Do me a favor and take all $280 you have in the bank and put it on the Rockets to sweep the Magic in the NBA Finals. Use your sudden wealth to take your new wife to Europe or you may not get there for another 25 years.

06_BoydJNOtherwise, just follow your instincts. You will be sure you will be right about many things only to find out you were wrong. Do them anyway. You will believe you are way smarter than people older than you. You’ll only be right about that half of the time, but just assume you are always smarter. Humility has to be earned the hard way. Your mistakes will make you who you are. 

Those risky ideas you have for your career? Go for them. They won’t always work, but forget I told you that. Just assume they will. There will be people you will want to trust, but deep down you will have this strange feeling they aren’t trustworthy. Make sure you trust them and do what they say. They will betray you. That’s how you will learn to stop doing that.

Just live the life you’re bound to live. It will be awesome and frustrating. It will make you someone you wouldn’t even recognize if he were standing in front of you today. This is obvious seeing you stare at me now like I’m some deranged stranger. I get it, though. Time travel is super weird.

Now have fun. Go to the Olive Garden today with your parents and in-laws as planned. Rent that Ryder truck and move to Las Vegas next week. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s going to make one unbelievable story in 20 years. And when you’re my age, having that story will be worth more than anything else in your life . . . except that aforementioned wife and a few amazing kids you are going to love exponentially more than you can imagine.

And I was kidding about that gambling thing. It’s not a good way to make a buck. Work hard. Make your money honestly. You will value it more that way. But when you’ve saved a little bit, go ahead and look up this stock: AAPL. It may help you afford to put those kids through college someday.

You’re welcome. And get an e-mail address, already. It’s 1995.

Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio. 

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