The more I learn, the more I want to challenge what I know. I never want to lose my grip on what it was like before I gained experience and knowledge.
I make an effort to think about what life used to be like before I grew into the person and professional I am today.
What it was like before I started freelancing and building my own career, when I hated my job and thought I’d never find a way out.
What it was like before I made enough money to stop scraping by, before I could afford to stop worrying about the price of every grocery item I put in my cart down to the last cent.
What it was like before I became an expert, before I invested in my education, and before I earned certifications to show I knew what I was talking about — before all that, when I had no clue what to do or where to start.
I don’t want to think about these things to dwell on the past. And I don’t look back and beat myself up for, at one time, being less experienced, more ignorant, and in a lot of ways worse off than I am right now.
But making a practice of remembering what life used to be like gives me a helpful way to maintain perspective on where I’ve been, where I’ve gone, and where I am today.
It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble. And it forces me to face a few facts most people who have increased their status through the years — be it through education, career, wealth, or any other track — prefer to ignore.
There’s Always Someone Hungrier for Success Than You
The first is that, right now, that past version of me is out there in the world. Not literally me, of course, but there is someone who feels stuck in their job, who will claim the role of autodidact, and who will learn more than I did.
That person is hungrier for success right this second than I am. I don’t have to know that person to know that fact.
Why? Because I’m comfortable. I’m happy. I’ve built the life I wanted and I’m ready to enjoy it. I’m not fighting circumstance or my surroundings anymore.
That other person is ready and willing to tear the world apart to get what they want because they’re not a trained, educated, certified pro today.
And you know what? I’m aware that I don’t have that kind of energy anymore, because I already did my fighting.
That’s not to say I’ve just given up and flopped onto some chaise lounge somewhere and expect to lazily eat bon-bons and do little to no work for the rest of my life.
But that particular fire, the fire that only comes from when you’re desperate and driven half-crazy with the need to build something better for yourself, is no longer fueled the way it once was.
I’m willing to bet you know what I’m talking about — you, the established professional who already kicked and clawed your way out of desperation, who achieved some measure of success you once thought impossible.
That could be leaving your job to freelance full-time. It could be launching your own business where no one else gets to tell you what to do or how to serve your clients.
It doesn’t have to mean you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career. It doesn’t mean you’re finished or done — or have no ambition left at all.
I have a lot left that I want to accomplish. And I’ll bust my tail to do it. I’ll work hard, struggle, likely fail and have to try again, and go through immense effort to succeed.
But it’s not the same thing as when you’re starting at Day 1, no one knows your name, and you have absolutely no clue what the hell you’re doing or how to do it.
“Some measure of success” doesn’t have to be world domination. It just means that in some way, you’ve “made” it to a place you used to think was reserved for other people. But here you are and it feels awesome.
When you transition from young and hungry to successful and experienced, you risk more than ever because it is so easy to forget that you’re not the only one who had an ambitious dream they were willing to work hard for and chase down.
When you live on the cutting edge, when you’re part of a new movement, and when you represent a group that’s focused on the future, it’s so incredibly easy to forget there’s a bunch of 21-year-olds out there whose version of old and outdated is you.
This is a dangerous place to be in because a past version of yourself exists in someone else, and they haven’t made it yet. They’re going to fight and claw their way to where you are.
The danger comes because they could very well surpass you while they’re at it.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to deal with this: don’t ignore it and don’t pretend like it’s not reality. Accept and embrace it and never stop looking to innovate, grow, and change.
Because no matter how expert you are, no matter how established or experienced, things change and evolve. If you can’t transform with the world, it will leave you behind.
There’s Us, and Then There’s “Them”
Even more dangerous than forgetting there’s a younger, more energetic, more determined-to-reach-the-same-success-you-already-enjoy cohort coming up behind you is recognizing that they do exist — and then quickly separating yourself and your peers from “them.”
The us-versus-them mentality is a great way to ask people to gun for you. The second you see yourself as the elite and the untouchable, protected by your status of experience or training, is the second you put a target on your back that says “take me out.”
Think about it: who are the people you set out to replace, or to prove wrong? It wasn’t the professionals who wanted to learn from you. It wasn’t the established leader who invited you to work alongside them so you could share your ideas while getting insights from an experienced pro.
I guarantee the people you wanted to really stick it to were the industry elites who told you there was no more room at the table even when you could clearly see the empty seat. They said what you wanted to do, express, or create couldn’t be done, shared, or made.
If you’re thinking in terms of us-versus-them, I suggest you alter that mindset. Not only do you invite the young and hungry masses to take you out, but you also risk taking yourself out of the game before they get a chance.
You close yourself off to innovation and new ideas. You risk seeing yourself as infallible in your experience and your education, which can lead to making major miscalculated moves.
Be open to the idea that you don’t know everything and you still have a lot to learn — and the people to teach you might be the ones who are younger, inexperienced, and untrained.
Don’t Let Experience and Education Replace Your Empathy
I want to remember what my life was like before I achieved my own success. I work to remember because it’s too easy to forget.
As humans, we can tend to minimize or forget pain and suffering in the past. We romanticize it instead. And we’re far harsher judges of people who are currently in positions that we used to occupy.
We think we knew more, or did better work, or just worked harder then than they are now. We inflate our own status while downplaying that of other people’s.
It’s scary how easy it is to start thinking we have all the answers, how quickly we start thinking we’re untouchable. We’ll always be on top because we are now, and we fought hard to get here.
And that leaves us vulnerable to anyone who doesn’t make this mistake in thinking.
I suggest taking a moment to remember how things used to be. How hard it was and how much you struggled — and how little you knew. How ignorant you were. How you were so inexperienced, confused, and often wrong.
Then maintain that empathy for others, instead of dismissing them or doing worse: telling them not to do the very thing you did with your own work and life.
Turn around and help someone each reach success, instead of telling them they can’t because there’s no more room at the top.
If you’re a trained, educated, certified professional who ignores the fact that someone out there is as young and hungry as you once were, you’re in trouble. That young, hungry person is completely untrained, uneducated, and inexperienced now. They won’t always be.
If you’re a trained, educated, certified professional who embraces the fact that there are people ambitious, eager, energetic people coming up behind you, you’ll stay relevant. You’ll position yourself as a leader who can continue to innovate and create change in your industry.
It’s your choice. You can remain empathetic and open to learning (and being wrong), or you can create a divide between us and them and invite them to take you down.
What kind of experienced pro do you want to be?