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We asked tech execs (and other smart folks) what advice they’d give to their younger selves

It's the next best thing to time travel

We asked tech execs (and other smart folks) what advice they’d give to their younger selves
Callum Booth
Story by

Callum Booth

Editor of Plugged by TNW

Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He w Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He writes about gear, gadgets, and apps — with a particular focus on Apple — and also makes the occasional odd video. Basically, he's halfway between an abrasive gadget nerd and thinky art boy.

I’m sure we’ve all daydreamed about leaping back in time and giving our younger selves the piece of advice that could change everything.

Unfortunately, time travel hasn’t been invented. Yet. But we do have the next best thing: whip-smart people with tons of business and life experience.

So, in order to get a smidgen more wisdom in my life, I contacted a selection of tech executives and business leaders, and asked them what advice they wish they could give to their younger selves.

One of the first people I spoke with was Dr. Christian Busch, the bestselling author of The Serendipity Mindset.

He began by giving some advice we can all live by: although we can’t “always control the situation — we can always control our response to it.”

dr Christian Busch
Dr. Christian Busch

Busch went on to tell me that every time he’s in a tricky set of circumstances, he asks himself what he can learn from it. Then, if anything good can come out of the situation.

If you adopt this inquisitive and interrogative approach to difficulties, a breakup can become a passage to a better relationship, or “losing a key client [can provide] the opportunity to rethink [your] company’s business model.”

In other words, taking a calm and considered approach to mishaps can turn a bad situation into a rewarding experience that shapes who you are in the future.

This theme of avoiding knee-jerk reactions to difficulties is also something that Kit Colbert — CTO of VMWare — brought up during our discussion about the business advice he’d give to his younger self.

“Massive industry transformations take longer than you may think,” he said.

Kit Colbert vmware
Kit Colbert

Colbert recounted a story of how, in 2014, VMWare scrambled to address the emergence of containers and the likes of Docker, believing the “changes brought about by these technologies” would occur over 12-24 months.

Instead, the impact took years to be fully felt, as it takes a substantial amount of time for “the overall state of the technology to mature.”

Colbert was keen to point out that this “doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels.” Instead, you must “invest the time into the right long-term strategy, rather than making short-term cuts or tradeoffs.”

This is key in both business and life. The pace of the modern world puts pressure on us to react quickly to every trend, making us feel that opportunity is slipping through our fingers if we don’t act right now.

Often, this isn’t the case — and concentrating on doing something correctly over a long period of time will deliver better results than a rushed project that’s poorly planned.

Don’t confuse this advice to think long-term with inflexibility though.

As Dr. Christian Busch told me: “Planning is important, but life happens, and the unexpected will shape much of it.”

You can “have a compass and make a plan — but allow the unexpected to become part of [it].”

Concurrently having a long-term vision and being flexible may sound counterintuitive, but these aren’t hard-and-fast rules. The point is to try and find balance and openness, all while being true to yourself and your beliefs throughout.

This last point is something Namrata Sandhu — co-founder & CEO of Vaayu, a tool that helps companies track and cut carbon emissions — discussed with me when we talked about things she wished she knew when she was younger.

Namrata Sandhu co-founder & CEO of Vaayu
Namrata Sandhu

Sandhu said that she grew up in an environment where she was “taught [to] dream big,” and was told “nothing was out of reach.” Because of this, risks and challenges were something that never phased her — but she didn’t encounter this same mindset everywhere she went.

With this in mind, she’d encourage people to not get disheartened by those who don’t share your values. If you stay “true to what you believe in,” the right people in both business and life will eventually surround you.

That topic of dealing with other individuals is something that Brian Mullins — CEO of Mind Foundry, an Oxford University company that aims to encourage the responsible use of AI — discussed with me.

Brian Mullins
Brian Mullins

Mullins talked about his journey towards seniority at work, how he became “busier and busier,” and in a greater position of responsibility. This, “combined with more and more people needing your time,” made him feel “more disconnected and more alone than ever before.”

In our talk, he wanted to make one thing crystal clear: “Everyone goes through this.”

Mullins told me that when a mentor and friend said they’d felt this type of isolation and loneliness, it was as if a “huge weight had been lifted” from him.

Admitting you’re having troubles doesn’t make you weak — quite the opposite. Building a business, family, friendships, or anything else for that matter, is tough. And when you really care about something, emotions can hit you harder than ever.

Never be afraid of feeling — or of admitting — that things aren’t as good as you’d like them to be. They will change.

Okay, so we may be a while away from time travel, but it’s never too late to try and be a better person — and if you follow the advice given by these experts? Well, you’re almost certainly bound to become one.

Did you know Dr. Christian Busch, Kit Colbert, Namrata Sandhu, and Brian Mullins are all speaking at the TNW Conference this summer? Check out the full list of speakers here.

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