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Naomi Simson youth life

This post is part of a series in which Influencers share lessons from their youth. Read all the stories here.

I turned 22 on February 22nd – my Hawaiian birthday. I had graduated with my economics degree from the University of Melbourne, a year early, ready to take on the world, thinking I knew it all. I was taking my role at IBM in its World Trade Center headquarters in New York very seriously.

My sister came to visit me from rural Victoria (the Australian Bush) where she had her graduate job as a speech pathologist in the country hospital. We had both left home the same week. She jested, “So how is life in the Big Apple? Let me tell you about life in the Big Lemon…” Our parents had wanted us to have a special dinner whilst she was visiting. They contacted the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

How life has changed in the 28 years since that dinner… There is no way I could have predicted the change that has taken place in my own life, let alone how we live, the impact the Internet and smartphones would have, the abundance of information that would be available to us, or that the World Trade Center would not be there – unfathomable.

If I were to join my sister (she was 23 at the time) and I at that dinner table, I would first listen to our enthusiasm and optimism, our worries about “achieving” in our careers, and doing something worthwhile.

14468efAfter listening and enjoying the discussion, I would be curious and ask many questions on my opinion of things. I laugh at my own naivety and seriousness now. I was so earnest, diligent, and concerned. I would be fearful of so many things, worried that I would not “get ahead.” I was a very serious young lady, in my navy blue suit at IBM.

What would I tell my 22-year-old self:

I would tell myself to have fun, to rush less, breath more, eat raw food and take up yoga. I worked hard, I was focused, determined and disciplined. But I did not necessarily allow myself the space and time for creativity and self-expression.

I did what was expected of me, not really knowing what I wanted for myself. I had no conscious, mindful inquiry into why I did what I did. But getting me to listen to these ideas would have been a challenge. (I was not famous for my listening in those days.)

There is one lesson I learned at 22 that helped me on that journey of making powerful choices about where I spend my time.

I worked weekends on many occasions. One weekend a good friend from university was coming to New York on the way to a business trip in Chicago. He was only coming to see me. But IBM had asked me to work that weekend. I struggled to choose between them, trying to work out if I could do both. I couldn’t. So I told my employer I could not work. Dwin and I had a great weekend exploring the city. He is the godfather to my daughter and we see each other regularly. IBM does not remember that I did not work that weekend. Dwin would always have.

I would encourage my 22-year-old self to take a moment to nurture my friendships – in person. Call them, make a plan, do something together – share experience. Laugh out loud every day. A poke on Facebook does not a friendship make (not that there was such a thing as social media when I was 22).

Photos: Author’s own; Wikipedia. This article first appeared as part of my LinkedIn collection

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