Tomorrow is my 40th birthday

I am actually very relaxed about it. But it did get me thinking about what my 20 year-old-self might think about the last 20 years. So I thought about a conversation.

Background – the day of my 20th birthday was spent sitting a business law exam at the end of my second year at Massey University. I was single (I think). I was playing football for Manawatu United and the Manawatu representative side – in the third tier of New Zealand football (soccer). I thought I had most of the answers – but now I am not so sure…

40-Year-Old Self: Let’s start with the bad news – the hair that you worry so much about is gone. Some girls convince you to shave it off in six or seven years. This is a good thing.

20-Year-Old Self: NOOOO. Is there something I can do NOW? Something can be done.

40YOS: Trust me it is a good thing and you are going to be OK.

20YOS: NOOOO. This hasn’t started well.

40YOS: Now some good news. The football takes off – far more than you expect. Within three-years you will play for a senior New Zealand side against Fiji at the national stadium in Suva. You will play successfully at the top level in New Zealand – and with guys you currently really look up to.

20YOS: Really? I was thinking about giving it away.

40YOS: I know. You work hard to achieve it and deserve what happens – you don’t give up and it pays off.

20YOS: Wow – awesome. What happens?

40YOS: You end up walking away in your mid-20s. You achieved more than you ever expected – but less than you dreamed. You won’t play in the Premiership in England – and ultimately decide it is time to do other things.

20YOS: Really – I walk away from football after that. I can’t imagine that. I don’t just keep going?

40YOS: Again – it is the right call. 15 years after leaving the serious stuff – people still remember. And your son drags you back into some master’s football.

20YOS: My son???

40YOS: You have two kids. The oldest is a boy – who loves football, is super smart and a lot like you (but with better hair). You have a daughter that is a lot like your wife. Also super smart – but a real force of nature.

20YOS: I have kids… Wow – really haven’t thought about that at all.

40YOS: Yeah I know. But that gets us to the big call you do get right. There is a girl. You have already met her – but not at University.


40YOS: You know how you worry about finding “the one”. Well you do – and for what it is worth, you know it when you see it. It isn’t always plain sailing – and you don’t always cover yourself in glory. But she is the best thing that happens to you – full stop. She is your best friend, biggest supporter – and just about everything. Looking back – you can’t imagine life without her. You would not be able to do the things you do if she wasn’t part of your life. Your relationship with her is one of the things you are most proud of.

20YOS: OK…

40YOS: I know you don’t get it now. But it is an important call – and you luckily get it right.

20YOS: OK. What about travel? Tell me I escape from Palmerston North and New Zealand.

40YOS: You will live and work in North America (twice) and Europe. You will gamble in Vegas, travel down the Zambesi by canoe, watch Madrid vs. Barcelona in the Nou Camp and much much more.

20YOS: Cool – tell me…

40YOS: There is a lot of cool stuff all across the world. You will travel widely – and a lot will be with the girl. She shows you things you would not have normally gone to see – and you do the same for her. There is crazy stuff – explaining to Californian cops why you are driving a stolen Porsche, taxi rides through Johannesburg after mid-night and practicing your US accent to get back across the US border from Mexico… Good times.

20YOS: That sounds great. That is the experience I want.  What about work? I think this accounting degree will be useful – but that isn’t what I really want to do. It really isn’t what I want to do.

40YOS: It is useful but you drop that pretty quickly. The finance stuff you really like is where you head. You do some interesting stuff in your 20’s – but it is after you do your MBA that things take off. You are sitting a business law exam tomorrow – by a quirk of fate you sit another business law exam on your 30th birthday (part of the MBA). Good news – there isn’t one scheduled on your 40th.

20YOS: Phew – I was worried you were going to say I get to love these debits and credits. I really would not have believed that.

40YOS: Yeah. The one thing I would say – and you don’t learn this for 10 years – is be much more structured in your thinking. A professor (really a real world experienced executive) will push this hard at you on the MBA and then you will have the great fortune to work at an investment bank where the senior guys there continue to push that line. Eventually you do understand – and everything changes. You owe all these guys a big debt of gratitude.

20YOS: MBA sounds cool. I am a pretty smart guy – I think I will work it out. I am a good problem solver.

40YOS: That isn’t enough – you will make a big jump when you learn to be more structured and solve problems with frameworks. But that is going to be 10 years away before you put it all together.

20YOS: Wind back to the investment banking bit.  That is what I am talking about. Tell me more.

40YOS: You build the skills and have the right personality (good thing and bad thing). You work for a large global bank – and for boutique firms. You now are a partner in your own firm – with some really smart guys that you are very proud to be in business with. You also have junior staff – and you are trying to teach them to be more structured in their thinking.

20YOS: Investment banking – yeah, that sounds like a good thing to be doing as a job. Cool – happy.

40YOS: There is a bit more. The world will change a lot over the next 20 years – technology will greatly change the way people live and work. In 12 months or so you will get your first glimpse of something called the internet. That is going to disrupt and destroy a lot of what the order of things in 1990 looks like. You are going to get involved – and try to build businesses to take advantage of this.

20YOS: The what???

40YOS: Don’t worry about it now. You know those Harvard Business Review magazines that seem so intimidating – a business you create will be referenced there and in publications like the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s.

20YOS: What about the investment banking – I am confused. I like the idea of being a banker – I think I will be happy doing that. Forget the other stuff.

40YOS: You get fascinated by the changes occurring in the world. In times of change – how does David beat Goliath? There is a lot of that coming – and you sign-up. What you build is finance related – and again you get to meet some heroes. You raise money – and while it hasn’t made you or your shareholders rich, it is something you are proud of doing.

20YOS: You are losing me. I am pretty sure I will be happier working for someone else. I am not really a self-employed type of guy. Right?

40YOS: That will change.  You get to work with some guys building something – guys that you would not normally hang-out with. This is a good thing – and they become good friends. You will have massive respect for them – what they can do and their judgments. A tip – be nicer to the geeks, they will be your friends.

20YOS: You lost me.

40YOS: That is probably more than enough – what do you think?

20YOS: It is pretty good. Some of it doesn’t make sense – at all. I am excited about the football and the travel. I am pleased there is a girl – but I haven’t really thought about kids. I like the investment banking – but the other stuff has me lost. The hair thing really worries me. Any other bad stuff?

40YOS: You know how you and your brother don’t really get along – that doesn’t change. Fault at both ends – but you have not solved that. Mum and Dad are not in good shape mentally or physically – their health is fine for a while, but then it goes south quickly. It is pretty hard on everyone – but I feel sorry for them missing out on fun stuff with their grandkids. You make some good friends all around the world – but life is busy. It would be good to see more of them. You can also be pretty tough – on yourself and others. You felt you needed to do that as you have moved along. That hasn’t always been a winning strategy – and you would like to change some things. You have also been in a hurry – you could have taken some more time in places. You tended to move on faster than you should have – for example; you should have stayed longer at the investment bank post-MBA. Some more patience could have served you well.

20YOS: It still sounds pretty good – it is what I would have expected.

40YOS: I will take that as a positive.

20YOS: About the hair. There is something that I can do. Surely…

40YOS: Sorry… It really isn’t a big deal.

20YOS: This is a disaster.