Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Conversation with my younger self

Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven

People often say, “I have no regrets.” Fine, fine good for you. You feel good about your past. We get it.

But as we grow personally and professionally, aren't there things we all wish we would have known prior to making the choices or decisions we did? I'm not talking about information you can study in a book, I'm talking about experience.

Let me explain. In the past, I used to get bothered by employees who were older than me who thought they knew more than I did just because they were older. In fact, my younger self would be downright annoyed with these people who had 10 or 15 years on me.

I remember distinctly thinking to myself: Just because they are older, they think they know more than me. I actually remember being mad and irritated! Well, guess what young Julie? They did know more than me simply because they've lived longer. I didn't give them any credit for their life experience and what that may have brought to their professional careers.

Which prompted me to go down this road: If I had 30 minutes today to have a conversation with myself 15 years ago, what would I say?

Fifteen years ago, I was working here but in a totally different capacity. I was 28, had a newborn baby boy and a 3-year-old daughter. I was the activity director in our health center and I knew it all.

OK, I get that this is a silly conversation to imagine, but it actually was good for me as a leader to think about. I also spent some time going through some of my old documents and ideas on paper.

What would I say? How would I say it? Would I start with “Well you know you really should have              (fill in the blank)”?

Or would I encourage myself to keep pushing and going at the rate I was then? Rightly or wrongly, I landed on a combination of both.

After 15 years, I certainly don't have it all figured out, and I realize I still have a lot to learn from others both older and younger than me. However, I would offer my 28-year-old self these few nuggets:

• Turning 30 does not mean people will automatically take you seriously. Your age has very little to do with being taken seriously and having others really hear you.

• Letting go a little bit doesn't mean you are giving up, it simply means it's not the right time. Sometimes patience may be just what you need.

• There is no way for you to comprehend how much long-term care is going to change over the next 15 years. It's much bigger than you. Keep your eyes and ears open and keep asking questions.

• Challenge, with respect, “We've always done it this way.” Very soon creativity and innovation will win over completing tasks, assignments and the status quo.

• Smiling will always serve you well — so keep doing it.

• Don't be in such a dang hurry. Enjoy your work today. Don't focus so much on what will happen next. Someday, you will miss these days and the stories. You will smile at the memories of making a difference.

• When people tell you, “It goes by so fast, “ LISTEN. Don't ignore this. When you complain about the midnight feedings and the terrible twos, recognize very soon that you will blink and you will have forgotten what that looks like, feels like and even smells like.

• Being a leader has very little to do with your title. You have the ability to be a leader today.

What would you say to your younger self? Consider and reflect on what we have learned through personal and professional experience. I believe this helps us become stronger leaders. In our field, it's interesting to me that we don't spend more time tapping into each other's experience.

I think because of the tempo of our work and the business of the day, we forget that slowing down might provide us insight we would miss for lack of asking.

By the way, I would also tell my 28-year-old self to take more family vacations! You can never have too many of those memories.

Oh and eat more now, because your metabolism will slow down after 40! 

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog has been named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality in 2014, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now a licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and was recently named LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 
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