What one piece of advice would you give to your 40 year old self?

Recently, I recalled a conversation with my father-in-law after hitting my 40th birthday.

Now well into his retirement after a career in the telecoms industry, I asked him: “If you could go back in  time and talk to your 40-year-old self, what one piece of advice would you give?” 

“Good question,” he replied before pondering his response. My father-in-law has that wonderful gift of saying a lot with only a few words, a skill I hope to master one day.

After a few moments he says: “I’d tell myself: Don’t have a plan. Just go with it.” As you might imagine, the notion of “not having a plan” didn’t sit well. 

Completely contrary to all my training, it’s all about information, analysis, strategy, planning, goal setting - the list goes on. Plan, document, review and plan some more!

Can I 'just go with it'? 

Surely, he was having me on? A trick response to catch me out – why on earth would you recommend not having a plan, especially to your son-in-law?

He could see my confusion, so went on to explain: “Imagine the telecoms industry through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s. Things were moving at such a fast pace. When I started out as a young apprentice engineer working on telephone exchanges, I would have never foreseen the data revolution and its impact, not only on our lives, but also on the nature of work. It was impossible to envisage the training opportunities and jobs that lay ahead for me.

“If I had a firm plan, I probably would have suffered disappointments. The speed of change meant that the more you planned, the more likely those plans would prove to be wrong. By planning less and keeping an open mind, if something sounded interesting, I was willing to have a go. I wasn’t set on a particular course of action, so was free and willing to try.”

Now, my father in law is no hippy, nor a risk taker. A modest chap that values a car with good MPG and trousers with an elasticated waist (generally from M&S). In another life he could have been one of us!

In comparison to what my father-in-law experienced in the telecom’s industry, the pace of change in accountancy is relatively glacier. Planning, structure, consistency and relative caution has served us well, but will it continue to do so?

I see substantial change ahead, led by technology, but also human behaviour and evolving business needs. As a profession, I feel that we must nurture a freer and more flexible mindset to enable us to successfully adapt and thrive into the future. If we plan too much, we may find events over take us.

So, dare I say, maybe we need to take a chance, be creative and just go with it!

Tom Ahmad is President of ICAEW Chartered Accountants Croydon and co-founder of Bailey Ahmad Business Recovery

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