Jeff Daniel: A Letter To My 25-Year-Old Self

A Half Century of Life Lessons.

Editor’s Note: “Letter To My 25-Year-Old Self” is a recurring series featuring a number of influential leaders in business, technology, and education offering reflection and insights gained through their professional and personal experiences.

Jeff Daniel (54) is an entrepreneur,  starting multiple businesses in Wisconsin, and around the world.  Jeff had an extended career at Johnson Controls where his last two roles were Vice President of Global Operational Excellence, and Vice President of Global Procurement.


When you think of yourself at 25 years old, from this perspective in life, you recognize both how bright you were and also how little you knew.

That’s not a negative, just a recognition of what life teaches you.

I don’t know that I would actually change anything looking back, all of those decisions and experiences make up who I am now.  If I did have that opportunity to talk to my 25 year old self, I would share a few key things, as it would speed up the learning process.  Most of these points are re-enforcing wisdom my parents and mentors gave to me along the way.  The question was: “Was I ready to hear those things at the time they were shared with me”?

Get the really big things right.  Those are Faith, family, values and health.

I grew up in the church.  I think everyone goes through a process of “asking questions”.  When you are at this point in life, there is no question on what faith should mean in your life.  Simply embrace your faith and let it lead you. If you start there, everything else has a tendency to fall into place.

When it comes to family, your choice of your life partner is the single biggest choice you will make in your life.  Evaluate that choice wisely.  Ensure the “big things” are where they belong and that person is truly your friend.  Ensure that is the person you want to spend your time with.  When you learn of something great, or something terrible, it’s the person you want to be with.  I’ve seen people struggle with this choice.  Take the time to ensure you are getting it right.

When it is time to add to your family, make sure you do that right.  Invest in your spouse first. Determine what matters to them and make sure you help, support, or do that.  Your children will see that and learn to pattern that.  You will then get to see the same in what they do with their spouses and their children.  This is the most fulfilling reward you will receive for anything you do in your life.

I would tell the younger me to hold constant to integrity, reliability, passion and fun.  If you make a mistake in one of these areas, say so, step-up, make it right.  When you are making big decisions, evaluate your choices against those criteria.  The correct path can offer difficulty at certain times, but it will always be the right answer long term.

You only get one life.  A healthy mind and body will enable everything else to happen.  Life is going to throw you and your family curve balls regarding health.  Live your life in an active way.  Manage what you put in your body.  Moderation in most things is most likely going to be relatively OK. Enabling your body to rest is a really big part of health.  Make choices that include your health as you go along to be sure to keep everything in balance

Be fun, cheerful, uplifting – regardless of the circumstance:

Start each day to have a great time, no matter what is going on. Rest enough that you wake up ready to go and excited for what the day offers

Get the exercise you need to be able to do anything you want (consistently) Figure out how to improve your “empathy”.  Your early life experiences have hardened you in some ways that you do not recognize.  Not everyone has that same life experience.  You need to be specific about working on this throughout your life.  It’s a big deal in how people perceive you as a person.

Plan “fun” things that are breaks from what you are doing.  But more importantly, just have fun with what you are doing every day.

Life is going to throw you all sorts of crazy things that are great, and a number of things that are challenging.  Celebrate the great and learn from the challenging. Find your passions and pursue those aggressively.  If those are sports, music, art, making things, or whatever, you will learn a ton doing that.

Hard work does create success, you also get to learn how to handle both success and failure. By the time I was 25, I knew I was not going to be a professional golfer.  I played every sport there was, tried lots of different musical and artistic things.  They are all part of what makes me who I am today.

Find mentors in all areas of life that “matter” to you.  Watch what people (you think are great) do. How do the most impactful leaders communicate, motivate, act, get things done?  Take the great points of each of them that should be a part of you.  Use a servant leadership approach.  You are the least important person.  Figure out what is needed to make the group successful, and everyone succeeds.  You will find that serves you and those you are with very well.

Meet people where they are.  Listen a lot, talk a little.  Understand the situation of the person you are engaging before you attempt to explain any of your thoughts to them.  This is absolutely critical to communicate successfully.  If you start talking without understanding where a person, or group is at, you will not know how to communicate in a way they can receive that message.

Get a little better at what you are doing every day.  Document where things are, figure out what makes it work where it is, then figure out how to make that better.  Approach everything you do in this way.

Your career could go many directions, there’s a few guiding principles you should master.

You will most likely work for someone along the way.  Figure out what they need to accomplish. Help them do that.  Work to understand what they need.  Get the things that you are responsible for that helps them.  Expand what you can do at all times to meet the bigger need.

Tell them what they need to know, just before they need to know it.  If they ask you for something, stop and reflect to determine how it was you could not have seen that request coming.  Figure out if you can change something in your approach to see the challenge before they do.

Someone has most likely done a lot of what you are learning or wanting to do.  They took the time to write it down.  Read constantly from different areas to learn those things.  

If you do that, you don’t have to go through all the same learning yourself.  Try those things you are learning out.  Talk about those things with your mentors.

Strategy, business analysis, project management and communication will prove to be really big things in your future.  You liked technical things and got an engineering degree.  That will serve you well throughout your career as the core to “Problem Solving”.  As you progress in your career you find what got you here, won’t get you there.  I’m still somewhat mixed on whether to get advanced degrees.  

All of these things can be learned without formal instruction.  There is nothing wrong with getting those, but just make sure you learn it all.  In the big picture, the people that really get it and create the answers do not need the instruction of others.  They “find what they need” to get to the correct answer.

Seek the creative people to learn from in “How they think”.  You are going to leverage this a lot. Those that create the answers find themselves greatly advantaged to those that do not.  This applies in ideas, processes and fun.

There is nothing wrong with working for others.  However, the people that make really big results happen most often do not.  Don’t be rushed to make that happen, but be open to it.  You will learn a ton with the people you will work with.  Make sure you always have that opportunity.

You are going to have an outstanding life, meet outstanding people, do a lot of great things.  That is all going to occur because you will work to get the big things right, you will form a great outlook for life, you will attempt to meet people where they are, you will work hard and have a great time doing it.

Life favors the bold – Be Bold!


– Jeff