A List of Things It Took Me Fifty Years to Learn
Today is my 50th birthday. It’s a little strange to write that down. When I think of 50th birthdays, I think of those films you see sometimes about the 50th birthday of Disneyland. You know the ones with all the ecstatic little kids with crew cuts and pig tails and how quaint Tomorrowland looked fifty years ago? I’m not that old, am I? Apparently, the good folks at AARP think so as they sent me an introductory membership card last week. Sorry guys, not happening.
Since it’s been fifty years, I thought I’d share a short list of things I’ve learned about life and leadership. Most of them I’ve had to relearn more than once. That said, they seem to have worked for me. Your mileage may vary, but here’s my list of things it’s taken me fifty years to learn.
- Most good things require the help of other people. I can track pretty much every good thing that’s ever happened to me or I’ve gotten to do to the help and support of someone else. There’s no such thing as a self-made person.
- You get what you give. That’s the title of a great song by The New Radicals. It also happens to be true.
- Good manners get you a long way. When I was about eight my grandmother gave me a copy of a book called Stand Up, Shake Hands, Say How Do You Do. I read it and it’s come in handy ever since. When you’re at a fancy dinner, it’s good to know which one is the salad fork.
- Most things are not as important as they seem at the time. Keep your perspective.
- It's usually not necessary to yell. First learned this when I was Senior Patrol Leader of my Boy Scout troop. It’s just not a very effective long term leadership strategy.
- Most people like to talk about themselves. It’s a good idea to develop a few questions that get people talking about themselves. You learn a lot more listening than you do talking.
- The unknown is almost always scarier than the known. That’s why they call it fear of the unknown. You can lessen the fear by talking with people who have done it before and then mentally preparingyourself based on their experience.
- Goals matter. It’s important to stay flexible in reaching your goals but having clear intentions makes a lot of difference in getting things done.
- Routines are powerful. One of my favorite quotes is Aristotle’s, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I’ve found it’s a good idea to reverse engineer back from my goals to determine the routines I need to follow.
- Practice and repetition make you better. Geoff Colvin has a whole book on this called Talent is Overrated. With the right kind of coaching and guidance, practice makes you better. It’s been true for me as a speaker and, lately, it’s proven true at yoga. Did my first headstand during class yesterday. Cool.
- Quick wins are a good thing. In the last couple of years, I’ve started looking for things that are relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference. They build confidence and momentum.
- If something is perpetually eating at you, let it go.
- Don’t beat yourself up. It stresses you out, makes you less productive and makes you fat.
- Take care of your body. Eat real food. Sleep. Exercise. Stretch.
- Give your brain space for problem solving. Most problems don’t have linear solutions, they have free form solutions. Your brain needs to take a break to solve those problems. Ever notice how many problems you solve in the shower? There’s a reason for that.
- Think long term to control your stupid impulses. Consider the consequences of your actions.
- Being a smart ass is not a long term strategy for endearing yourself to others. Definitely still working on this one.
- You've got to be present to win. It’s amazing what happens when you show up. If you add the mental and emotional domains into the mix with the physical then things really start cooking.
- Self observation is a good practice. I love Ron Heifetz’ advice for leaders to regularly get off the dance floor and get up on the balcony to observe the bigger picture.
- Nothing lasts forever. This is true for both good things and bad things. It’s just the process of life. Enjoy the good times and have faith that the bad times won’t last forever.
- Different results require different actions. If you want to get different results, you’re likely going to have to pick up some new behaviors and let go of some old ones.
- A great partner makes all the difference. In my case, I have to attribute this lesson to providential grace. My wife, Diane, is everything I could hope for in a life partner.
So, that list of life and leadership lessons ended up being longer than I expected it to be. That said, I doubt it’s exhaustive. What have you learned so far that keeps you on track?