Although Robert Fulghum learned everything he needed to know in Kindergarten, it took me into my 70’s. Okay so I’m a slow learner, but better late than never. So now at 73 years of age, I finally know some “stuff” worth knowing.
Full disclosure, I don’t always apply the lessons I’ve learned. And some of the lessons I’ve learned have no practical application.
There is a difference between knowing and doing. I’ve heard it said that it takes about ten years of doing to become expert at anything. I found that bit of wisdom to be true. When I first went into management consulting I had considerable management knowledge. Becoming a skilled management consultant took a good ten years. So if you’re in a hurry you’re going to get an emotional hernia. As Barry Stevens wrote, “Don’t push the river. It flows by itself.” Lesson One: Life flows. Savor the trip.
You are your own Buddha. Many years ago I read Sheldon Kopp’s book, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients. Kopp’s message of being your own Buddha instead of searching for another, still rings bells in my head. Mostly because every mistake I made had a lot to do with failing to pay attention to my own gut. In simple terms, I knew going in I was making a mistake, but I allowed others (false Buddha’s) to convince me otherwise. Lesson Two: Trust your own gut.
The wisdom in Marsha Sinetar’s book, “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood,” didn’t hold true for me. I love to write and only started after I could support myself without depending on income from it. I agree with the premise that loving what you do is the first requirement of becoming a virtuoso at it. But the market determines how much it’s worth. Lesson Three: Doing what you love will not always bring the money. It should always bring personal satisfaction.
I can depend on life to teach me valuable lessons. All I have to do is pay attention. But there is one problem. While life is a constant teacher, we, on the other hand, are only occasionally paying attention. The symptom of this condition is easy to spot: repeated mistakes. Mistakes are the learning opportunities that life hands us. If we are busy trying to find someone to blame or in an emotional melt-down, we will almost certainly make the same mistake again and again. Lesson Four: You may as well use your mistakes as learning opportunities, you are paying for them.
“Get the facts,” was the constant admonition of my first mentor when I was a young managerial trainee. Like lots of young people in a hurry, I was prone to jumping before thinking. But he kept me on track with simple phrases and swift mental kicks to my ego. I still miss his mentorship so many years later. Lesson Five: Get the facts straight before you open your mouth. It will save you lots of the energy you use to clean the messes you make.
Speaking of messes, there’s no escaping the fact that we all make them throughout our lives. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of my need to own up and clean up the messes I make. As a younger man I was prone to finding someone to blame them on or falling into an orgy of self-pity. Both actions are a waste of time. I still make mistakes and probably will until I die. Lesson Six: Clean up the messes you make before you move on to the next one.
This point is probably not original but it’s something I’ve realized more recently than ever before. We Americans are spoiled by a quantity of life most of the rest of the world envies. But quantity is not the equivalent of quality. So our striving for more quantity takes our attention away from the good lives most of us live day-to-day. Lesson Seven: Don’t forget to enjoy the good life you have while you strive for the better life you may never have.
These lessons are certainly not earth-shaking or unique to me. But they’re worth considering, if for no other reason, they just might help someone not feel so alone in a personal crisis.
Robert De Filippis