Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lesson 25: Commit to excellence.

Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

 Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.
—George Halas

My first job out of college was with a consumer finance company. This company loaned small sums to people so they could buy things like appliances, TVs, and stereo systems. Most of our customers didn’t have much money—that was why they needed a loan to buy a television set—and many of them frequently fell behind in their payments.
My job was to phone customers who fell behind and badger them to send in a check. If they fell too far behind, I would have to go to their home—often with a U-Haul truck and police officer in tow—and repossess their furniture.
Not surprisingly, I hated that job. The hours were long and the work disagreeable. I spent my days phoning people who didn’t want to talk to me—I had to use an assumed name just to prevent them from hanging up on me. When I finally did get someone on the phone, the resulting conversation was usually depressing. My success rate in collecting back payments was abysmal. Most of my coworkers were grouchy because none of them wanted to be there either.
Fed up, one day I called my father to share my misery and tell him that I was planning to quit. His response surprised me. He discouraged me from quitting. In fact, he suggested that the problem was not with the job but with me. “If you leave now, you will have been defeated by the job,” Dad said. “Stick with it a while longer. Learn to like it—get good at it. Then, if you want to quit, you’ll walk out with your head high.”
Properly chastened, I went in to the office the next day with a whole new approach. I said to myself, “I have to be here all day, so I might as well do the very best I can.” I worked harder and came up with new ways to reach my customers. And it worked. Before long, my success rate was up, people took my calls, and many of my customers started paying their bills on time. I found myself actually enjoying my job. When I finally quit a few months later, I left feeling good about myself and confident about the challenges ahead.
Whatever you find yourself doing, resolve to give it your very best. You’ll find that you’re more effective, the work will seem easier, and people will recognize you as a cut above the ordinary. Before you know it, you’ll be leaving the complainers and slackers behind—and you’ll be on your way to bigger and better things.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lesson 24: Make a decision.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.
 

It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.
—Anthony Robbins

Want to know a secret? The very act of deciding is often more important than the decision you make. Here’s what I mean:
In your life, you’ll be faced with many decisions. Some will be important, weighty choices; some will be small and relatively inconsequential. In some cases, the right answer will present itself, so the decision will be easy. At other times, there will be no clear-cut “right” answer. You’ll struggle. Which should you choose: door number one or door number two?
Here’s my advice: decide. Pick one—either one. Make a decision—and then make the decision work.
Remember, this is a case where there’s no clear-cut answer. Unless you’re expecting additional information that will help you make a more informed choice, you’ll just have to choose. So choose. Then, make a commitment to the decision you have just made, and make it work.
If there’s no obviously right way to go, then there’s probably no wrong answer either. In that case, either decision can work for you if you make up your mind to make it work. What you do after the decision is very important—probably more important than the decision itself.
Decision-making is an important skill for everybody, but those who are especially good at it are likely to go far in life. Here’s another secret: the real skill here is decisiveness, which is the ability to make a decision—any decision—and follow through with it. Nobody can read the future. Just make that decision and start moving. Others will follow.
Now, of course once you start going down the road, if you find that you’re clearly headed for disaster, then you may need to change direction. But even in that case, you have to start down the road before you can learn that it’s the wrong road.
In Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, the poet finds himself in the woods, facing a choice of two divergent roads. He must choose. Which road should he take? He writes, “[I] looked down one as far as I could/ To where it bent in the undergrowth.” At crunch time, you can only see so far. The important thing is to choose a path and start walking.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lesson 23: Helping others is the only true wealth.


 
Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

 
What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.
—Pericles

The world should be a better place for your having been here. That’s the real point of life. And where better to serve others than in your chosen profession?
The pursuit of money is all well and good. But if it only served to enrich you personally, what good would it be? More to the point, what good would you be?
I once met a very wealthy elderly lady who gave me a tour of her palatial home. It was filled with many exquisite objects, including original pieces by famous artists. As I complimented her on all the beautiful things, she replied sincerely, “They are lovely, aren’t they? After all, I think the only real point of life is to collect as many beautiful things as possible.”
What a tragedy. Here was a woman with the means to do a great deal of good with her wealth, yet she didn’t even realize it. Ebenezer Scrooge had nothing on her.
Contrast that conversation with the story of Mother Teresa. Born in Macedonia, a small country in southeastern Europe, she became a nun at the age of eighteen. For over 61 years, she worked in the slums of Calcutta, India, caring for some of the poorest, most neglected people on the planet. In 1950 she started the Missionaries of Charity, an order that serves the poorest of the poor throughout the world. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Today, her order and its supporting groups—over one million coworkers worldwide— serve poor and outcast people across the globe.
When she died, penniless, in 1997 at the age of eighty-seven, Mother Teresa was in many ways the richest person on Earth.
Sure, it’s great to have money. As Sophie Tucker said, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Believe me, honey, rich is better.” Just remember that there is more than one kind of wealth. If you ever have to choose—and you might—I highly recommend the non-money kind.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lesson 22: Serve others, and you will be rewarded.

 
Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

                              I slept and dreamed that life was joy.
                             I awoke and saw that life was service.
                            I acted, and behold, service was joy.
—Rabindranath Tagore

We talked earlier about making yourself useful. Here’s another way to put it: serve others.
In his audio program Lead the Field, Earl Nightingale makes the point that the extent of your success will be in direct proportion to the extent of your service to others. Think about this for a moment, and you’ll see that it makes perfect sense.
If an organization had an employee who did nothing—just sat around playing Solitaire all day—that employee wouldn’t last very long. He or she would be dead weight. On the other hand, an employee who accomplished twice as much as the average worker would be considered indispensable, and would likely receive a higher paycheck and faster promotions than the average.
Employees will sometimes say, “They can’t expect me to do that extra work,” or “That’s not in my contract.” Then they complain that they’re not paid enough or are not appreciated. But they’re getting just what they deserve; to expect more is to deny reality.
It’s a pretty simple concept: you can’t expect something for nothing. You wouldn’t expect to be hired to manage a large corporation straight out of school; you’ve done nothing to earn it. By the same token, you can’t expect a big raise or promotion without making a sufficient contribution to deserve such a reward.
While all human beings have equal value as persons, some clearly have skills, training, and experience that are more valuable than others. One doesn’t make it into this group right away; it usually takes years of concentrated effort to get there. These valuable people are in great demand precisely because they are so rare. As a result, they usually command higher financial rewards for their work.
But money is by no means the only reward to be had from work—indeed, it’s probably less important than the personal fulfillment derived from a job well done. A fat paycheck is a hollow reward if it isn’t accompanied by a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction that you are making the world better through your work. So embrace the idea of service. That’s where the real rewards are. .

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lesson 21: Never underestimate the value of experience.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

Life is half spent before we know what it is.
—George Herbert
  
Young adults usually don’t fully appreciate the value of age and experience. This frequently comes up during your first job search. The thought often goes something like this:
“They say they want someone with experience, but how can I get experience unless they hire me? And besides, my youth and energy more than make up for my lack of experience.”
Well, the truth is that experience is the best teacher you will ever have. And while youth and energy are wonderful (as you get older, you’ll envy those traits in younger people), experience is just as wonderful—and over time becomes even better. While youth and energy fade with time, your bank of experience continues to increase until the day you die.
We place a high value on those things that cost us a lot, right? Youth and energy are free; they are naturally present in young adults. But experience—ah, now that is earned. Experience is what Harry Truman referred to as “the school of hard knocks.” Its cost is measured in time, sweat, and pain—the pain of your own mistakes. Abigail Van Buren once said, “If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires.”
In his autobiography, Up Till Now, William Shatner describes how he learned to act, not by attending acting school, but by performing in plays. As a young member of a Canadian theater troupe, he played a variety of roles in a variety of shows in front of a variety of audiences. “I had no formal acting training,” he writes. “I had my own method: I said my lines as if I were the character…. The audience taught me how to act. If I did something and the audience responded, I did it again. So this experience of working every night…was my acting class.”
Think of the very best teacher or professor you ever had. Think of all the wondrous and important things you learned from her or him. All those lessons will pale in comparison to what you will learn from that greatest of all teachers: experience. You may not believe that right now, but I guarantee that you will one day. Class has just started.
Reread this in twenty years, and see if you agree with me then.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lesson 20: Knowledge has its limitations.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.


   Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.
—Malcolm Forbes

Studies have shown that there is almost no correlation between how smart a person is and how successful they become. Superior intelligence—even combined with education and knowledge—just isn’t enough to make you successful. You need wisdom to go along with it.
I recently read about a young boy in India, Akrit Jaswal, who had an IQ greater than that of Einstein. In 2001, when he was seven years old, he performed a real-life surgical operation—I kid you not.
His eight-year-old patient had been so severely burned that her fingers had fused together. Living in a poor village, her family couldn't afford a real doctor, so Akrit was called in. The operation was a success, and before long Akrit became India’s youngest university student. He showed a great gift for medicine. At age fourteen, he became convinced that if someone would fund a laboratory for him, he would be able to cure cancer within a year.
He traveled to London’s Imperial College, where he met with some of the world’s leading cancer researchers. He amazed everyone with the depth and breadth of his medical knowledge. But the researchers soon realized that, despite his obvious gifts, his theories were unworkable. He came away understanding that—as smart as he was and as much as he had learned—he had a very long way to go.
The end of this story has yet to be written. Akrit Jaswal may yet cure cancer, but I suspect it will take many years—and he certainly won’t do it on his brainpower and knowledge alone.
Believe it or not, you’re sorely lacking in the knowledge department. Do you have any idea how rudimentary a high school education, and even a degree from a very fine college, is? As necessary as such an education is, it’s still just a start. Even scholars with doctorates often say that the biggest thing they have learned from their years of in-depth study is how little they actually know about their specialty.
Understanding the limitations of your present knowledge is one of the first steps down the long road to wisdom. The good news is that you already possess everything you need to succeed. Keep learning. The more you learn, the faster you’ll advance in your life and career.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lesson 19: Use your God-given talents.


Author's note: I am a compulsive advice-giver-always have been.  When my own son was in high school, he wasn't interested in his old man's advice so I wrote it down in the hope that he might change his mind one day.  What follows is one piece of that advice.  I trust it applies to all of us, regardless of age.

Call on God, but row away from the rocks.
—Hunter S. Thompson

Broadcaster Earl Nightingale told the story of a clergyman who was traveling through a rural countryside when he came upon an extraordinarily productive and scenic farm. There were bounteous crops in neat rows, and all around the freshly painted farmhouse and outbuildings were flower beds and neatly trimmed shrubs.
The clergyman noticed the farmer taking a break from his work, so he took the opportunity to strike up a conversation. “The Lord certainly has blessed you with a beautiful farm,” the minister commented.
“Yessir, he has,” replied the farmer, wiping the sweat from his brow. “And I’m grateful. But you should have seen the place when he had it all to himself.”
Many people just show up to work and do the bare minimum. They complete the tasks that are given to them—and that’s about it. They never take the initiative to improve their workplace or to really serve the people around them.
Others see unexplored possibilities in even the lowliest of duties. They envision a well-tended farm where others see just a job. They throw themselves enthusiastically into every task, and as a result, they make everyone around them better.
You’ve been given a lot. You have a fine mind and at least a basic education. You have judgment and maturity, both of which will increase with time. And you live in a country filled with good people and limitless opportunities. So what do you plan to do with all these blessings?
If you believe in God, you may agree with me that he gives us the tools with which to make our own way and to make the world a better place. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, but I suspect he has given us all these tools so that we can use them to make reasoned decisions, to take decisive actions, and to work toward the advancement of those worthwhile values and priorities we set for ourselves.
Use those God-given talents. Apply them to your work, and it will sing.