Guiding Lines

By Restoring the Soul of Business Archives
Cover image for  article: Guiding Lines

It's the time of the year where students graduate from high school, college and higher education. Convocation speakers inspire and illuminate. Life lessons are shared and imparted. Here are some lines that have served as guides over the years.

1. Success is being able to spend your time in the way that creates joy.

Success is sought by all -- but what is being sought? For some it is making a mark in their field or leaving some enduring work. For others it is seeking financial wealth or creating and nurturing a family. For some it is helping others. For most people success also means a measure of happiness. In the end, if time is all that one has then success probably has to do with how one uses time.

Ann Dillard wrote that "the way we spend our time is the way we spend our lives."

When one is financially constrained one's mind and time are colonized by making ends meet. When one is physically in pain or suffering from ill health it is often hard to be happy. So, if happiness is the ability to not spend time thinking all the time about one's financial or physical situation it means a certain amount of financial and physical well-being is key to being happy and possibly successful.

Sooner or later, once these basics of not having to worry about the next rent check or waking up the next day are overcome, the words and emotions that link the happy and successful are those of purpose, meaning, connection, flow, recognition and growth. These can change over time and are different for different people. But it all comes down to having the freedom to allocate one's time the way one does.

How do you want to spend your time, and can you increasingly get to a place where you spend more of it in ways that give you joy?

2. Do not price yourself out of your dreams.

It has been written that it is "never too late to become what you are," but for many people by following the wrong star home they lose their way or spend most of their lives not being who they are.

The ability to control one's time is inversely related to how much time one must do things to pay the bills. Lower expenses lead to more options. Increasing one's options by limiting one's possessions and way of living tends to lead to more success than maximizing one's possessions, which forces one to do work that one does not particularly enjoy or work with people that one does not resonate with in order to make ends meet.

Doing things that one resonates with and gets one into a flow is not only great for being happy today, but it is often a key to becoming an expert, a master and a leader in what one does.

To thrive you flourish by spending time at what you are good at and has you in a state of flow.

3. Do not live in other people's minds.

It has been written that "comparison is the thief of joy" -- but so is living one's life to score points in somebody's else's scoreboard of what success is. The rise in mental anguish among teenagers is in part how social media has accentuated the need to look good in somebody else's eyes. But it is not just teenagers who live in other people's minds versus theirs.

Caring what other people think is human and often learning and getting feedback on how one can improve is key to success, so not living in other people's minds does not mean listening to or caring what other people say or think. It means stopping the use of their metrics and their rulers of success to rule the way one lives one's life. It's like giving somebody else a remote control to the direction of your life.

4. There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.

While one may not agree with Hamlet's statement that "there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so," our mindsets matter a lot in how we perceive life, how we are perceived and the degree of success we may have in our varied endeavors.

In rapidly changing and chaotic times an agile mindset can be critical to success. While there are many personal trainers to help sculpt our bodies into somewhat supple forms, there is a scarcity in those who can show us how to exercise our minds to be as flexible as they need to be.

Mindsets matter. Growth mindsets. Learning mindsets. Optimistic mindsets. Realistic mindsets.

Optimism matters. In the novel Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon a character is described as one whose "mood collapsed the room."

While misery may love company, nobody likes being in the company of miserable people. Optimism is not just an essential component of innovators but a trait that you must have if you wish to inspire folks to follow you. "Woe is me, doomed are us" works for a few drinks in a bar, but at the workplace it saps energy, hurts culture and is just a plain downer. Pessimism is something we all wallow in, but it fails to show the way out.

A way to get optimistic is to forget all the legacy nonsense you may have to grapple with and ask that if you had a fresh sheet of paper, a subset of the talent in your firm and its assets (brands, network, money), what would you do? You likely will find you are looking forward to what you and your company can do. Every day is a new career beginning. Tomorrow is where we will spend the rest of our lives.

5. Practice compound improvement.

The single most powerful concept in finance is that of compounding. Compounding interest and compounding returns can over time create wealth or lead one to bankruptcy depending on whether one owes or owns capital.

In a world of change we all may want to consider another way compounding can help us grow in changing times and drive mental, emotional and even financial wealth which is compounding improvement. There is so much we cannot control in a world driven by global, demographic, social and technological change, but instead of being buffeted about helplessly in a sea of chaos maybe we can try to control and build our ourselves to be better.

Three learnings about compound improvement:

a) Discipline equals freedom. This is the title of a book by Jocko Willink, a Navy Seal. Basically, if we want to get a grip on the world get a grip on ourselves. Things are more up to us than we think if we are willing to work at it.

b) Never graduate from school.The world is changing so fast that many of our skills and expertise and mindsets need continuous upgrading. While many of us set aside time to exercise to maintain our physical operating system we need to also feed and exercise our minds. The power of this habit is that at the end of a year one will have spent 365 hours learning new things by just doing one hour a day. The day we start dying is the day we stop learning.

c) Deliberate Practice. Anders Ericcson wrote a book called Peak which is the best study of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves three components: 1) immediate feedback, 2) clear goals and 3) a focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime, or profession, without ever attaining elite status.

The future is uncertain and the role of chance and the help that others give us should never be underestimated in how our days will be. While the difficulty in life may be the choice it is the choices on how we choose to spend our time, measure ourselves, react to situations and grow that will define our days.

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