How to Live, How to Grow: Be Kind to Yourself and to Others

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Three weeks ago, the focus of this column was on the future. (You can find it here.) Two weeks ago, the topic was change. (You can read it here.) Last week's post was on leadership. (You can review it here.) This is the last of the series and shares perspectives on how to keep growing as a person.

Time is the only real asset.

Franz Kafka wrote, "The meaning of life is that it stops." In the future the ritual of the ordinary day will be special, just as we have come to realize after months of a new way of living that the simple pleasures of free movement, meeting friends, sitting in a crowded bar and watching a sports game were so special.

Life does not have to be lived forward and understood backward if we decide to pay attention. Two quotes capture what many may feel looking back and looking ahead:

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." --Anne Dillard

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"--Mary Oliver

Life is a journey through reality and time in search of meaning.

Most growth comes from the three Ls: Loss, Love and Learning.

Loss is central to the human experience in three ways. The first is we often lose in our attempts to succeed. We lose pitches, clients, jobs and opportunities. Many times, we win. Some people win little, and others win a lot. But we all lose. These losses are not the big ones. The second bigger losses are the losses we will face either because relationships end or death comes. Our final loss is that of our lives.

How we live amidst this loss defines a large part of life. The joy we make is because time is precious, and this moment of victory may not last forever. Given that loss is part of human existence it pays to be kind and to think about how to help those in loss. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, since it tolls for you.

A big part of what makes life worth living despite the guarantee of loss is the hope of love and joy of learning. Love of people, of work, of art, of culture. Love may not compute but computers do not love. There is a great deal of progress made over generations on who one can love, the ability to do things one loves and because of modern technology to be exposed to new worlds, horizons and things to love.

Learning is particularly joyous. Learning in its first form is building knowledge. With great knowledge and practice we build skills and craftsmanship. Learning to see things from other perspectives gives us understanding. Sometimes if we are lucky, we can graduate from knowledge, skills and understanding to wisdom.

To grow, use time as a competitive advantage.

Three behaviors/beliefs that are common to most successful individuals and firms:

The Power of Compound Interest/Compound Improvement. The most powerful concept in gaining wealth or knowledge is continuous growth over a sustained time.

See early what others see late. Almost every successful person or company recognized a trend when it was a little stream rather than a gushing river and then committed to align with it.

Persistence. Successful people just keep on going through adversity and setback and they remember Queen Elizabeth the First who said, "Time dissolves more problems than man solves."

Leverage these learnings to plan your career over decades:

Early years. a) Find the least sucky job or opportunity you can, b) ideally in an industry which is growing, c) be realistic that most jobs are miserable a third of the time, d) so do not quit or make moves with a short-term horizon and e) compete with yourself to become better every day, rather than compete with others.

Middle years. a) Who you work for is more important than the company you work with, b) it's key to find something you love doing and fit well with and c) invest in building a personal brand.

Late years. a) Unlearn, re-invent and transform because in a changing world what brought you to success will probably not keep you there, b) plan an elegant exit since every career has a midnight hour and the smart people leave at five to twelve and c) start to build a portfolio career that expands from a job to one that includes a passion, consulting, advising and giving back since you are likely to work for decades after you "stop working."

Combine roots and wings.

To succeed as an individual or as a firm one must have roots and wings.

Roots provide stability, a place to stand, a passed along tradition and a sense of history. But roots alone, which are important to ensure one does not get blown away by the winds of change, might anchor one too much to the past and to a status quo which may no longer be relevant.

Thus, the importance of wings. The ability to raise oneself and see above the horizon, to look down with new perspectives and to ensure that the roots which feed us do not wither by failing to adapt to a new world.

Roots nourish via what we were and where we came from and what we did. Wings encourage us to go where we need to and to blaze new trails which will lay down tomorrow's roots and are a highway to what we will accomplish.

Mindset Architecture

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.

The ability to change one's mindset and see, feel and think differently about an issue is often the key differentiator between those who succeed and those who do not.

A few ways to ensure an elegant architecture for your mind include building an opposite case for what you believe, since this will both stretch your skills and, in today's polarized world, ensure that the self-reinforcing feedback loops due to your algorithmic feeds, media choices or close friends do not lead you to believe that your flatulence smells like Chanel 5.

To grow, learn to repair.

Growth is not continuous and often there are many setbacks, detours, shocks and surprises.

"Everything that has a shape breaks" -- Japanese Proverb

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places" -- Ernest Hemingway

"Repair is the creative destruction of brokenness" -- Elizabeth Spelman

There are many ways to repair oneself, including time and friends.

In addition to these, simple and free herbs exist to assuage and heal.

1) Poetry. Poems restore us to what is deepest in ourselves. Poetry finds the perfect words in the perfect order. The greatest poetry is written at the borders of what can be said. The best poetry is about persevering and resurrecting and restoring oneself through the ups and downs of life while never losing our internal melody.

2) Water. Flowing water -- whether it be rainfall, a stream, a river or the tides of a lake or ocean -- has a certain timelessness to its biological rhythms. The human internal compass draws us to water as a place of rest, rejuvenation and repair.

3) Gardens. One prescription for the pressures and challenges we face is to take a walk in a garden. Every individual is creative, and we have a garden within ourselves that we need to tend to so that we can heal, self-repair and always bloom.

Mind the Gap.

Today in the Instagram age so many of us try to be pixel perfect. But life is not pixel perfect. In fact, most of life is "minding the gap."

  1. The gap between who we are and what we want to be
  2. The gap in communication between any two people
  3. The gap between what we say/project externally and what we believe/live with internally

The most contented people tend to be those who have narrowed this gap or being aware of it find ways to accept that life is incomplete, imperfect and often incomprehensible.

They are authentic, trustworthy, happy within themselves, do not need constant external validation and have strong relationships and connections with people. They are vulnerable, empathetic and constantly growing (often making mistakes as they do).

There are others who project power, fame and wealth but you begin to see that often many have the warmth of a toilet seat. All the external validation they have or seek does not fill the chasm of emptiness that echoes with hollowness and this truth burns and eats them on the inside even as they smile and blow kisses on the outside.

So, what to do?

George Saunders the author said, "Err in the direction of kindness."

Today in the world we have much rage. So, best to be kind. Kind to others and to yourself.

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