“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My god, do you learn.”
C. S. Lewis
One of the most profound things I have learned over the past few years is that you don’t have to wait until something one is experiencing becomes “history” before you can learn from it.
We are all capable of detaching ourselves from the moment and observing in a non-emotional and rational manner. The experience might indeed be a brutal teacher, but if we can teach ourselves to learn “in the moment” instead of waiting for hindsight, we will be much better off.
Learning to pause, detach, observe, reflect, and learn might the most important skills you ever develop.
“Genuine tolerance does not mean ignoring differences as if differences made no difference. Genuine tolerance means engaging differences within a bond of civility and respect.”
Richard John Neuhaus
The danger of tolerance is that you are intentionally creating an opening in your mind for both understanding and a potential perspective shift. It is far easier to be intolerant and dogmatic about what you believe than to be open and understanding.
But when you genuinely open your mind to the perspectives and positions of others, not only do you create fertile ground for growth in yourself, you also unlock the power of “we.” The collective skills, talents, and capabilities of a group will always exceed those of one person. Learning tolerance and understanding unlocks tremendous potential, both in yourself and in others.
Besides, by overcoming intolerance, you, by default, begin to remove ignorance from your life.
“Learning never takes place while you’re talking.”
The first place my mind went to upon reading this quote was the need to be quiet and listen when in others’ presence—the need to focus on asking quality questions and then listening, truly listening, to the responses.
Upon further reflection, I think there is much more to this, a much deeper level of meaning. What if I were to apply the same process and focus on myself? What if I were to ask myself the right questions and then focus on the answers that my mind creates?
Often in life, we spend all our time focused on the external but skip over or neglect the critical internal narrative and opportunity to learn by probing into our thoughts. Perhaps our most significant moment for learning will come from creating the ability to pause, the courage to ask and answer the tough questions, and the opportunity to reflect on and learn from the answers made within our minds.
As humans, we were explicitly created with this intention. “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part [of my heart] You will make me know wisdom.” Psalms 51:6 AMP
‘Learning never takes place while you are talking;’learning takes place when you are listening. What questions are you asking yourself, and are you devoting the time and attention to listen to the answers you create?
Last Tuesday, I had the incredible opportunity and blessing to share the day with two great friends and colleagues, David Childs and David Lillard of Spartan Planning and Branding. They are in Greensboro, NC, and were putting the final touches on their 2nd Annual Leadership Symposium aptly named “Spartan Pro Day.” Last year’s inaugural event was a resounding success, selling out and maximizing their venue’s capacity.
At the beginning of the year, David Childs asked me to be one of the speakers at this year’s event on the topic of leadership, and I was both thrilled and honored to play a small role in their vision of building leaders.
Year 2 was all set to build on last year’s success with space reserved at a venue twice the size, and present company excluded, an incredible roster of speakers. But, as the year progressed, the implications of a world forever changed by the pandemic began to influence their plans and thinking.
It would have been so easy for them to write off 2020, to say, “due to the state of the world and the restrictions on gathering, we are going to postpone Spartan Pro Day until we can produce the event safely.”
However, they both realized that there has never been a more critical time to highlight the impact of positive leadership and share content that would be highly powerful and meaningful to their constituents. So they did what great leaders do in a time of crisis and uncertainty. They pivoted to a new direction and held true to their vision of putting on a conference enabling leaders to “Grow Personally. Grow Professionally. Make A Difference.”
Spartan Pro Day is now a virtual event being held over the next three weeks, AND it is FREE OF CHARGE for anyone that would like to participate and grow.
Leadership is having a vision, and then doing whatever it takes to make that vision become a reality. As John Maxwell writes, “leadership is influence,” and Spartan Pro Day was an incredible influence on me, and I am grateful to have played a small role in bringing their vision to life.
If you are interested in enrolling, check out the link below. As a sports fan and a Carolina Panthers fan, I particularly loved the stories shared by Mick Mixon in his “Tales from the Press Box” session.
“You’ve got to get to the stage in life where going for it is more important than winning or losing.”
It is funny how we start life with an attitude of learning and development, but somewhere along the way, we are taught that the result matters more than the attempt.
This belief creates a limit on what people can achieve because there are two key focal points. One, winning is everything, and I won’t try if I can’t win. Two, losing is bad, and I won’t try if the risk of losing is too high.
As young children, we attempt things with no fear of failure because we don’t think of our endeavor as a win or loss. We try, we learn, we develop. Then we grow up, and our measuring stick of success changes. Somehow we must rediscover our childlike attitude of going for it without the requirement of winning or letting the fear of failure limit our attempts…
“You can never regret anything you do in life. You kind of have to learn the lesson from whatever the experience is and take it with you on your journey forward.”
I don’t know about you but I have made plenty of dumb decisions and mistakes in my life. Some were minor and inconsequential, completely forgettable. Others however were absolutely life-altering. If given the chance to do it over there are plenty of things that I would do differently.
But truly don’t we all have that chance each and every day? If we take the time to learn and reflect on our life experiences, and build that knowledge into wisdom that guides us on our future decisions, then we can ensure that we make better choices when presented with crucial opportunities.
A life filled with regret is a life spent ignoring the lessons learned from our past to ensure that we have a brighter future. Living in this way is truly regretful…
“Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living.”
Anthony Douglas Williams
A friend of mine sent me something the other day that I just found to be hilarious. In it he said “I just realized that I have been alive in seven decades. The 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s, the 2000’s, the 2010’s, the 2020’s, and March…”
For many people I am sure that March certainly feels like it has been the longest month in the history of time doesn’t it? So much has happened that many people never expected was even possible. No matter how much knowledge you had going into this nothing compares to the wisdom that will come from having lived through it.
I have written before about my daily journal habit and the format that I use to capture my thoughts and learnings. I recently added a new question to my routine.
What is the wisdom I am meant to learn from this situation and how will I be able to apply that in my life as we grow out of this?
The time will pass, how can we ensure that our opportunity to gain wisdom doesn’t slip by?
“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
The beauty of learning is that once done you can’t undo it. Once you have new knowledge and information it changes the way that you think. If you change the way you think, then you can think differently. That is what creates the freedom to innovate.
“Making a wrong decision is understandable. Refusing to search continually for learning is not.”
Are you more interested in being right, or doing what is right? One of these carries with it the ability to learn and grow, the other is all about self.
We will all make wrong decisions, the key is how you learn on the other side of the decision. Is it learning based on humility and growth or is it learning with a bent towards self and self-righteousness? I would argue that if you aren’t willing to be wrong, you can’t grow and you most certainly can’t learn…
“As we learn we always change, and so our perception. This changed perception then becomes a new teacher inside each of us.”
The ending a calendar year is always a time of great reflection and perspective seeking for me. I really enjoy taking the time to think back over the events and happenings of the past year. I typically think through and reflect on the answers to these questions:
What has has happened this year? What are the joys and disappointments?
What are the things that I have learned, and where do I still need to do more learning?
What are the best books I have read and what books did I leave unread that I want to add to my list for the next year?
What relationships did I grow and improve and what relationships do I need to invest in?
Who are the people that entered and exited my life and what did I learn from these relationships?
How have I grown as a Christian, Father, Husband and Leader? Where do I need to further grow and develop?
What are the most important events from the past year and how have I grown and learned from these?
What habits have I grown and cultivated that I must continue? What habits are holding me back?
Based on my answers to the above questions what should I Start, Stop or Continue?
This is just a general approximation of the questions that I reflect on as the year draws to a close. There are others that will come to mind as I work through the answers. I have found that in order to plan the year ahead I must do the hard work of answering critical questions so that I can learn and grow. It is amazing what you can learn when you take the time to pause and reflect with honesty and candor with oneself.
This morning as I was reading and meditating on a devotional I was reflecting on this verse and found it to be a great one to use as a lens for my “year in review” exercise.
‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’ Romans 8:28
Everything that happens to us happens for us, if we choose to allow ourselves to learn and grow from it. Making that choice is what gives each of us the opportunity to change our perceptions and better our lives.
Take the time to pause, reflect and learn from the past year before madly dashing into the new year that is ahead. There are valuable lessons to be learned if you give yourself the time to do so.
“You’re always learning. The problem is, sometimes you stop and think you understand the world. This is not correct. The world is always moving. You never reach the point you can stop making an effort.”
The minute that you think you have arrived in life, it is over. There are no end to the opportunities to grow and learn. Personally I want to be reading and learning until the day that I pass from this earth. It is the only way that I can continue to contribute to others. Learning is a gift both for yourself and to others when you use that knowledge to impact their lives.
Perhaps another way to think about this is that death occurs when you stop learning. Your body might be living, but without constant growth, your mind isn’t. That is death…
What is a change that you need or want to make in your life? What are you intentionally reading, learning and studying to make that change possible? If you aren’t doing the work of studying and learning then change won’t happen. Lasting change isn’t based on wishing or hoping it is based on hard work and learning.
Stop waiting for things to happen, go learn something new EVERYDAY and you will be amazed at the doors that open up for you.
“All wish to possess knowledge, but few, comparatively speaking, are willing to pay the price.”
What is it that you find exciting about learning? What topics motivate you to put forth the effort to study and grow? Do you find the time to embrace opportunities to gain new knowledge and wisdom? Do you intenionally create those opportunities?
I have long believed that the minute one stops learning you begin to descend into a place of complacency and then irrelevancy. Perhaps this comes from my formative years as a autodidactic where everything I learned from 5th grade until college was self-taught and self-directed. (I was home-schooled through those years and 100% of my learning was self-directed) For years I believed that this was a impediment and something that held me back, but now I believe that it was exactly the opposite, it created an insatiable thirst for knowledge and learning for topics that I was intrigued by. It never felt like work to put forth the effort into the topics I was interested in.
That is the key to learning, you must have the motivation to do the hard work. The magic happens when the effort is joyful and it doesn’t feel like labor at all. Instead the energy and time spent acquiring knowledge feels like a gift and a blessing. Motivation to invest the energy and time required to develop mastery of any subject comes in two forms.
First, a passion for the topic itself and whatever it is that you are learning. For me that would be reading books on history and leadership throughout history. I love digging into a great book on historical figures and understanding how and what they did in their lives that impacted the course of the world. For example, I am reading the book “Hamilton” right now and it is absolutely fascinating. Other great examples are the Walter Isaacson books on Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Einstein. For some, reading these books would be pure torture and boredom but for me they were all fascinating and the effort to read them wasn’t work at all.
Second, a passion for the end result that comes from gaining new wisdom and knowledge. This can take many forms but it is the desire to achieve some goal that makes the hard work to attain knowledge worth the effort. An example might be a topic in college that isn’t personally interesting but is required to achieve the end state, the degree, so one puts for the effort to learn and master the material.
The key to learning is this, discover your motivation that makes it worth paying the price of learning. These will either be internal or external but they must exist or one will never be able to motivate themselves to enact the discipline required to learn something new. Learning is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be joyless work. I would strongly argue that the best way to learn is to discover your joy for the work. Then, and only then, does learning becomes easy, and worth the price…
If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
What is the single most important lesson you have learned, thus far, that you would want yourself to know 10 years ago? 20 years ago?
What would have the answer to that question have been one year ago? Five years ago?
The beauty of a life spent continually learning is that the more you learn the more you realize you need to know. What lessons are you learning right now that you will be able to apply through the remainder of your life?
“Every person that you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.”
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
How different would our relationships be if we started every conversation, every interaction, every engagement with the simple question of; “what can I learn from this person?” Not as a one-time thing, but every time. Would this help one switch from being focused on self to one that is more focused on others? What would the impact be to the people that you are communicating and engaging with? How might you be perceived?
How many people will you interact with today? How many learning opportunities will you have? What will you learn today?
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
How often do we start the new day with the thought that it is a brand new and clean day? A day that is ready to be embraced fully because we are a little bit smarter and better because of the day before? Think of the impact on our lives if every day we were to focus on the lessons learned from yesterday and seek to improve today based on those learnings. Talk about continuous improvement!
I journal daily and I am going to add this question to my end of day routine for a while to see how it impacts tomorrow: “What did I learn today that will make tomorrow better?”
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
Did you make mistakes yesterday? I know that I did. I make plenty each and every day, we all do. The thing that I find missing in this quote is “reflection.” Reflection is what allows one to review their mistakes and translate those into experiences that you then learn from. A daily habit of answering three simple questions is the key to ensuring that when you make mistakes, and we all know that we will, that you can learn and grow from them. The questions that I use are:
What didn’t go well today?
What did I learn from this?
How will I adapt my behavior in the future to learn and grow?
There are lots of other questions, find the ones that work for you, but do it regularly so you can translate mistakes into experiences that you can then grow from.
“The greats never stop learning. Instinct and talent without technique just makes you reckless, like a teenager driving a powerful, high-performance vehicle. Instinct is raw clay that can be shaped into a masterpiece, if you develop skills that match your talent. That can only come from learning everything there is to know about what you do.”
Tim S. Grover
Both life and leadership are a journey of constant and continuous learning. I believe (and most sincerely hope) that I am a far better leader today than I was five years ago and yet I know that I am nowhere near where I want and need to be five or ten years from now. It has nothing to do with role or title but everything to do with impact and effectiveness. The more I learn the more that I realize how much more I need to learn and how much opportunity I have to grow and improve.
I had a conversation with a leader that I greatly respect last night on the impact and power of mindfulness and focus, especially in today’s incredibly distracted age. The time that can, and is, wasted on non-value added activity is so powerful if it can be harnessed for intentional learning and thinking. I have so much to learn about this both from a skill and knowledge perspective and have been receiving multiple nudges in this direction over the past several months.
For example, I just finished reading (through a book club I belong to) an excellent book titled “Digital Minimalism” about the power of focus in a very noisy world and I am I am in the process of reading another book (that was referenced in “Digital Minimalism”) titled (Lead Yourself First) that is really pushing me outside of my comfort zone and making me realize the power of, and need for, quiet and solitude to clarify one’s thinking.
I bring both of these up not to recommend or push others down this path but simply as an example of my own journey and realizing how much work I need to continue to do on myself as a Christian, leader, husband and father. Life is a journey. You are either growing, or you are dying on the vine…
“Earn the right to be heard by listening to others. Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.”
When I read this quote I immediately thought of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I haven’t read this book in a number of years but it has long been one of my favorites. Habit #5 from the book is “Seek first to understand, then be understood” and it is probably one of my absolute favorites. I know that I use this phrase all the time when communicating with others about the importance of digging deep and trying to understand any situation.
I think the same principle either from that habit or from this quote applies when trying to understand oneself and our behavior. What are the deep questions that you ask yourself in challenging situations or even when you are just trying to grow and learn? How do you slow down to ensure that you are really thinking the right things through?
There is a key thought outlined in the quote above that is so important and bears further rumination. “Seek to understand a situation before making judgments about it.” I think that is the aspect that so many folks, most certainly including myself, miss out on. We are listening (or at least we tell ourselves we are) but we are listening to find fault, or to prepare our side of the argument. Research shows that most people are simply listening to respond, not understand, and certainly not with judgment. How do you ensure that you have suspended judgment so that you can truly understand?
Maybe it is as simple as this. To understand, to truly understand without making judgments, one must surrender the need the be right. Much easier said than done of course however think through how liberating that could be when really getting deep into a topic or situation. I believe doing that is what enables the first part of this quote to happen. If you do this well, you earn the right to be heard…
“You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.”
There is always more to learn. Sometimes the lesson taught might be the same, but the learnings are far far different. The master is one who has no more to learn. No more to grow, no more to see. To claim mastery is to give up humility. Never a master, forever a student.
“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:6-10
To seek mastery above all else requires the surrender of humility. Not a worthy exchange…
“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.”
“Static, safe mediocrity.” Just those words alone make my skin crawl. Learning, and being willing to change because of what you have learned, is key to breaking free from the trap of “static, safe mediocrity.’
So what are you going to go learn today? Not just a check the box thing where you can say you learned something new. But what are you going to go learn that has the power to challenge the status quo or how you think?
If you don’t seek to learn something new daily, something that challenges you, you are well on the path to “static, safe mediocrity.”
“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”
Paul Bear Bryant
When was the last time you made a really big mistake? I mean the kind where you knew you had a real mess to clean up? Was it fun? Of course not. If it was a mistake that really mattered there can’t be anything fun about cleaning it up. But the flip side is that without making some big mistakes you can’t really engage in big learnings. The kind that shake you to your core and make you really dig into yourself and who you are.
To learn from these types of mistakes you first have to admit that you have made one. For some reason that always seems to be the hardest part. Maybe it is pride, or ego that clouds your judgment. Maybe a long history of success has created an aura of self-righteousness. Whatever it is, if you can’t admit a mistake, then you can’t learn. If you can’t learn you are going to repeat that same mistake.
While screwing something up and making a mistake is never fun, learning from it and acting to resolve can be. The joy comes with the doing and growing. Never let a good mistake go to waste. There is so much than can be learned…
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”
One of my favorite questions to ask my kids is “what did you learn today?” At age nine and almost seven it isn’t always well-received. Sometimes the answer is “nothing” or “I don’t know” but a lot of the time I am surprised by what they are learning each and every day. One of the traits that I want to instill in them is a deep thirst for learning. That every day is an opportunity to learn something new and grow, even if just a little bit. I want them to lean into every day looking for opportunities to learn.
A spirit of learning and growth is very intentional. It’s not the same as looking back and realizing you learned something. That happens by on a daily basis almost by accident for everyone. Practicing active reflection and considering what has been learned is really important, and something we should all do. But what I am talking about is starting the day with the specific goal to learn something. The deliberate practice of seeking out new knowledge and information.
I have found that when I do good at framing my mind for learning (and I certainly don’t do it well all the time) I will discover far more than when I am in a transactional “get it done” mode of thinking. A simple conversation in the hall at work, an article read, a conversation with a friend. Those can all be platforms for new learning if you made the active choice to live every day with a goal to be able to answer the question “what can I learn today?”
A day where nothing new is learned, or perhaps even more importantly, where there is no attempt to learn something new, is my definition of a wasted day.
“If you don’t have the information you need to make wise choices, find someone who does.”
“Why” is the most powerful word in the English language. Well, I guess that is a fairly broad statement, but I will certainly make the statement that “why” is the most important word in English as it regards to leadership. What on earth does that have to do with today’s quote? Glad you asked.
Far too often we bog down and spend so much of our time talking about “what” we are going to do without understanding “why” something has happened. Digging deeply into the why, and getting input and perspective from others, is critical to making good decisions in life and leadership. To seek information, to make good choices, to lead, one must understand whatever situation or challenge is in front of you. To be able to do this you either must have all the information yourself, or you have to go out and get it. If you don’t have all the information, and who ever really does, you have to be willing to admit that fact and actively seek to gain it from others.
So why don’t people do this more often? Why is this such a challenge in life and leadership? Asking for input and perspective from others takes self-awareness. It takes humility. It means understanding that you don’t have all the information, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the knowledge. Asking “why” takes courage and a willingness to learn without having a bias towards your own self-beliefs. In today’s world admitting that you don’t know something is challenging for many people and leaders. Of course the flip side side far worse, if you don’t seek perspective then you are stuck with whatever you have been able to learn on your own. The more we rely on what we already know, the less likely we are to make wise choices. Find someone who knows more than you do, and ask lots of questions. Why limit yourself to only what you already know?
“Be present. I would encourage you with all my heart just to be present. Be present and open to the moment that is unfolding before you. Because, ultimately, your life is made up of moments. So, don’t miss them by being lost in the past or anticipating the future.”
Full disclosure. I really struggle with being able to follow the wisdom provided in this quote. I don’t disagree with it at all, I just have a harding time actually following it. As a person that is deeply wired to be goal driven and future oriented I miss being in the current moment far too often. Being present is hard. It is easier to live in the future or get lost while revisiting the past.
20 years ago someone told me that if I “spent all my effort focused on the goal I would miss out on the learning and joy that comes from the journey itself.” This is so very true, and yet still so hard to do. But to be present is where the future is created. The moments we are in today are creating the future we want to have. The moments can be magic…
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Over, under, around or through… Water always adjusts to its environment. It’s too bad it isn’t as easy for us humans. When I first read this quote I admit that I thought it was a cool one because it was Bruce Lee. But then I really started to think about each sentence and what it can mean from a life and leadership perspective. The more I reflected, the more I realized that the wisdom expressed here is simply incredible.
How much time and energy do we waste trying to get the world to conform to us, to our wants and needs? Why is it often so hard to sit back, surrender our ego and simply be as water? The learning and knowledge that dances just out of reach until we humble ourselves and adjust to the world and become aware of the outward things that disclose themselves to us. You can learn so much when you sit back and observe, when you take the time to “Empty your mind, be formless.”
The lesson I take today is just how important it is to just let go of your ego, be humble, be willing to adjust and learn and always flexible in your approach. Look what grand things happen when the way of water is followed…
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough, we must do.”
Leonardo da Vinci
I have just finished a fascinating book titled “The Leading Brain” which delves into how our brain works and the reason why we make the decisions we do. Understanding the neuroscience behind our behavior as humans and particularly as leaders is really really interesting and has given me much greater insight to my own behaviors and how to change them for the better.
One of the things I learned was how precisely how powerful small habits can be and the science behind why breaking the big things down into reasonable and attainable actions creates long term and sustainable success. I thought I used to do this fairly well but now knowing the importance of “doing” as this quote from Leonardo points out, I recognize how critical these actions are to rewire your brain. By breaking things down, starting with small actions, creating wins that give you brain the dopamine boost it craves you literally rewire your neural paths and reinforce the way you want your brain to work. Incredible! (yes, I recognize that I am a geek for this stuff…)
Find your big thing, break it down, start with an action that matters. Today…
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”Oprah Winfrey
It is easy to find people that will make you a priority when it is to their benefit, but what about when you really need them to help you? Do you have a list of people that you know would answer the phone and help no matter what?
I am a person that struggles to reach out to others at times “because I don’t want to be a burden” and because I was taught growing up to be incredibly self-reliant.That doesn’t get it done when life and leadership gets tough.
You need to have people there that will support you and know that you will support them, no matter what. I am reminded of one of my favorite verses in scripture when I read this quote. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Hebrews 17:17 ESV Having that friend and brother (or sister) to rely upon is critical in life.
I challenge you to think about these two questions and cultivate that list of folks that you know will get on the bus with you when the limo breaks down.
Who is on your short list to call when you are challenged and need help fighting a battle?
Whose list are YOU on? Who knows that they can call on you anytime for anything?