MORE LESSONS LEARNED IN 2013
January 20, 2014 8 Comments
“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way”.
American humourist and writer Mark Twain (1835-1910).
A few people have pointed out to me that my learnings in 2013 were a fairly meagre list at just five lessons (see “My main personal lessons learned in 2013” posted December 16, 2013), so for those of you who are keen on volume or who are metric-centric, here are five more.
1. Doing something new that excites you can add 10 years to your lifespan … As we get older the tendency is to start to set tight boundaries on our lives. Older people tend to downsize to smaller cars and smaller homes, limit their friends, limit their outings and set shorter horizons. I have no doubt that this is exactly the reverse of what one should do. I have over the last few months started working with a young start-up that is stretching my knowledge, my experience and my timetables, and it is one of the most interesting and exciting assignments that I could have accepted as a late sexagenarian. I am having so much fun, and doing so many new things that I have now decided that I will live to 96, rather than 86 as I had originally planned.
2. DNA can be scary … growing up with older brothers and sisters can be a mixed bag. While an older brother will work hard to maintain his position of superiority over you at all times, often painfully physically and emotionally for the younger sibling, an older sister can be a wonderful source of caring and comfort. My older brother (12 years ahead) and sister (10 years ahead) have always treated me as their “little brother”, despite my advancing years. This has been a great source of amusement to my own children and to any friends and colleagues who have met them. I had an opportunity to visit them recently in Australia and the problem for me is that, looking at my brother at 80 gave me an opportunity to see how I might look, think and act in 10 years. I hope like hell that in this case nurture is stronger than nature.
3. Ageing is only external … I have to admit that I cannot in any way think of myself as being on the way to turning 70 next year, despite the issues with my joints, back and thinning hair. I have realised that you only really age in other people’s eyes rather than through your own, as I know many people in their 30s and 40s who also have issues with joints, backs and hair challenges, so these cannot be true indications. When I had my bout with cancer 25 years ago, a psychologist that I worked with had me establish both my ideal age, which was 36, and the age of my death which I set at 86. I set my demise to happen during a trekking trip in the Himalayas when a mountain ledge gives way underfoot. My wife has decided that either she tries to grab me and follows me over the edge, or she is actually the one who pushes me over, depending on her mood at any given time. I have already revised the latter age as it doesn’t seem so far away anymore, and anyway it just means my keeping away from Tibet in 2033, but I stick firmly to my internal age of 36 despite what the mirror shows me.
4. Money may not buy happiness, but it does buy choices … I have long said that just having an objective to make money is the wrong way to live one’s life, as I have always believed that having enough money to do what one wants to do should be a by-product of hard work at something that you are passionate about. I have been very fortunate in my life that I have been able to work in an industry that always excited me and for companies that gave me the opportunities to work in roles that were interesting and rewarding, both emotionally and financially. I have realised that you don’t need a lot of money, but that life is definitely a lot easier if you have enough to be able to make choices about elements of life that are most important to you. It enables you to decide who you should work for, where you should live and how to spend your time.
5. Know when to move on … In business, no matter how much fun you are having nor how much value you feel you are adding, there comes a time when you need to move on to make way for new blood with new ideas and new perspectives. I have long believed that it is wrong to stay in the same senior role for more than about 5-6 years whether this is an operational role such as a CEO, or an advisory role as a board member. I have seen executives who have hung in there for longer periods who, after about 5 years, tend to start recycling their strategies. Good managers build their successors and move on to do other things that will revitalise their energy and initiatives. After 6 years I recently stepped off the board of a company that I have seen grow from a tiny struggling start-up to a successful player in its space, and which has now sold itself to a larger company. The timing was perfect for me as I felt that it was the right time for a change for both of us. I will now take up a role as an executive coach to their senior executives and external advisor to the board.
“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.”
American Opera conductor Sarah Caldwell (1924-2006).