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This the second of three posts based on my experience of delivering the 2017 Commencement Address at The Marine Military Academy. As I thought about what I would tell my 17-year-old self I decided to share this story and idea as another lesson:
This takes me to lesson two: You can learn something new from everyone.
The operative words to think about are You, Learn and Everyone. As it turns out, this lesson is one of the most powerful lessons I have ever learned. This is another learning experience I had with [my mentor] Jay Longley.
I’d had a bad day, and I was venting to Jay, who’s office was next to mine, about a particular dimwit I had encountered that day. Jay listened quietly, and then he asked, “Are you done? Do you feel any better?”
“Yes, I’m done. And no, I don’t feel any better,” I told him.
Then he said, “What did you learn from this situation? What did you learn from the way that gentleman acted? How would you approach him now that you have the benefit of hindsight? What would be your plan?”
I want you to take note that he used the word gentleman for someone I had been calling a dimwit, among other things. He took the emotional energy out of the situation and made it something we could analyze for value.
This was a big aha moment for me. I wanted to stay stuck in complain-mode. I wanted to vent and spew and roll around in the dirt talking about the pinhead who ruined my day, but Jay was asking me to be so much bigger than that. He was asking me to reach deep inside myself and bring out the best—to learn and grow and evolve from the situation.
I have carried this lesson with me in life. Throughout the years, I have tried to approach even the most charged situations as teachable moments. When I carry with me this attitude of wanting to learn something, I build and refine my skills and knowledge. I become a richer, more evolved person.
As you go through life, you always get to choose your behavior. You have little control over the way your bosses, your teachers, or your parents talk to you. You have little control over what they do, but you always have a choice about how you behave. And in every interaction, you can reach for your best self, the one that wants to learn and grow. Or you can reach for some mediocre, watered down version of yourself.
If you reach for the best in yourself, you will always learn something new.
The same can be said of experiences. Life won’t always go your way. When that happens, you have a choice. You can either blame it on someone or something else, or you can reach for the best of yourself, and ask yourself how you can become wiser through this experience. It’s why the best professionals pore over past events to learn. Athletes, in particular, study film, especially of their losses, to gain insight into how to grow and improve themselves.
At the close of the day or at the close of the week, or the close of the year, make it a point to reflect on whether you are doing this. Culturally, we are so focused on goals and outcomes. As cadets, you have certainly been pushed to set these goals. But just as important as goals is the importance of taking stock of how far you have come, what you have learned from your past experiences, and how you can grow from them. The horizon is always in front of us but the rearview mirror is what actually shows us where we have been and what mile markers we have passed.
I do this almost every Friday. I review my calendar and notebook and think about all the events and interactions of the past week. Inevitably I gain insights that will help me in the upcoming weeks. I also do this for a full day every three to four months. It is a way for me to mine my experiences for valuable nuggets.
Think back to your very first day at the Marine Military Academy. Who you were then is not who you are today. You are a better version of yourself. What have you learned from MMA? Pinpoint and articulate the answer to that question because it gives you important information about yourself and your strengths. Think about all you have accomplished during your MMA years. The leadership skills you have developed through experiences. The personal discipline that has been an important part of your daily life. As you move through life, decide to live a life that includes intentional times of reflection so that you can identify and benefit from the ways you have grown, and be in a better position to live a richer life.
Stay tuned for Part Three: Your Personal Code of Conduct.
The video of my talk can be found here. My talk begins about 16 minutes in.