My Five Big Life Lessons

March 8, 2012.  6:15 am.

We share the significant experiences and insights of our lives.  And I suspect for leaders, this is where they get their sense of purpose.

I was going to ask my class last night to try to put words to these significant lessons they have learned so far.  And to be fair, I thought I’d do it myself too.  After 30 minutes of cramming for the class last night, here are the 5 things that I have learned in my life that I really end up sharing with others in the videos produced, the classes taught, and even in the triathlon’s raced.

  1. All shall be well.

There are 2 kinds of stories: tragedies and comedies. Tragedies are stories that don’t end well. Comedies are those with a happy ending.  I believe our stories end well because that is the pattern I see in my own life.  I failed all my finance exams when I was taking my MBA; and 5 years later I became CFO to a holding company. (And no I didn’t sink the ship).  As one wise old Jesuit put it, “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

In a week-long immersion once, we finished all the food in the house feeding 5 children in day 3 of our stay.    The next day there was a sack of potatoes outside the door.  And even today in our own businesses, money and work come when we need it.  As one wise philosophy teacher once told me, “Jake, God hasn’t taken you this far to let you down now.”

2.To live afraid is safe; but it also builds regrets.

I know what it means to live afraid and find safety in the risk-free things we already know.   For the longest time, I dreamt of building a production house that would produce TV shows that educate and inspire.  The thing that stopped me was the fear of failure and the imagined difficulty.  For those safe years, I had a safe job and a safe salary; but I always grumbled about doing what I wanted to do and grumbled about not being able to do it.   A good and wise friend once asked me, “When you get old, will you regret not doing this?”    I realized then that I’d rather try then fail, rather than not even try.

3. You don’t lose when you follow your heart, even if you lose.

So I tried and kept on trying.  And their were some attempts that were hard and gave me white hair and were glorious failures.   The days were long, the salary was small, and I felt a lot of expectation from my young idealistic team (who were also my best friends).  But I would wake up everyday feeling good about what I was doing.  And if I had to do it all over again, I still would. When you do what you love, you don’t lose even if it looks like you’re losing.   And if in the end, it seems like you failed, go back to lesson-learned #1 above.

4. There is more to us than our fears and anxieties.

For the longest time I thought I was never good enough.  And that unexamined self conclusion kept me afraid and anxious for the most part of my life.  Through sheer luck of meeting people who were patient and guiding, I got out of that hole and realized I could be free.

I haven’t “arrived” or feel that I am a model of courage and conviction, but I know that I am more than my fears and anxieties  make me out to be.    Thinking of who can benefit from the little or much that I give, helps me get over those fears.  The other one that gets me going is something I’ve learned from triathlons (and my favorite Livestrong shirt) “Whatever your 100% looks like, give it!”

5. One person and his/her small acts of making a difference will ripple and change the world.

My hope lies in the ripple effect… that the little or much that I do now will affect other people and they too will pass it on and so forth and so on.


Because others have done it to me.  With what they said and how they said it, from my teachers to my friends, from those I race with and live with and teach, in the work that they do and in how they do it, whether they were conscious of it or not,  they made a difference in my life.  And it is that  gift that I am giving back.

We share the significant experiences of our lives.  And those gifts naturally moves us to share them. with others.  A leadership academic observed that leaders are compelled to do what they do. He cites Martin Luther King responding to the warnings given to him as saying, “This is where I stand, I can do no other.”   I put it another way: too much is given, much is asked how can I say no?

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