George Washington truly was a great man. His leadership character will be etched in the annals of history books forever. There is much to study and learn from the man and his actions (or lack thereof). Up until that point in human history, no individual had ever walked away (he did it more than once by the way) from such power and influence.
A fascinating aspect of our human existence is that despite what happens to us, in most cases life simply goes on. The world stops for no one regardless of the challenge or tragedy they are confronting. Of course, we all know how the journey ultimately ends but until that point we are forced to be resilient and navigate whatever twists and turns come our way. No matter how far you climb the ladder of life there will always be some things beyond your capacity to control. Sometimes all we can do is accept our circumstances and react in the best way we can.
I was talking to my son the other day about his schoolwork and some frustrations he was having. He is a good kid and is in all honors classes. I have noticed though, as the years go on, that school which was once relatively easy and fun for him has become much more of a chore. While not commenting on the varying degrees of teacher quality we have encountered along the way (which is troubling), I believe he is going through something we all go through in life. Rarely is our individual curve always upward sloping and everything comes easy for us. Sure, some people are seemingly blessed in certain aspects of life, but for the most part we all hit periods of frustration, disappointment, and/or low motivation. When you have a passion or care about something it is much easier to marshal the energy required to work through the rough patches. When it is something you have to do rather than want to do, it isn’t always so easy.
During the conversation with my son, we discussed four things that help you get through these difficult periods: Ability, Humility, Effort and Attitude:
Avoid being put on a pedestal by yourself or by others. I’ve seen good people get too full of themselves when they begin to view themselves as extra special and different from everyone else. In happens in all industries and in all sectors. Nonprofit leaders certainly aren’t excluded. It is never good for any of us to be surrounded by people who are too deferential. Success without humility typically leads to ego issues. I’m not saying we shouldn’t value or respect accomplishment, but we shouldn’t put a disproportionate emphasis on the attributes of the person. Superlative outcomes are usually the result of good timing, hard work and specialized focus not generic ability. In addition, doing good work that taps into your unique talents makes a positive difference in the lives of others should be enough of a reward. Don’t get too caught up with celebrating YOU.
Change is a fact of life. Like or not we will get older. Our minds will get sharper then grow duller. Out bodies will get hard then grow softer. Friends will come and go. Loved ones will enter this world while others exit. If we have children, they will grow up and become independent adults and leave the nest. Our careers will follow a natural arc of emergence, growth, maturity and decline. We will have periods of minimal responsibility and other moments where it feels like we are overwhelmed with life/work obligations. It is difficult to grasp at times, but very few things will ever stay the same.
The secret to happiness has always been through giving not getting. There are few things more important than being there for other people in your life when they need you. Life can be a hard at times. At some point, everyone will need a shoulder to lean on, someone they can confide in and maybe even a helping hand.
“Pride does goeth before the fall.” It never ceases to amaze me how many people especially leaders can’t admit it when they are wrong. It’s almost as if the sheer fact of admitting their mistakes will make them weak and vulnerable to others. Our last president couldn’t even come up with one mistake when frequently queried about his handling of two major wars. In multiple press conferences you could tell there was an inner struggle going within him and defensiveness about what to say or not say. The press was quite frankly stunned by his lack of a response. I don’t for second believe he didn’t have anything to offer he just couldn’t be seen publicly doing it.
All successful people that I know learn from their mistakes. In fact, it is often a big mistake or two that ends up being a pivotal point in their career. If you aren’t making mistakes then you aren’t taking enough risks or pushing yourself hard enough to get a true understanding of your potential.
I know a lot of people get tired of sports metaphors for business and life, but they can still sometimes ring true. Everything Aaron did well is applicable in our personal and professional lives. I didn’t really have a horse in this race as a fan. I just wanted to see a good game and my expectations were exceeded. We also observed one of the best leadership performances I can remember in a long time on a football field (and during the two weeks leading up to the game).