Reading time: 5,870 words, 13 pages, 14 to 24 minutes
During a long life, I managed to learn a few things they never teach in school. Some lessons had to be learned more than once. It’s not for lack of trying, but I sometimes get in my own way. Other lessons I’ve learned from other people’s mistakes. Those weren’t nearly as painful, at least not for me. I share these lessons with you in alphabetical order below for your amusement and edification.
I learned that people resist advice and generally learning anything new. It’s been said that “advice benefits only him who gives it” but, that’s not entirely true. I learned to give advice gently and then back off because the more I persist, the more they resist. And sometimes, weeks or months later, people tell me what I told them. Our brains retain the knowledge but not the source. I learned to avoid saying “I told you so” and, instead, I say “thank you”.
After a win
I’ve learned that after an army wins a battle, the enemy will try to avenge their loss. After a salesman wins a deal, the competition will redouble their efforts to get the customer back or try harder to win the next deal. I’ve learned it’s ok to catch my breath, but I cannot rest on my laurels for long. After achieving a goal, I find that it’s necessary to make other goals and raise the bar. I try to make this a habit. Anthony Robins said, “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” In 6 Sigma, this is called ‘continuous improvement’. In life we either go forwards or backwards. There’s no standing still for long before the world passes us by.
Ask, don’t tell
I learned it’s better to ask than tell. I think I’m smart but I’m constantly reminded I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am. When I ask people questions and get answers I realize how little I know. I learned that people don’t like to be told, but they do like to be asked. Most people are willing to share their knowledge if they’re asked. I’ve learned to avoid people who hoard their knowledge because they often have other issues. See “Teamwork” below.
All my experience and learning can be summed up in two words: BE BOLD. The rest is details. I’ve learned that if you want to get ahead and make something of yourself, be bold. Being bold sometimes means taking calculated risks and getting outside my comfort zone. To get noticed and promoted at work I learned to take the initiative and act outside the box and make decisions in the boss’s absence that I thought were in the company’s best interests. Not everything I did always turned out as planned. However, I learned that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
I learned to be myself because everyone else is already taken. Not only is that a cute saying but it’s also true. There’s no sense trying to be like anyone else simply because it’s impossible. Besides, I really don’t know what anyone else is going through, what their challenges are or what battles they’re fighting. “Be yourself” because it’s all we have to work with. I try to be myself because anything less means I’m betraying myself and my potential.
I learned that as an employee one of my jobs is to make my boss and his boss look good. I ignore shareholder value because slogans don’t help me do my job. Shareholder value, like happiness, is not a direct goal; it’s the result of other pursuits. If I help the bosses look good, it makes me more valuable than the employees who don’t. I learned that if I help make the bosses look good then they will cover my back and we can all do a better job helping our customers so they keep coming back and THAT increases shareholder value. See “Teamwork” below.
I learned, whether dealing with small or large bureaucracies; always ask for the name of the person I’m talking with and how to spell it. On the phone, I’ll ask for a moment to write it down. In person, I’ll pull out my notebook and make a show of writing it down. This does several things. It shows I’m serious. It puts that person on notice and it makes it more likely I’ll be told the truth and less likely I’ll be brushed off. It also makes it easier for me to follow up if necessary. I’ll know who to ask for or, if talking to someone else later, I can mention the first person and what they told me. Dealing with people is more fruitful than dealing with a nameless position. See “Notebook” below.
Coffee to go
I learned a good way to avoid spilling coffee while driving with a flip-up lid is to flip it DOWN so it acts as a ‘seawall’ to keep it from splashing.
I learned that the importance of communication cannot be overstated. When I talk to people, I look them in the eye. It shows respect. I do not text or check email when talking with someone. That shows disrespect. Do that to me and I’ll turn around and walk away. And, don’t call me and ask me to hold. I once got a call from some big Kahuna’s secretary asking me to hold for Mr. Mucky-muck. I hung up. She called back and said we’d been cut off. I said, no, I hung up because you called me and then asked me to hold. She tried it again. I hung up again. The next call was from Mr. Mucky-muck himself. I asked him if he wanted me to hold for him. He laughed. I had his attention and respect.
I’ve learned that we live in an age of smart phones and dumbed-down people. More and more of the financial blogs I follow are turning to podcasts and videos. Presumably people don’t know how to read anymore. That’s sad because they don’t know how to listen either. I haven’t yet learned what to do about this but if I figure it out, I’ll let you know. See “Listening” below.
I learned the importance of following up on things people tell me or ask me to do. Have you ever made a request and then waited and waited and wondered if maybe they’ve forgotten or put you on the back-burner? I learned that it’s better to call and tell them nothing than to leave them waiting and wondering. If someone’s request can’t be handled immediately, I’ll contact them at least once a day and give them a progress report even if it means telling them nothing new. It lets them know I’m working on it and haven’t forgotten. I’ve never had anyone get angry for telling them nothing, but they will get upset if they think they’ve been forgotten. It’s even more important to follow up when I ask someone else to fulfil another person’s request. Since they’re now twice removed from the original request, I know it’s unlikely to get done unless I follow up and remind them. I sometimes gently warn them I’ll keep following up until it’s done.
I learned that you can’t have love without heartbreak but it’s worth the pain. I learned that the first heartbreak is the worst. The second hurts too but not nearly as much. The third is starting to look like familiar territory; I’ve been there before and survived so I know I can survive again. After that, breaking up is easy. A girlfriend came over once to give me her “Dear John” (farewell) speech (nice of her) just as my pizza was being delivered. I asked if she wanted some. She declined. I started eating. She asked how I could eat at a time like this. I told her I was hungry. I’ve told people not to marry until they’ve had their hearts broken at least three times because only then are they ready for the heartbreak of divorce. I don’t think anyone’s listened. Advice usually benefits the donor more than the recipient but I keep trying. And, I’ve watched some very painful divorces. See “Love” below
I learned the importance of saying, “Hello”. Like a smile, a “Hello” is infectious and spreads. I learned the importance of saying “Hello” even if I don’t feel like saying it. I especially say “Hello” to grumpy people because I take great delight in knowing that it rubs it in and reminds them they’re grumpy. I learned that saying “Hello” is an easy way to make people feel good and everyone likes to feel good. People may forget what we said or what we did but they remember how we made them feel. See “Smile” below.
Hints and Tips
There are lots of hints and tips I’ve learned. You can get more detail by CLICKING HERE.
I’ve learned that hugs are special. They’re special because they feel good to give and to get. They’re special because they don’t cost any money; they’re free. They’re special because no matter how many hugs you give, you always have lots left; you never run out of hugs. That’s why hugs are special.
If a relationship doesn’t work, give up
I learned that if a relationship doesn’t work, no matter how hard you try; give up. I once broke up with the same girl three times. I was young. And, stupid. I learned that my memory can be very selective. I forget the bad times and remember only the good times so I’m tempted to get back together. But, to break up with the same girl three times you have to be both young and really stupid.
I learned that one of the most dangerous things to say is “I know” when someone tells me something I already know. It’s so easy to say; the words often slip out before I know it. I try to never, never, ever say “I know” when someone tells me something, no matter how tempting it is to say. We live in an information age. We need to keep lines of communication open in order to keep getting information. As soon as I say “I know” I snub that person. They’ll remember the insult next time they have information and they may be less inclined to share it. Instead of saying “I know” the proper response is “Thank you”. And, in case someone else says, “But I thought you already knew that”, I reply, “Yes, but now I have confirmation.”
I learned how important it is to say, “I’m sorry” after I screw up or hurt someone. It’s not easy. And it has to be genuine, but it’s necessary to maintain a relationship and the longer it takes to say it the less it works and the more the relationship suffers.
I learned it’s best to leave a party three quarters of the way through. This way I leave with the best memories and less of a hangover the next day. The last quarter usually gets ugly and stupid and I’d rather avoid ugly and stupid memories. This applies to other things, too. In skiing and snowboarding, I leave several weeks or even a month before the end of the season. When I have to dodge a toddler being taught how to ski by stupid parents on a black diamond (advanced, steep) slope, it signals that “warm, spring skiing” has begun, so it’s time to relinquish the slopes to the fair weather amateurs who are dangerous to themselves and others. This way I leave with memories of well-groomed slopes all to myself rather than sloppy snow conditions, long lift lines and dodging idiots.
I’ve learned never to discuss politics with liberals or self-styled ‘centrists’. It’s ok to argue with a conservative or communist because they know what they’re talking about. I may not agree with their philosophy but at least they have one. Liberals take a middle-of-the-road approach by default because don’t have a philosophy. Having no platform to defend, liberals resort to mockery, putting words in my mouth and personal attacks; all of which are beneath my dignity to respond.
I learned that few people know how to listen. There’s an old joke about spending two years teaching kids to walk and talk and then sixteen years telling them to sit down and shut up. In school we learn how to read and write. But, nobody is taught how to listen so I’m not surprised that few people are good listeners. If it’s important and I’m not sure they’re listening or understand, I’ll ask them to repeat it in their own words.
I’ve learned to make lists; all kinds of lists – groceries, to-do lists, things to talk to the doctor or lawyer, etc. There’re too many things going on in my life and work to rely on memory. Funny thing about lists; once I’ve written things down, I usually remember them without looking at the list.
I learned that love is bullshit and painful but it’s the most wonderful bullshit and pain in the world. I know that when I love I’m going to take a beating and I learned from experience that it doesn’t last. But I also know it’s better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all. See “Heartbreak” above.
I learned there are several things that help keep a marriage together. At first it’s love, but, of course, that doesn’t last. Then it’s the kids that help glue it together. After that, it’s habit. However, none of these things guarantee a lasting marriage. About half of marriages end in divorce and many of the rest lead lives of quiet desperation. If you’re married and you know what’s good for you, you’ll tell your better half you don’t believe any of what I’ve just written.
P.S. there’s also a ‘skills discrepancy’ i.e. she can do things he can’t and vice versa. For instance, my father can’t cook and my mother can’t drive. After they separated, she’d cook him the occasional meal and nag him as he drove her around town. However, this ‘skills discrepancy’ often isn’t discovered until it’s too late.
I’ve learned how important it is to move and move often; both where I live and in my career. I’m a habit-former. I guess most people are. We tend to do the same things and resist change. That’s our default setting; the path of least resistance. I’ve learned to overcome that. One of my default settings is ‘nesting’. I set up house and want to stay there forever. However, every year going to university I had a different address. After that I forced myself to move every couple of years. I now have had thirty different addresses. That means I’ve moved an average of every two years. I’ve gotten so good at moving, I can almost do it blind-folded. I’ve learned to live light and not accumulate unnecessary stuff. If I haven’t used something in 5 years I get rid of it because I hate moving junk. My career also changes fast now. Once change is accepted and set in motion it becomes like a perpetual motion machine and new opportunities arise. . I’ve learned that life begins outside my comfort zone.
I learned the importance of carrying a pen and notebook although a smart phone for making notes will work too. Walking around at work, people will sometimes tell me things or give me ideas and suggestions. If I don’t record them I’m liable to forget. I learned I can remember maybe three things. That’s on a good day. Hauling out my “little black book” and making notes keeps me from forgetting and it encourages people to talk to me. They see I care enough to record what they’re telling me. I also learned it’s important to follow up and let them know what I’ve done. I can’t solve every problem but at least they know I care enough to listen and to try. See “Follow up” above.
When I recently opined I might consider marriage in my retirement, my brother suggested before I do something stupid I should try match-making websites. I discovered they’re both eye-opening and frightening. I looked at several thousand matches. Women still expect the sun, the moon and the stars be handed to them on a silver platter. Even women ten years older than me – you would think that with their better years behind them they’d lighten up a bit and be a little more reasonable in their demands. Not so. Women of all ages are quite articulate in making their demands, but the truly frightening part is not one, not a single one of them said anything about what they’d bring to a relationship. I might give up my freedom for a partnership but I’m not giving it up for a dictatorship. So, I’m not holding my breath. See “Single” below.
I learned this 80 / 20 rule governs much human activity. I’ve learned that 80% of people are good, decent folks; 80% of employees want to do a good job and 80% of problems are caused by 20% of people. When I emailed my first ‘doom & gloom missive’ to everyone on my list in 2007 asking how many people want to continue to receive updates, only 20% said yes. I started this blog to reach a wider readership.
Problem’s root cause
I learned the importance of defining the root cause of a problem. It’s not always easy to determine the difference between links, correlation and causation but it’s certainly worth the effort. I learned that the most important and challenging part of problem solving is identifying the cause. Once I know the cause of a problem, the solution is usually obvious. I learned that we men like to solve problems but often we mistakenly try to solve a symptom or the result of a problem rather than the cause of the problem. Symptoms or results cannot be solved. I’ve learned that governments are notorious for addressing symptoms rather than cause. That way they end up creating more problems and justifying their existence. I also learned that when a woman tells me her problem, she often isn’t looking for a solution so much as someone who’ll listen. Are you listening, men?
I learned that the face people present in public is usually not real. We all have a ‘public face’ of one sort or another. I’ve learned that the most respectable people often have a closet full of skeletons. On the other hand, I’ve learned that if you scratch the surface of kooks, screwballs and eccentrics, underneath they’re often just kooks, screwballs and eccentrics so what you see is what you get. However, the “pillars of the community” often have a dark side. That’s one reason I don’t try to “keep up with the Joneses”. They’re usually in far worse condition than they appear.
Rent, don’t own
I was owned once by a house. I won’t do that again! Home ownership is a form of slavery encouraged by governments to control us with immobility and threaten us with theft such as expropriation, taxation, regulation and unnecessary bylaws. Home ownership tied me down and limited my mobility. Instead, renting makes it easy to pull the pin and move. I would have missed several business opportunities had I not had the freedom of renting. I was surprised to learn a house isn’t even a chick magnet. I thought that women lusted after the sense of security a house provides but it made no difference in my love-life. I also thought I made a hefty profit after selling my house. Then I calculated what I would have paid to rent a comparable size apartment. My profit was reduced to $378.00. And, that did not include my labour for maintenance, repairs, mowing the snow & shovelling the lawn, etc. In other words the time I spent doing maintenance earned me pennies an hour. Some profit! That’s not ownership; that’s debt slavery. I learned that owning a home is a lifestyle choice, not an investment. I prefer to rent and let the landlord do all the work. I know. I’ve been a landlord, too.
I learned that respect is extremely important. It’s probably more important than many people realize otherwise they sometimes wouldn’t be so disrespectful. The less wealth a person has, the more importance they attach to respect. The poor are big on respect because it’s practically all they have. However, even the rich demand respect. I learned to respect everyone until such time as they proved themselves unworthy of it. I learned that it’s important to respect people in all walks of life. I learned it’s a good idea to respect both superiors and subordinates. Sometimes a subordinate becomes my superior.
I learned that I am responsible for myself. I learned this at a remarkably early age. I was seven when I realized no one was in charge of me except me. As I got older, I also learned no one could make me happy except myself. I learned that actions have consequences, there ain’t no free lunch and every decision has a price. Even deciding NOT to decide has a price. Only I am responsible for myself; the government isn’t, nor my employer, nor friends or loved ones. A lot of people have trouble with this concept of personal responsibility. They’re called losers. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who blame their failures on everybody but themselves.
I learned that the people who want me to make sacrifices are usually those who stand to gain the most from my sacrifice. Among them are politicians, religious leaders and the military. In times past, the eldest son inherited the estate. Younger sons joined the clergy or become soldiers. All of them lived off the toil and sacrifice of others. I’ve learned that some things never change.
Settle only for the best
I learned it’s better to wait for the best person in my life instead of settling for second best. Whoever I let into my life sets the pattern for the rest. People judge me on the company I keep. As a result of waiting, I was fortunate in having loved some of the most wonderful women in the world. See “Love” above.
I learned that sharing the things I know helps other people. It’s my way of paying back the time and effort other people have given me. I suppose it’s also a way of “paying it forward”. I learned that the Boethuk’s believed that knowledge that’s not shared is wasted.
I’ve learned I can make shoes last a long time by giving them a chance to ‘breathe’. Perspiration kills footwear. I never wear the same shoes two days in a row. In fact, I might wear them once a week. That gives them time to dry out. I also learned to shampoo them and spray them with silicone twice a year to keep them looking new. My shoes last so long that I have so many I make Imelda Marcos look like a miser.
I learned to avoid the consequences of feminism run amok and the fallout of politically correct gender wars waged by laws, a justice system and divorce courts that treat men as second class citizens and nothing more than a wallet and a sperm bank. Men aren’t entirely stupid; we can see when the deck is stacked against us. I’m not surprised that “Marriage Strike” is a growing phenomenon. I’ve seen woman taught to expect so much that it practically guarantees their failure and misery. That’s why I’m not surprised that so many women become miserable, unhappy bitches later in life. Although I’ve known and loved some of the most wonderful women in the world, I haven’t been stupid enough to marry one. I refuse to take the blame for someone else’s undeserved unhappiness.
I continually learn I’m not as smart as I think I am. That’s because there’s always something new to learn. I’ve also learned that when we stop learning, our brains start to die and our bodies follow shortly after. I’m not ready to go just yet so I’ll keep learning and satisfying my curiosity. I remember one fellow bragging that he hadn’t read a book since High School. Perhaps he was proud of being dumb. To each his own I guess.
I learned that even though I’m not naturally a smiley person, a smile goes a long way. Like saying “hello” a smile is infectious and it spreads and it doesn’t cost anything other than using a few small muscles. I also learned the importance of smiling on the phone because people can detect a smile in my tone of voice. If I see someone without a smile; I try to give them one of mine. See “Hello” above.
Start at the bottom
During these difficult economic times, we hear a lot about young people who are either unemployed or under-employed; PHDs flipping hamburgers. I’ve learned there’s nothing shameful about starting at the bottom. I started as a lowly office clerk. I don’t know anyone who started at the top. If you have anything on the ball and start at the bottom, chances are your abilities will be recognised and you’ll be offered a better job. Most job openings are never publicly advertised. The better jobs are filled from within an organization. I’ve also learned that candidates for the better jobs are often selected before the job is officially posted. Job postings are often a formality and to see if anyone else might be interested. In other words you have to be inside to find the job openings or get promoted. So don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. That’s called ‘getting your foot in the door.’ As for those PHDs flipping hamburgers, see “University education” below.
Success can be failure
I learned that it’s possible to do too good a job. After eleven years as Corporate Traffic Manager (transportation, logistics), I overheard the company Chairman ask the company President, “Why do we need a Traffic Department? Suppliers ship the goods and customers pick them up.” I learned that it helps to occasionally screw up; otherwise people begin to think that it’s all automatic. I also learned that eleven years is too long in the same job. Seeing the “writing on the wall”, I made a career change. See “Toot your own horn” below.
Survival = Attitude
I learned after taking several wilderness and winter survival training courses that they all had something in common. The three most important elements to survival are attitude, attitude and attitude. I learned that all the skills in the world and all the gear in the world won’t do me any good if I don’t have a positive attitude. A positive attitude is more than putting on a stupid smile. It means not getting discouraged. It means never giving up. The same holds true for urban and corporate survival.
I learned that the tastiest food is probably the unhealthiest. The fast food industry learned long ago to entice us with salt, sugar and fat; all of which lead to poor health. I learned that sugar and fat were easier to avoid than salt. I love ham, bacon and sausage but with low levels of salt, they taste awful. I used to love pistachios until I bought unsalted ones. They’re tasteless. It was the salt I craved. Meat processors once discarded or turned into cat and dog food things like spare ribs and chicken wings which are mostly bone, fat and skin. They discovered that by covering them in a tasty sauce, we would actually pay money to relieve them of their garbage and then eat it. Ribs and wings are tasteless without sauce which, incidentally, is high in salt.
I learned the importance of teamwork. Two heads are better than one. One time, I needed to document a simple process that I thought I knew well. I identified eleven steps. Then I formed a team with three others to brainstorm the process and we identified 23 distinct steps. By myself, I knew less than half which proves once again that I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am (enlightenment can be humbling). That’s the importance of teamwork. It also engages people, gets them involved and encourages them to take ownership. See “Ask don’t tell” above.
I learned that TV didn’t get any smarter no matter how much I yelled at it. It’s mostly a vehicle for advertising and a propaganda tool for government and big business. TV became so dumbed-down and has sunk down to a common denominator that it insulted my intelligence. I learned there are two kinds of people; those who do and those who watch. I threw my TV away in 1988 and got a life. Every so often I catch a glimpse of the boob tube and I learn once again why it’s called the BOOB tube. Either I’m getting smarter or TV is getting a lot dumber and I don’t think I’m getting any smarter. You do the math.
One of the most important things I can ever say is “Thank You” when someone does something for me or tells me something. It expresses my appreciation; it makes the other person feel good and encourages them to help me and other people in the future. It spreads. See “You’re welcome” below.
Toot you own horn
I learned in today’s corporate world, it’s necessary to toot my own horn. Once upon a time, the boss understood my job because he used to do my job. That’s no longer the case. Today, everyone is too busy so I learned that it’s a good idea to let the boss know what I’m doing and what successes I’ve achieved. There’s a balance between being a braggart on one hand and on the other hand saying nothing and risking the failure of success. See “Success can be failure” above.
I learned that the medical term ‘triage’ was developed in the 1800s when huge battles created thousands of casualties that overwhelmed army doctors. They learned to divide the wounded into three groups, hence the ‘TRI’ in triage. The first group were those who would probably die whether they got help or not. The second were those likely to live and the third were those who would live only if they were helped. They ignored the first two groups, worked on the third and thus saved the greatest number. I learned to triage people. Some I could spend a lifetime and never make a dent in them. The second group were ok. The third are those willing to help themselves; they just need some guidance and they’ll probably be fine. I ignore the losers in the first group. I make friends with the second and I try to help the third group. Bleeding hearts might call this ruthless and cold-hearted. That’s ok. I put them in the first group to be ignored. I decide with whom I want to associate. After all, this is my life, not theirs.
When I started university in the liberal arts or humanities or whatever it’s called today, I was told that a university education is worth every penny, even if I never made another nickel from it. It sounded like they were trying to lower my expectations, but it’s true. You see, in grade school I learned how to learn. That’s good because, as a result, I’ve spent my whole life learning. However, in university they taught me how to think. And that’s important because a lot of people try to tell me WHAT to think and if I didn’t know HOW to think for myself I might fall for their propaganda and bullshit. On the other hand, I don’t think university is for everyone. For one thing it’s very expensive. Also, it doesn’t guarantee a job. If it’s a job you want, college or technical training are more likely to land you a job. I still don’t know what to make of PHDs flipping hamburgers although I suspect there may be more wrong with them than the economy.
I hear “you’re welcome” so rarely it’s almost extinct. People say “Uh, Huh” or “Yup” or “”No problem”. They might was well say “I’m white trash” or “Gee, I’m dumb”. I’ve learned that it’s so easy to say ”You’re welcome” and it means so much more than “Yup”, etc. It makes me stand out from the dumbed-down, white trash crowd. It also shows I have manners. People prefer dealing with someone who has manners. It makes people more comfortable and shows respect. Not everyone has manners. Some people are ill-bred losers.
In the Army, your buddies will tell you never volunteer for anything. I learned just the opposite; I try to volunteer for new things. There are several advantages to volunteering. It forces me to learn something new. It encourages me think outside the box and outside my comfort zone. The more skills I learn, the more valuable I become to the company I work for as well as family and friends. And, the more valuable I become to the company, the less likely I’ll be terminated during a downturn. I’ve been in the corporate world for more than 35 years. I’ve seen a lot of good people go up against the wall. I’m still around. So far.
Everything I think I know about women is contained in an article titled A NOTE TO MY GODSON REGARDING THE FEMALE OF OUR SPECIES. To read it CLICK HERE.
XYZ and then it’s over
I learned that life is short. It’s shorter than we think so start using the good tableware and drink the good wine first. We never know when the end comes until it’s too late. Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer we get to the end, the faster it goes. That’s why it’s important to make good choices. I learned a valuable lesson from my grandfather. He was a doctor. During his career he attended many a deathbed. He said a lot of people’s last regrets were not spending more time with family, loved ones and friends. No one ever wished they had spent more time at work. So, do what you love with the people you love because it’ll be over all too soon.
May 12, 2012
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Awesome. People’s last regrets were not spending enough time with loved ones, family and friends. No one wished they had spent more time at work!
My father reminded me of that conversation shortly before he died. I’ve since re-balanced my work/private life; less work, more play. Life’s too short.
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Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed this.