Counsel From The Wise (That I Have Trouble Implementing)
I have the great fortune of being surrounded by wise people, and the great misfortune of being stubborn. Such an insoluble combination makes for a good deal of stupidity and frustration, as I know what I should be doing, and choose not to do it. Still, some pieces of wisdom that I have been given over the years ring true; while I struggle to implement them, I make significant efforts to do so because I see the benefits nested within them.
Here are some of the wisest things I’ve been told over the years — and the things that I try to implement every single day.
“Your integrity is not for sale.”
I grew up in a conservative household, and the music we were allowed to listen to at a young age was strictly monitored. As we grew older, we were given autonomy to make our own choices, but the conviction that had been nested within us from a young age remained persuasive. I remember struggling over a particularly explicit song during my teenage years. I liked the beat, but knew the message was rocky, and more importantly understood that my much younger sister was listening to it with me. I had already purchased the song, and didn’t want to waste the $1.29 I’d invested by deleting it from my library. When I asked my mother for her thoughts, the words she shared stuck with me. “Your integrity is not worth exchanging for $1.29.”
At 14, I had no way of knowing how heavily those words would weigh on me throughout my entire life. 10 years later, I am an ambitious young businesswoman who is hungry to be successful. The knowledge that my integrity is not for sale, and no amount of money can alleviate guilt (a lesson I learned the hard way once upon a time) keeps me grounded and ethical. Thank God for my mother, and the honorable, classy principles she taught at which I once rolled my eyes.
Act like you’ve been here before.
My dad has coached baseball for over a decade. He took a floundering homeschool program in West Houston and turned it into a winning team. Years ago, I was watching one of the team’s games when one of the kids hit a rocket of a home run over the center field wall. He rounded the bases, moving with his head down in a well-paced jog. When he reached home plate, none of his teammates were there to congratulate him.
A home plate celebration of a home run is common practice in baseball and occurs within teams of all levels. I was confused as to why my father’s team wasn’t complying. Later, during the ride home, I asked my father why his team had cheered from the dugout instead of joining their teammate around home plate. His answer?
“These kinds of things are not worth egregious celebration. We expect success. We expect good baseball. I want my boys to act like they’ve been here before.”
Throughout life, when I have achieved basic success — something as mundane as an in-season home run, like good grades in a class, or a job well done on a tough project—I don’t advertise it. I act like this is the expectation, that I’ve been here before and these achievements are nothing new. This lesson, which may seem arrogant at first glance, has in fact helped me to understand that advertising my mundane successes to the world around me is where the true arrogance lies.
There are no failures, only opportunities to learn and grow.
This is the first of two quotes in this article from my business mentor and boss. I cofounded an agency with and currently work for an incredibly brilliant, highly effective marketing professional. Not only has this man inspired me across the board when it comes to my professional life and my faith, but he’s also become one of my closest friends. We’ve worked together for so long that he can tell from my body language alone when something isn’t right.
I struggle with failure. I’m highly motivated by success. When I am unable to reach it at the level I feel I should, I allow myself to dwell on the imperfections of my actions for far too long. This results in cyclical thinking that only further inhibits me from reaching my goals. I remember the first time I made what felt like a big mistake on a client account. The fault was 100% mine, and I tore myself up with all the ways I could have done better. I was convinced I would be fired for the error.
My boss told me to walk with him to Starbucks. Oh no, I thought. This is it. As soon as we stepping outside, I looked at him, trying to conceal the quiver in my voice. “Are you going to fire me?” I asked.
“Are you crazy?” He replied. “Of course I’m not going to fire you. There are no failures. There are only opportunities to learn and grow. If you can learn that, you’ll experience a great deal of freedom and you’ll be able to achieve far more than you will if you tear yourself up over every little mistake.”
I was taken aback by the grace, and even more by the wisdom of his words. It remains a difficult task for me to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, but I am slowly growing more comfortable with the concept. Maybe by the time I retire, I’ll finally have it figured out.
True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.
C.S. Lewis is my favorite writer. The man has inspired me since I was a child with The Chronicles of Narnia, and continues to challenge me as an adult. I stumbled upon this quote from Mere Christianity, my breath was knocked out for a few seconds.
Humility is one of those things that is highly enigmatic. Meaning that when you think you have it, you actually do not. The trait has evaded me for my entire life, but this quote has helped me to better understand the essence of it. Humility isn’t about me. It’s not about thinking that I am less capable or talented than I am, or tearing myself down under false pretense. It is, quite simply, just taking myself out of the thought equation.
I currently work at a company filled with amazing people, including an especially wonderful leadership team. One of our executives, a man with an unbelievably successful track record in the business, has one simple headline on his LinkedIn profile: (Name) is grateful to have an effective track record of building successful businesses and strategic partnerships.
These words do not even begin to describe the level of success this man has created for himself, and yet the humility of the statement is truly breathtaking. Having the privilege of watching this man — and truthfully, all of our executives—lead with such gentle grace and humility has been a privilege for a young businesswoman such as myself.
You’re not here because we think you can do it, and we’re willing to take a chance on you. You’re here because you’ve earned your spot.
At age 20, I was a senior in college, taking classes with people 3–10 years older than I. Our professor, notoriously one of the wisest and most challenging in the entire college, was also my sponsor for my undergraduate honors thesis. I spent a lot of time in his office, talking about his class, my project, and everything in between.
As I was consistently the youngest among my team members in every class, I was no stranger to imposter syndrome. But this class had me beat. I was frustrated by the difficult subject matter, which seemed to be unproblematic for the rest of the class. For the first time in my life, I felt genuinely stupid—and I hated that feeling.
On a particularly difficult day, I walked into his office ready to drop his class. “I don’t deserve to be here,” I explained to him. “I’m so much younger than everyone else, and this class is way too hard. Maybe I should just delay graduation and try again next semester.”
After considering my words, my professor told me a story that has changed the perspective, and the course, of my life.
“When I became a manager, I was 10 years younger than all of the other managers,” he began. “When I became a vice president, I was 10 years younger than all of the other vice presidents. I used to work myself to death, desperate to prove that I deserved to be in the positions I had been given. But one day, my mentor told me that I had earned my right to be there. No one was betting on me, or taking a chance on me. I was where I was because I’d earned it.”
“You are not in this class because the college of business thinks you can do it and is taking the gamble on you. You have proven every step of the way that you deserve to be here, and you have earned your spot. Remain confident in that.”
I still struggle with feeling like I need to earn my place, because I am still one of the youngest people in every room. But those words resonated with me, and in moments where I feel especially insecure about my role, or too young to make an impact, I remember his words. I’m grateful for the way that wisdom continues to change the course of my life for the better.
Perfection is the enemy of progress.
The second of the quotes from my boss. It is very easy to obsess over a project to the point where it’s not longer relevant because, quite frankly, you just spent too much time on it. Sometimes it makes more sense to get projects to 80% and launch them, rather than doubling the time spent on production just to get something to 100%.
A team has to work together to overcome mistakes in real time, while simultaneously setting realistic deadlines and making things happen in a timely manner. Too much obsession over the details of one project stunt the progression of a team, or department, as a whole.
With that being said, some projects do require a meticulous level of detail and will take more time. But when I know I’m spending too much time on a specific action item, it’s helpful to understand that the pursuit of perfection might be keeping me from achieving the overarching goal. Sometimes, “the devil’s in the details” is a two-way street.
I’m grateful for the counsel I’ve received from those around me. My everyday battle is to implement these nuggets of wisdom, making sure I learn from those who have gone before me. The people we choose to spend our time around are the influences that design our fate. Let us choose wisely. And after we choose wisely, let us listen closely. Sometimes you have to move close and be still to hear the wisdom they have developed over time.