The Absolute Unimportance of…Almost Everything 

A former colleague of mine used to get himself worked up over the littlest things. But just when you thought he was about to blow his top he would stop, take a breath, and say out loud, “Well, the heck with it, this won’t matter in a hundred years so why worry about it now.” 

After hearing him say that about 100 times it got me to thinking what exactly will matter 100 years from now. The answer I came up with was “almost nothing.” I mean that seriously, unless I find a cure for cancer or discover life on a planet in a distant solar system most anything I do today will be long forgotten in 100 years. 

I mean this seriously too…do not take what you do too seriously. Most of us are not that big of a deal. Most of what we do is just not very important. 

Most people would disagree with that because they confuse urgent things with the important things in life. A former United States President, Dwight Eisenhower once said he had two kinds of problems, urgent and important. About those problems he said, “The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent. 

Too many people spend their time on the urgent things of life. They do so at the expense of the important things of life. If you’re not sure of the difference let me tell you how I look at it. 

Important things are activities that have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals, whether these are personal or professional. Urgent activities are those things that we think demand immediate attention. They are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals.  They are often the ones we concentrate on and give immediate attention to because the consequences of not handling them can be immediate. 

The most successful people have a longer view of life. They balance the important with the urgent much more effectively than less successful people. Of course one of the reasons less successful people struggle in this area is because they lack formal goals to guide them in their decision making. 

Few things in life I can guarantee more than this…if you lack real goals in life then you will spend your life helping people who do have real goals achieve theirs. 

So here’s a few of questions I’d encourage you to ask yourself on a very regular basis. How much will what I’m about to do matter in 30 days? How much will it matter in a year? How much will it matter in five years? 

Then act accordingly.

Let me give you one little example that my wife taught me many years ago. You have company coming over. The company are some friends from work. Your two toddlers have made a mess of the house. You HAVE to get the house cleaned up before the company arrives. Your kids WANT you to read them a story.

Which one is urgent and which one is important? Which one will matter down the road? When you change jobs in a few years you may not ever see those work friends again. But you’ll never get those 30 minutes of story time back again. 

The mess in the house will wait. The kids will not. 

I am always fully aware of the absolute unimportance of almost everything I do. That in no way makes me less important as a person. It in no way demeans what I do. It does allow me to have better balance in my life. It allows me to consciously make decisions to at times sacrifice the important for the urgent. But I know I’m doing it and I know why. 

I know for a fact that this post won’t matter in 100 years. But I hope it matters to someone today and I hope for your sake, that someone is you. 

The Importance of a Mentor

I’ve admittedly been very fortunate to receive an excellent education. Sometimes I took advantage of the excellent opportunities to learn and sometimes I didn’t. I suppose I wasn’t that different than most students; I did better at subjects I liked and not as good at the ones I didn’t. 

My education made it possible for me to make a living. It didn’t really do much to help me make a life. 

Making a life required a whole different level of education. A level that can only come from a mentor. As fortunate as I was to have a formal education, I have been, throughout my life, blessed to have excellent mentors. 

Knowing what I know now, if my younger self had to choose between a formal education or a series of outstanding mentors I’d go with the mentors every time. That’s because working to make a living often doesn’t open a door to making a life. However, working to make a life often opens the door to earning a living. 

You can make resolutions forever and accomplish nothing. You can set squishy goals and mushy plans til the end of time and they will lead to nowhere land. Or…

You can get serious about building the life that was meant for you. The first step in that process is getting yourself a mentor. A good mentor. A mentor who cares about you. A mentor who cares so much that they will be honest with you. Even when it hurts. 

As you begin your search for  mentor here are a few things to keep in mind.

Your mentor should be enthusiastic about being a mentor. They should be passionate about helping others, namely you. The reward they seek should be in seeing you grow and become successful. Don’t attempt to drag someone into a mentoring role, if they aren’t all in from the beginning it’s likely they will never be all in for you. 

A good mentor should help lead you where you want and need to go. They should align with your needs, your desires and your talents. They should not push you to be a clone of themselves. They should be focused on helping you be the best version of yourself. 

A good mentor will push you out of your comfort zone. They know that “comfortable” is the enemy of growth. They will encourage you to try new things, to experiment and even to fail. 

Your mentor will need to know you, maybe even better than you know yourself. That means they will be an excellent listener. They will not allow themselves to be distracted when listening to you and they won’t be afraid of a little silence while they are considering what you’ve said. 

Good mentors provide great feedback. They “tell it like it is.” They may not always provide you with the feedback you were hoping for but that’s actually a sign of a mentor who cares. 

The best mentors I’ve had in my life seldom told me straight out I was wrong. They asked question after question to open my eyes so that I could see I was wrong without being told. Those were the “lessons” that really stuck with me. 

When you’re mentor “shopping” look for a person with those traits and abilities. When you find one ASK them about their willingness to mentor you. Ask if they would be willing to help you grow into the person you’re capable of becoming. 

You may be able to go it alone but you are FAR more likely to reach your full potential if you have a little help along the way. 

Are You a Model of Success?

One of the things that frustrate many people in leadership positions is their people not doing what they are told to do. They don’t follow directions and frequently ignore what the leader says. 

It’s kinda true that many people don’t listen to what their leader says. That’s because they are too busy watching what their leader does. 

Authentic Leaders know that their actions speak louder, much louder, than their words. They know that people will do what their leader does about 1000 times faster than they will do what their leader says. Authentic Leaders know that they are the model for the behavior of their people. Not only are they the model for behavior, they are the model for their attitude as well. 

If you’re in a leadership position then you must be hyper-aware that your people are watching you. Always. They watch to determine if what you say is what you mean. If your actions match your words then they will do what you say. If your words say one thing and your actions another then they typically discard your words and do what you did. 

They know that while they may misinterpret your words they can clearly see what you’ve done. Doing what you do is “safer.” What you do likely helped put you into a position they would like to be in one day. It only makes sense that they would follow the example you set for them. 

You confuse them when you get frustrated because they did what you did. You may not realize that you’re leading by example but you most certainly are. Whether you intend to or not. 

Whatever behavior you “model” for your people is the behavior your people will give you. 

It works the same with the attitude your people display. If you demonstrate a negative attitude to your people then don’t be surprised when your people demonstrate one to you. If you’re leading a group of people with a negative attitudes the source of that attitude most likely looks back at you from the mirror every morning. 

Most people in leadership positions don’t like it, or agree with it, when I say that. They believe they are the sunshine in everyone’s day. Let me encourage you to look at yourself again. Maybe hit record on your smartphone and “listen” to yourself for a few hours. You may be surprised at how negative you sound…if you listen with an open mind. 

As a leader, do you cultivate an atmosphere where negative attitudes go to die or do you allow an atmosphere where negative attitudes can thrive? 

Authentic leaders know that when it comes to behavior and attitudes they will most likely get what they give. That’s why they work to consistently model an attitude of success and the behavior that goes along with it. 

The Most Important Part of Communication 

I used to sell a training course on communication. The course was literally world famous and is still taken by thousands and thousands of people each year all over the world. Most of the people who sign up for the course claim to want to become better communicators but what they really want is to be better speakers. 

There is a big difference between being a better speaker and a better communicator. They learn the difference in the very first week of that 12 week class. They discover that there are two parts to communication. Talking, which is what they signed up to learn, and listening, which they think they are already good at. 

The best communicators understand the difference between a dialogue and a monologue. They know that when they listen they learn. They linger on the words of the person speaking until they are certain that they understand their intent. 

The best communicators listen more than they talk. They know that saying something is no guarantee that it was heard. So they ask checking questions to ensure the person they are communicating with both heard and understood what was said. 

Great communicators don’t talk to another person, they talk with them. The difference in word choice and tone of voice allows for the possibility of real communication to take place. 

When I hear someone say that they learn a lot by talking to other people I immediately question (to myself) their communication skills. That’s because no one learns anything by talking. When we talk we are repeating what we already know, or think we know. It is when we stop talking to listen that we actually learn. When I hear someone say they learn a lot by listening to other people that’s when I know I’m talking with a good communicator. 

Here’s one surefire way you can be a better communicator this very day… put down the darn phone. I know it’s called a smart phone but if it was really smart it would shut itself off when it detected another life form within 3 feet of you. 

The number one cause of poor communication is distraction. The biggest distraction most of us deal with day in and day out is the hunk of electronics almost permanently attached to our hands. 

You cannot text and listen. You cannot watch videos and truly listen to another person. You can’t play whatever game you’re currently fascinated with and give another person’s words the attention they deserve. 

You cannot communicate if you’re not listening. Listening is the most important part of communication. Listening is the key that unlocks the words you need to use to deliver your message in a way that will be heard. Sometimes listening to another person speak is all you need to do to make a significant difference in their life. 

When you become a better listener you become a better person. You become better informed. You become a better friend, spouse and parent. 

You can be better in all those areas by making a decision to talk less and listen more. You may even discover that when you listen with complete attention you actually have nothing meaningful to add to the conversation. That’s when you know you’re truly a great communicator. 

Do Your People Have Reasons or Just Make Excuses?

Successful people have reasons why they made a mistake or something went wrong. Less successful people make excuses.

When someone shows up late to a meeting or an event they have two choices, they can make an excuse or provide a reason. Let’s say you have an employee who is late for work. A less engaged employee might say, “The traffic was terrible and that’s why I was late.” At first glance that may appear to be a reason but it’s really just an excuse. 

An excuse makes a victim of the employee who was late and I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the first time that employee was late and it certainly won’t be the last. An excuse has the undercurrent of “it’s not my fault, it’s not my responsibility and there’s nothing I can do to prevent it from happening again. 

The excuse says that if you as their leader try to hold them responsible for being on time it is YOU who are being unreasonable. YOU need to adjust your thinking and YOU need to be more flexible and understanding. After all, they can do nothing to control the traffic and blaming them is almost being abusive. 

It’s amazing to me how often that “shifting of responsibility” works. Many managers back off at that point and allow the tardiness to continue. Authentic Leaders know that if they do not hold their people accountable they are failing in one of the primary responsibilities of leadership. That is the responsibility of establishing accountability!

When the more engaged employee arrives late they provide a reason for being late. They may say, “The traffic was terrible and I failed to allow for that possibility. As a result I did not leave early enough and I was late. I will not make that mistake again.” 

Providing a reason for being late includes an acceptance of responsibility.  It includes a commitment to do whatever is required to be on time going forward. 

As a leader it is important that you understand the difference between an excuse and a reason. An excuse means nothing is likely to change. A reason means responsibility has been accepted and improvement will at least be attempted. 

Determining if you’ve been given an excuse or a reason requires that you listen intently to your people. You must focus on what’s being said and often, on how it’s being said. Failure to listen, truly listen, is the most common cause of poor coaching on the part of a leader. 

You can not help your people grow by accepting weak excuses. Excuses erase accountability and lead only to more excuses. Help your people understand the difference between an excuse and a reason. You’ll then be helping them be more successful for your organization and for themselves. 

Take Charge of Your Life

Almost everyone I talk to says they would like “things” to improve in 2022. When asked to be more specific many of the people say, “you know, just things in general.”

Well, generally speaking “things” don’t improve until somebody improves them. I guess that’s where the “somebody ought to do something” phrase comes from.

People want improvement and they want somebody else to give it to them.

That would be nice if it worked that way and I suppose every once in a while it does. But waiting for “somebody” to do “something” to make your life “better” is kinda like waiting to win the lottery when you haven’t even purchased a ticket.

If you want to be sure of improvement this year then you need to realize that if it’s going to happen then YOU need to take responsibility for making it happen. Don’t wait on anything or anyone. Don’t hope for something good to happen, make something good happen.

Make a plan for self-improvement and then implement the plan. It can be professional improvement or improvement in your personal life. Maybe both. Be aware that some improvement will require that you start doing something that you may not particularly like doing. Other improvement will require that you perhaps stop doing something you like.

Oftentimes what we stop doing has more positive impact on our lives than what we start doing.

There are many things in your life that you don’t control but if you really want a better life then you must control the things you can…and they are many too. The most successful people accept responsibility for their lives.

They accept responsibility for what they do and what they didn’t do that they should have.

Change will happen in the New Year, the question is, will change happen to you or because of you? Will you be in control of your life in 2022 or allow “somebody” else to determine your life’s trajectory?

It’s a simple choice but it’s a choice that only you can make.