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Over the past 20 years on the job, there have been plenty of times when I thought achieving the next objective was going to radically change my life. And though the accomplishments were good, truth be told, none of them lived up to my expectations. Slowly, I began to concede that maybe the experience or the thing I was hoping for wasn’t really what I needed after all. So I gave it all up – the corner office, the title, the security – and set out to explore the void that I had spent so much time trying to avoid.
Over the past year, I’ve learned (and in some cases, re-learned) some important lessons. Here is the big one:
Want to live a more meaningful life? Stay curious, learn new things, take risks, fall down, get up, and contribute everything you can to others so that their experience is as meaningful as yours.
Here are 9 more important lessons you can use to make the next year a better one:
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2. Stop trying to be right all the time.
Being right all of the time doesn’t make you a leader, it makes you a prick. Yes, at times others will be wrong and say stupid things. It’s not your obligation to correct them. Besides, the smarter that you think you are, the more often you’re the one that’s going to be wrong. Let go of the urge to be an insufferable know-it-all and accept the challenge of greater humility. Encourage an appreciation for other’s views, take an interest in their views, and expand your willingness to be interested and amused. In short, leaders foster fellowship.
3. Never let anyone take the credit for your work but always be willing to give it away.
The Tibetan Buddhist Lojong have a slogan of “Give the victory to others” The phrase is meant to reduce self-focus. Being too stuck on yourself is bad for your leadership ability and toxic for your team. A surefire way to limit the impact of success is to take all the credit for yourself. Having trouble with that idea? A good place to start is simply asking yourself, “Why does it bother me to give others the credit?” Your answers may be telling. Keep in mind that gratitude is the cornerstone of faith – and not much is going to happen without that.
4. Set boundaries.
It could be a fence, a wall, a mote, or maybe just a line on a map – boundaries separate your property from everyone else’s. Our personal boundaries are no different; they help to define us by clarifying what is our responsibility and what is not. Without clear boundaries you either take too much responsibility for what others do and feel, or you expect others to take responsibility for what you do and feel. Both are bad. When it’s unclear who is responsible for what, the resulting cycle of blame and fault begins to erode the reasons why we do what we do. Enjoyment and fulfillment tarnish and fade. Although we all feel lost every now and then, getting back to center requires making a change. Of course we can only change the things that we are in control of – and despite how nice it would be if it were otherwise, we are each only in control of ourselves. Part of becoming a fully functioning adult is recognizing our responsibility to others, but it’s also understanding that each of us is ultimately only responsible for ourselves. Focus on the things that are within your control. Know where your yard ends.
5. Stop moving peas around your plate.
Leadership is all about decision-making – and the most critical ones will not just be yours, but the decisions made by leaders throughout your organization. If you’re making decisions that someone else can make, your simply not being effective. If your team won’t make decisions without you then your growth and capabilities are severely limited. And if you’re making decisions to feed your ego, justify your title, or receive the credit, then you’re making mistakes. Your team can learn how to make decisions in many ways but the two that are most effective are 1) watching you make them (and own them, good or bad) and, 2) you trusting in their decisions with shared responsibility. The first one is relatively easy – don’t close your door, wrestle and make decisions in private. The second one is a little trickier because it involves maintaining responsibility and trusting others as you develop them.
6. Start doing the right things.
Just because things are coming off your to-do list doesn’t mean you’re making progress. Or put another way: you can do the wrong things very well. Peter Drucker, who is known to be the father of modern management, is credited with saying, “Management is doing things right… Leadership is doing the right things.” The point he was trying to make is that there is difference between management and leadership. But Drucker goes on to say that within a few years in any organization, most leaders lose sight of their mission and essential role. They become more focused on efficiency rather than effectiveness. Staying present increases your awareness of these false shifts. Take a moment today to consider what duties you’ve been devoting your energy to. While there will always be a time and a place in every organization for processes and procedures, leadership is not about executing administrative duties. At a very fundamental level, leadership involves impacting people, not a list. Choosing what you devote your time and energy to remains totally within your control.
Just take a breath. A pause gives you the opportunity to objectively review what’s actually going on around you before you say or do something impulsive. A pause allows everyone to regroup, “get on the same page,” and let go of past projects/cases/decisions before engaging in the next. A pause halts the competing things demanding your attention and returns you to the task at hand. As my new found mentor, Janice Marturano taught me this year, a purposeful pause is a moment in the day when you notice the swirl of thoughts and feelings and chose to intentionally pay attention. You notice that your sitting in a meeting but your mind is distracted in a device, speeding into the future or caught in replays of the past. Just take a pause, return to the present and let go of the thoughts that are crowding out your capacity to be in the moment.
8. Live the life you want to live.
Happiness is a personal thing. I’ve read all the same quotes you have about not being able to buy happiness, they’re helpful, but they’re missing the point. Want to be happy? Do something about it. Buy stuff, collect stuff, display stuff, or use stuff – totally your call. Go places, taste things, try ‘em on, see sights. Life is yours to enjoy and you’re free to experiment all you need to. Yes, some of this will require money, but the point is not to chase down the cash, it’s to pursue the experiences. You only get this moment to live. Don’t hide from life or think you can put life in a savings account or stash it away under the stairs. Get out there and get engaged. Happiness is not what someone else describes; it’s yours to figure out and create.
9. Share your inner awesomeness.
If you haven’t found some already, pick a cause or two that have some meaning to you and give them some of your time, your money, and your voice. The amount isn’t important, just make a habit of sharing yourself to make the world a little better.
10. Let your mistakes be.
I’ve made some spectacular mistakes. So if you feel like messing up is your special skill… well trust me; you’re not alone. Making mistakes is part of living but carrying the burden of guilt, shame, and self-criticism around every day robs you of actually participating in (and enjoying) the experiences around you. It took me way too long to learn this: feeling bad about the past doesn’t make us a better person, just a sadder one. Stop hoping for a better past. Put in the time to make your peace, let it be, and participate in every moment moving forward.
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