Tag Archives: 40 Life Lessons I learned before I turned 40

Why the way you apologize is wrong. Life Lesson #23

Learn to apologize.

Saying “I’m sorry” takes practice. For some, the process is akin to extracted impacted wisdom teeth. For others, the words flow out so quickly you wonder if there is any meaning associated.

Ever had someone apologize to you and afterwards you felt worse?

“I’m sorry you are such a jerk and I resented your bullish character, I resented your ugly way of talking. And I hated you for being wrong and not knowing it all the time. I’m sorry.”

Wonderful. I feel so much better.

Another friend told me he recently sat in a meeting of non-profit and religious leaders where someone apologized for feelings of resentment. The apology included 10 minutes of upbraiding masked in half-hearted apology.

You can’t apologize for what someone else did and issuing forgiveness before someone else apologies is simple manipulation.

The ANATOMY of a genuine apology.

The apology.

I am sorry. I wronged you. I …. Then STOP.

That’s it. No blaming, no “the reason I did was this…” No justification or explanation required.

If the person to whom you apologize reciprocates, good. But not required. If the person opens the door to more communication, even better. But not required.

That is hard. Because there is a reason for everything. Just shouldn’t be included in an apology.

Here’s the twitter version

“A cover up always necessitates a cleanup. no cover-up no cleanup. So just own up and get on with it.”

Everyone is interesting #22

Everyone is interesting.

This is an idea that takes some time and some effort. Skip till tomorrow if relationships don’t interest you.

I count as good friends a number of guys who are web coders. Add in some photographers, a UN diplomat, a number of Tanzanian and Kenyan maids and housecleaners, a couple big shot pastors, a University VP with an earned PhD, a bunch of broke college students, a young lady with Down’s Syndrome, and several kids with whom I’ve played basketball. Rich and poor, urban and small town, outdoorsy and metro-chic. Black and White, Asian, Indian, Chinese.

Everyone is interesting if you aren’t the center of the world. And the twin insight is everyone likes to talk about themselves. Amazing what you can learn with a few questions and letting people talk about themselves.

Of course, there are those with whom you will connect and resonate. Others  you will have to work much harder to find that common thread. But when I start with the idea that everyone is interesting, questions become conversations. Conversations lead to friendships. And the world becomes a more interesting place.

At least learn from it. Life Lesson #21

What are the learning opportunities here?


Jim Ferriera is a long time friend and mentor. As the dean in college, he constantly repeated the line “what are the learning opportunities here?”

Life can be “the school of Hard Knocks.” Life can also be the “School of Lucky Breaks.” Here is a reality. You are living. Obvious isn’t it? But since you are going to live, and have experiences, you might as well learn from them, so as to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and increase the chance you’ll get the repeat the good decisions, right?

2013 was the toughest of my life. I reached the highest place of my professional accomplishment to date. I also had several of the worst experiences of my life. Failure and success have walked hand in hand. I’ve had people work hard to extort money from me and I’ve had some of the most meaningful personal interactions of my life.

What are the learning opportunities? I’m sharing some with you here. Others, I’m writing down and letting sit for a while.

Certain roads I never want to travel again. Others, I want to travel over and over.

Goes back to reading the map doesn’t it?

Have someone edit you. Life Lesson #20

Everyone needs an editor.

I may have mentioned before that I like to tell stories. I make them up easily. In 8th grade, I figured out how to help a good friend, “D” edit his report card story for his irrate Dad.

D hadn’t been studying or doing his homework. D was also the best player on our basketball team and we needed him. I didn’t know it then, but I was his editor, mentoring him on how to spin the story for his dad.  Worked too. D got to play, and we were runner’s up that year in the league.

Most of us come with a certain set of skills at which we excel. If you haven’t figured out what those are yet, stop, pull up google and get started. Trust me, you are good on some stuff. Very good at other stuff.

But ever wonder why top athletes have coaches? Why would Michael Phelps, the fastest swimmer in the whole world, need a coach? Or why would Stephen King and Malcolm Gladwell need editors?

The Democratic party just held a press summit. Their message was lost because of the typo on their talking cards. Opps.

My wife did the weekly info sheet at a church were I was the associate. One week she listed me as the Ass. Associate. Funny. But embarrassing.

We all tell our life stories from our own perspective. We see the world through our lenses. An editor can help us bring some balance, some clarity, and sometimes help us tell our story in a way that others at least understand.

The tough part is that editors usually aren’t popular. They challenge us. They force us to rewrite, rethink, reconsider and generally don’t fall for the lies we sometimes tell ourselves.  My kenyan friends called the place I lived “Little America.” I see myself as firmly middle class. Most of my African friends saw me as Bill Gates Wealthy. A few of my American friends put me a step above the trailer park.  I’m constantly trying to tell me story, as a person who cares for others, regardless of the socio-economic labels we put on each others. To do so effectively, I need editors.

Who is your editor?

Scuba diving makes communication difficult. Life Lesson #17

Keep your communication above the water line.

Above the water line

This one is a bit cultural, so you may have to contextualize.

Some background might help though in understanding cultures. Culture, we often see as a geopolitical thing. Tribes in Africa, countries in Europe, regions in America. Barbeque versus Vegan type thing.

But culture goes deeper than that. Organizations have their own cultures, schools have their own cultures, teams have their cultures. Marriages have cultures.

Too often, communication goes below the line. Like an Ice Berg, the reality is not what is seen. And then the games begin. Everyone becomes a shrink, trying to figure out the real meaning of what we are saying, judging every nuance and inflection. Every eye lift and head tilt.

The problem is that we are often poor cultural interprets. Case in point? In the USA, eye contact is a sign of respect. In Tanzania, eye contact can be seen as a sign of disrecpect or even other less savory things.  Simple, above the line communication makes life so much easier to decipher. Just say it.

Say it gentlely. Be Nice. But everyone loves a straight talker, as long as they aren’t an angry straight talker. Just saying…

Why being a Marine is better than being a narcissist. Life Lesson #13

<<Important disclaimer. Be all you can be is the slogan of the US Army, not the Marines. But I thought the titled sounded better this way. Call it editorial license. My sincere apologies to all the offended parties.>>

You can’t “be anything you want to be.”

Pop mantras are dangerous and lead to disappointment. Seriously.

Take for example “All you need is love.” The Beetles sang it, our parents grew up believing it. But try telling that to a hungry child and it rings hollow, doesn’t it?

The other one is “you can be anything you want to be.”

I wanted to be Michael Jordan. I wanted to fly from the free throw line. The reality is that no matter how many hours I practiced, no matter how many times I jumped, I was never going to be able to do what Jordan did. Not possible. That didn’t stop me from playing every day for a decade.

I had never not gotten a job I applied for until RMR. Remote Meter Reading was a company that paid well, and would have been a great part time job. Except that on the qualifying test, I couldn’t match numbers quickly. I had a tiny bit of dyslexia. A career in math was never going to be a reality for me.

Good intentions don’t make up for bad thinking.

You can’t be anything you want to be. But there are something, some unique place, where you can be you and your life will have meaning and purpose.

The key is discovering what that is. Those who discover that early exponentially multiply their satisfaction with life.

You can’t be anything you want to be. I prefer US Army statement. “Be all you can be.” Now that’s possible.

Don’t quit that loser job: 40 Life Lessons I learned before I turned 40: #11

Don’t quit your job, even if it’s a bad one.

My great Uncle Donny grew up in remote Arkansas. He tells of going hunting with friends for squirrels. On their way out into the woods, the boys passed Grandpa, holding his shotgun just sitting in a plastic folding chair in front of an enormous oak, right along the tree line.

“Grandpa, come with us.”

“No, thanks boys. Ya’ll have fun.”

And they did have fun, hunting all afternoon, walking miles upon miles.

Sundown saw them coming back up the back forty to meet up with grandpa, their day’s haul proudly displayed. Grandpa smiled knowingly, and showed them his squirrels, shot from the folding chair. You know the end of the story now, even though its true, right?  Grandpa had just as many squirrels as the boys who had taken the long loop around the valley.

You’ll never get the perfect job because face it, you’re not the perfect person. Finding that perfect position means that you’ll only screw it up. Sorry.

For 20 years, my pattern was that of many young adults. Eighteen to twenty four months and I’d need a change. Change apartments, change jobs, change, change. I could never seem to quite “get there.” My ideas were working, I felt I was makjng a difference, but the breakthrough, both personally and professionally, just wasn’t coming.

As I look back, that fascination with change is endemic of my generation and the one that comes after. Except we aren’t climbing the ladder. We’re broadening our experiences. (Read Code for “not going anywhere.”)

Here’s the truth. At some point, your experience is broad enough. I don’t currently employ someone, but if I did I’d rather hire someone who worked their way up from the mail room to the marketing department than someone who got their degree in marketing and has had 5 jobs in 6 years.

Stick with that bad job for four or five years. You’ll be amazed what you learn and how you will grow. When you make the shift, you won’t be shifting from menial to menial but from mid-level to mid-upper-level.

Retro-gunge-hippie is only cool for a decade or so. Trust me. Or don’t. We’ll hang out in your parents basement and watch TV on your huge TV, play some video games and then I’ll go home to my wife, kids and life.