Optimism By Education

It is difficult to face every situation with a smile. I’ve discovered one trick that helps make even the toughest moments in life acceptable: approach every situation – good or bad – as an opportunity to learn. It may not turn coal into cheesecake, but at least you can walk away with the most important spoil of war: a life lesson. Few people will help you navigate life this way. It’s up to you to step back from the situation, take notes and review. The more you reflect on life’s lessons, the more prepared you will be to tackle any problem. With the poise and experience to tackle any problem, you may yet find yourself less unhappy and more excited by all that life has to offer.

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Explore, Expose, Educate

For most of us, school held our hand through learning. Adults expected us to show up, study and graduate. I cannot speak for you, but the structure of institutional learning failed to inspire me to pursue learning beyond the walls. Some teachers made a difference and instilled within me the value of lifelong learning – but the curriculum never asked for it. For shame. I’ve worked very hard post-college to open books, study new things and apply learning on my own. Many things self-taught have made me considerably more competitive in the job market, comfortable with business and well-rounded as person. Sound good?

The single biggest piece of advice I have for anyone looking to better themselves: expose yourself to activities, culture and people you do not yet know or understand. Do things you’ve never done. Try things without a second thought. No prejudices. No fear. You really did not have a say in what you learned growing up – why be picky now? Wipe away those inhibitions and get back to your education! Mix it up, kick-start the brain. Live, learn and love life.

Forgive

People who make mistakes and take them to heart spend enough time beating themselves up over it. It rarely makes sense to me to beat them up further. Punishment, scolding or worse can only make you look like a heartless and inconsiderate fool. If the mistaker openly acknowledges his or her mistake and you understand how the mistake was made, forgive the person and work together to find a solution.

People who make mistakes without notice or care do not deserve the same level of forgiveness. Far more fair to forgive a blooper than sheer ignorance and neglect. When running an organization, tolerance for miscalculations herein can only go so far. Make little room for bad attitudes, denial or blame. If a member of your team cannot accept mistakes as valuable learning or growing experiences, you do not want him or her on the team.

Second Place Rules

Long term, second place can pay off in spades. I see second place more as a second chance than a loss. Watching someone else cross the finish line ahead can empower you with the drive to improve and an insight into the victor’s foundational success strategy. Knowledge and motivation in hand, you have the key ingredients to better yourself against the competition.

On several occasions, I’ve had the pleasure of following the first in line. I was the second graduating class of my high school, so I watched an entire group of kids go through the ropes before me (always being an upperclassman definitely had its perks). We had the opportunity to fix their mistakes and build on their accomplishments. It was a great deal.

I’ve seen companies beat my ideas to the market. A sad day turns happy when you start to find all the flaws in their approach and the opportunity to perform differently or better. You can refocus your efforts and take more informed strategic bets in the space. Also a great deal.

No, you did not cross the finish line first this time. I’m sorry. But next time, you can win the race and break records in brilliant form. All great athletes lose every once in a while. If they didn’t, they would get bored with winning and have no room to grow. Growth is important. A challenge is a great thing. Competition makes the world go round.

Admit You’re Wrong

The strongest and wisest people I know are not afraid to call themselves out on mistakes. Not only is it honest to admit when you’re wrong, it’s the key to learning from your mistakes. Until you acknowledge that there’s a lesson to be learned, you can’t learn it. It’s human nature to defend yourself when accused or disarmed – your first reaction is to put up a fight. But don’t. If you’re in the wrong, you’re wrong. You’ll be the better man or woman to admit it. And while your failure may be noted, your honesty and lessons learned will go a very long way. Don’t let failure go to waste.

Notes on Notes

I take note of any piece of information I may want to draw from in the future – newspaper articles, blog posts, books, lectures, conversations, or films. In the digital equivalent, I have binders full of random insights. While I retain some lessons learned, most disappear into the depths of my computer. Only when I review, organize, and annotate my notes months later do the breadth of lessons really stick. Essentially, I take another full set of notes on top of the old to boil them down again into relevant takeaway kernels. The result is a compounded understanding of the material at hand, a level of review I cannot recommend highly enough.

If you honestly aspire to learn a subject, take notes on anything and everything you want to retain about the subject. Block off a period of time every six months to review and process all of your notes. Take notes on the notes. You will be surprised how much more you walk away with.

Get Dirty

Remember when you were young and you liked playing in the sand? It used to be fun to get dirty. Where did that go? What happened to that childhood passion for adventure, play, and discovery?

Why not get dirty now? Dive into something you’ve never done before. You do not have to cover yourself in sand to learn about how the world works, but you do need to take chances outside your element. Make it a game, use your imagination. Love learning again. Love adventure again. Get dirty and have fun.