In college, one of my mentors challenged me to read the bios of one person a day, for 50 consecutive days, and write down the three characteristics that made each and everyone of them Great. I called this challenge “Project Achieving Greateness.” By taking on this project, my mentor wanted me to learn the value of persistence and discipline and the benefits of systematically working toward our goals. She also wanted me to understand that ideas or tasks don’t always have to be difficult or complex to be valuable.
What happened shortly after I finished this project? I didn’t think too much about the lessons my mentor tried to instill in me. I assumed the value in Project AG only came from the biographies I read, not in the actual process of starting and completing a project from start to finish. My mind was off seeking my next learning opportunity (which ended up being a virtual internship with a well-known author). Fast forward to nearly a decade later, I now understand those lessons my mentor tried to teach me.
Here are four more lessons I’ve learned from other mentors over the years:
- Because your time is limited, recognize that it’s not possible for you to make time for everyone who reaches out to you. Don’t (and stop) feeling guilty when you’re unable to respond to every request. Guard your time so that you can spend it where it matters most, with the people who matter most. On the same note, don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t respond to you, or respond to you positively.
It used to be the case that I took every “no” or ignored email as a rejection. When I was invited to visit a program servicing homeless children in Los Angeles last year, I was curious to learn the story of the program’s organizer. I asked him if he would have coffee with me and he said ‘no.’ By being told ‘no’ on the spot, I wasn’t sure how to react, so I said ‘okay.’ Rather than taking his ‘no’ personally (surprisingly), the next morning I shot him an email thanking him for not only inviting me to check out his program, but for also declining my invitation to coffee. I realized that rather than hearing a ‘yes’ from him that really meant ‘no,’ as I’ve heard from many folks over the course of my 20’s (in professional settings as well as my personal ones with acquaintances) – I would rather hear a ‘yes’ from someone who actually meant it. I’ve been guilty of this myself, saying yes to things that I wasn’t really interested in or didn’t have the time for and I’ve gotten a bit resentful when others did this to me.
When I ran into the program’s organizer at a conference several months later, he brought up my email and expressed his appreciation for the note because rather than labeling him as a jerk, I attempted to see his unspoken point of view. Apparently, I was spot on.
I learned from one of my Lessons for Life-related conversations, “taking another person’s behavior personally is a form of self-centeredness.” Chill out – it’s okay to hear no and to even say it.
- The longer you wait to live your purpose, the more chances you will miss to make a difference in the lives of the people you’re trying to touch.
I know so many 20 and 30-something year old aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners, social entrepreneurs and social-impact professionals. In fact, I would put myself in this group. While I do not encourage anyone to dive head first into a venture without first making sure the basics are in place (see the ‘safety’ and ‘physiological’ levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), there is an opportunity cost in waiting or being paralyzed by our fears of doing X, Y or Z. The more time we wait for the perfect moment or the perfect opportunity or until we’re “ready,” the more opportunities we’ll miss to potentially make the difference we’re attempting to make. Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter if we want to make a “huge” impact or a “small” one; when we influence one person’s life for the better, we are impacting their world.
One thing to keep in mind is that even if we have everything in place, it could take years until we actually see the fruits to our efforts. Creating meaningful impact takes time. Developing personal greatness takes time. The explosive growths we often hear about in the tech-scene (e.g., Snapchat, Uber, etc.) are anomalies. Muhammad Yunus had been working in microfinance for 30 years until most of us actually heard about him or this concept of ‘microfinance.’ Apple was founded in 1976, but it didn’t become the Apple that we know today until 2001 when the first iPod was introduced and 2007, when the iPhone came out. In fact, sales for iPods didn’t pick up for Apple until 2004. Now Apple is one of the most successful and influential companies in the world.
If you’re lucky enough to know what your purpose is, or what makes you tick, don’t make the mistake of holding back for too long. No matter what it is that you want to do, don’t forget to start.
- When it comes to life (and business), riding the inevitable extreme highs and extreme lows in your experiences is not the ideal course. Rather, position yourself in a manner where you react to situations moderately, irregardless of whether those experiences are good or bad. This is much easier said than done, but keep practicing and you’ll get better at it.
It’s extremely easy to lose our balance when we’re riding the waves caused by our circumstances. It’s extremely easy to react impulsively than to master our thoughts and emotions. Sometimes we’ll stumble (badly, and magnificently), but that’s okay – we’re human.
As the popular saying goes, ‘keep calm and carry on.’
- Don’t make up excuses on how you don’t have time to pick up a new skill.
One of my mentors is running five businesses (!), on the board of several non-profits, has two little kids (!) and makes time to spend with her husband and family. She’s heavily invested in her self-education too. When I told her I didn’t have time to learn X, she reminded me of all the things she was working on and had going on in her life. I was immediately silenced.
I believe that for many of us, most of the time the only limitations we have are the limitations we set up for ourselves.
What have you learned from your mentors?