I was at a corporate function yesterday, and it was one of these deals where you have to go and introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met before, and then answer a question that pops up on the screens around the room. It’s an effort to get everyone to break out of their shell and network. They called it a “Mad-Hatter’s Tea Party”.
Some of the questions?
What is your super power? (I put people together to solve problems.)
What do you look forward to about coming to work every day? (Pursuing on my own grand ideas.)
Pretty usual corporate stuff, and honestly, I don’t remember the other person’s answers. I met a lot of people in a short amount of time, and it’s all kind of a blur.
But one of the questions stuck with me after the event, and all the way through the day today.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
I actually came up with three pieces of advice that have stuck with me for many, many years, and relayed them to the gentleman I was chatting with at the time.
The first one was from my friend Brandon, the day I went over to his house to tell him I was thinking of asking Lisa to marry me. I asked him how to make it work. His advice: “Don’t keep score.” Don’t track who did the dishes last or who paid the bills or who put the kids to bed. Assume your spouse is always doing the absolute best they can, and if you truly are doing the best you can, things will balance out if you love and respect each other.
I’m not perfect at doing that, but it is something I think about often.
The second piece of advice one was from a friend of mind named Randy, all the way back in 1996. We were on our way back from Ottawa to Oshawa after partying it up in the Capitol over New Year’s Eve. I was telling him about how many hours I was working, and how I had these big ambitions, and how I would go back to my high school reunion and show everyone who thought I would never make it, how far I’d come. In one little sentence, he shook me to my core:
“What if they don’t care?”
I said, “What do you mean? Of course they’ll care!”
He pointed out that between the time I graduated from high school and the time I’d see these people at some reunion down the road, they’d have lived a lot of their lives, and had their own challenges and triumphs, and they likely wouldn’t remember my awkward teenage years. He said, to paraphrase, that whatever I’m doing now, I’d better be doing it for myself, because doing things for other people, especially people who aren’t part of your daily life, is doing things for all the wrong reasons. It took a while to get that message through my thick skull, but I never forgot what he said. I hope I’ve done the right things for the right reasons all these years later.
The third best piece of advice was from a coworker (don’t remember who) when I was first starting out in the IT world. I was working a ridiculous number of hours back then (this was before I figured out exactly what #2 meant.) I was proud that I was critical to my project and said something along the lines that the project would be in trouble without me there. That was the moment someone piped up and said “The graveyard is filled with people who thought they were indispensable.” I laughed. The wiser people in attendance nodded in the way only people who have seen the door hit them in the ass on the way out can nod.
A few years later, I was in the same type of position, where I was absolutely essential to the team, and was starting to throw my weight around. I said the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time, and I was gone by 10:00 AM the next day. The security guard held the door for me on the way out.
So now that I’m much more mature and older, I’ve started handing out these tidbits of wisdom to my younger colleagues. Maybe some of them take it to heart. Maybe some of them blow it off and learn the hard way. But I know that those three pieces of advice have made a major difference in my approach to life and to work. I try my best to not keep score, to do things for the right reasons, and to maintain perspective and balance in my work life. I’d like to think I’m doing all three pretty well… but I’m always watching out for that swinging door.
So what are the best pieces of advice you’ve ever received?