(And other things I learned from my HS civics teacher)
Let’s get deep for a minute. Like, deep thoughts and serious reflection. Sometimes, life calls for it, too. It’s not hard to get sidetracked and caught up in the day-to-day hustle and lose sight of your long-term goals and your current trajectory to reach them. And as an adult, you might start realizing some of the challenges you face are best solved by life lessons learned years ago. But you can’t get to those ah-ha moments without a little peace and solitude to reflect.
Today, I’ll share a few of my life lesson moments that stick with me, even now, as a professional in business, as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, and as a human. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to take some self-reflection time and remember something that stuck with you years ago.
We Do Not See the Lenses Through Which We Look
So, this is a big one. Of course, as a high school senior, I didn’t care too much at the time. But I had a Civics teacher, hilarious and witty and complete with that angry vein on his forehead when we weren’t paying attention as we should. He was great and probably the best person to introduce politics, policy, and government to us at the time. But again, when you’re 17, you don’t care too much about politics and are more concerned about who among your friends was driving to lunch.
One Civics conversation involved politics and the various persuasions of people regarding their affiliations. And it was during that conversation that Mr. B said, “we do not see the lenses through which we look.” He proceeded to explain how one person’s perspective can be entirely truthful to that one person based on experiences, personal triumphs, and hardships. You can’t convince someone their truth isn’t true. It’s only until they recognize the lenses through which they look that they can open their minds to other realities.
He didn’t tell us this because he wanted us to convince other people to think like us. I realize now he discussed these ideas because he wanted us to self-reflect and try to understand our own “lenses.”
Fast-forward to today, and you can probably imagine how many times this sentiment applies to social media debates. Such a politically charged environment, on both sides of policy, and everyone is really just aligning with their own truths. Some forget to see their own lenses. And while it’s not our place to point out their lenses, we can look at our own lenses and question why we believe the way we do, why we think what we think, and why we do what we do. Find your lens and then understand why your perspective is the way it is. Only then can you grow and adapt, in everything, including politics, business, and life.
Good Deeds Have to Be About Them, Not You
I’m sure you’ve encountered this before, especially with the free-flowing nature of social media, allowing people to share every whim and thought. You see all the virtuous and morality memes people post with words of wisdom they all claim to live by, right? Doing good deeds is inherently good. What taints the deed are the motives. Are people really living by those moral standards they share on social media? Or are they just sharing to make you think they are?
And as an adult, I tend to check myself more and more. I’ve been guilty, too.
Self-reflection allows you to look at how to come to make certain decisions. And on the surface, in business and in life, the act might appear to be a good deed. But when you peel back those layers, you might find a nugget of truth behind your motivations. You could be experiencing a subtle payoff somehow, not even realizing it. And until you spot it, you could go a lifetime of making what you think are good deed decisions, but in reality, are “good for you” decisions. It’s helpful to me to take a step back and realign my focus. When I make a conscious effort to engage in a good deed or stick to the moral high ground, that’s truly where the reward lies, whether anyone witnesses me doing it or not.
Dr. Phil’s ‘Rise Above Your Raising’
You don’t have to be a Dr. Phil fan to recognize that he does have genius advice from time to time. One of his most iconic sayings, which he still occasionally brings up on his show, is the truth that you have to “rise above your raisin’.” It’s really a call for people to be better than what they grew up with and not cling to those moments as motivation for not-so-great decisions in the present.
Sure, Dr. Phil’s context is usually about family dynamics, surviving personal challenges, or trauma. But this saying transcends beyond just family and childhood. Think about your career, for example. What tough lessons did you learn early on, maybe with a terrible boss or poorly managed team? Maybe you’ve spent years climbing a corporate ladder, only to have the rug yanked out from underneath you with a layoff or termination. Maybe you still feel a little salty about a promotion that someone else received when you were clearly the better candidate. The point is to self-reflect and really apply critical thinking to those past “wrongs” in your career. Find the lessons and silver linings so you can move forward from a position of strength and confidence. Don’t cling to the upsets of the past and “rise above your raisin’.”
Simon Sinek’s ‘Why’
Inspiration in life can come from a wide variety of sources, and today, you can find great advice almost anywhere. But most will agree that Simon Sinek is one of the big voices out there, signaling authenticity and truth for leaders, businesspeople, and individuals seeking their paths. With rosters of meme-worthy quotes, one sticks out to me as a generally applicable nugget of advice.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
During your moments of self-reflection, think back a few years at what motivated you to start your own business, take this current role, or change career direction. Are you still doing it now because of those original motivations? Maybe you wanted to make a difference in the world, help people, or create something new. Are you accomplishing those goals now or at least on your way to doing so? If you’re not, or you’re just not sure, it’s possible you’ve lost sight of your “why.” When people say to do what you love, they really mean to do something that aligns with your “why.” And when you’re on a path that speaks to your personal or professional vision, you’ll always find success.
You’ve Never Really Arrived
Have you ever set a goal for yourself, achieved it, and then sat back to enjoy the moment? Those are great feelings, too. You feel on top of the world, if only for an instant, because you met a quota, closed a big sale, or finally bought your first home. But it’s during those kickback moments that you should also remember the words of the great Robert Louis Stevenson.
“Don’t judge the day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”
What can sometimes happen, for me anyway, is comfort and complacency. While it’s certainly acceptable to enjoy your brief victory, don’t get stuck there. So many people in business and in life reach a point where they feel they’ve “arrived” and inadvertently put on the brakes for growth. It’s like getting your college degree and saying you’ve learned everything there is to know. It’s like hitting your monthly sales quota and not scheduling appointments for next month’s sales. During your self-reflection, take stock of how well you’re planning for future successes, growth, and learning. And make sure no matter what victories you’re celebrating today, always be planting those seeds for future successes because no one’s ever really “arrived.”
Ben Franklin’s ‘Involve Me, and I Learn’
You’ve heard the saying about “teach a man to fish,” and the message is much like Ben Franklin’s, “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.” As you take time to self-reflect, look at how you impact others, including colleagues, coworkers, family members, or even your children. Are you a good teacher? Are you sharing your knowledge and expertise in the most relevant way? Or are you just “telling” or “teaching” things without “involving” others in the process? You can always find areas of improvement when you explore better ways to involve others. And you’ll build incredible relationships when you do, too.
Are You Going Through the Motions?
The wise Abe Lincoln once said, “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” And it’s a hard-hitting point for anyone who’s feeling their age. As we get older, self-reflection is a more regular occurrence, as we contemplate whether or not we’ve done enough, have regrets, or urn for more. Lincoln’s quote is a reminder to recognize when you’re going through the motions of life and change things up to start living more. Be present. Be aware of moments and the little things. Take stock and make plans to tackle that bucket list now. And it’s a great reminder that it’s ok to step away from the deadlines, the phone, and the hustle to do something you love with people you love.
Who’s Milking This Goat, Anyway?
This is another personal one. And it’s a self-reflection reminder about control. When you’re young and energetic, you get excited about learning and mastering new things. When you did, you might have even bragged a little or gotten a little bossy about telling others how to do things. As an adult, when I feel myself get slightly overbearing about instructions, I remember Grandpa asking me, “Hey. Who’s milking this goat, anyway?” He would remind me to stay in my lane and let go of the control. It’s “Grandpa-isms” like these that are great tools for recognizing when it’s time to let go and to let others master their own efforts. Sure, being helpful to coworkers about tasks is great. Demonstrating to others how to complete something is helpful. But jumping in to take over for them doesn’t do you or them any good. So, consider who’s milking the goat and recognize when it’s time to step back.
Check Your Circle
Getting back to Mr. B and high school, here’s another favorite. Growing up, you probably had similar advice about watching the company you kept and the circles of influence in your teenage world. Granted, we’re not teenagers anymore, but checking your circle is still a solid piece of advice. When you do a little self-reflection, take an inventory of the people with whom you spend the most time. Are they positive influences in your career and life? Do they challenge you to be better? Or are they enablers inadvertently allowing you to self-sabotage your best-life trajectory?
Your circles might be different, too, with work, friends, and family. So, separate those and dive into the who and the why behind your associations. You might be hanging with people for the wrong reasons or subjecting yourself to unnecessary drama. It could be you’re missing people from your circles that you wish were there more often, too. Pay attention to “your people” and be proactive about checking your circle. They influence your decisions, behavior, and attitude more than you might think. So, you’ll always want to make sure you have the right influencers in your corners.
What are some life lessons you learned, maybe with your high school teachers or pivotal role models, that continue to stick with you today? Consider jotting down some of your favorite reminders, and don’t be afraid to hit pause for some routine self-reflection. It’s the pulse-check we need to maintain our goals and in living our best lives.
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