My two youngest kids are moving on to major milestones. Marisa graduated from college this weekend and Aaron is graduating from high school next month. This Summer may be my last chance to provide them with some useful wisdom that will help prepare them for life. You might be surprised, but my intent is to teach them to care less (not more) about money, success, recognition and status. I quietly despise the culture of consumption and self-exaltation, and believe it leads to nothing but unhappiness and despair. We all have heard that we should spend less time caring about what others think, but few of us heed that advice. I believe I would be doing my kids a great service if I can convince them not to worry about things that really don’t matter. This is not an easy task — especially these days. With the proliferation of social media and reality TV, we are constantly bombarded with images that cause us to believe everyone’s life is amazing. Even though we know this is not true, it messes with our head and causes us to believe that our life is somehow less impressive, and that we need and deserve more. When was the last time someone you know posted on FB about a true failure or disappointment? I don’t mean one of those canned “I used to live in a car” stories that end with how their perseverance and hard work turned their life to pure bliss. I mean how frequently do you encounter someone who has the honesty and confidence to admit failure. Ironically, it is exactly this type of authenticity that is both rare and truly inspiring.
Here are some thoughts to consider: The denial of failure is in itself failure, the avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering and the desire for a more positive experience is, in itself, a negative experience. In summary, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience. Those of us in business have been conditioned to believe that we always have to think positively, that we have to avoid all negative thoughts, and that we need to project success 24/7. We do affirmations to convince ourselves that we are winners and good at what we do. I would never criticize anyone for trying to be the best they can be, but I don’t do affirmations, I don’t read self-help books and I don’t have a success coach. Affirmations make me feel like I am actually the opposite of what I am affirming or else I wouldn’t have to do affirmations.
During my life, I have had my share of failures. The funny thing is that I actually enjoy talking about them… the bombs and the negative feedback are actually funny to me and end up being the best stories. I recently had a major presentation with one of the largest companies in the world. A deal that could have been worth millions of dollars to NAHREP and L’ATTITUDE. After the meeting I called Armando Tam about some travel plans we were working on and in mid-sentence he interrupted me and asked, “Wait, how did the meeting go?” — I paused and said, “It was a total bomb” and we both laughed and moved on. The meeting failed because either I didn’t do a very good job of making my case or they were just too narrow-minded to appreciate the opportunity. I don’t know for sure, but I do know this much — I love having a job where I get to meet and potentially do business with people like that and I do believe that eventually something good will happen. Knowing that I might fail is liberating and makes the whole process less stressful, more fun and quite frankly is probably the reason I am not afraid to try big things. Don’t get me wrong, I want to succeed — if I didn’t I wouldn’t work so hard, and I have had many bad days, but that’s the point. Over time, I have learned to appreciate the pleasure I get from swinging for the fences – knowing full well, that it may not work out. Fear of failure is debilitating and it fatigues you. My understanding of this is probably why I work hard and am not afraid to think big thoughts. It is, in some strange way, also what makes it more likely that I will succeed. Ever notice that the people who seem aloof about whether they succeed or fail at something seem to succeed more frequently? It’s because they are relaxed and confident — not obnoxious, but cool confidence — true confidence. Think about it, there is something intrinsically attractive about confident people who have no fear of failure and no fear of embarrassment. Essentially, they aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves and admit they screwed up. They are the types of people who say, “damn that was ugly — oh well…” and move on when they mess up. Those are the people who are the most fun to be around. I try to be this way and I want my kids to try as well.
All in all, the only things that really matter are family, health, and happiness. This is why my friend, Foster Stanback can be worth nearly a billion dollars, and yet drives a Volkswagen SUV and gets the most joy from giving his money away. If my kids can acquire that kind evolved thinking, I know they will be happier than any “success” will bring them and they won’t be afraid to pursue the things they truly love. Enjoy graduation season!