Doing a gratitude exercise recently, writing my undergraduate advisor who helped me figure out how to major in physics starting my second semester junior year. Physics is intense so most of my classmates were younger, having known their major since high school.
So academically, I was catching up with classmates from when I chose my major. I just finished the major in my last semester and got into Penn for graduate school, so I felt caught up.
Graduate school brought a new level of classmates. Many of them came from abroad, where their educational systems had them take only math and science classes from fifteen or sixteen years old. Some of them had taken forty math and science classes. Columbia is a liberal arts college. I had taken twenty math and science classes. There’s no substitute for experience.
I did well on my qualifying exam and got to choose between several great research projects, so I felt caught up.
Eventually I fell out of love with physics and decided to co-found my first company, Submedia. I had never done anything in business before. I didn’t know accounting, sales, or anything. So I had to catch up.
When we were finally funded, built our first displays, and sold our first inventory, we planned to launch on September 11, 2001, making our launch impossible. The internet bubble burst, drying up our funds even though we weren’t an internet company, and a recession hit. So we had to catch up on business.
I went back for an MBA. Though I’d led a business, most of my classmates came from finance and consulting, Columbia’s strength, and I had to catch up on things I’d barely heard about, like discounted cash flows.
I consider myself fit now for a 44-year-old and I’ve run marathons and competed at nationals and worlds levels in sports when I was younger. I feel caught up now, but a lot of that doesn’t count because I live in a country whose population is about seventy percent overweight.
Anyway, I wasn’t always fit. When I was young I was pudgy enough that my older step-brother would tease me about it. I played some little league and soccer but never got into sports. In high school I started running cross country, but not seriously competitively. My teammates who placed in races had trained since they were younger.
When I started playing ultimate in college, the teammates who led the team had played competitively before.
Whether on personal or professional relationships, my rational, logical, right versus wrong view of life led to impersonal relationships most of my life. Only in business school, in my thirties, did I learn I could develop skills in these areas.
I’m not complaining, only observing. Many people ask me how I’ve done so many things. I guess by some standards I’ve done a lot. The flip side is that when I meet people who found and acted on passions earlier, they mastered something much younger. I was reading about Bruce Springsteen recently. He took a long time from starting to play music to success, but he started in music at seven.
Looking at the world from another perspective
Another way I’ve looked at my background is to ask what happens when I put everything I’ve done into a unified, integrated whole. Do I find something meaningful and useful for others. If so, it could make sense to look at everything I’ve done not as catching up to what others did, but as starting what I’m doing now from the start.
Anyone can do that. Everyone’s life is unique, so we all can offer something no one else can. The trick is to make something of it that others value.
Anyone who has talked to me recently knows of my passion for teaching and coaching leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, and hustling. I think I’ve created a way of teaching and material far and away more useful and effective than anything out there and it arose from everything I’ve done, even things that didn’t seem relevant at the time, including physics.
What I do, from my perspective, is to enable people to create meaning, value, importance, purpose, and reward in their lives and the lives of people they interact with. I think I do it better than anyone, at least for people who like doing the exercises in my courses.
It’s quite a perspective, to see everything in your life contributing to something that you feel makes the world a better place. Have you done it?
What’s your perspective on your life?
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book