When was your last birthday? And how did you celebrate? In my family, we were kinda “middle of the road” birthday people if you know what I mean. We had cake. We blew out candles. And we received cards and presents from family. You know, parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. That type of thing. But we generally didn’t have a big party, rent out the local theater, have a limo pick up our friends, and take us to the mall, etc. My family loved me and demonstrated that love year ‘round. Every single day. And on my birthday, we got a cake, blew out candles, and opened presents. Pretty spectacular even if we weren’t big “birthday party” people.
While spending time in Phoenix recently, I was privileged to spend my birthday with family. We enjoyed grilled steak, potatoes, salad, and cake. A train cake to be exact. It was a throwback to my younger years. You see from the time I was 3 (ish) years old, I had a train cake for my birthday. The cars would carry candies of various sorts. Some years the train had LifeSavers for wheels. Some years there was “smoke” (ie cotton) coming out of the engine. And some years there was a homemade track on which the train rest. This year when the train cake showed up again, it was a great reminder. A reminder of my childhood and early adult years. A reminder of family celebrations. A reminder of how food and birthday celebrations bring us together. And a reminder of age. Of foundations.
This year I celebrated another year of life. Another year of joys and successes. Another year of challenges and trials. Another year of happiness and adventure. Another year of grinding and striving. During 2017 my father passed away. My wife and I moved from Connecticut to Nebraska. My second son got engaged. During 2017 there were tears of sadness and joy. Times of jubilation and times of failure. During 2017 I experienced the entire spectrum of emotions from bliss to sorrow.
There were times during 2017 when I was filled with hope and times when I struggled through the “mud” of life. I view myself as a realist and last year was no exception. It wasn’t all “doom and gloom” nor was it all “a bed of roses.” You may have heard the saying, “it’s not as bad as it seems or as good as it seems” or “truth is somewhere in the middle.” This was my experience in 2017 (and in each of my previous years as well). The year had some great moments and some tough moments. How about your 2017?
While blowing out the candles on my train cake, I was reminded of my age and my foundation. I thought about the years (the decades) I’ve been alive, the things I’ve done, the places I’ve visited, the people I’ve met and the adventures I’ve experienced. I thought about the executives whom I’ve coached, the custodians I’ve befriended, the thousands of people I’ve been privileged to lead and the awards I’ve won. I also thought about the failures I’ve caused, the hurtful words I’ve said, the pride I’ve demonstrated and the opportunities I’ve overlooked. Yes, there have been both successes and failures, victories and defeats, delight and sorrow. But overall, it’s been a great life, a wonderful ride, a true adventure.
As I blew out my two candles (one representing the decade and one representing the year), I thought about foundations. Had I built upon the foundation I was given? Was I better person this year than 5 years ago? Did I impact more people in 2017 than in 2010? Was my value-add accretive (to use business lingo) or did I simply get a year older?
Have you every heard it asked, “does that person have 20 years of experience or do they have 1 year of experience 20 times over?” Catch the difference? You see 20 years of experience is cumulative, accretive. 20 years of experience builds, year-by-year, upon a foundation whereas 1 year of experience 20 times over is, in the end, still only equivalent to 1 year of experience. It implies waste, a lack of growth, slothfulness and shortsightedness.
Great leaders (and I hope you’re one of them) know the importance of establishing and building upon a foundation. They know the importance of growth, development, learning and wisdom. Regardless of your intelligence, you have the potential of being wiser with each successive year. Think about it. If you have an IQ of 150 at age 20, won’t you be wiser at age 30 if you build upon your foundation? The same is true whether your IQ is 100 or 200. You will be wiser 10 years from now if you build upon your foundation. Learn from your experiences, positive and negative. Build upon your foundation. Don’t repeat your mistakes and ignore what life has to teach you. Learn from your successes and your failures. Build upon your foundation.
Most of us think we’re intelligent. I do. Don’t you? But if you think you’re more intelligent or wiser today than you will be 10 years from now, I feel for you. If that’s the case, you’re simply adding the same 1 year of experience 10 times over instead of adding 10 years of experience. Read books, evaluate your choices, reflect on your decisions, take classes, examine issues, seek out feedback, listen, observe, and think (thinking is, by the way, truly one of the hardest activities you’ll every undertake). Augment your natural, God-given intelligence with life’s lessons. Experience and self-reflection (a form of the PDCA – Plan, Do, Check and Act cycle) offer you the opportunity to build, day-by-day and year-by-year, upon your foundation.
Hope you have a great week and take time to evaluate your last year. I hope you’re building upon your foundation and gaining wisdom. I hope you’re willing to set yourself apart from those who meander through life year-by-year, adding the same 1 year of experience over and over. I hope you’re building upon your foundation, day-by-day and year-by-year, gaining wisdom and impacting the world around you in a positive, life-changing way.
Dr. Robert Gerwig is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.
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