New year, new version. :-) One of the fun side-effects of writing here for so long is that I can take occasional trips back in time to learn what I was thinking about on this day over the past decade (past birthday notes – 33, 32, 31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23).
In 2012, I was spending a lot of time by myself as I was traveling for long stretches for work. I grew up a lot and learnt to accept (and maybe even appreciate) my quirks during that time. I’m grateful for it.
In 2013, I was beginning to appreciate that I control very little and make peace with the idea that the universe is unfolding as it should. That helped me realize that there’s no point getting too high or too low about events. I remember the failures and frustrations that inspired this vividly.
In 2014, I wrote about the challenges of living well everyday – consistency is hard. I also reflected on the importance of working hard to create memorable moments. It is an idea that I think about regularly even today.
In 2015, I experienced a growing sense of self-confidence – the reason I started writing this blog. It took 7 years. :-) I was also appreciating the importance of celebrating teams over individuals and realizing that I was slowly but surely learning to observe better.
2016’s reflection was all around Scott Peck’s wonderful description of love – “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” – and the realization that loving oneself or someone else means committing to our/their growth. They go together.
In 2017, I appreciated how challenging it is to be engaged and intentional while maintaining perspective and faith.
In 2018 and 2019, I reflected on principles and lessons learnt on relationships, decision making, productivity, money, and parenting. Many of these themes continue to play a big role in how I live my life. Happiness = reality over expectations. You never know if a good day is a good day, and so on.
2020’s reflection was about focus. 2021 was about appreciating the privilege I had accumulated. And 2022 took that further with notes on perspective and the responsibility to make it count.
The wonderful thing about looking back at these reflections is that I can draw a straight line through these dots and reflect on how I’ve changed over the past decade. Onto today then.
My wife wisely decided we’d celebrate by planting some seeds this morning. It got me thinking about the seeds I plan to plant in this year based on the lessons I’ve learnt in the past year. And the biggest themes on my mind from the last year are trade-offs, optimism, and doing small things with extraordinary care.
(1) Trade-offs: A few weeks ago, we were in the midst of an interesting conversation with our cross functional team. As I reflected on the feedback they shared for us/their leads, I realized that I wasn’t being explicit about the approach we were taking as a leadership team and the trade-offs associated with that approach.
For instance, we chose to be honest and direct. That came with a trade-off to political correctness.
We chose learning. That came with a trade-off with time spent in the comfort zone.
We chose agility. That came with a trade-off to stability.
I’ve come to believe there are no absolute right or wrong answers here. It is all depends on the context, people, and the stakes involved. We made the decisions that we thought were right for the team – but we didn’t do as good as a job being explicit about the trade-offs.
I think this is true in all our relationships too. We make decisions and expect the people we love to understand. But people are not mind readers and things work better when we’re explicit about the trade-offs.
(2) Relentless optimism: If you’re trying to do new and/or difficult things, you’re going to fail, hear “no,” spend most of your time biking uphill, and find yourself dealing with a consistent stream of obstacles.
I think there’s only one way out – relentless optimism.
The only thing that keeps you going when you’re in a perpetual shit show with the odds seemingly always stacked against you is the belief that it is all going to be worth it.
And that optimism doesn’t come easily. It requires us to have strength of character, a changeless core set of principles that helps us stay on the path we set for ourselves, and the kind of flexibility that only comes from a willingness to consistently choose discomfort.
But when it comes, the fascinating thing is that this optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things get better because some relentlessly optimistic group of people believe it important to change things. They choose to tune out the noise around them and focus on the change they need to make.
That can be you or me. We can choose to change things. And if we make that choice, relentless optimism is our ally.
(3) Doing small things with extraordinary care: I think leadership is simply caring deeply about the people, processes, and results. Everything follows from that deep care. Caring more than everyone else. Sometimes irrationally so.
Leadership isn’t something that is reserved for “those people.” Every one of us plays a leadership role. The most leadership role we play is as leaders of our own selves. We set the vision for our lives and coach ourselves to get there. The next is as leaders of our families. And then our work and our communities.
And I think we learn to become the leaders that we were born to be when we habitually practice caring deeply. When we consistently “whole ass” things instead of “half-ass-ing” them. When we choose to do fewer things but do them well. When we play for the long term by planting seeds. When we invest in people around us instead of optimizing for some short-term gain. When we focus on learning and getting better so we can serve the people around us better. When we care. Deeply.
It is not an act, it is a habit.
So that’s my note to self this year – be explicit about trade-offs, choose to be relentlessly optimistic, and do small things with extraordinary care.