DC, a good friend and mentor read my last blog 20 Quotes and suggested I follow up with one that covers on the top decisions that shaped my life. I really like this idea, but I am mindful it does not come across as advice – you know what Austin Kleon says about this – “when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.”
But I played around with this idea and what I came up with 5 key decisions I have made (and in some cases made for me) that have impacted my life. In reality, these decisions have set the stage for how my life has unfolded and continues to unfold.
- Decide to be excellent
Decades ago, I read a quote attributed to Thomas J. Watson, former chairman and CEO of IBM – “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.”
Mind = Blown. I thought the pursuit of excellence was meant to be a long journey, full of effort, experience, skills and peppered with a lot of stamina, resilience, persistence and so many other things I did not yet possess.
And all of a sudden it comes to just this? A decision to quit doing “less-than-excellent work”? You mean it is my choice? And this choice is under my immediate control? You have taken away all my excuses. What to do now?
Well, I still needed to work on developing the experience, skills, stamina, resilience, persistence and other things I did not possess, but having made this choice, “as of this second”, embarked me on a more convincing and determinate path.
From that day, I stopped doing “less-than-excellent work”. Has it worked for me? Am I excellent at everything I pursue?
Far from it. As a matter of fact, I suck at a lot of things, am OK at a few and excel at a handful. But everything I do is under the context of excellence and I would not have it any other way. And you should too.
- Decide to take some risks
Many people are afraid of taking risks and not surprising as the word has developed some negative connotations. Unfortunately, everything we do (or do not do) has risk – as Trammell Crow reminds us, “there is as much risk in doing nothing as in doing something.” The status quo does not feel as risky because you are used to it, but still carries risk.
If you accept that everything has a risk, the next step is to develop a filter that quickly helps you determine your best course of action. “Quickly” is the key word here. In your mind, you are already embarking into something new – and “risky” – so if you over analyse it, it just won’t work.
Everyone will have a different filter as well as different perceptions of risk. For what is worth, my “quick and dirty” filter is as follows:
- Do I want to do This?
- Can I see myself doing This in 6-months?
- What is the worse that could happen? What is the best that could happen?
- What is the alternative?
- What is the worse that could happen with the alternative? What is the best that could happen with the alternative?
- If I don’t do This, will I kick myself for not doing it?
- What else do I need to know about This before saying yes?
I go through this filter very quickly, naturally depending on the decision. If I end up with a 50/50 outcome, I just go back and re-ask the questions. In my experience, 50/50 outcomes normally mean I am sitting on the fence, so I need to be a bit more disciplined with my filter.
Does it work? It does for me.
Of course, I have ended up with plenty of wrong outcomes, have made some bad calls, had the wrong assumptions, you name it – but I have come to trust my filter. The funny thing is that I think I normally make the “right” decision. Or I guess I own it and make it work, somehow.
- Decide to Change your Surroundings
Move. And here, I am not talking about exercising but you know you should do that as well. Seriously, move suburbs, cities, countries, schools, jobs, social activities. Give yourself the opportunity to see other things, meet other people, take a slightly different route home. Robert Frost wrote that “two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Different surroundings are very good for you. That is why most of us long to travel during our holidays, so we can be exposed to “different”. Not better, not worse, just different.
I have lived in many continents, countries, cities, suburbs and houses and I hope I can do another 30 before I die. These moves energise you, test you and make you a better person. Are they risky? Sometimes they are. But if you read the second point above, you should be fine.
And what is the worst that can happen? You gave it your all and you don’t like it. More often than not, you can always move back. I recall when we moved to London from Sydney, so many people would say, “you live in Sydney, why would you move to London?” The answer invariably was “because we can always go back.”
- Decide to use your manners
Please, thank you, good morning, good evening, sorry – manners, manners, manners! I heard that so often from my parents and grandparents. But manners are not just about being polite. Manners are more about how we deal with people. How we treat them, how we respect them, how we acknowledge them, how we communicate with them. Laurence Sterne told us that “respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”
Good manners reflect our humanity. A way to show others and yourself that you are a good human being. That you care about them as much as you care about yourself. That you treat them with the respect they deserve. That when you listen to them, you do it to understand, not to reply.
Every break I have ever had in life has been giving to me by someone. And that someone has given me a break because I have always treated them with respect. Now you never treat somebody well, just so you can get a break – it does not work like that. But if you treat people well, “what goes around, comes around.”
Have manners; better yet, treat people with respect.
- Decide to put it all in context
Did you know there are 7.7 billion people in the world? 196 countries in the world? Around 6,500 spoken languages globally? Approximately, 3,800 suburbs in Australia? The list is endless.
What I am getting at is that most decisions you make will never be terminal. If you get it wrong, you can always turn around and do something else. You have options. And options are good. Options are important as they give us choices – and when we have choices, we have hope. And when we have hope, we don’t take it all too seriously. Put your decisions in context.
So decide to be excellent and take risks. Move, change your surroundings. Have great manners and overall, put it all in context. These decisions will set the right scene for your life.