Tomorrow is my 40th birthday.
Not surprisingly, I‘ve spent a lot of time this year thinking back on the moments, experiences, and people that have shaped my life up until this point. Thinking about the luck I’ve had. Thinking a lot about the what-ifs and could-have-beens.
It’s like watching the movie Sliding Doors in my head.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I am exactly where I should be. I don’t long for those other imaginary versions of what my life might have been. I am insanely fortunate and there isn’t one meaningful thing I would change about my life today.
I have an amazing partner and three intelligent, loving, and beautiful children. I have a career that has been built by leading with my heart. I have a growing business that I am excited to work on every day.
So I’m not looking back because I think something is wrong or out of place. I’m looking back to learn from the choices I made. I’m looking back knowing that while I may not have always made the right choice, I made the best choices that I could. I’m looking back to remember how much I’ve learned about what is important to me—and why those things matter.
I’ve had 40 years of experiences that have led me to doing what I love today. Each of the moments and lessons that have led to this point help guide my decisions, big and small. They allow me to look forward.
So now, as I stare at a birthday that once felt so huge (and, yes, so frightening), I’ve written down 40…er…3 things that stand out to me from my time spent reflecting.
Lead the way you want to be led.
This one is at the top of the list for a reason. During the course of my life and career, I’ve hit the jackpot on leaders. My bosses, mentors, teachers, and coaches have helped shape my views on leadership.
My high school theatre director taught me that it doesn’t matter where you work (read: perform)—you should do that work at an exceptional level, as though the entire world will see it.
A manager at Levi’s taught me that at the end of the day, a leader is responsible for the outcome. When you have success, you elevate your team first. When something goes wrong, you stand in front of your team, take the heat, and protect them.
A mentor at Opportunity International taught me that as a leader, your job is to empower your team. To get them the tools they need to do their best work. To encourage, guide, and support them, above all else.
Each of these people had incredibly different leadership styles. But they, and so many others like them, brought their unique perspectives to the table—and each helped me grow as a leader in a particular season. In them, I saw qualities that I wanted; qualities that I felt were important.
One thing that was true about all of them: They were each leaders in ways that had nothing to do with the title in their email signatures. They were leaders because they led—not because their title granted them some kind of superiority.
So that’s been my approach. I lead my teams, my crews, my work families like I want to be led. And I continue to grow my leadership because, like my team, I am always evolving and growing, too.
Be honest with yourself and with others.
There are few things that value more than honesty. It is the foundation of everything. It builds trust, and without trust, a team can’t function and relationships can’t survive. Early on, I learned that in order to be honest with others, I had to first be honest with myself. I had to look in the mirror and take stock of my role, of my place, of what I was doing.
Being truthful with myself meant that when it came time to teach, coach, or challenge someone else I was working with, I could do so from a position of understanding and clarity. If I was delusional or faking it, I was only setting myself (or, worse, my team) up for failure. It also meant that when I had to have tough conversations with peers or employees, I could do so more easily, because I already had the experience of having once had a similar conversation with my hardest critic: me, myself, and I.
So tell the truth. Have hard, honest, conversations with yourself. You will thank yourself later.
Not everything you do will make you happy and that’s okay.
This is a hard lesson, and if I’m honest (see above), it’s still one I struggle with every day. The world makes us feel like we should be happy about everything we do. That everything should be an Instagram-worthy moment and that we should always have a smile on our face.
Well, that’s a giant pile of crap.
Some things suck. Some work sucks (excel sheets for days). You will inevitably spend time doing things you do not enjoy. But if you pay attention, you can get to the other side with a better understanding of what was miserable, why it wasn’t fun, and what you’d rather be doing instead. In even the worst, most annoying, most frustrating circumstances, you can learn something important about your work or yourself.
So like I tell my kids when it’s time to do the boring chores or run the boring errands, just work through the giant piles of suckage and get to the other side. You’ll be better off because you didn’t avoid it. If you meet it head-on, it’s an opportunity for growth.
So that’s it. Those are all the things I’ve learned. (Ok maybe not all of them, but I am about to be 40, and my memory is getting worse. So those are the three you get.) And here’s what I can promise: I am going to keep working on this guy and keep learning from you (shoot me a reply with something you’ve picked up!). Maybe when I’m 50, I’ll share a few more lessons I’ve learned along the way… #endoldmanrant