I'm proud to call Greg my former student. At a recent meet-up we realized that, whatever we do, six maxims exist for generating and enjoying good outcomes in life and work. They echo themes in fantastic books like Evolving Entrepreneurial Education, The New Entrepreneurial Leader, Strategic Relationships at Work, and What to Do When You're New, in which my Babson colleagues describe how to foster awareness and practice of similar constructive habits and ways of thinking. Here's our fresh remix of old truisms, plus some inspirational and illustrative start-up stories:
(1) The meaning of life = love what you do. You can't always "do what you love." Heck, you may not even know what you love. Not all of us have a dream job or a goal. But whatever it is you find as your best existing option, find aspects that bring you (and, ideally, others) joy, throw yourself into it, tweak it, and over time make choices that let you focus on the rewarding elements. Sooner or later you may end up with more of the activities that make you and those around you (including clients and colleagues) happy. Corollary: Ultimately you can make hell out of heaven and vice-versa. Having fun often means changing what you bring to a situation.
(2) Get out of your comfort zone(s) -- it's almost always good. Greg at this point wants to give a shout-out to the annual Net Impact conference and Kathrin Winkler for pointing him in the direction of EMC in October 2012. Don't let grown-up life stop you. Check the stats and facts and take some calculated risks like I did when deciding to go to Pakistan or Kurdistan. You won't regret it. Traveling is like work inasmuch as mindset can affect the outcomes for everyone involved. New people, experiences, knowledge, and insights about your relationship to others and place in the world make venturing out of your normal routines a sine qua non of growth.
(3) Bring good energy. We remember feelings. Specifically, we recall how others make us feel -- a kind of emotional residue (you don't need to believe in the kind described in Scientific American to get this). Former students like Josh, Natika, and Greg (just to name a few) -- they seemed to get things. But do we now recall their grades? Whether they remember one darn thing? We don't! But we 100 percent remember and predict that they always bring a smile and constructive intentions to a situation. That's good energy. If it's not your current natural predisposition, watch Josh's TEDx talk on believing in others, or this talk on hacking your own thought and interaction patterns with posture and read and try the techniques described in Search Inside Yourself for changing your attitudes to be more like those optimists that can turn even an ambiguous mess into an agreeable outcome.
(4) Ask good questions -- it may be more important than what you already know. In fact, an open-ended question requiring no foundation of knowledge could be the best question in some situations. In many contexts, finding out what others are thinking or what they know could be MUCH more critical than what you already know. This is sometimes the hardest thing to remember when you're called a teacher! Especially on that trip to Kurdistan, when meeting new folks with vastly different life experiences, it was often the single best question to ask: "What's the one thing you want foreign readers to know?"
(5) Do favors, raise your hand to help achieve goals, introduce people, and start with "how can I be an asset?" All of these instincts have something in common: They're proactive. Doing a favor usually implies helping someone out with no anticipated return and often without prompting. Raising your hand at a meeting means you offer or volunteer an idea or action before you are asked. Introducing people suggests catalyzing connections that otherwise might not be made. And asking, "How can I be an asset?" is a very different instinct (and in the longer term, a much more valuable and enjoyable mindset) than, "What can I get out of this employer or situation?"
(6) "The Peanutman? He's dead... was 91..." Greg and I capped our catch-up session with a visit to the storied Cantab Lounge. The legendary Little Joe Cook came up, and the bartender hit us with the reminder that all of our days are numbered -- "we're only immortal for a limited time" as Rush helpfully clarifies. You don't need to be an adherent of Buddhism to appreciate its valuable core emphasis on being mindful that we're very temporary. Appreciation of our mortality should add both urgency and delight to our opportunity to have one more day chipping away at whatever is we find ourselves doing with whomever happens to be our client or on our team (or sometimes even our adversary, worthy or otherwise).
Special shout-out to Father Greg Boyle and his inspiring crew at Homeboy Industries and to Krista Tippett for her "must-listen" (and hilariously enlightening) interview with him on the concept of agape -- "delight in others," even in the toughest of situations -- it's a conversation that ties the points of this post together well. Fr. Boyle's story seems to embody the six tips above, and Homeboy Industries now includes social enterprises that help reintegrate 10,000 former gang members and previously incarcerated people per year into mainstream society.
Speaking of delight, among Babson's current students is someone else whose story embodies the themes in this post -- someone who started and runs an organization that brings joy and jobs in a context of conflict: Jonathan Feinman's Inner City Weightlifting gives meaningful employment in Boston to youth who have been involved in crime that other similar programs would screen-out. By asking good questions and taking delight in others, Jon and his team figured out a novel approach and built a gym where these folks meet and provide world class fitness training to clients in mainstream society. Their impressive success statistics speak volumes. We live in a safer and better city thanks in part to the work of Jon and his team.
If you love what you do, embrace opportunities to expand your boundaries, bring good energy, ask good questions, delight in helping others, and live in the moment, chances are that you'll similarly find happiness and success. Here's to your moment.