Last year I attended an amazing workshop called Coach for America led by former NFL player (and now coach and Minister) Joe Ehrmann — Joe mentioned something that truly changed the way I think about my life.
He referred to a study of older people who were in the “twilight” of their lives; and the study asked these wise elders a powerful question:
“What do you wish you had done more of in life?”
Their answers were profound. Here they are:
What do I mean by “legacy?”
I like this definition from Dictionary.com :
“anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor”
This really resonates with me. As I get older, and read more about smart folks who’ve lived longer than me (Benjamin Franklin, Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger come to mind), the subject makes more and more sense.
A legacy is your gift to those who will follow you — does it get any more important than that!?
Examples of legacy:
One recent legacy item I worked on was a book of 40 learnings I had by the time I turned 40. I wrote it just for family and friends (not to sell) and it was an amazing experience.
I love the fact that my nephew or niece might pick it up off their bookshelf one day after I’m gone and find some value in it.
When I heard old people wished they had reflected more, I have to admit I scratched my head.
Afterall, if they’re in their twilight years don’t they NOW have plenty of time to reflect?
But then I sat with it for a bit…and it made sense.
Old folks wished they had more often gone to the proverbial “top of the mountain”…to think!
In business, I call this zooming out.
I believe that arguably THE #1 challenge that business-people have is taking the time to zoom out, get altitude.
A mentor of mine Ralph calls this time “sitting under the apple tree.”
In fact, if you read my How To Innovate: The Five Things Top Innovators Do, you’ll remember that the most effective thing you can do to innovate is to “Connect” or “Associate” things that you’re observing in life. That’s certainly a lot easier to do if you’re “sitting under the apple tree.”
One way innovators reflect more is to travel outside their country — that really allows you to reflect on your life.
Old folks also wished they had take more risks in life. This old adage comes to mind:
“You don’t regret what you do, only what you didn’t do.”
I’m not just talking about physical risks/extreme sports type stuff — like when I jumped out an airplane in New Zealand or hanglided in Rio, Brazil (neither of which I’ll choose to do again!).
I’m talking about the many day to day things that I’m trying take more risks on including in my career, relationships and hobbies.
A simple rule I’ve come up with is: “If I have some activity or event I’m thinking about doing — and I’m 50/50 on it (with the alternative being just to do nothing/stay at home, etc. — I try hard to choose to do the activity. I’ve never regretted making such a move.
I do, however, regret some things I didn’t do or simply doing nothing.
So, is there a…
I was so enamored with these three things that old folks wished they’d done more of in life that for the first few weeks after I heard it, I used them as the outline for my To-Do List every day.
I’d write down:
Listen to your elders!
I was captivated by John Wooden’s childhood stories, especially what his Dad taught him.
In Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations & Reflections On & Off The Court by John Wooden with Steve Jamison, Wooden says his dad gave him a piece of paper with a list of things that would guide him for the rest of his life.
He would use this guidance to shape his career, marriage and general philosophy.
The list was titled: “Seven Things to Do.” And when Wooden’s dad handed it to him, he said, “Son, try to live up these things.”
Here are Wooden’s Seven Things to Do (with short comments from me after each):
At the end of the day, there is no one whose opinion matters more than your own…so be true to yourself.
And Wooden warns you not to get caught up in how you size up to others:
“Don’t compare. Don’t try to be better than someone else. But whatever you’re doing, try to be the best you can be…”
Keys to being true to yourself include:
The old saying: “Give and you shall receive” is a powerful one.
While your motivation for helping others should not depend on others helping you back, it is surely true that you will receive back more help when you take a giving attitude.
Think of this: If we all practiced helping others, we all would be helped…and we surely all need help at some point in our lives!
I love this one. A “masterpiece” of a day is of course different for all of us. As Wooden points out:
“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
And he warns: “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
And Wooden echoes his #2 Thing to Do (Help Others) with this quote:
“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
Wooden believes reading is a key to success (you may recall that my other hero Charlie Munger echoed the same sentiment when he said:
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.” (read here for more Charlie Munger quotes)
Wooden reads the bible regularly and has said that if there were just one book someone had to read, it would be to read a little bit of the bible every day.
Friendship and family (which I find Wooden uses interchangeably) are key to success in life, but they require some work.
Wooden has these tips on friendship:
“ Friendship comes from mutual esteem, respect, and devotion. A sincere liking for all,”
Pretty self-explanatory…however, I don’t think Wooden means this literally.
A shelter could be physical, financial or emotional…family and friendship, afterall, are perhaps the most valuable shelter to be building in your life.
Wooden certainly believes in a higher power — here’s a video of Wooden reciting a relevant poem (Wooden loves to write poetry).
To see more of Wooden, check out this cool talk by Wooden at the TED conference and a John Wooden profile on Charlie Rose (including interviews with Bill Walton and Bill Russel).
A hero of mine is John Wooden who describes himself simply as a teacher; and who is known by many as the former UCLA College Basketball coach with perhaps the most successful track record in the history of sports.
Teacher Wooden turns 100 this year and I’ve decided to share some of my favorite nuggets of wisdom from him in this series of postings (note: Teacher Wooden died on May 4, 2010, just short of his 100th birthday).
What can Wooden’s lessons do for you?
If you practice these learnings I believe that you will be more successful in business and in life.
I recommend you read any John Wooden book you can get your hands on. I’ve read these so far and can recommend them all: (and I use them as resources for my series):