I’ve changed my mind: July WILL have a theme after all

This is going to be a stark contrast to tube top month, but it’s a series I’ve been thinking about writing for a months and months now. I’m going to call it “Life Lessons.” It will be a summary of some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years, usually presented with examples. I haven’t thought through the exact format yet. It will probably evolve over the course of the month.

I will be writing these for me as much as for my blog viewing audience. But, you the reader are encouraged to send me comments and life lessons of your own.

Unlike June, I am not promising that every journal entry will be about life lessons. So you may well tune in and find me talking about how I went down to the basement of my building and watched a cockroach lay an egg. Or what the bums are drinking this week. But I will say that I am going to make a good faith effort to make this series happen.

It’s not July yet, but how about a little preview anyway:

Life Lesson 1
Enjoy the process, love the process, focus on the process. Not the outcome.

My first exposure to this lesson (at least when I recognized it as such) occurred when I was teaching college. It drove me positively crazy to see my students overfocus on grades.

I’ve got to pull my average up to 90 so I can get an A!

Please, sir, can I get some extra credit so I can add two more points to my grade? It doesn’t have to be meaningful or anything, I just need the two points.

I hope I can memorize this list of facts long enough to get through the final exam and get my B.

I tried so hard to make them understand that they should be focusing on the process of learning. That if they took full advantage of all the resources they had – textbooks, their teacher, supplementary materials, their naturally curious minds – good grades would be a natural consequence. Some of them got it. Some didn’t. But those that did were generally the ones that were happiest and most successful in the real world.

If you work in sales, you better take this rule to heart. Last year when I tried my hand at credit card merchant sales, I hadn’t and I positively SUCKED at it as a result. I’d get most of the way – I’d get a second or third meeting with a fitness center, or restaurant, or limo service. And at that point I’d start thinking, “I have to make this sale. If I do, it will prove that I really can do this. And if not, oh my God, I’ll be a failure, and this is my livelihood, how will I eat? How will I pay my rent?”

And inevitably, the deals would fall through. The limo service went with their bank. The fitness center owner had a friend in the same line of work as I was. The restaurant cancelled their order for my $800 terminal and bought a $200 used model on eBay. And my day would be ruined. There would be days when I’d knock off at noon and just go sit at the coffee shop because I couldn’t deal with that again.

Sometimes I’d get one. But I’d still be so attached to the outcome – the sale – that I’d negotiate away all or most of my commission. So I’d come out feeling miserable even when I won.

How much better would it have been if I had said, “Let’s go in there and see what happens. Maybe I’ll get the sale and maybe I won’t, but if my goal is to learn from the situation and improve my game so that I sell more effectively in the future, there’s a 100% chance of success.”

Then I would’ve looked at the encounter with the limo driver and thought, “Yeah, I didn’t get it, but I got him to the third meeting. I obviously peaked his interest or he wouldn’t have invited me back. What did I do right those first few times that can be repeated on future sales calls?”

I could also have said, “There was a point when I blew it, when I didn’t get the sale. What can I notice about that, so I can head it off next time?” And then learned the lesson, and put it aside.

Perhaps the most important application of this rule, however, is in relationships. Focusing on one particular outcome is the kiss of death. “I have to be with this person. If only I could get them to like me… how will I live without them?” This kind of mindset will make you too serious, smothering the lightheartedness/playfulness that is so very important to success in relationships.

When I’ve successfully applied this rule, I’ve found that getting the “does she like me? does she like me?” question out of my head allows me to focus on her. It allows me to notice when I’m really connecting with her, so I can take steps to make that happen again in the future. It allows me to notice when I’m doing something that annoys her, so I can learn not to do that again.

This is a hard one to actually apply in practice though. For every time I’ve gotten it right, I’ve messed it up dozens.

All right. That’s the first in the series. I’ve thought of two more as I typed this one. Some of these are going to be basic, some complex. Many of them are ones I’ve compounded from various sources; a few will be completely original. Over and out.