A lot of what I learned young is very compelling. I’d like the world to be so simple that I can put those pearls of wisdom to use. I wish I could stand here and say it’s just that easy! Despite doing my best to live a transparent, profersonal™ life, living a good life, and being a good person, I’ve come to the conclusion that some of these pearls are simply not actionable. Or more accurately, they’re both actionable and also not actionable. I’m still innocent in many ways, and won’t stop trying to make each of these statements truer than it currently is. But at present, I don’t think the world is black-and-white enough to reward a life led by pithy quote. I think each of these statements can lead you astray just as easily as it can help you. For example:
“Always tell the truth.”
A brilliant strategy. Leads to integrity and a strong character. Also leads to lots of unnecessary fights with strangers, few friends, a lack of hope, and a complete inability to communicate with children. Taken in the absolute, ultimately results in a vow of silence.
“It doesn’t matter what others think.”
No, it doesn’t! I encourage people to march to the beat of their own drummers all the time. Unless they need people to buy from them or hire them. Then, drumming in time with the band becomes important. The more our livelihood is tied to that part of our perspective we share with others (a.k.a. “reality”), the more perilous it becomes to ignore it.
“It’s good to share.”
Yes, it is. Until that sharing begins to attract takers and leads to you being broke.
“Don’t judge people.”
Very important. Remaining non-judgmental is the key to creativity, love, and everything that’s beautiful about humanity. Except when I’m hiring a babysitter to watch my kids and house while my wife and I are out. I will gladly answer for all the judgment I do in moments like that when I myself get judged on Judgment Day.
“Show some respect.”
The world would certainly be a better place if people showed a bit more respect to one another. It would be even better if people focused more on earning it than on having it showed to them.
“Finish what’s on your plate.”
Ensures you eat your vegetables. Also assumes that someone has already considered portion size.
“You can be anything you want to be.”
Practically speaking, this statement is as close to bullshit as you can get without visiting a ranch. This statement is not even true technically! My 6’4″ client wanted to be an fighter pilot. He was born too tall. So much for that. OK, but there’s more to this statement than meets the eye. The power of this statement has less to do with its validity in an absolute sense as with its ability to give hope to people and encourage them to take personal responsibility for achieving their goals. Right? Sure I’m right. We even say as much: “You can be anything you want to be… all you need to do is apply yourself.” Which we know is not always true, because the odds are stacked against people and some people don’t have the internal fortitude to stay focused. And that is just one of the many examples of how “always tell the truth” gets complicated, by the way!
Did you have a favorite life lesson from your parents that turned out to be not so simple as you got older?
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.