What I learned from my wins, screw-ups, and relationships (plus one wish for you)

Updated to Habits, Productivity on January 22, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

Maybe I say this every year, but this year was crazy-good. Lots going on with my family, exciting changes in my business, some personal wins, and some challenges tacked on the end. Can you relate?

As the new year approaches, I’m spending more time on closure (see my post Why your smart goals for 2015 will fail!) – pulling life-lessons from near-misses and celebrating victories.

I’m also working hard to complete my goals. I usually start this process in October, with a goal of finishing in November. This year, I’m late, but excited about the plans that are shaping up.

But, first a wish.

A wish for you

Of all the great ideas, plans, and experiences I’ve had in my life, one has always served me well.

Keep learning. That’s my wish for you – make 2015 the most scrumptilicious year of experiences you’ve ever stuck you foot in.

I know it might sound simple, but bear with me.

I’ve learned through all my screw ups, near misses, and OMG-I’m-an-idiot moments, there was always a lesson lurking under the carpet. 

Here are three learning opportunities to wring the beejeezus out of in the new year.

Learning from wins

We all love to win. Too bad it’s not predictable. 

We all love to win. Too bad it’s not predictable.

This year we launched SOS, our social media posting service and we’ve been adding up to five members a week since then. That was a big win. 

We moved to a bigger, brighter office and renovated it (while we were in it, of course). That was a win.

Sarah, my Manager of Getting Things Done, moved to full time, plus we added five part-time people to our SOS team. Big wins all round.

More importantly, these wins taught me two very important lessons:

1. There is never a perfect time.

I could have easily waited on any of these wins. Life would have rolled on. But, I did take the step and now I’m reaping the rewards. 

I think the reason more people don’t enjoy success in work and life is because there’s always some distraction in their way. Racing car drivers learn early in their career to look away from the wall they’re trying to avoid. It’s the same with distractions in life.

  • Adam Braun could have stuck it out as a hedge fund manager. Instead he created Pencils of Promise, which has Untitled design (2)already built 258 schools in just six years.
  • Yvon Chouinard lacked money, experience, and connections. Despite that, he turned his passion for climbing and mountain gear into the highly respected, multi-national Patagonia brand.
  • Barb Stegemann told me she knew very little about perfume and international trade before partnering with Dragon’s Den’s W. Brett Wilson to launch the Seven Virtues perfume company. That didn’t stop her

Don’t wait for the perfect education, resources, money, or time. If it’s a good idea, trust in vision, hard work, faith, and consistency.

2. Consistency always trumps periodic, massive effort.

I get my blog published every week – not when I feel like it. I market my services every week – not when I have enough time. And I exercise a minimum of seven hours a week – not only when I need to.

Being consistent in your efforts trumps periodic, massive effort, every time. I call them “Hero Habits” and they are there to serve you faithfully, even when you don’t feel up to the task. Some Hero Habits to try on this year could be:

Learning from screw ups

We all screw up. Warren Buffett makes bad investments, George Clooney has movies that bombed, and even Richard-screw-it-just-do-it-Branson has launched virgin-duds. It happens and it hurts.

This year I missed deadlines, sales targets, appointments, and even sales calls. Oops.

It’s easy to sweep screw ups under the carpet and move on. Don’t. 

The trick with screw ups is to wallow in the darkness of pity only as long as it takes lessons to come to light.

The trick with screw ups is to wallow in the darkness of pity only as long as it takes lessons to come to light.

Whether you follow Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five-steps of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), or flip Tarot cards – there’s always a lesson to be learned.

The question I ask myself (in the wallowing phase) is “If I was giving myself advice right now, what would it be?”

For example, when I asked that question about sales targets I realized my habit of overcommitting was costing me and my team. I need to scale back and be okay with consistent, smaller growth. That way I can meet my targets and build on my success.

We usually know the answer, it just has to be pulled out of the wash and hung up to air.

Learning from relationships

Someone more clever than me, once said: “Blame is the poison pill we take ourself with the hope the other person dies.” 

“Blame is the poison pill we take ourself with the hope the other person dies.” 

It’s always easier to blame. 

It takes the burden of ownership off us, and slaps it on the other person. At the same time, the burden of resentment, guilt, and anger all slip into a sack we proudly carry on our back. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. The trick is to seek lessons, make amends, and move on.  

It’s predictable people will disappoint you. Get over it.

Occasionally, the A/V for my speech is not ideal – like recently for a morning presentation to 70 care workers in Ontario. Hand-held microphone, no flip chart, home-movie size screen, and classroom-style row seating. On top of that, and just as I was about to kick off the three-hour long program, I was approached by two delegates, both with hearing problems. Once had me wear a pendant/microphone to amplify my voice, while the other asked me to try to not move around the room (which is exactly my style for this type of workshop), so she could read my lips. But, despite all that…

I had a great morning!

It was all about looking for the lesson. 

Sure, I love a modern conference hall with a professional audio-visual crew waiting on me, good lighting, and the perfect set-up on stage. But, crammed into a too-small meeting room, wearing a hearing pendant, while someone else reads my lips teaches me patience. And when I practice patience, the best of me comes out. Like that morning with those 70 beautiful people who all put their heart and soul into their work. I was there to serve, not fuss about where I had to stand.

Think about a relationship you’re struggling with. Do blame and resentment get you what you want? It could be a powerful lesson about humility, forgiveness, patience, or letting go is waiting quietly behind a door. This year is the time to reach out, open that door, haul that lesson out, and try it on.

Thank you!

Thank you for being here and reading this today. Blogging can be a weird, some what narcissistic, monologue, often without much feedback. Your support and interest in this winding journey means everything to me. Thank you for being here, and please give me feedback in the comments, below. Those words of encouragement, questions, or just sharing your opinions are really helpful.

All the best for the New Year,