The difference between purpose and aimlessness or the contrast between validity and irrelevance can be easily blurred by a rampant problem among people – not thinking. I had a rich conversation with 84 year old Helen Paul. She was a true joy to speak with as she shared her life and how she grew up. She raised a family and lived her life the best she could. It is hard for her to make sense of the world today, but she is fully sensible. I would say she is much more astute than most 30 year olds I know for certain.
Because trust was built between us and she could sense that I had respect for her as a person, she became vulnerable with me. Helen wanted to make sense of the world, and I explained how it works. In her time, having a college degree correlated with success. A title, credentials and appearance were all attributes of success.
I explained to Helen that what she knew is gone. We put many kids through our nation’s colleges, but the value has been highly diluted. There’s much more competition, and the ends are much more commercialized. I asked her, “Would you believe me if I told you I know “uneducated” people who make millions?” She thought for a second and did believe me. I also asked, “Would you believe I know highly educated people who are broke?” She nodded affirmatively again.
The fact is that our economy is filled with this situation. There is no more hiding behind the illusion of a brand. There actually has to be value. A college degree does not give someone a pass. It is a bare minimum. Anyone who has talent and is willing to work hard can be wildly successful. People who wait for something to happen and filled with fear suffer the consequences of their desperate existence.
Helen may have felt that I inspired her, but I can assure you she inspired me, and I learned a great deal from her. She held insight and value for us all at the dinner party. She inspired and communicated the following:
- Life Is Short, Don’t Waste It: I asked her if she could remember being 15 like it was yesterday. She agreed wholeheartedly. It all went by fast is what she commented on. I could sense some regrets. I could also feel the excitement of stories she had where she took risk and the course of boldness in life. It made her alive.
- It’s Easy To Be Left Behind: Helen’s mind was sharp. She had certain rituals such as daily calisthenics which helped her live vibrantly. Even more so, I could see an active mind and one that was willing to grow. She was determined to live fully and engage life and learning.
- Work Hard And Don’t Let Circumstances Push You Around: Helen came from Austria as a young girl. She told me story after story of hard work and tenacity. She knew life was hard. Circumstances change and are foreign. She stepped up to the plate as did many of her friends and family. They saw opportunity and seized it. Problems were are a part of life to be overcome. How different than many who think life is supposed to be easy and someone else’s problem.
- There Is Always A Way: Helen reveled in telling stories of how she overcame. It is part of why she is still alive today late in life. What zest and optimism about life. She had experienced and understood that there are always ways to overcome. As life around us is changing at an unprecedented way, we need to keep this in mind. It is not the circumstances we need to wish away, it is us who need to become more to meet the challenges.
Why is all this relevant? Today, we are living in economic crisis. Companies are struggling with their old ways of doing business not working. People are realizing they have to reinvent themselves.
One day, you may get lucky to be 84 years old and reflect on the good old days. I wonder how many will be able to get what life is about like Helen does. Adversity is an immense opportunity for new business models, new personal growth and new self-discovery. Fear and a lack of self-confidence will invariably hold you back. Dare to push into the adversity. Work backwards from 84. You will realize one day how fast your life has gone. Perhaps you can already sense it. It should be pure motivation to find the opportunities and grow them today.
Don’t become outdated. Your marketing likely does not work anymore. Your selling is old school. People are not paying attention to you, your company or your message. This is more true every year. The only sure thing is to understand the ground beneath you is constantly changing. Change yourself to meet the challenges.