Monday, 19 November 2012

Ten Lessons for Life

Last week I was the guest of honour at the Awards Evening at Ilkley Grammar School in Yorkshire. A great honour to be asked, but after presenting the certificates and awards, what should I say to the assembled students and parents? I decided to look at what I had learnt in life that might have been handy to know earlier.

  1. Courage is like a muscle and should be exercised regularly. When an opportunity comes up, make a habit of saying 'yes'. Notice how your body feels and learn to interpret it. I used to think butterflies in the tummy meant 'don't do it', but learnt they are actually saying 'it's your turn'.
  2. Take your own path.  Everyone is unique and has their own path. Some people know exactly what they want to do in life – they are lucky. Most do not, and it may take a while to find out. Your energy levels will give you some clues: what makes your energy lift, what makes it die? When faced with a choice, which option makes your energy go up, which one leaves you feeling  flat? Awareness of your energy levels may help you find your path.
  3. You can be good at anything.  Everyone has natural talents, but you can also become very good at things that you like but are not initially gifted at. All it takes is interest, commitment, and lots of practice!
  4. If you don't know what you want to do yet, do what you are doing well.  Anything you do will add to your experience and give you skills and insights that you can apply later. The more you apply yourself to what you are currently doing the more you will learn, gathering skills and experience you will need when you do find out what it is you want to do.
  5. You need to be flexible to reach your potential.  I remember myself in my early 20s. My attitude was roughly: "This is me and if people don't like how I am they can lump it!" It took me a while to realise that it was me that was losing out. But once I moved out of the comfort of my limitations, I felt more able to be fully myself. Seek feedback and advice and be open to change.
  6. Respect matters. When working with parents and teachers I'm sometimes told that young people should only be shown respect when they've earned it. Some teenagers have a similar view about adults. These attitudes result in a stalemate, while making the first move to give others respect usually brings out the best in people. Also respect yourself: care for yourself and learn to say 'no' when you need to. And be aware that everyone is sensitive, in fact the less sensitive they appear on the outside the more sensitive they are likely to be on the inside.
  7. What matters is who you are, not what you do or have. People won't remember you for your job title, the size of your house or the make of your car. They will remember you for the qualities you bring and the effect these have on others. 
  8. Life runs in cycles.  If you are finding something difficult, it will get easier; if you are feeling down, things will get better. But if things are good, that won't last for ever; there are likely to be challenges around the corner. We've heard about economic cycles, we are the bottom of one right now. The good news is that it will get better. But when it does, don't get fooled into thinking it will go on for ever. It won't. Life goes in cycles – plan for it.
  9. Learning never stops.  Everything you do in life will give you an opportunity to learn. Our mistakes can be our best teachers. But if you're smart, you'll watch out for other people's mistakes and learn from them too!
  10. Life will look after you.  Over the years I've come to realise that life will look after me – things do turn out in the end. But to let that happen you need to be alert: look out for and take advantage  of things that might help you. And learn to trust: trust that things will work out.