Ep. 46 – Lessons an Ordinary Person Learned from an Extraordinary Life

Today’s episode is a bit of a different format. I am stepping away from the usual neuroscience nerdiness and psychology and even communication practices and principles and I’m offering something a bit closer to home. 

Last week I had a chance to return to Chicago, to the campus where I went as an undergraduate. And I was able to speak to students and alumni and even some parents about the path that a very ordinary person can take and still have a very extraordinary life. 

So what follows here in these minutes together is going to be a collection of seven key points. I put forward a lot more, but these are the ones that really felt like fingerprints – not just to the people listening live, but in that time capsule I experienced as I walked that campus where I first went decades ago. Lessons that I wish that I had been aware of in a time where I was still forming into the me that I became, and hopefully I’m still becoming. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to put some words out that hopefully will land with you all and also be a bit of my own time capsule for this moment.

So for the elements that I want to put forward, the first is very simply this: When others believe in you believe them. We can actually borrow belief, borrow confidence, even borrow motivation and inspiration. There’s a lot of times we fail to show up for ourselves and we look around and see somebody who steps forward in support of us, and we’re a little skeptical. When we’re not able to find within us the trust that everything will be OK, we can borrow that from others. 

And for me, when I was delivering this conversation in person, I had the privilege to do so within the room, with the individual who recruited me to the college. This man saw me at my very young age of 17 at a college recruitment fair which I attended by myself. And I went up to his booth to take a brochure, just to be nice. Nobody else was actually around at the time. And I didn’t know that that one action would lead me to an encounter that provided a conversation. One conversation can change your life.

In those moments when I was talking to him, he saw something in me I didn’t see yet. And even though I was trying to collect glossy information from a brochure, he was trying to collect the potential in people. He went on to make sure I got admitted to that college and that I got the scholarship so that I could attend it. He saw something there that opened a door that I didn’t even know I was looking for. So when other people believe in you, sometimes the best thing to do is believe them while we’re waiting on our own belief to catch up.

Number two is: To pay attention to how many gold stars we’re trying to collect, because always collecting the gold shinies is really a race to the bottom. So as I’m standing in front of students who can tell me their GPA and their aspirations and which easy classes they’re taking to maintain that pretty, shiny GPA I’m really thinking -that’s just shiny collections of stars. Because what really matters, what really matters in the conversations later, are the efforts that we made, the risks that we took, the classes where at best we could maybe be an average student. But the conversations, the idea is cracked open our brains in a whole new way. That’s achievement.

Which leads me to number three: Sometimes what doesn’t work out for us, actually works out for us. And that’s really going to the essence of I hope that we all get to fail. Not for the pain of it, but for the grit of it. For the fact that everything doesn’t always bring us what we think it will. So when you don’t get the promotion or the soul mate or the dreams that you thought you had, it leaves room for other bigger, better things to enter into our life. So what doesn’t always work out for us is exactly what is supposed to work out for us. And we need a little bit of that gravel to appreciate it on the other side.

The next one is: Your reputation gets in the room before you do. And that’s not all about the filtered things, the resumes, the shinies. That’s about how we treat others, how we respond, how we show up and the time and the attention that we put into things, our work, our conversations, our efforts. That is preceding anything that we can create on our own. So pay attention to the details, because that is where reputations are formed.

The next thing is: Go the extra mile- it’s never crowded. This isn’t about doing everything (that’s the Gold Star from before). This is about doing the right things, the right things for you. This is about raising your hand, stepping forward, reaching out even though it feels uncomfortable. I have had a chance over the last decade plus to speak to so many different groups, and the extra mile is really a path that only a few are willing to take because it’s uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable. And that’s exactly the point. It’s not about what is at the end of that mile, it’s about looking around and seeing who is with you in those extra steps.

The next one is about money: Money is math, it’s simply math. It’s an accumulation of numbers and different accounts. My wish is for you to be wealthy. And wealth has nothing to do with money. Wealth is about having confidence in the decisions you make. Wealth is being able to pivot, to change your mind, to not have to wait or to exactly wait. Wealth is about making decisions without getting votes from everybody else. 

Some of the richest people I know have been the most miserable. So it has nothing to do with the amount that you have collected. It’s about how you spend the investments of your person, of your time, and certainly of your energy. So if you’re always chasing money, you’re just doing a math problem. But if you can find wealth in your days. That’s the most beautiful thing.

The last and final point is: Send the elevator back down. It goes back to borrowing the belief of others. If you’ve had an opportunity, and almost all of us have somebody who’s come along and helped remove rocks from the rubble around us, who cheered us on and cheered us up. It’s almost like episode 6 which talks about the engines and anchors in your life. 

Wherever we’ve gotten through, whatever side door, front door, back door. Send the elevator back down. Because no one gets anywhere alone. And you never know what doors you open for other people. Even if you never end up knowing that it was your elevator that took somebody higher than they thought they could go. The thing is, there’s another elevator always in our future. So when we find that, we find our own gifts back.

So that is a very quick collection of some of the key conversations that were had recently. I hope they land well for you. I hope they have some resonance and I really hope that we continue to share and learn because at the end of the day, being a student doesn’t end when we leave any type of academic environment. 

I hope we continue to always be learners, especially in this world that we’re in today. And I hope that in all of the time that we have, we always find time to take good care. 

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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.