On Learning for Life

A few weeks back I wrote about the desire to learn and how I believe that this is an important trait to have. Today, I want to reiterate learning by looking at it from another perspective: Learning for life.

Our schools today are very narrowly focused. Just about everyone is focused on learning what’s necessary for a test or an exam, regarding everything else as irrelevant.

As I wrote a few weeks back, I’ve always had an interest in learning new things (thanks to not only my parents, but maybe especially my grandmother). Our schools (in a global context) premieres students for learning a set specific of information and being able to largely recite it during an exam, upon which you are rewarded with a good grade.

Ask in a given class who reads anything marked “optional”. Even sadder, the general opinion about those who do read things that are optional, just out of interest, are still negative. People look down on you! Even in higher education, at schools with top grade admission requirements, being interested in something and being passionate about a subject is something to be dismissed for. I’m astounded!

Schools prepare us largely for nothing, by premiering the abandonment of narrow interests for a conformity to a large pool of nothingness, where keen interest and passion has no place.

One of my most inspiring moments was meeting Sir Martin Sorrel at the Houses of Parliament last year. The passion with which he spoke of his industry and the deep knowledge he had about every aspect of his business was impressive.

It is in those moments that I once again realize that I would much rather be someone who is passionate about something, than be someone who really couldn’t care less, only doing what a “higher power” (figuratively) is asking them to do.

Oh, and yes, I would definitely be that hated professor who lectures with the intent of teaching students things for life and not for the exam.

On Scheduling Meetings

Usually, I have an interest in improving the ways I work. Not necessarily to increase my workload as an effect, but because working smarter and better undoubtedly does no harm.

When talking about productivity, meetings always get a bad rep for being unproductive. I disagree. As long as you have a meeting for the right reason and stick to an agenda, meetings are awesome. Plus, the social aspect is important. It improves relationships.

Looking back at the fall however, I have some important changes to how I will be scheduling meetings going forward that could be summed up in a simple rule:

Work early. Meet late.

This could unfortunately be different depending on you being a morning person or not, but I am convinced that having a free morning (at least until lunch) is good for your productivity. It’s simply when you are the least exhausted and can get into work the easiest.

Afternoons, and late afternoons in particular are when I have the hardest to focus. Scheduling meetings at these times makes the most use of the day, because you will get an added boost through meeting people that likely makes you able to still power through the meeting brilliantly, even though you might not have been productive by yourself.

Cluster Meetings
Additionally, clustering meetings to a given day of the week could also do wonders. I have found that days with client meetings usually means I have a harder time getting back to focus. A solution to that is clustering meetings together so that you have a day when you’re in “meeting mode”, which clearly requires a different mindset than working alone and focusing.

If I can help it, my meetings going forward are going to be increasingly scheduled in the later part of the afternoon, leaving the rest of the day freed up for work and clustered together so that I am able to power through the week efficiently and in the end, freeing up more time to relax!

On Being Busy

One of the things that constantly amazes me is how busy people are. From fellow students at University to people who “work normal jobs”, small business owners and businessmen, everyone seems to be not only always too busy, but also take great pride in it. We have managed to create a society where being busy is one of the highest traits and even become a measure of success in itself.

I am not going to lie, I like being busy myself, but I also very much like to get “free time” to spend on doing things I like, relaxing (recharging is one of the biggest keys to success) and hanging out with friends.

Most people I meet aren’t that busy, they just think they are (there are as always exceptions to the rule). Even with running a successful business, studying full time economics on the side as a hobby, I still manage to find (a lot of) time to read, watch TV and hang out with friends. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not trying to be patronizing to anyone here, or even saying that you need to be doing tons of things in order to be able to call yourself busy. I am merely observing the differences in a broad spectrum of professional roles. Compared to many what I do wouldn’t classify as busy by a long stretch.

The conclusion that I draw is that we are practically as busy as we consider ourselves being. In some remarkable way, our mental state of “I am busy I don’t have time for anything” turns into a self fulfilling prophecy where we instead end up so busy that we instead start to regret it—without actually doing more or less things! This regardless of how “busy” we really are.

I invite you to try and do what I did. Take a look at a few of your typical weeks and look at what you do. If you are really serious even time your activities (I never seem to be able to do this on non-client tasks). Do this critically and see how you spend your time and see if you really are as busy as you think you are or if you still can’t find that time to watch TV, read a book or hang out with friends that you in your stressed mind think you don’t have time for.

Afterwards, you’ll then be able to, hopefully, enjoy all the other good parts of life a little more.

When I wrote a while back about clearing your mind and just focusing, finding things that inspire you so that you are able to work, I got a great comment from Anna who simply said: “You forgot the passion.”

Of course she was absolutely right. One of the biggest motivational factors for working hard and doing a lot of things is indeed your passion—doing things that you love.

You can theoretically go into any business but if you want to be truly successful, you need to be working on things that you truly care about. I am not alone in speaking about this. In the recent start-up course held by Y-Combinator, one of the first things they note is that you can really only be successful in a field that you are passionate about.

Of course this is not necessarily a secret. If your heart is in what you do, you will never mind the long hours, the painfully weary downs, chasing after business because deep down you fundamentally believe in what you do and know that what you are doing is going to turn out great and that it is truly useful.

Don’t underestimate your passions. They will, and should be, one of your primary motivators.

On Handling Failure

Another thing that successful people do constantly is accepting and embracing failures with a positive attitude. See, you can learn from a failure and as long as it isn’t fatal, you’re now better of thanks to it.

I know this to be true. I could count the number of times where this mindset would have made a great, positive difference for me. Yet, it doesn’t come easy to me. I wish it did. But I don’t think that I am alone in this.

For me personally, this has very deep roots. While something I don’t hide, it is also something I don’t talk about a lot: Being the victim of constant bullying from first through ninth grade. Age old story: You can’t be smart if you are in school… It would be naïve to believe that you just shrug this off lightly.

In essence this made me afraid of publicly admitting failure. Psychologically, very logically. As a businessman and public figure, who also happen to be a public speaker, this isn’t the most ideal quality. What’s good is however that you can work to improve it.

Would I say that I handle failure better now than I did before? Absolutely. Would I say that I handle it graciously? Not a chance. There is still a long way to go for me before I handle failure, and even harsh (but justified) criticism in the way in which I know makes you stronger. By accepting it, embracing it, and seeing it as ultimately something positive.

As the age-old saying goes: What doesn’t kill you make your stronger. And by being aware of it and actively working to improve and change, you are already halfway there.