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The Big 4-0: 5 Lessons I’ve Learnt About Life, Leadership, and Learning

Today is the big 4-0. It's a little self-indulgent, but I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learnt up to this point in my life. I’m not one to dwell on hitting middle-age, grow a ponytail, buy a yellow Porsche or get the birthday blues, but it’s always good to take stock of what you have and what you’re looking forward to from the future. In my head, I’m still in my 20s, but if I think back to what I’ve done, seen, accomplished and failed at, there’s a lot of experiences I can draw on to make the next 40 years even better.

1. You don’t have to do everything by yourself When I was in my 20s, I thought I could do everything by myself. In fact, I thought Ishould do everything that way, and people would respect me more for it. Then in my 30s, I started to hit brick walls. I learnt the importance of having someone to turn to and talk things through with. I went out and recruited some mentors who knew more than me and could share their wisdom. Nowadays, I wouldn’t be in the position I am if not for the support and efforts of my wife Liyana. Some people fear looking vulnerable when seeking help, but I see it as a strength. It demonstrates an awareness of your limitations, and a positive attitude to do something about it. No one should have to go through things along, and as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved (I’m rolling out the corny catchphrases today!)

2. Don’t wait for something to come along I spent years waiting for a promotion that never happened. I spent months waiting a job to improve but the promises never materialized. I’ve waited days for flights to become cheaper, only to end up paying 25% more. Procrastination has always been my nemesis, but hopefully you’re better at this than I am. It’s been said a lot, but things really don’t come to those that wait. You have to go out and grab opportunities. Don’t wait for someone to give you approval, by then it might already be too late. If you want that promotion at work, then start talking to your manager and find out what you need to achieve or improve upon before you’re ready. Make people aware you’re ready to step up, and start performing at that level. If you like someone, don’t wait for them to approach you. You only get one life (some of you might think differently), so don’t wait to do the things that will make you happy.

3. Never stop learning It’s easy to stop learning once you finish your education. Yes, you learn your job skills; what procedure to follow, which buttons to press etc., but always stay curious. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’m fortunate that my current role requires me to stay on top of recent research and be constantly learning new material. As an entrepreneur, I’ve probably learnt more in the last 2 years than I did in the prior 10 years. So, take up a new hobby, learn a new skill, and keep challenging yourself. You can only benefit from it.

4. Don’t listen to everyone else…including me There have been many times in my life where I’ve done things against the norm, against the opinions of others, but I’ve also been guilty of delaying an action because of what I thought people would think of me. Many of us fear being judged, either by friends or family, and often make our decisions based on our perception of what people will think of us, rather than doing what we really want to. In many ways this is madness, but we’re all impacted by it to different degrees. Many thought I was mad when I left banking to become a professional trainer, yet it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In today’s world, we’re bombarded with the opinions of self-appointed gurus, experts, or just Bob from down the road. The internet has opened up a plethora of opportunities for every man and his dog to write opinion pieces – yes, that includes me and my pet Scooby – and we fill our days trawling through Facebook and LinkedIn reading articles such 5 Tips on Having a Great Day. Many of the articles have great content which we can learn from but, and it’s a big but, it’s just someone's opinion. We need to remember to think for ourselves and not blindly believe everything that we read. When I write thought leadership articles, I want to stimulate people’s minds and deliver content that they might find useful. Yet, I don’t expect them to agree with everything I say and follow my every word. I want them to make a choice and decide what, if anything, works for them. Maybe meditation doesn’t work for you, getting up at 5am has zero appeal, or you think there’s far too many leadership articles on Pulse. That’s fine; read, learn, absorb, comment, debate…..and then make up your own mind.

5. Let go of the past I kept this one for last as I think it’s one of the most important. I’ve spent far too much time over the past 20 years dwelling on past decisions I’ve made, replaying how they turned out, and wondering what would have happened if I’d handled it differently. In hindsight, this is pointless. The time has passed. Nothing I can do about it about it any more. I’ve made mistakes at work and in relationships. I’ve lost friends and still wonder why. I’ve stayed in situations that made me unhappy until I hit breaking point. Yet, it’s only in the past few years that I’ve been able to let it go and move on. If you don’t, it will eat you up inside. It will affect your decision-making, your choices, your relationships, and most of all your happiness.

I could go on for a lot longer but I’d probably bore you. Besides, I’ve got a date with my wife and some cake to eat. If there is one lesson to sum it all up, it would be to live your life on your own terms, and not worry about what everyone else thinks.

What are your own lessons that you can share? Feel free to add to the comments below.

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