4 things I learned about life and leadership in 2012

2012 was the craziest year of my life and it felt like it flew by at 120 miles per hour. I traveled to two new countries, re-branded Ignited Leadership, delivered over 40 speeches and seminars to a total of nearly 10,000 people, and generally felt happier and more engaged than ever before.

Looking back through the blurr, there were four really important lessons about life and leadership that I learned last year. They helped me leap out of bed with excitement most mornings, kept me sane when I was on tour, and helped me understand modern leadership at a deeper level.

1) Happiness is usually found in less, not more. If you go with the flow of modernity you will inevitably come to the conclusion that you wont be happy until you have a $70,000 sports car, at least 538,247 twitter followers, an inappropriately attractive partner, and a mansion. No, make that two mansions.

From the moment we learn to watch TV, we are told that the accumulation of stuff and the pursuit of status will make us happy.

This is a black hole. If you convince yourself that you will only be happy once a particular event happens or you acquire a certain material good, you’ll never be happy. Consumption and achievement are vortexes. There will always be something newer, sleeker, sexier, and faster to desire, making you less satisfied with your possessions and accomplishments.

Instead, I learned that happiness is found in paring your life down to the few people, commitments, and ambitions that are truly meaningful to you. Everything else is fluff and often more trouble than it’s worth. (More here.)

2)  Everyone is doing the best they can. Last spring I was playing tennis with my Dad when a tennis instructor shooed us off the courts as she was about to start a lesson. I was pissed off, but not because we had to move, but because the instructor was rude about it.

When I took a step back, I realized that if she’s being rude, she’s probably not terribly happy. In fact, she’s doing the best she can in the moment (like everyone else) and she’s probably not getting the results or feelings she wants. I would be frustrated too.

Now, I’m working on assuming that everyone  – at least at first – is doing the best they can and are generally not trying to be difficult.

There is a lot of value in assuming the best of others while understanding that many of the people we meet are struggling and trying to hide it.

3) Meditate. If I’m not careful I end up with no time at all to myself. From the moment I wake up my life blurs together with email, friends, work, travel, entertainment, motion, cooking, communication, reading, electronics, and a million other things until I go to bed, rinse, and repeat. These days we are all like that.

On the rare occasions we do have time to ourselves, we fill the space with work, social media, inane conversation with the people around us, or some other form of numbing agents.

Silence and stillness are important. They help keep us sane and centered, and they are next to impossible to find unless we create intentional space for them.

I have been able to find this silence and stillness in meditation. I simply sit, close my eyes, and try to focus on my breathing (which I’m not great at).

I usually do this in morning, sometimes for just a minute or two, other times for 20 minutes. I’ve found that at the absolute minimum meditation de-stresses me and helps me focus. Often it renews my sense of wonder as well as connection to other life forms, our wider world, and myself.

4) At the end of the day, it’s still about close relationships and quality time with the people you care about, not money, success, or status.

As I mentioned this was a banner year for Ignited Leadership and I’m proud of what I accomplished.

But when I look back through the year, the things that stand out were not the moments of professional triumph. They were the more subtle moments – having a coffee with a friend and talking about life, actually stopping when a beggar asked for money and buying him a hot meal, going for a walk with my girlfriend and pausing to admire the changing color of the leaves.

Life will never truly be about your work. It will always be about your connection to yourself and your connection to others. That’s where meaning, satisfaction, and an enduring sense of accomplishment will really come from.

Here is to making 2013 the best year yet!

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