There´s a classroom of invaluable wisdom all around us, which we sometimes neglect to see. It lies in the conversation with older people. There is so much we can learn from them and their experiences – things that are wise to do; things they would have done differently, if they had a second chance; things they would have done exactly the same way again; etc. As a kid I have always admired my grandfather. We were very close and he often shared his experiences with me, although I couldn´t fully comprehend them yet. Looking back I wish I had devoted more time to listening to his insights. Yet, there are still many valuable lessons he taught me and I would like to share 3 of those with you.
Growing up there was nothing I hated more than losing. Defeat was something that I took very personal and it could ruin my entire day, even if I lost at something minor like a fun game of sports. Funny enough it was after I competed in a chess tournament that my grandfather taught me this lesson. Though it made him proud to see me win the first few games, he could easily spot my major disappointment as I lost in the semi-finals. So he said: “Let´s go for a walk”. And as we were walking through a beautiful forest in the southern part of Germany, he told me that you always spot the great man in a group by watching out for the person who takes delight in his own imperfections; the person who has the strength to laugh about himself and not only about others; the person who could instantly see the blessing in a loss and hence be able to quickly move on. He said that too often we get caught in the dogma of taking us incredibly seriously. We are so attached to ourselves that we lose sight of the bigger picture and the new opportunities. “A small mind is easily recognized: he is constantly busy looking out for other people´s pain, as it makes him feel better about himself. A great mind, however, doesn´t draw a line between his own challenges and those of others.”, my grandfather explained to me. “The great mind is here, because he wants to serve. If he would take himself too seriously, he would lose his ability of being of great service.” Lessons learnt: He taught me that we always have the choice to put things into a broader perspective and not let them affect us so much. Realizing that the pursuit of our craft is bigger than our ego, has helped me to smile at my own frailties instead of being embarrassed and let them stop me.
When my grandfather wanted something he went after it without compromise. He simply would not let himself be stopped by setbacks, obstacles or any other form of resistance. If he wanted something, he figured out a way of how to get it. He perfectly emulated the message of Churchill´s infamous “Never, never, never, never give up” speech. Being part of the war-generation, my grandfather was conditioned to see hope in little things where many others would see desperation. He used the beautiful power of his mind to think himself through adversity. Thereby, no one from the outside could take away his devotion to the things he strived towards. I remember one specific incident that happened when he watched one of my soccer games.
Our opponents were much bigger than us and the situation looked rather bleak. While I was only scratching on the surface, arguing that we did not have a chance, he told me about a time in combat when he deactivated two tanks by himself. He said: “In life you are often faced with situations that appear to be hopeless. But never forget, that there is no stronger force than your will to succeed. Focus on your own strength and the opponents weaknesses, instead of doing it the other way round. Being small can be an advantage or a disadvantage. You get to chose your perspective.” Lesson learnt: Go after the things you really want, no matter what. We´ve all heard this many times, but it only matters if we apply and do it. Ask yourself every day what action you can take to move one-step closer towards what you want and follow through on it, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
The third lesson I learnt from him was to make every day count; to not go to bed before having learnt something new and valuable during the day. He loved learning. And he urged me to always challenge myself to grow and make process every day, even if it was just a tiny new thing that I learnt. He was very analytical in his thinking. He sat me down and asked me to imagine that if I learn one new thing every day, what I would be able to do after one year. I was only in primary-school by that time, so he said: “And now imagine where you can be once you leave school.” He challenged me to broaden my horizon and never accept contentment. He drilled into my mind that I could always evolve further and improve my craft even more. He was also the one who taught me how precious every single day is and that by focusing on living great days I could lead an outstanding life. And obviously the same applies to you. By stopping to take a single day for granted, but rather becoming grateful for them, you are on a great path to an excellent life. Lesson learnt: Don´t let a single day go by without enhancing your skill-set, knowledge base or experience chamber. Be it reading a chapter of a great book, engaging into a valuable conversation, exercising and working on your craft or something else, make sure that you add a meaningful element to your life on a daily basis.
If you liked this post, share it with one friend, whom you think will also like it. But more importantly: remember that older people love to share their stories and wisdom. By listening attentively to what they have to say, it´s not only you who benefits, but they feel appreciated and valued as well. So take the time this week and learn from one older person