Note: I originally wrote this article intending to post it on a different site. It wasn’t about music so I didn’t think it belonged on SoundSavant.com. But after I thought some about it I realized that it made sense to use it here. I view SoundSavant.com as my personal site. I should be able to talk about things beyond music every once in awhile. In the end, the person I am ends up in the music I make so it all comes full circle anyway. I hope you enjoy this.
Most of us have a mentor, someone that’s there for us as we grow up and show us what being a successful adult is all about. Sometimes it’s a teacher or a neighbor but most often it’s a family member. In my case, it was my dad. Even though it’s been several years since he passed away, I still reflect almost daily on the life lessons I learned from him. Possibly the most important thing he taught me is that the key to a successful life can be broken down into 5 simple ideas.
1. Don’t just help others, actively help others
My dad strongly believed in serving others. While I never specifically heard him mention it, I’m sure this had a lot to do with his decision to become a college professor. I watched him demonstrate this belief in many ways throughout his life. He was actively involved in the outreach programs of his church. He helped coach little league and was a Boy Scout leader while my brother and I were growing up.
In his role as, “Professor H”, it was widely known that students could turn to him with any problem, school-related or otherwise, and be sure that he would greet them with a caring smile, an offer of some M&M’s, and thoughtful advice. I can’t go a week without running into someone that tells me about how my father affected their life in some positive way. As a child I found this mildly annoying but as an adult I’ve learned to cherish and learn from each of these stories.
Some people think of it as Karma, others just call it being raised the “right” way. No matter how you look at it, there is a large amount of reciprocity involved in the lives of most successful people. They help others, who in turn, are willing to return the favor. The key to making this work for you is to give without expecting anything in return. To paraphrase the Jedi, “Trust the force”.
2. Every experience is important
We’ve all had good days and bad days. We’ve probably also all had our fair share of good jobs and bad jobs. Another important thing I learned from observing my dad and other highly successful people is that they’re constantly learning from each of these experiences, good or bad. They use the lessons they learn from these experiences to build the foundation of who they are.
What gets in the way of most people recognizing this concept is that the effects of experience are not always immediate. It may take years before you see the benefit from something that happens today. However, when you begin to understand this concept innately, it makes the bad times a little easier to handle.
3. Knowledge is power
It makes sense that a college professor would feel that learning was important, right? What made my dad unique, and what had a huge impact on me was the extent to which he took his education. At various times throughout his life my father was an expert on a wide range of topics including Beethoven, The Moravian Church, digital nature photography, genealogy, Broadway Musicals and the Native American flute.
While not all of these topics were music-related, he was able to take bits and pieces from each and apply them to the other areas of his life. This is the power of knowledge, being able to synthesize thoughts, ideas and experiences into a greater intellect.
4. Effort trumps everything, including knowledge
Knowledge may be power, but it doesn’t do you any good unless you take action. Go back one more time and reread two paragraphs ago where I listed some of what my dad accomplished in a relatively short lifetime. It goes without saying that he didn’t spend much time sitting on the sidelines of life. My dad did stuff.
Although he would enjoy the occasional TV show or movie, he spent most of his life doing things. It didn’t matter if it was learning something, engaging in a conversation, telling a story or simple manual labor. My dad accomplished a lot because he was always doing something.
5. There’s no such thing as luck, only thoughtful, consistent preparation
Over and over again, I saw my dad succeed in just about everything he tried simply because he was well prepared. This was a big lesson for me. Hard work and preparation pays off.
People admired my dad because he made things seem easy, in the same way that LeBron James makes basketball seem easy or Conan O’Brien makes comedy seem easy. They are seen as being lucky because they are “naturals” in their respective fields. This is very rarely the case. Nearly every successful person I’ve ever met has spent years working to perfect their craft.
My dad was a successful college professor because he put in the time necessary to prepare every lesson plan rather than just speak off the top of his head. He was a great musical director because he took the time to study the score to the point that he knew it inside and out. Was his success in these endeavors due to luck? No, he earned his success every day through thoughtful, consistent preparation.
I encourage you to take these 5 simple ideas and try to incorporate them into your lives. Some of the ideas require a change in mindset and some of them will require a change in habits. Regardless, take a step today towards becoming a more successful you.