11 Things I’ve Learned About Business and Life Since I Graduated College

I have been in a reflective state over the past month– watching the kids end another school year, celebrating my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, and speaking at my 25th college reunion.  I’ve thought about the things I’ve learned about life and business since school.  The things that I see have taken me closer to experiencing my purpose and a more fulfilling life.  These same things are also the ones that I need to work from more consistently.  We’re never done learning until we die.  Some are simple, but I’ve learned never to misinterpret simple for insignificant.

You can listen to the full podcast episode here, or continue reading below.

Here are 11 things I’ve learned about life and business since I left school…

  1. Check Your Story. Perhaps the greatest contribution of this last generation, is what brain science, Eastern philosophy, spirituality and physics are all confirming. Your reality is based on the story you tell yourself. Whatever we tell our brain, it will seek to make it right. The biggest problem responsible for holding back countless careers, relationships, creative endeavors, and life aspirations, are the stories we aren’t even aware we’re telling ourselves. “It’s a battle out there,” “it’s getting harder to make money in this industry,” “teenagers are difficult,” “the world is a mess,” “if I lose my anxiety I’ll lose my edge.” These are some of the common stories I hear. When we feed our subconscious mind, which is our powerhouse, with these stories, the mind seeks to confirm it is right. In every second we receive 11 million bits of stimuli, but our brain can only process 40 bits per second. The 40 bits it processes are those we tell it to look for. Write a story that works for you and is based in your inspiration not in your fear. Our life expands to the extent of the story we tell.
  2. Move beyond the pleasing, performing and perfecting as soon as you can. I’ve already spent too much of my life caring about getting it right for others before myself. What about you? When I finally got my first taste of giving back to others the right to feel what they wanted about me, it felt like I had been liberated from years in the winter of Siberia. Living fully is about no longer dancing to please others. There is a ton of freedom that comes from detaching from what other’s think. Does the aiming to please still creep up? Absolutely. Does my reptilian brain want to take over my life sometimes? Absolutely. The key is not about perfection, it’s that I see it now when it’s happening so I can pull myself out of it. It’s a daily awareness. Your job is to reduce the lag time between feeling the pull to seek approval and making a truer and inspired choice of your own.
  3. Be critical of your opinions. Nothing is a fact unless you find evidence to confirm it. I was reflecting back to my senior year in college. I had this incredible professor in world history, his name is Professor Ditmer, and he was one of the school’s great professors. He had been in the civil rights movement and participated in the marches. What I appreciated about him, was that he really tried to deliver the facts. He didn’t want to put his slant or overlay his opinions on his lectures.

Early in the semester Professor Ditmer let us know we’d be writing a paper on the topic of the Vietnam War. The day came that he assigned the class one of two thesis.  One half was defend that the U.S. should have gone to war and the other half was to prove that we should never have been in the Vietnam War. He assigned me to write the latter: we never should have been in the Vietnam War.  As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran who had been on the front lines, I knew for a “fact”, or so I thought in my small mind, that we should have gone to the Vietnam War. That’s what I had learned and heard all my life.

What I discovered by writing that paper, was absolutely fascinating and has changed the way I approach things. When I was critical of my own opinions I could see the reasons for the opposing viewpoint I’d had my whole life. I got an A+ on writing the paper from the opposite of the long standing opinion that I had held. Nothing is a fact, it’s an interpretation.  Don’t borrow your beliefs, challenge yourself and be critical of your opinions because you just might learn something.

  1. Be a giver. In relationships there are three kinds of people: The Givers, The Matchers and The Takers. The Givers give 100%; they give to serve. The Matchers, they give at 50% and expect something in return. The Takers, they just take. “You get what you give.” It is probably the most repeated line I use in my home. In the corporate world I see its application as well. I see senior leaders act unilaterally or be immersed with their worlds and they wonder why team members don’t have their back. Karma, in ancient Sanskrit means “boomerang,” you don’t need to be concerned when it’s coming back to you or how. Just know it will. Be a giver and give generously.
  2. Stand up for the less powerful. How you treat the flight attendant matters to me. Speak up, have boundaries, and when someone’s crossed them, let them know. Recently, a senior leader, told me his son was being bullied at school.  The father asked me if I thought his advice to his son which was not to come home until he hit this bully back was sound.

Before I was able to respond on what I thought about the advice, my first question was, “where are the other kids? Why isn’t someone standing up for him?” They’re not because they don’t see their parents doing it. Use your voice when you see a team member being berated by a boss, or a colleague make an offensive comment, or you see someone not treat the staff well. The words I use are, “not on my watch,” “that’s not acceptable,” “this doesn’t work for me,” “this isn’t how we roll in this house,” “you’re out of line.” Make sure you stand up for the less powerful so that your kid will help the other kid that’s being bullied on the playground or in the lunchroom. Use your voice. Be willing to get involved. The next generation will learn from our example.  We’ll all live in a kinder and gentler society when we do.

  1. See through the eyes of another. Be curious. Be interested instead of interesting. Stephen Covey’s fifth habit in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is to “seek to understand first, then to be understood.”

The best three questions to ask yourself as a leader, parent, or human being who seeks to positively influence anyone are:

  1. What is the other person worried, concerned, or afraid about?
  2. How am I unwittingly contributing to this worry?
  3. How can I alleviate their fear?

Brain science has shown us that when a mind is negative or stressed, it is never going to be as intellectual, or creative, or effective at problem-solving. In all categories, performance goes down.

Don’t ask a kid or an adult, why they did something. Ask them what caused them to do it?  Bad behavior and poor performance is often a result of fear.  Seek to reduce the amount of fear in the world by bringing your patience and love to the game as opposed to throwing more fear and anger back at another. Check your ego and, again, be interested in seeing through the lens of another. Practice with your children to help them do that too. A person who is stressed is always going to show up at a fraction of their best, so seek to alleviate an individual’s fear and you will have the key to unlocking their potential.

  1. Be vision driven instead of circumstance driven. What I mean is that when you are working from your current circumstances, you create your current circumstances. This is how patterns are created. Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem from the same level of thinking that got you there. Your current level of thinking got you into your current problem, and it’s not going to be able to get you out of it. Raise your thoughts. Currently, when we seek to hit our goals, we do it from a very backwards strategy. We start at A and we seek to get to B. When we do this we are often starting with our current circumstances which is often a lack of time, lack of energy, a lack of money, or a fear of something. If you go to point B and you start operating, behaving and feeling as if what you want is already achieved, you will begin to operate from habits of behavior that will get you to your vision.
  2. Name the elephant in the room. Be a bullshit-free zone. It’s ironic, I think, as a recovering people pleaser, that I make my living saying what others won’t say. I got my first taste of this just out of college when I was with a female icon who always operated in a bullshit-free zone. It was the late former First Lady Barbara Bush. She had come to speak. I was a student trustee at the time and got the pleasure to meet her at the reception. There were three of us talking; Barbara Bush, myself and an esteemed trustee. The trustee made an inappropriate comment, and instantly Barbara looked at him with her strong eyes and said tersely, “That is the most chauvinist thing I’ve ever heard.” She continued to tell him why his comment was out of line.  (She was actually defending me.) The lesson I learned: step over nothing. Call it when you see it. By bringing the dark into the light, we can begin to change it.
  3. Be real. If you haven’t heard it yet, vulnerable is the new strong. How many of us want to hear from those who are ready to tell their vulnerable, real story? When I ask that question in a group and then ask how many want to do it themselves, the hands go down. Being real and being vulnerable, ironically mean tearing down the walls that we spent the first half of our life putting up to protect us. It’s hard to realize that the very things that protected us — following the rules, being appropriate, aiming to please, or quieting our voice to keep us safe –keep us now from being our best parents, being the best of friends, and being great leaders. It is irresistibly attractive to be real and authentic. It takes a strong person to be able to show their weakness.
  4. Be someone’s believing eyes. Nobody can succeed more than another believes in him. Whenever you’re speaking with another, whether they’re young or old, in your office or your family room, speak to the highest within them. When your child makes a mistake, or gets caught smoking something you smoked 30 years ago, speak to the person you see him or her capable of becoming. Don’t speak to them from their circumstances. Speak to the person you see they can be.

One of my greatest gifts in life are those who have patiently held the light for me until I was ready to turn the light switch on.

They convinced me I could turn it on.  Then they held the light and waited until I did.  I now devote my life to holding that vision for individuals, leaders and companies to fulfill their highest vision and purpose. I am so grateful that someone else did it for me.  Be a believer in the highest vision of others.

  1. Make a living doing what you love. What’s the work you can not do? If you don’t know or you’re protected mind won’t let you go there, ask yourself a different question. What’s the work when you’re in a rocking chair with a blanket on your lap towards the end of your life that you will regret you didn’t do or at least attempt?

I spent the first years doing what I thought I should on the most conservative street, in the most conservative company, on the most conservative floor, with my blue suit on, and now I’m an entrepreneur and a business owner in an alternative career.

Whatever job you do, be in the business of lifting people up. If you want to build your business, see how you can serve others. In fact, I found this helpful: drop the word “achievement” and replace it with “contribution.”  In your business, work from the place of how many people can I help today? When you seek to serve from the place of serving, you’re business will thrive. Our highest needs are to connect and contribute. When you are connecting and contributing your life is met with both success and fulfillment.

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About Rita Hyland

As a Business and Life Coach, Rita works with highly motivated professionals who, despite their level of success and achievements, are not happy or satisfied. Often, they’re “successful” by traditional standards, yet unfulfilled based on their own. They know they want more and are ready to have it.

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Rita Hyland is host of the “Playing Full Out” podcast, where you’ll discover tips to break through the personal and professional barriers in a hectic world that are preventing you from leading your optimal vision of life at work and home. This is the podcast for passionate life travelers and leaders who want to live a deliberate, confident and fulfilling life, and change the world while they do.