If I Was 22 Again, What Would I Take Back.
A young man, about 22 years old, with wavy black hair and a thousand watt smile walked towards me to shake hands after one of my presentations. I politely thanked him back and asked if he often attends the community initiatives for invited speakers. He said, “Yes, even last week, we had an interesting discussion when the moderator divided the audience into two groups -youngsters and elders and then asked each group to discuss a topic of importance.” Without losing his smile, tongue in cheek, he added, “the youngsters talked about wealth while the elders talked about health.”
His casual comment stayed with me. As I ponder over, redialing the clock, if I was sitting among those 22 year olds today, what life experiences would I share that may create life wealth for them. Here is one that ranks among my top.
My early days were a struggle of a different kind — not content but having deep meaningful conversations on technical subjects. My work centered on core analytics– statistics and related technical subjects. The perimeter of people within the corporate workspace was limited compared to core management areas — these areas had a larger following and communication was more broadly understood. Indeed, I was in a specialized field.
Over lunch with a colleague, few years my senior, I shared my professional predicament. He listened very patiently and then he said, “Is it possible, you are looking at it differently?” He pushed his eye glasses up, to hold them better and said “the key to any conversation is to make the other person feel good and smart about themselves.”
He paused to let the words register and looked deep into my eye. If there was a word I understood the true meaning that day — it was empathy. I could feel the following words of his, none were spoken — “I have been there, felt that, here is my salvation that I am sharing.” I slowly smiled. His advice made tremendous sense. I was looking for an audience to share in a deep way, the common technical expertise. He was suggesting the alternate — use your domain skills for a higher calling — share in ways that is meaningful to them.
If there is an event that created a propulsion in my career in my early years, his look into my eyes would be among the top. I had reached out to him to seek ways to expand the perimeter, he simply opened my eyes to dissolve it. He showed me a way to relate with more people, with same content, more meaningfully. For that, I am truly grateful to him.
Story of the nostrils
From that day, I have observed many people with tremendous subject matter expertise. Some “command” a room with content, they have some of the best insights, and sage advice in the best interest of the organization at large. Yet, few times the stellar content gets lost in the small, important details that the human eye subconsciously processes — they deliver it with their chin up with the inside of their nostrils clearly visible to the audience. Great content lost to self-importance.
When somebody is presenting — if I see jargons, complexity and most importantly inner nostrils, I look around. Most times, I can feel that a tipping point has occurred- the message is lost and feelings remain. It truly validates the importance of my friend’s advice- “make the other person feel good about themselves.” Indeed, earnestness and sincerity triumph content.
Borrowing immortal words from Spiderman, slightly modified — “With great content comes great responsibility.” A responsibility to the audience — not self, not content.
Art of Giving = a Key to Success
Still seated amidst those 22 year old youngsters- the story of the nostrils may be funny, my friend’s advice may be deep enough to stimulate the thoughts for life’s treasures — understanding and appreciating people. If I take a step back and think through my friend’s professional advice, it is a wonderful application of my mother’s advice on the art of giving: Focus on what is of great value to others but less cost to you.
As I share my experience, I salute her for giving me the apostle of advice that has deeply, utterly and completely shaped my life for the better. Truly an ode to her — what is true in my microcosm of life, may be true in the lives of all kids.
And Henry James’s quote comes a close second.
Three Things in Human Life Are Important. The First Is To Be Kind. The Second Is To Be Kind. And the Third Is To Be Kind
Everything else starts at a distant fourth.