To my 4 sons…
Boys, they say a lot change when you turn 40. I’m hoping to live the second part of my life with more wisdom than the first. If I could share a life lesson for every year that I’ve lived, these would be the lessons:
5 Lessons on life.
- Boys, somehow your dad thought I would have achieved more by 40 than what and who I am currently. In retrospect I think I succumbed too much to other people’s dreams, expectations and agendas with my life – to the expense of my own. If I could do it all over, I’d care less about what other people think of me.
- The key to living a high impact life though, is resilience. Although you can only control 50% of what happens to you in life, you are 100% in control of how you respond to everything that happens to you.
- Many people ask “What is life’s meaning?”. Viktor Frankl’s advice is to turn the question around and ask: “What meaning can I give to life? What value can I add?” I have found that to be the most important question to ask oneself.
- Guys, you have so much potential. You would be able to do anything you want with your life. Just remember that you can’t do and be everything. If you say “yes” to something, inadvertently you are saying “no” to something else. Learn to say “no” to good things, in order to be able to say “yes” to better things.
- Travelling really does broaden one’s mind. The Church Father St Augustine said: “Travelling is like reading a book. Why would someone choose to stay on one page?” If it is too expensive to travel, at least make friends with people who are different than you. Diversity always enriches you. Make sure you stay a lifelong learner.
5 Lessons on relationships with family & friends.
- Boys, we often wrestled with each other. When someone got hurt, the one who did the hurting did not get to decide if what he did really caused pain or not. The same principle applies in all of life’s relationships, whether it’s your brother or someone from a different gender or race. When someone says that you hurt them, apologize sincerely, learn from it and don’t do it again.
- Be quick to forgive. Seriously. Keeping grudges and throwing a pitty party is childish and drains your joy. Forgive and move on.
- Traditions and rituals in a family, fosters a sense of security for everyone. Do you remember the “appreciation game” we played on family nights? Each one gets the opportunity to verbalize appreciation for the other. We do that because we don’t believe in bringing flowers to someone’s funeral. Make the most of family. But take care that dependence on one another does not lead to intermeshed lives. Families where the members’ lives are undifferentiated from each other, tend to get unhealthy.
- Some people say they only show respect for those who have earned it. But you and I know how it feels to be treated with respect even when we haven’t deserved it. Treat people according to their inherent worth, even if they do not believe in it themselves, and you will see how they blossom. People react to grace. God conditioned us this way.
- There is a difference between sacrificing your life and wasting it. Sometimes the lines tends to get blurry between the two. It sounds cruel, but Irma Kurtz was right when she said: “Givers have to set limits, because takers rarely do”. Take it from me, a couple of years ago I burned out because I neglected this truth. I thought I was sacrificing, but in fact I was pouring myself wastefully out into other people. Boundaries are healthy.
5 Lessons on resolving conflict.
- The difference between a good and an exceptional leader, is the fact that the exceptional leader is willing to initiate the conversation about the elephant in the room. I want you to always be the one who confronts the elephant in the room. Never shy away from the elephant (except when you are in the Kruger National Park).
- Never match someone’s level of anger. Nobody has ever felt good after loosing their temper. So just don’t do it. Never overreact. And never overreact to someone else’s overreaction. Intentionally choose not to react, but to respond with calmness, and you will most definitely walk away as the victor.
- If possible, do not try to resolve conflict through writing. Your facial expression and tone of voice is more important than choosing the right words. It is called the disinhibition effect, and it is much more important than you think – especially in this online age. If there is no other way to resolve confict other than by writing, never send that confrontational email, WhatsApp message or social media post in the evening. A new morning always brings a new perspective – as well as new vocabulary. Always wait until the morning.
- Many differences end up being polarized to the extreme, because initially the opposing parties got the impression they weren’t being listened to. The feeling of not being heard, results in a growing distance and accelerates aggression. Many of the conflicts in our time, could have easily been diffused by listening and taking people seriously the first time round. So, put your own agenda aside, and listen to people’s concerns. Keep in mind that some differences are not meant to solve. Some problems are just too multifaceted to solve with singular solutions. We solve those kind of problems, by learning how to live respectfully with the different voices.
- Whatever you do – never ever demonize those with whom you differ. Speaking of demons, Friedrich Nietzsche said “When fighting monsters, beware that you do not become one yourself”. In our quest to stand for our convictions, we tend to justify our own harsh words, hatred and even violence, far too easily.
5 Lessons on productivity.
- The difference between being mediocre and extraordinary, is self discipline. Leading others, always starts with being self-aware and leading yourself.
- Boys, I expect you to come early for every appointment in life. If it is absolutely impossible to be early, at least be on time. But never be late. Nothing diminishes the respect people have for you as a leader so quickly, as when you waste their time.
- Your body functions on bio- and circadian rhythms. This means your body is better suited to do certain tasks on different times of the day. If you want to be productive, you thus not only have to manage your time, but also your energy.
- Although pursuing quality in your work will always be very important, when it comes to productivity, execution is even more important than perfection. Never let your perfectionistic quirks keep you from producing.
- I can go quicker by myself, but I can go further with a team. The most productive team in the long run is not task orientated, but people orientated. Shine the light on other team member’s achievements, and give them recognition in the public eye. It harbor’s a culture of trust and appreciation in a team.
5 Lessons on leadership.
- The best leadership advice I’ve ever received, was to surround myself with other high capacity leaders – people who are not afraid to challenge me.
- We’ve had good times with firearms, whether on the range or while hunting. I taught you everything I know about them, the most basic of which is to make sure you know where your bullet will end up if you miss your target. What you do have consequences and can end up hurting people. The same applies to leadership. Good leaders empower people. But remember that even though you delegate tasks, you can never delegate responsibility. The buck stops with you. I never want to hear you blame or accuse other people. Take responsibility.
- Trust is a leader’s most valuable commodity. You earn people’s trust slowly, bit by bit. Make yourself known over time as someone who under-promises and over-delivers.
- A tank crew gets shot at. They don’t like it, it just comes with the territory. They can’t avoid it by turning away or rolling back. The tank was designed for warfare and to advance is it’s purpose. Similarly, if you are a leader you will get criticized. Period. But keep on advancing. Luckily not all criticism deserves equal attention. I have learned that in order to be a good leader, you have to keep your skin hard and your heart soft. Never the other way around.
- Do you remember when I taught you how to drill a hole in iron? You make sure the drill bit’s point is sharp – and then you go very slowly. The same applies when leading people. Make sure the point you are making is sharp, and then slowly keep going. You always overestimate what you are capable of doing in 1 year, and underestimate the influence you can have over a 5 year period. But there is cumulative power, in consecutive consistency.
5 Lessons on braving your problems.
- You know firsthand from the farm that weeds grow without tending. That’s true for much of life’s problems as well. Problems just “happen”, without it having to be someone’s fault. And it is never a good idea to find fault where there is none. Being overly critical is draining on everyone around you. Instead of pointing to problems, rather point to solutions. And remember that most of the problems you face today, will by insignificant 3 years from now. That thought always helps me to curb the stress when dealing with difficult problems.
- Do you remember how we swam in the sea? Every now and then a tremendous wave would come and we would be tempted to turn our backs on it and run away. But if you do that, you will be overpowered and engulfed by the wave. The right way to survive these waves is actually counter-intuitive. You need to dive straight into them. The same is true for leaders and the way we engage life’s problems. We never turn our back on problems. We never run away. We dive in and tackle them head on.
- Your granddad told me: “There is always more than one solution to a problem”. Honestly, he was right. Before you set out to dive into a problem, first brainstorm a couple of possible solutions. More often than not, a combination of ideas might emerge as a meaningful solution. If you still don’t know what to do, choose the most difficult thing. Often the most difficult thing to do, is the right thing to do.
- A smile will evoke a smile in return. Always smile. Always walk up straight and carry yourself in a self assured manner – even if your are terrified. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability of doing the right thing in spite of it. So carry yourself with confidence – but never with arrogance. Being humble is more important than trying to be important.
- There are times in life when you will come to the realization that your best is not good enough. That’s an awful feeling. I know, because I’ve often felt it. Show up anyway. Again and again and again. Every time.
5 Lessons on love.
- I Know you don’t want to hear about your parent’s sex life. But here it is anyway: Sex is great – but it is even better if you make sure your partner enjoys it. I call it the “sex paradox” and I think God made it on purpose that way, because it alludes to the rest of life as well. The principle is, the more we seek happiness for ourselves, the more it eludes us. The more we seek happiness for others, the more we find it for ourselves. Remember that when making love someday – but also for everyday life.
- In marriage, you can choose to be right or you can choose to be happy, but you can’t be both. I know it sounds cynical, but I’m not. It’s just that quibbling over everything is not worth it. Being right, comes at a price. In order to be right, you have to prove the fault lies with your partner – and that way of reasoning is very toxic for both of you. Getting your way with everything is just not worth it.
- You guys always tell me how beautiful your future wives are going to be. I believe you. However – my father told me, and now I want to do the same with you – when choosing a life partner someday, do not base your decision solely on attractiveness. I know it may seem impossible to you now, but much more important than sexual appeal, is sapiosexuality. Find someone with a depth of character, and she will mesmerize you for the rest of your life.
- In life we brush our teeth and we service our cars. Maintenance is important. In fact, what you do every day, matters more than what you do every once in a while. This is particularly true of marriage. The overseas holiday is nice. But the true blessing is found in the small, healthy daily interactions.
- You guys know, on the farm we often saw the necessity of felling a tree. But the rule is always: “Never cut a tree in winter time”. The same principle applies to human relationships, and especially marriage. Every relationship goes through some dry spells. Work on it, and you will see spring is around the corner.
5 Lessons on God.
- You will be pressured to choose between faith and reason. Choose both. The world presents to you a false tension between the two. There is nothing contradictory in being an intellectual believer. Faith and doubt, in similar manner, also go hand in hand. Don’t be shocked when you become aware of doubt in your faith. The way to live with doubt, is to come to the realization that what you believe in, is greater than what you don’t.
- The biggest responsibility anyone can ever have, is taking on a parenting role. Obviously you have to provide and nurture your child. But that is the least of your responsibility. Unknowingly, the way you listen, love and discipline your child, will be shaping the unconscious image your child will have of God – whether you are male or female – because God is portrayed as father and mother in the Bible. In my own case, your grandparents were such wonderful parents to me, that I cannot believe anything malicious, mean or manipulating about God. I can only hope that I am half the father to you guys, that my dad was to me. Please my sons, be loving fathers one day.
- God is your father and the Church is your mother – whether you like her or not. I will be the first to admit that the Church is defective in so many ways. But when criticizing her, I expect you to do it in a loving manner, just as you would when talking about your own mother’s shortcomings.
- You are loved by God, immeasurably more than you can ever imagine. The same holds true for the other creatures with whom we share this planet – and in particular other human beings (the one’s we like and the one’s we don’t). Because you are loved by God, be tender towards yourself. Be tender towards others.
- The most profound discovery one can make in this life, is when you realize that Grace is not a doctrine. It is a Person, and his name is Jesus.