There is a neat thing called the “20 Things” which is a little assignment this small consulting company sometimes uses with people they are considering adding to staff: “What are the 20 things that have defined you – experiences, books, movies, people, travel, challenges, etc.”
When a friend told me about it I immediately began scribbling down ‘things.’
It was surprising how fast the important ones are noted.
And how easy it is to “fill in” to get to 20.
That said … and me being quite comfortable not following rules … I ended up with 15. They show up in no real order except number 1 and number 15. I purposefully bookended the list with the two most impactful in terms of immediate and ongoing impact. 2 thru 14 can be juggled any way you want.
- My grandfather
The greatest man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. A simple kind man who honored integrity, kindness and truth above all. He taught me more about me, life and how to live Life <without overtly teaching> than anyone I have ever known. He remains my North Star for my life. I can only hope to be half the man he ever was … but at least he gave me something to aim for.
- the pulled foul ball
Sports always came quite easily to me. And then I pulled a foul ball off a Tom Seaver fastball <before I struck out swinging on a slider which disappeared just before I was sure I had the fat part of my bat on it … hey … the guy did win 3 Cy Youngs …>. Regardless. I realized this was as good as it was going to get with me & sports. It didn’t mean I stopped sports … it just meant that I realized I needed to get going on the rest of my life.
- The Hobbit
The first “real” book I remember. I devoured Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew until there were no more … but when I heard The Hobbit read to me during reading period in elementary school I entered a world of words & imagery & imagination … and thinking of ‘what if.’ It hooked me on books and reading and thinking. The first time I read The Hobbit myself I was still too young to see anything but goblins & elves. I have read it maybe 10 times and I still see new things every time I read it.
- Diplomacy <by Henry Kissinger>
I wish I had found this book earlier in my life. On the other hand … I may not have understood it earlier. Kissinger writes about diplomacy but he is really discussing problem solving. I will suffice it to say one thing … “studying history is not analogous but contextual.” More people should heed this lesson. I certainly have learned this lesson.
- Supertramp <my first concert, and more specifically, their encore song “crime of the century”>
I grew up in a house with music. But it all changed at my first concert and especially the encore. Maybe 10 plus minutes of music and film with a growing image of hands on prison bars in space … and I walked out of there in a thoughtful excited daze. I had words & notes & imagery imprinted in my brain from that point on as a powerful tool to inspire me to think in different & creative ways. Music has never left my life <and I have forgiven Supertramp for doing Breakfast in America>. Music and imagery is at the core of how I think and like to express myself <when it is possible and relevant to do so>.
- Spike Lee
I was in my early 30’s in the audience when I heard Spike Lee say these words about his films … “I recognize everything I do impacts how people think … and even what they do … I have a responsibility every time I create anything.” It changed how I viewed what I did and actually how I did it moving forward. Basically … I began assuming responsibility for everything I created.
- Choose the Right Word <by Hayakawa>
It was a professional gift. I cannot remember from whom <although I owe that person a huge debt> but when I received the book “Choose the Right Word” by Hayakawa my writing & speaking took on a different hue. A richer hue I believe.
- St. Chappelle
I grew up in a home where we were expected to understand religious choices but was, in general, ambivalent to religion. I was always indifferently interested in religion. I imagine I just took a pragmatic view on life in which God didn’t really enter into the equation. And then I visited St. Chappelle in Paris <across the street from Notre Dame>. As I entered the petit chapel and the sunlight filtered through the floor to ceiling stained glass it is the closest I have ever felt to not only believing in God but actually believing I was in the presence of God. I am still not religious but I respect religion and I imagine, in some small way, I better understand how God can positively affect someone’s life.
- Madman Across the Water
The first time I heard Elton John’s Madman Across the Water album I think I immediately stole the lyrics from the album sleeve. The words made me think. The words made me create images in my head. The words inspired me to try and create words of my own that made others think & create images. That album made me a “words guy.” Plus. Every song on that album was just darn good.
I believe anyone who has been impacted by someone close to them committing suicide is never the same again. She was beautiful, kind and a friend. And she left with an entire life ahead of her. I imagine I felt like I did not do my part to show her what great things lay ahead of her. I vowed to never make that mistake again.
- “I do not really care”
Graduate school. Case study. “Mr. McTague … what would you do?” Me? “Well … I do not really care.” Flippant careless response. It ended up on the front board for the remainder of the semester. And I should have been hung out to dry. I was technically correct … the point <of which I seemed to have grasped fairly early in business life> is that there are several ‘right’ or even ‘best’ solutions to a challenge … but I should have realized that words … and how you articulate an idea & thought … are almost as important as the idea itself. I vowed to never make that mistake ever again. A good thought can die if it is not articulated well.
- “do not go gentle into that good night”
I have a love/hate relationship with poetry. I am fascinated with how words can be put together in ways that make you feel something inside … but all the rules of ‘effective and proper’ poetry drove me nuts. It was so constricting for something that should be so free. And then I came across Dylan Thomas’ “do not go gentle.” Whew. I found my anthem. Some call it ‘bull in a china shop living’ I simply point to ‘do not go gentle into the good night.’ It isn’t about dying it is about living. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. It was a great lesson.
My first boss. A woman in a man’s industry <advertising> who was in a senior position … and did it her way. But with the flexibility to permit the next generation to flourish. She didn’t know shit about these new fangled computers that all the young people were talking about <this was in the 80’s> but she put one on every one of our desks. She could do the same thing by hand faster than we could do it on the computer but she kept sending us back to our computers. She mentored the youngest, guided the more experienced and managed everyone. She permitted individuality and built a team. Oh. And she set me up with her daughter. Anyway. She taught me how to be a boss and I was straight out of school.
- Kiev war museum <although I could have put the Holocaust Museum here>
Perspective. Nothing provides perspective in life than viewing death. And not just ordinary death but death in the extreme. I cried in both of these places. I could pound out some horrible numbers on my keyboard that would make your head hurt to express this learning tangibly … but why?
My bookshelves are strewn with books I value and love. It is tempting to list the best of the best because they all made a positive impact and have been reread time and time again. But when one book is simply ‘the one’ why invest energy overthinking. To Kill a Mockingbird is my ‘one.’ I fell in love with Scout … her words and thoughts and questions. I still ask the same questions looking at today’s world and think of Scout’s thoughts daily. Harper Lee showed us that sometimes a child can see clearer than the most brilliant adults in the world. Listening to the young reminds us of things we have forgotten and they can actually teach us many things through the simplicity of youth. Regardless. Everyone should read this book.
I had a bunch fighting for the 16 thru 20 slots but, frankly, they were just at a different level than 1 thru 15. I believe lists like this should be about quality and not quantity.
I reserve the right to add something if I simply overlooked it.
This is a worthwhile exercise for everyone. Everyone’s list will look different … and some people may actually have 20 worthwhile events/learning moments instead of just 15 … but who cares. It isn’t a competition. It is simply reflecting upon who you are as a person.
This exercise reminded me we are all architects of our own Life. While many things are out of our control … many things are ours to do … or not do.
Is my list done? Gosh. I hope not. “This I am today … that I will be tomorrow.“