I am so lucky to be part of a group of entrepreneurs that meets every month. The group consists of people from our church, most of whom are at least a decade older than me and have been working at something they created from nothing for over a decade. It is such a joy to be in that room on the first Thursday of each month, and I am fully aware of the collective experience that is represented among those creative, tenacious, innovative people. They represent who I want to become as I learn more and continue to grow as a person and business leader.
Each meeting, one person shares their personal story in the format of completing a Mad Lib that the group leader created. This past week we got to hear from a super talented, smart, self-aware, and humble lady in her 60’s who started a new business with her husband just a few years ago. They had the vision to create something small that could serve them during their retirement, but the business has grown far beyond what they ever dreamed. One of the rules of the group is that we don’t pitch our business, talk about how we created something so great, or get into business details. This parameter really allows for the personal sharing to be very, well, personal.
I don’t know a ton about her business, but it would be interesting to hear about certain business decisions that were made along the way, and what kind of choices and actions led to the success they now experience. But the discussion we have in the group is far more valuable than these ostensible details. Instead, we got to hear about the early things that caused her fear, the way she has been able to overcome those, as well as the ongoing struggles she faces and how she continues to work through them. We all have weaknesses, and I think when people are able to talk about those and share them with others, that’s where some of the most valuable conversations reside. Allowing space for vulnerability and the acknowledgement that none of us have it all figured out is really refreshing and beautiful.
As I sat there listening to her talk about seeking to overcome a negative reaction she has to a specific situation, I had the realization that I was sitting in a goldmine of wisdom. Someone who is twice my age and sharing the hard-fought lessons they’ve learned is literally handing me a shortcut to fewer headaches and heartaches. If I can listen and learn from her many years of experience distilled into one poignant lesson, then I am in a great position. And then I thought, what if I took each of the people in that room to coffee and asked for one or two really life-changing lessons they’ve learned? I would have hundreds and hundreds of years of collective wisdom delivered right to my doorstep.
And I think that is the way we experience life: we summarize all of our experiences into easy-to-remember rules that we can carry forward with us. It’s impossible to remember everything that happens in a day—let alone a lifetime—so our brains are forced to make a synopsis. And those are incredibly valuable, albeit oversimplified at times.
I started my “project” this week and got my first coffee with one of the guys who I admire a ton. He was ridiculously generous with his time and carved out a meeting immediately after my asking, despite his crazy schedule. I got even more wisdom during that 45 minutes than I even hoped to. I look forward to downloading centuries of real-life lessons in the coming months.