Two simple lessons that can change your life

Ladder of Knowledge
degreezero2000 via Flickr

COMMENTARY. Probably 15 years ago I was racing to the airport to make an international flight, a relatively common occurrence back then. Stressed out and anxious, I cursed the traffic and nervously fiddled with the stereo. That's when my wife turned to me and said, "You know, always running late like this is a sign of immaturity."

Sometimes you hear something so unexpected and yet so dead on that you can't help but wake up and smell the dysfunction. It wasn't until much later, after the mad rush and the whole airport shuffle was over, that I finally sat down, exhaled, thought about it -- and realized she was right.

To this day I hate to admit it, but not only was I chronically late to meetings, flights, even personal events and affairs, but I created all that chaos around me because I was addicted to the rush. And the truth is that it permeated my entire life at both home and work. But from that moment on, I decided to change. And ultimately I did.

I'd driven my last mad dash to the airport, back-to-back-to-backed my last meetings, tweaked my last PowerPoint pitch five minutes before the board meeting, and set my expectations unreasonably high for the last time. Okay, it didn't happen overnight, but eventually I got it done. And that change, that notch on my maturity belt, made a big difference in my career.

Obviously I've never forgotten that day. On the contrary, I've always been fascinated by the way certain events -- simple fleeting moments that could have slipped by completely unnoticed -- end up shaping our careers or completely altering our lives.

You know, I could have thought, "What a b*tch!" and ignored my wife during that frantic rush to the airport. Or she could have decided not to call me out on my behavior. It took a lot of guts for her to say what she said, and I'm eternally grateful that she did. I'm also thankful that I was willing to listen that day. That hasn't always been the case with me, that's for sure.

Besides being a somewhat endearing and uplifting story, this episode offers two very important lessons. But first I want you to think back to an experience like the one I just described -- one that really changed you in the way you think or how you behave. Think really hard about what was going on in your mind and in your life back then. And then consider this:

Two crucial things happened that day you changed. First is that you somehow created an environment where the other person felt comfortable taking a risk to tell you something important, something true, something you probably didn't want to hear. That's lesson number one.

The second thing that happened that day was your frame of mind, for whatever reason, made you willing to listen. You were open to what you heard. You were paying attention, living in the moment. You were present.

You want to try your best to live your whole life, every minute of every day, just like that. No, it isn't easy when our lives are full of distractions and communication overload, but the best motivation is to realize how much you can accomplish by the simple act of being present. That's lesson number two.