Unexpected Wisdom from a Teenager

If you have ever traveled across country by train, you know that meals are served with community seating. That means you can meet new people with every meal.


In late March I took the train home (to Southern California) from an engagement in Massachusetts. One evening my meal companions consisted of a very nice couple and a teenager. At first, the teenager had little to say. (Parents, does this sound familiar?) But through my questions he told us that he was 16, wanted to be an attorney, and could bench press 325 pounds.


Then I asked him, “What three recommendations would you give someone in 8th grade about high school?” Without hesitation he gave an answer that all of us can use. Here are his recommendations, with my comments on how they apply to leaders:


1) Watch who you hang out with.


Certainly, your friends define who you are.


Leaders know this and thus build organizations that consist of people who reinforce productive work, discourage destructive behavior, and provide a variety of complementary skills.


A wise leader will direct a person’s development by placing the person with colleagues who have beneficial characteristics. Similarly, this explains why some leaders work with a coach who provides a contrast to their preferred style.


You can also manage your personal growth by associating with people who have achieved what you aspire to have. For example, one entrepreneur left a mastermind group of millionaires to join a group of multimillionaires.


2) The next four years are very important.


Actually, every “next four years” will have a significant impact on you. Your actions and decisions during that time will determine everything that follows. And the key to making the most of time is having a vision, setting goals, and making plans.


Most leaders work with a business plan. And some have a business plan for their career and other important aspects of their life.


3) It can be a lot of fun.


Yes, the next four years and the rest of your life can be a lot of fun. If you choose to make it so.


My train ride serves as an excellent example of this.


When I bought my train ticket I decided that I was going to enjoy the ride. And I can report that I had a ball. In fact, I told everyone that I met on the train that I was the happiest guy on the train.


Now, let’s be realistic about this. A train offers some challenges. For example, the train rocks from side to side as it rattles along over old track, switches, and rail crossings. The train blows a whistle, which you can hear all day (and night) long. The train provides limited space. I spent the first night in coach, curled up on my seat and the suitcases that I stacked on the floor between my seat and the one in front. My sleeper (for the next two nights) consisted of a 3.25 feet wide, 7 ft. long, 6.5 ft high space.


And yet I was the happiest guy on the train. Because I decided to enjoy the ride.


Similarly, we can enjoy our ride through life if we decide to enjoy it. And leaders exert a tremendous influence on the culture around them by the energy they radiate. If you act like you’re enjoying the ride, others will enjoy the ride, too. And that leads to greater productivity.


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