For a long while, I’ve had this idea of authoring a book (I have many ideas for books…) about inspirational things or solid advice that past teachers or life experiences have taught me.
Throughout my career, I have had some great (and some dreadful) teachers and some equally outstanding life lessons both bitter and sweet. Recently, I was chatting with a friend who asked if I would want to be 20 all over again, and was surprised when I said no, I wouldn’t. Which got me thinking: I really have very few regrets. All of the worst moments of my life, and the most difficult challenges have equipped me to handle just about anything. The confidence I have earned was not born, it was bred… and is a hard-won patina earned through wounds and scars.
Similarly, a few years ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. I have a few friends that are more than a few years younger than me and I often find myself mentoring them on big life decisions. NO!, I would think… DON’T do THAT! Because my age and experience gives me a reasonable gauge of how THAT experience might turn out. My intent had always been to save my friends the hurt and anguish of making a bad decision with an outcome made more clear by age and wisdom. But, I realized, it is exactly the many poor choices followed by hurt or misery that fortified me and made me who I am today. Sparing them hurt would be disabling their ability to build coping mechanisms and confidence. Perhaps that is the teacher in me. Perhaps not. Scandinavian parents have an adage: Telling a baby not to touch a hot stove means nothing. However, when a child touches a hot stove, he will feel the burn. He will learn on his own not to touch the stove again. Certainly no parent of the year award there, but some pretty powerful psychology nonetheless.
So further to my goal of writing a book of good advice, here is my top 15 list of things I’ve learned from great teachers:
1. Always ask nicely and acknowledge that people are busy and don’t owe you an answer. When you get an answer, be grateful and say thank you.
2. It is indeed lonely at the top.
3. You pay a price for being a smart person in a stupid world.
4. Communicate. In a communication vacuum, people will make up their own details… which often will be worse than actuality.
5. Success is more often celebrated with a stab in the back than a pat on the back.
6. There is a big difference between being cordial and being friends.
7. The past is not the future.
8. Leadership is about doing the work for others and letting them get the accolades and credit for it.
9. Read everything you can, but read it carefully. Most people don’t read carefully.
10. People learn differently. People think differently.
11. Uniformity and conformity are so powerful they usually self-extinguish.
12. Organization is the key to simplicity.
13. Wealth is relative and ultimately unimportant.
Regardless of your politics, it’s interesting to think about how many of our products come from different places and different countries. In protest of immigration laws, this supermarket removed all products from shelves that are made in a foreign country or made with ingredients from a foreign country. Amazing how little is left.
Literally, food for thought.
How politics made their way into this grocery store
This article about Soviet mapmaking first appeared in Wired. It’s fascinating that the Soviets were making *very* detailed maps of the United States while it was illegal for Soviet citizens to possess or make maps of their own cities.
I’m one of a very elite group of Americans (there are about 500 of us) that now holds e-residency for Estonia. Estonia, as some of you know, is my adopted home away from home, largely a product of my partner’s research activities there. Over the last eight years and seven visits to Estonia, I have come to love the country and its amazing history. The very short version is that Estonia has been inhabited for a very long time, by very resilient people who have worked diligently and seriously to maintain Estonian culture, despite odds that seemed constantly to the contrary.
Whenever we mention Estonia to our North American friends, we get a blank look. We’ve had “the conversation” so many times, we literally carry around a little map showing the placement of Estonia and have a whole spiel all sorted out to educate our North American friends. The inevitable conversation goes something like this:
Person: Where? Astoria?
Us: No, Estonia. Astoria is a neighborhood in Queens, New York. When we were kids, it wasn’t on the map, it was part of the Soviet Union.
Person: Oh. (This is where the blank look intensifies.) So… you’re going to Russia?
Us: No, Estonia. It’s a little country on the Baltic Sea.
Person: Oooooh! The Balkans!
Us: No, the Baltic Sea. It’s just under Finland and next to Russia. (This is where we show the little map.)
Person: Oh, right. So you’re going to Russia.
Us: Actually, Estonia is a pretty cool place. It’s where Skype comes from!
Person: Oh wow! Yeah! I know Skype.
No joke… we’ve had that exact conversation about 10,000 times.
About 1 in 30 people actually pique their interest after “the conversation” and for the other 29, it’s their loss. Estonia is one of the coolest countries I’ve been to. Throughout the last five centuries, Estonia has been occupied: by the Swedes, the Danes (and in fact, it was in Estonian where the current Danish flag was “discovered”, the Swedes again, the White Russians—and then Estonia became independent—until it was invaded by the Nazis, then the Soviet Russians, and then again in 1990, Estonia became the first republic to cede from the United Soviet Socialist Republics, or The Soviet Union. Since then, Estonia has been free and amazing. Despite years of oppression, Estonians kept the Estonian language, culture, and traditions alive, despite the fact that all were illegal under 50 years of Soviet rule.
Estonians have a national tradition of song and dance, and in fact, won independence the second time through song (not a bad approach, considering that most countries earn independence through bloody wars.) The story is chronicled in the outstanding documentary The Singing Revolution.
As Estonia set up its new independent government, it had an eye on the future. It’s the only country in the world that doesn’t have a paper version of its constitution. It all lives online, and it makes for very interesting reading. Estonia is also the only country in the world to offer e-citizenship that allows e-citizens to start companies, bank, pay taxes, and fill prescriptions (among other actions) online. The idea is to foster creativity and help to secure a strong position for the future of Estonia as a home to entrepreneurs, inventors, and other creative people.
As a country used to doing business in a different manner, I am thrilled and honoured to be an e-resident and part of such a great society.