Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On Life Lessons

Bulldogs in the Bluegrass is a pretty well developed program. Which isn't really surprising when you consider that it's been fine-tuned over ten years, and is still very actively led by the same visionary guy who founded the whole shebang. And the way the program is constructed, there is a big focus here on life lessons.
That might sound kind of patronizing, which isn't how I mean it. It does strike me as something I would have been more gung-ho about had I been a Bulldog the summer after freshman year, but it also seems to me that I'm more ready to listen to the lessons right now. For the last few months, I've been thinking a lot about the Future. Those thought processes have been active enough, thinking about who I am, who I want to be, etc, that the explicit advice given to the group by old guys wanting to pass on the things they've learned in their 60+ years in business make sense to me, in so far as they can.
I bring this up because the weekly Wednesday lunch for Bulldogs, employers, and mentors featured the founder of Humana. David Jones, Sr. is an absurdly wealthy man; he built Humana from scratch and essentially by accident, starting with no experience and making a long series of shrewd investments, eventually making his fortune as well as his Fortune 500 company. So, when today he diverged from the proscribed topic of pensions (actually, rather more interesting than it sounds), he decided to impart his wisdom to us. Considering his record, not only of building a successful business, but also a philanthropic track record to be admired and emulated and raising what is by all accounts an incredibly functional family (even leaving aside the issues of wealth, privilege, and inheritance). So his lessons of integrity first, followed by a focus on the family, really rang true. You can't lead without integrity, and you really can't do much of anything without some kind of grounding force. What better, says Mr. Jones, than family for that? After that, establish clarity in your goals, make sure everyone knows what side they're on and what position they play, and then thank people for helping you. Education means learning how to communicate, so use that well.
These life lessons are in essence, the same ones that have been given to us over and over again since we arrived in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Serve others, treat them with respect, know who you are and what you want. A man is only as good as his word, develop the relationships with people. It's all about the people. Don't get so caught up in what you do so as to lose who you are, or who the people who matter to you are.
We've gotten this speech, in one form or another, from Rowan, from David Jones, Sr, from mentors and employers, from alums who graduated before anyone thought to admit women to Yale. And as is always the case with advice, no one listens until they want to hear it. So I guess the message is, listen up. People want to give you advice, and it's probably good stuff. I respect David Jones, Sr, and so his giving us his attention, his time, and his advice, which seems like uncommonly good common sense, seems like a good deal. Now, throw in some serendipity and a good chance to practice those new skills, and bam! Instant life success.
Or maybe just better perspective.

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