Why I Was A Whole Lot Older Than I Am Today

Bob Dylan was right.

In My Back Pages, Dylan wrote:

“Ahhh, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”

He was the poet of a generation. Almost fifty years later, his words still resonate. Here’s why:

I accepted the challenge to run my father’s law firm in 1987. I started out on my own in 1995.

I was old in 1995, older still in 1987. I just didn’t know it.

In 19 years of running companies, all but one mine, I’ve become younger. Not steadily. Mostly in fits and starts. But younger nonetheless.

I was Hard of Hearing. By 1995, I had eight years of law practice under my belt. I had met with hundreds of clients by then and thought myself good at giving advice. I knew their stories before they told them, and I had figured out the exact solution by the middle of most of their sentences.

Sometimes I was right, too. And when I was wrong or had slightly missed the point, it was because they didn’t give me all of the pertinent facts in the appropriate order.

I spent most of the time talking in those meetings, perhaps as much as 80% of the time. And why not? Those clients were paying for my time, my attention, and my expertise.

The unfortunate part is that I was hard of hearing in 1995. I spoke too much and too quickly.

It wasn’t that I failed to practice the art of patient and active listening, it was that I didn’t even know that was a skill in the first place.

Today, I strive to speak 20% and listen the other 80%. If I’m really good, the proportion is 10/90. I don’t miss the mark as often and I can now hear the meaning behind the words.

My Vision was Faded at the Edges. There are many causes for a loss of peripheral vision. Some, such as glaucoma or a detached retina, are treatable. Twenty years ago, my symptoms were the same, but there were not short-term treatments available, let alone outpatient surgery.

Truth to tell, I didn’t even perceive my affliction.

The problem, as I now know it to have been, was that my vision was almost exclusively linear.

With the certainty of youth in my profession, I could see one path ahead and never stopped long enough to perceive what may have been far more promising avenues on the periphery.

I lacked the wisdom of options as well as the inclination to spend time with no agenda contemplating possibilities.

Since then I learned little things, such as how a service company can build a following by selling products, and how a product-oriented company can separate itself from the pack by marketing service.

I’ve learned the value of making other people the star, because all that matters is that the excellence of the entire production.

I’ve gained an appreciation for the winding path and learned to nurture relationships with people who, right this minute, play no discernable role in my mission.

I had Cognitive Deficits. A long time ago, my mother taught me a poem of sorts. She claimed its origin to be Native American, but I’ve never known for sure. It went:

He who knows and knows that he knows is a teacher. Follow him.

He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a student. Teach him.

He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep. Wake him.

But he who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool. Shun him.

Years ago, I not only had no idea what I did not know, I had no idea that I did not know.

I was either a fool or afflicted with cognitive deficits. Neither is a great option, but I detest thinking myself a fool.

In 1995, let alone 1987, my certainty of outcomes and options often derived not from wisdom, but rather from ignorance of the possibilities of the world.

I was too easily dismissive and too slow to adapt. I was too ready to accept “because we always did it that way” as a reason to follow, rather than a reason to question.

Even the courses I took and role models I followed only showed me how to progress in the same rutted road.

And so the questions come:

  • Am I the only one who looks back and feels this way?
  • How will I ensure that I become younger still next year?

How will you?

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