We attract what we constantly think about.
We live in a world that is focused on flash, and not fire. Focused on appearance and not substance. Focused on puffing our chests but not rolling up our sleeves and having guts.
It is time for that to change.
Now, we all need to think about substance. Yes, we can still have style, but the style must serve the substance.
As each day passes, it becomes harder and harder to impress anyone.
But it is time to go back to basics. There are certain things that should impress you. Here are seven of them.
1. Setting Someone Free When It Hurts You Should Impress You
“Selfless action is a source of strength.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
Most companies will only focus on what value its employees bring to the work. They will not focus on the well-being of the employee. Or the best interests of the employee.
Even companies that do focus on the well-being of their employees (and there are some that do) will still only do right by an employee as long as the company is not negatively affected.
It is extremely rare to find a company, or a person who runs a company, who will do what is best for an employee, even when it is harmful or potentially fatal to the company.
This event is so rare that I only know about it happening one time with people that I personally know.
My friend Jerome was running a nonprofit and his only paid help was a woman working a full-time position for $500 a month. The woman cared so much about the vision and the purpose of the nonprofit that she happily worked long hours for little pay. She had entirely changed the structure of her life in order to meet the needs of the nonprofit.
Jerome noticed that the nonprofit completely relied on the work of this woman. Jerome completely relied on this woman. But the woman was living on very little money and delaying aspects of her life in order to serve an overall bigger vision.
For many people, that is admirable. But Jerome could not proceed any longer in this situation. This woman had incredible skills that were way more valuable than the $500 she received each month.
So Jerome set her free. He made her leave the organization. Jerome knew that having someone sacrifice that much was crucial for the organization, but it was harmful to the individual.
So, without regard for how it would affect the nonprofit, Jerome made the choice that was for the best interests of the woman. And the worst choice for the best interests of the nonprofit.
Within days she found a position that seriously multiplied her income and influence in the community. In a few short years, she moved to another position that multiplied her income and influence yet again.
This story should impress you. Here is a person who forced someone to do something that was in her own best interest even though it would hurt the organization.
I have never heard of another example like this. Ever. Have you?
By the way, the nonprofit struggled mightily at first, but it survived and is now growing. Doing the right thing does pay off.
2. Telling Someone the Truth in Love Should Impress You
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
In the movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone’s character listens to his son tell him that he should not fight again. Rocky’s son probably thought that he would speak to his father and talk him out of his crazy idea to fight again. But his son actually revealed some of the reasons why he had not moved forward more in his own life.
In the scene, Rocky has the ultimate chance to tell his son the truth. Rocky tells his son exactly what he needs to hear — not what he wants to hear. Here is the dialogue from the scene:
Rocky’s son: You know, living with you, it hasn’t been easy. People see me but they think of you. Now, with all this going on, it’s gonna be worse than ever.
Rocky: It doesn’t have to be.
Rocky’s son: Sure it does!
Rocky: Why? You’ve got a lot going on, kid.
Rocky’s son: What, my last name? That’s the reason I got a decent job. That’s the reason why people deal with me in the first place. Now I start to get a little ahead. I start to get a little something for myself, and this happens. Now, I’m asking you as a favor not to go through with this, okay. This is gonna end up bad for you, and it’s gonna end up bad for me.
Rocky: You think I’m hurting you?
Rocky’s son: Yeah, in a way, you are.
Rocky: That’s the last thing I ever wanted to do.
Rocky’s son: I know that’s not what you wanna do, but that’s just the way that it is. Don’t you care what people think? Doesn’t bother you that people…are making you out to be joke and that I’ll be included in that? Do you think that’s right? Do you?
Rocky: You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here.
I’d hold you up to say to your mother, “This kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.” And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!
I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. Don’t forget to visit your mother.
Rocky told his son exactly what he needed to hear — not what he wanted to hear.
When someone tells you that type of truth, you should be impressed.
3. Wearing a White Belt Should Impress You
“Bury me in my white belt.”
— Jigoro Kano (on his deathbed)
When you are good at something, it is easy to impress other people. Just do what you are good at so that other people can watch. If you are good, people will be impressed.
But what if you are a beginner? What if you are not good at what you do? Obviously, it is much harder to impress the people around you.
In martial arts, the white belt is the uniform of the beginner. If you see someone wearing a white belt in a martial arts dojo, then you know that the person is probably not skilled at martial arts.
But the white belt is also the symbol of something else: a person who is willing to be bad at something in order to eventually be good.
It is humbling to wear a white belt. You are admitting that you are unskilled, ineffective, and a novice.
The white belt is also the perfect symbol of the humble person, who is ready, willing, and able to practice through imperfections.
All beginners will not wear actual white belts. But all beginners will need to humble themselves in order to improve.
It is hard to admit that you are not good at something. It is even harder to admit to the world that you suck at something.
But it is necessary in order to get better.
Bury me in my white belt.
— Jigoro Kano, on his deathbed
On his deathbed, Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, asked to be buried in a white belt. He was beginning a new journey, where he was a beginner again.
In order to change, you need to stop trying to immediately put on the master’s black belt before you are ready. Put on the white belt right from the start. Do not be ashamed of your status. Only be concerned with your direction. The right direction is to start with a white belt. It will be humbling, but it is the way to achieve mastery of any skill.
Anyone who wears a white belt should impress you.
4. People Who Listen More Than They Speak Should Impress You
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
— Dalai Lama
I once heard a story about Lady Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill. In the same week, she had dinner with two of the great leaders in English history, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.
Gladstone was a brilliant man who could captivate anyone near him. Someone asked Lady Churchill: what did you think of Mr. Gladstone?
Lady Churchill answered: “When I sat next to Mr. Gladstone, I was sure he was the most clever man in all of England.”
Disraeli’s intellect matched Gladstone’s. The same person asked Lady Churchill what she thought of Mr. Disraeli.
Lady Churchill’s answer was different: “When I sat next to Mr. Disraeli for an evening, I thought I was the most clever woman in all of England!”
Keeping your mouth shut is hard. But actually listening while you do it is even harder.
The most underrated person in the world is a good listener. So many problems are solved by someone who listens to you.
I have been to countless “networking” events. I have noticed the same person at each event: the person whose eyes dart around looking for the “right” person to talk to. I have even been that person.
But how often have you met the person who only asked questions about you and then listened until you were done talking? And then when you were done, he asked another question — about you.
It is rare. It is incredible. People who listen more than they speak should impress you.
5. Diagnosis Before Prescription Should Impress You
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
— Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount
Receiving blind advice can be fatal. You need to remove the log from your own eye before you complain about the sliver in someone else’s.
A few years ago, I had a short conversation with an acquaintance. I remember that the person gave me a piece of advice about my career that I did not agree with. I was so frustrated that I called one of my mentors and he identified the source of the frustration immediately.
“Prescription before diagnosis.”
“It is like a doctor giving you a prescription before actually doing a diagnosis. Of course it is frustrating. If a doctor did that, you would not trust them one bit.”
He was exactly right.
Most people want to give you advice about your own life. Sadly, most people should not be giving advice, period.
If you are going to trust a doctor’s prescription, then you should demand that the doctor spend time with you and ask questions. Only then is the prescription meaningful.
Furthermore, you would never trust a doctor who prescribes before diagnosis. So why would you trust anyone else who does that?
But when someone listens and asks the right questions needed to make a diagnosis, then it is impressive.
People who diagnose before giving a prescription are rare. And they should impress you.
6. Gratitude Should Impress You
You do not have to do anything. You get to.
If you are reading this, you have so many blessings and gifts that you are taking for granted.
On November 1, 2010, I received a call from my wife as I was dropping my four-month-old son off at childcare. I was just about to start driving to my first law school class of the day. It was a Monday morning.
“I was in a car accident on Saginaw. It was bad. Oh wait, I have to go.” And she hung up.
I raced to Saginaw — except it is a long road. I spent nearly an hour going up and down the street. There was no sign of an accident. I had no idea what to think. Would I see my wife again? Would I have to raise my son alone?
Then, she called. She was at the hospital. She sent me a picture of her bruised wrist and hand. It did not look normal. She was seriously injured. The accident was not her fault. But she had to have surgery that night.
I spent the night in the hospital with her. She woke up multiple times, in pain.
At one point, she woke up and told me this: “I really hope God is using this car accident to teach someone a lesson, because this is a lot of pain.”
She had nine surgeries in three years, along with plates and dozens of screws in her arm and wrist. She had to feed a hungry baby, with a wrist that was a “bunch of mush” according to the doctor. She could not even pick up her own baby without help. Yet, she still worked to support our family.
Every time I look at her long, faded scars on her wrist, I am so grateful for her.
You do not have to do anything. You get to.
Life is short. It may not feel that way now. But it only takes one event to make it short.
You need to look at life as a privilege. We need to celebrate people who are grateful.
Gratitude should impress you.
7. Extreme Generosity Should Impress You
Giving when you have much is much different than giving when you have nothing.
Right after I graduated high school, I had the opportunity to visit international refugee camps. I traveled with other young people. The group’s goal was to serve the people in those refugee camps by cleaning the streets, picking up trash, and doing anything else that might be needed.
When we arrived, the camp was heartbreaking. People were living in the equivalent of plastic sheds, barely more accommodating than cardboard boxes.
Since we were in a foreign country, our guides told us not to drink the water or even eat any fruits or vegetables, as we could get sick.
We spent hot morning and afternoons picking up garbage: cups, boxes, wrappers, papers, dirt, grime, cigarettes, trash.
One day, an old woman walked up to us and grabbed one person’s hand in our group. She pulled us into one of the “boxes”. One of our guides had to translate what she said.
She was welcoming us into her home.
We walked through an impromptu doorway. The air was dusty and dry. There was no floor, only well-worn dirt. There was a dirty, dusty blanket in the corner, along with a few gray boxes with her possessions. The ceiling was low and translucent.
This was her home.
The woman pulled something out of one of her boxes. It was a small watermelon.
Our guide explained the gesture. She was welcoming us into her home. Culturally, she felt obliged to provide food when someone visited her home. She did not have much food — barely any — but she willingly was giving us what she could.
We weighed our desire to avoid sickness against the desire to avoid offending this woman. Our guide nodded, signaling to us that was okay to accept her food.
In one moment, I have never felt more humbled. This woman’s gift was of an amount that I have never experienced. She was giving nearly all of her possessions — food — to us to welcome us as guests. We ate the watermelon. We did not think of how we would be affected. There is a sense of honor and respect when one gives so much to you.
Now, whenever I think of giving, I cannot help but think of this woman and her generosity. We can all learn from her.
This was extreme generosity. Extreme generosity should impress you.
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