Last week, among other things, I wrote about a life-changing perspective that came from a meditation class. It made me think about how some of the best business advice I've been given didn't come from a management text book or a training course. Much of it came from real life people who never sat in a board room, negotiated a deal or got their creative approved by the CMO. As I thought over my list, it also occurred to me that it also has a recurring theme - simplicity. But brilliance often masquerades as simplicity for the amount of time it takes for it to percolate through your brain and to form the word "....oh". While we're talking great wisdom, here's my own: never mistake simple for easy. In this case, simple is more like, WHY DIDN''T I KNOW THAT ALREADY?!
As a coach I first need to write a disclaimer, because if there were such a thing as the commandments of coaching, the first would be Thou Shalt Not Give Advice. Which is very sensible and as it should be, because a coach is not qualified to give prescriptive advice on the fundamental and unarguable grounds that a coach is not their client. No matter how many knots you've untied together, how similar a job title you've held, or whether it sounds exactly like that situation you faced in 2012, a coach does not live their client's life. Nor do they understand their client's job or coworkers or business culture first hand, or most importantly, have a 360 view of any given situation because their window into it is their client, which is never going to be an objective opinion. All of which is why ever saying "you should do this.. because that's what I would do" earns a big red X on your coaching exams.
However, there is a difference between advice and wisdom. Advice is an instruction, wisdom is perspective for you to try on and see if it fits. As the person on the receiving end, it's up to you whether it's a garment you add to your daily wardrobe, tear off your body like the world's least flattering bikini, or put it on a closet shelf marked "maybe one day if go to an appropriate event". As long as it's given in that spirit, wisdom is more than OK in coach land, or at least in the coach land I live in.
And so maybe instead of calling it advice, I should say here is the first in a series of wise things I try to remember all the time.
#1"Take No Notice" - Mike Hogan
Grandad Hogan, or at least his presence, has made it into more appraisals, meetings and workplace conversations than anyone else on my list. Mike Hogan was what they call a character. Because he's (physically) no longer with us, we will never know how many of his stories were true. Did he really drive down the street with the Beatles on the roof of his wagon "messing around making some film or something?" Spend some time as a gigolo? Play a piano in a brothel? Get arrested for murder (mistaken identity, released without charge)? Raid a dockland warehouse for food to feed the poor, escape on a raft, only to drift back to shore and the waiting police because he didn't have anything to row with and couldn't swim? Marry my grandmother because he'd done something bad (unspecified) and he deserved the punishment? Had you met Mike with his mouth organ, his accordion, his bottle of tepid Guinness hidden under the seat away from the glare of Madam X (as he called my grandmother when she wasn't around) you probably would have been as enchanted with him as everyone else, and also forgiven him what may have been a few tall tales.
I guess Mike went to at least some of high school, although I don't remember school being part of any of his stories. He certainly never went to college. He drove a horse and cart while there were still some around, and in his later days used to stack the supermarket trolleys ("carts" for those in the US) at Tesco in all weathers to supplement his pension and, as he'd say after a tepid Guinness or two, keep him out of the way of Madam X. He lived in government-subisdised housing (in the UK we call it council housing) all his life. My point is, Mike didn't have the luxury of an education or the opportunities that would have given him. But he had a way of saying things that nobody else has ever quite lived up to, and his most-repeated wisdom is the one that my sister's description gives the title of this article - #1 best advice in life.
Take no notice.
That's all. Read the words and let them roll around your head. At the face of it, you're probably thinking.... really? That's it?
Now imagine you've been shot down in a meeting when when you had something you know was valuable to contribute.
Or received a dismissive email from your boss to a perfectly reasonable question.
Or been told that someone is "disappointed" that you haven't signed up for the "totally optional" work event on a weekend.
Or been given feedback based on someone's perception of you gleaned from one event that doesn't even begin to come close to who you know you are the other 364 days and 23 and a half hours of the year.
Or been told that you might think that job X is a good choice for you, but you should really be thinking of something else if you want to build your career the way you should be.
In other words, think of all the times you've been subjected to someone else's opinion or poor actions and it's got to you; seemed desperately unfair, plagued you with self doubt, deflated you, poked a hole in your confidence, upset you, made you question why you bother, what your choices have been so far in life... you get the idea I'm sure.
Now imagine that you'd taken no notice. How much better would that feel?
Please understand the full meaning, not the literal translation. "Take no notice" does not mean - you are always right and never need to listen. It doesn't mean - stop growing now, you've got it all figured out. And it doesn't mean - feedback is unwelcome here.
What it does means is - decide whether what this person thinks or does really matters to you before you decide whether you react. Decide whether reacting will achieve anything different, change anyone's mind, and even more so, whether it matters if either of those things even happen. And if it's not worth your time and energy, just let it go. It's not your problem.
If you have read the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, it's a similar idea: care about the things that matter and not about the things that don't. Except said in one sentence, with a Liverpool/Irish accent, probably followed by a jig on the mouth organ and the words "jolly hell".
But it doesn't stop there, because I've thought about this phrase so many times and realised there's even more to it than meets the eye. It's a sign of true compassion. When someone tells you to take no notice, they are telling you that they can see that you are in pain, even if you haven't specifically said so. They are not judging you for the thing that has caused you such upset and whether or not it's a justified reaction. There's no stoking the flames of anger with solidarity indignation, or, at the other end of the spectrum, asking why you're getting so worked up about nothing. Just an acknowledgment of - I know, get it. And it's a moment of cool calm, a voice of reason that takes you out of your reaction for a moment. The ability to step out of your thoughts and feelings and observe them instead of letting them control you is a whole thread of psychotherapy that I'm not even remotely qualified to talk about, but taking no notice is a pretty good start.
I can't tell you the number of times I have said the words "Take no notice" to myself, to family, my friends, my team members, my coworkers. They are like a balm that soothes the soul. And like any wise advice, they get better with familiarity, and then one day you find yourself saying them to someone else. Try it this week. Or, you know, don't, because otherwise I'm giving you advice and as we all know, that's not allowed.
Next week: Madam X's words to live by strike an equally profound but very different note.