Life lessons

Will Lukang, PMP, CSM,  MBA, MASCL

As we go through life, we learn valuable lessons that help us grow and develop.    Some lessons are learned the hard way while others are part of growing pains.   Personally, I believe that there are three ways of learning:

1) Life experiences—growing pains
2) Readings—things we read because of our interest
3) Shared experiences—those lessons people share with us because they went through it already.

According to my colleague Barry Houldsworth, the 4th way to learn things is to teach a subject.     In his experience,  whenever he teaches a subject he learn more than the students.  Because he makes it a point of trying to anticipate as many questions as possible.

A quote from Dan Rather resonates with me the most; it goes like this, “If all difficulties are known from the onset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all,”  because people would avoid the pain and agony that comes with learning the lessons.  However, without the lessons learned we would never improve and develop to be the person that we are today.

Here are some of the lessons that I learned. I wished that I knew these 10 years ago.

Big rocks and small rocks—We need to learn to prioritize what matters to us the most.  We need to take care of the big rocks. Once you took care of all of them, then is the only time you should tackle the small rocks.  Big rocks are what matter to you the most, like health, family, education, etc.  Small rocks are demands other people put on you that may or may not be related to you, but nonetheless they expect you to help them get it done.   It means you need to narrow your focus to the top three goals that are really important to you that, if you don’t achieve them, nothing else you accomplished would really matter.

It‘s okay to make a mistake—No one expect us to be perfect.  If we are always perfect then we are not developing and growing.   In essence there would be no progress.    Sometime people are too cautious to try new ways of doing things because they are afraid to make a mistake.   But when we make mistakes and learn from them, the stickiness of it lasts a long time.   Chances are you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.    Personally speaking, the best lessons I learned are from the mistakes that I made along the way.  I call them growing pains. It is indeed painful, but the lessons I learned stays with me.

Make sure each of your touch point is positive—Early on in my career, I thought that my technical skill was all I needed to get to where I wanted to be.  I was confident that I’m technically capable of reaching my career goal and making it happen.   I had some successes, but I realized human relationship is equally important.   How we deal with others is a reflection of who we are.   We are judged by our connection and touch point.   We need to make sure we treat everyone with respect and each encounter we have will be positive.

Pay it forward—I believe in sharing what we learn with others.  When someone does something nice for us, pay it forward by helping others.   There is nothing wrong with sharing.  By sharing, we empower others and enable them to achieve more.  It also promotes a sense of community.

You always have a choice—Humanity is given two gifts no matter your status and social class.  We have a gift of time and choice: a gift of time to spend however we wish and a gift of choice on how we react to things that happen to us.   For example, on my way to work, someone cut me off and I almost got in an accident.  I can choose to be pissed and curse to no end, or I can just shrug it off and be thankful that I was able to react quickly.  It is also true for unfortunate things that happen to us.  I personally often look for the bright side of any given situation.   The positive attitude helps me in dealing with the challenges ahead, because I am able to see opportunities that I would not notice if I focused on the negative things.  See my post on positive thinking.

Layoff e-mail for negative comments—Negative comments are best served face to face.   This way there will be no confusion and misinterpretation.  Besides it gives both parties the opportunity to discuss the situation and resolve the issue.   From a personal standpoint, I thought that I could best articulate things in writing, but time and time again it backed fired.   So, save yourself some trouble and avoid sending e-mails that have negative sentiments.

In God we trust, all else bring data (W.  Edward Deming)—No one can argue with facts.   The fact’s the master and it is black and white.   Therefore, gather all your data and make sure you have them before you argue your point.

Compete with yourself and not with others—Our situation and circumstances are different, therefore we cannot draw a clear comparison no matter how you argue your point.  Highlight your value proposition and what you can bring to the table and do not compare yourself to the person next door because you think you’re a better performer.   Let your performance speak for itself.  See my post on competing with yourself.

Create a plan otherwise you’ll be working on other people’s plan—The reality is that you will change jobs or career a few times throughout your life.  If you don’t have a career plan, you can plan to fail. Some people spend a big part of their life climbing the proverbial corporate ladder only to find out once they reached the top that they’ve climbed the wrong ladder.    So, I urge you to create a plan and track your progress.   Seek the help of a mentor and ask for advice on how to best maximize your learning.  Keep a scorecard and understand where you stand at any given point in time.

You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s method and be in business tomorrow—Don’t expect to rest on your laurels just because you have a college degree.  You need to continuously improve yourself and learn new things.  Everything is changing around us; technology is moving at a fast pace.   Even business changes as new rules or products are introduced in the marketplace.   If you don’t keep up, you’ll end up like the old tool in the tool shed that will never be used and become obsolete.    Always be on the lookout for the current trends and invest the time to learn them.

It’s not about the numbers, it’s about people—It is ironic that management focuses on the numbers.   While managing your bottom line is very important, it is equally important to have happy employees, because your customer can sense that your employees are happy during their interaction.   I believe in connecting with the people around me and engaging them.   Let them know how their work contributes to the overall goal of the company.   Show your appreciation and let them know you care about them by recognizing their contribution.   It’s not about numbers

Chase your passion and not the paycheck—Find a career that you really love.  Do not make the mistake of taking a job that pays you the most.    Because you need to love what you do in order to be motivated otherwise you will be miserable and unhappy.   It will be a chore instead of a fruitful career.

Learn to say “NO”—Sometimes people we work with put a lot a pressure on us to deliver.  While in most cases it is justified, sometimes it is a bit too much.   Learn to say “NO”, otherwise you will fail to deliver and will affect your reputation.   It is important to manage expectation.   One of the critical skills we must develop is managing up.  Meaning we need to manage the expectation of the people we work for.  It does not mean we can slack off, but rather we need to let them know that we are there to help them make it happen. However, be careful when your plate is overflowing that you are not over committing and end up failing to deliver.

As we go through life, we reflect on the things that happen to us.   We analyze what went wrong and determine what we could have done better.    I thought I shared the things that I learned along the way.  I wished that I learned some of them early on in my career.   The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences.   I hope others can leverage my experiences and don’t make the same mistake I did.

In closing, I’ll end with my personal quote, “There are a lot of opportunities for us to complain about what we don’t have in life.  However, our time is best spent on thinking about how to get to where we want to be.  It is your choice.  You can pay now or pay later; either way you have to pay.” —Will Lukang



  1. All great stuff – as always.

    I wanted to add that IMHO there is a 4th way to learn things – teach a subject.

    Whenever I teach a subject I learn more than the students – in large part because I make a point of trying to anticipate as many questions as possible.

    To quote Russel Ackoff “The amount a document can teach its readers is proportional to the amount of learning the author experienced in preparing it. ” I think that goes for many other areas too.

    Thanks for a great read!

  2. Execellent post Will. I especially agree on the comment on learning and teaching. In 2007, I taught 2 cohorts at the Masters level on Leadership and Innovation at Grand Canyon University. My students were mostly leaders from the public safety arena(police, fire, and prisons) – not your normal business students. I learned a lot about the business side of leadership and innovation in preparing lessons and discussions that would be relevant to them. It forced ME to look at the subject in a whole new way.

  3. Thanks for this post. I definitely agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so hopefully this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

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