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Leadership Lessons We Learn TOO LATE

Leadership Lessons We Learn TOO LATE

Leadership Lessons We Learn TOO LATE

If only………………….., knowing what I now know I would have done ……………….A, B, C, D! Sound familiar? We’ve all been there and done that, however it’s never too late to learn. Take yourself back to a time when you were learning and growing at a younger age and the exhilaration it gave you. Now is the time, to explore curiosity and learning as a future leadership lessons.

“The joys—and occasional embarrassments—of being a novice could be an antidote to the strain of being a perfectionist” – Anon


In Business Insider, Nicolas Cole refers to 7 crucial lessons people often learn too late in life.” Lessons are full of wisdom because they often have to be learned the hard way. However, the hardest part about that process is realizing that sometimes not every opportunity lasts forever. You finally “get it” long after the fact. If possible, it’s best to learn these things sooner rather than later:

  • If you want to ‘do what you love,’ you have to work three times as hard as everyone else
  • Beneath anger is always fear
  • Our everyday habits form our future selves
  • Your emotions take practice
  • Everyone has his or her own agenda
  • Achievement will never be as fulfilling as the journey
  • Working hard and laughter are not mutually exclusive


Margaret Talbot asks in the New Yorker, “Is It Really Too Late to Learn New Skills?” You may have missed your chance to be a prodigy, but there’s still growth left for grownups. Among the things I have not missed since entering middle age is the sensation of being an absolute beginner. It has been decades since I’ve sat in a classroom in a gathering cloud of incomprehension (Algebra 2, tenth grade) or sincerely tried, lesson after lesson, to acquire a skill that was clearly not destined to play a large role in my life (modern dance, twelfth grade).

Learning to ride a bicycle in my early thirties was an exception—a little mortifying when my husband had to run alongside the bike, as you would with a child—but ultimately rewarding. Less so was the time when a group of Japanese schoolchildren tried to teach me origami at a public event where I was the guest of honour—I’ll never forget their sombre puzzlement as my clumsy fingers mutilated yet another paper crane.

Like Tom Vanderbilt, a journalist and the author of “Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning” (Knopf), I learn new facts all the time but new skills seldom. The prospect of reinventing myself as, say, a late-blooming skier or ceramicist or marathon runner sparks only an idle interest, something like wondering what it might be like to live in some small town you pass on the highway. If you love your job and find it intellectually and creatively fulfilling, you may not feel the urge to discover other rooms in the house of your mind, whatever hidden talents and lost callings may repose there. But there are less happy forces at work, too.

There’s the fear of being bad at something you think is worthwhile—and, maybe even more so, being seen to be bad at it—when you have accustomed yourself to knowing, more or less, what you’re doing. What’s the point of starting something new when you know you’ll never be much good at it? Starting all over at something would seem to put you right back into that emotional churn—exhilaration, self-doubt, but without the open-ended possibilities and renewable energy of youth.

Learning new skills later in life could be an antidote to the self-reported perfectionism that has grown steadily more prevalent among college students in the past three decades. Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, the authors of a 2019 study on perfectionism among American, British, and Canadian college students, have written that “increasingly, young people hold irrational ideals for themselves, ideals that manifest in unrealistic expectations for academic and professional achievement, how they should look, and what they should own,” and are worried that others will judge them harshly for their perceived failings. This is not, the researchers point out, good for mental health. Being willing to involve yourself in something you’re mediocre at but intrinsically enjoy, to give yourself over to the imperfect pursuit of something you’d like to know how to do for no particular reason, seems like a small form of resistance.

Tom Vanderbilt got motivated to start learning again during the time he spent waiting about while his young daughter did her round of lessons and activities. Vanderbilt’s search is for “the naïve optimism, the hypervigilant alertness that comes with novelty and insecurity, the willingness to look foolish, and the permission to ask obvious questions—the unencumbered beginner’s mind.” And so he tries to achieve competence, not mastery, in chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and making.

One problem with teaching an old dog new tricks is that certain cognitive abilities decline with age, and by “age” I mean starting as early as one’s twenties. Mental-processing speed is the big one. In a 2017 paper, Rachel Wu, a neuroscientist at U.C. Riverside, and her co-authors, George W. Rebok and Feng Vankee Lin, propose six factors that they think are needed to sustain cognitive development, factors that tend to be less present in people’s lives as they enter young adulthood and certainly as they grow old.

These include what the Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” the belief that abilities are not fixed but can improve with effort; a commitment to serious rather than “hobby learning” (in which “the learner casually picks up skills for a short period and then quits due to difficulty, disinterest, or other time commitments”); a forgiving environment that promotes what Dweck calls a “not yet” rather than a “cannot” approach; and a habit of learning multiple skills simultaneously, which may help by encouraging the application of capacities acquired in one domain to another. What these elements have in common, Wu and her co-authors point out, is that they tend to replicate how children learn.

I’d been out of touch with that sense of life as something that might encompass multiple possibilities for skill and artistry. But now I’ve been thinking about taking up singing in a serious way again, learning some of the jazz standards my mom, a professional singer, used to croon to me at bedtime. If learning like a child sounds a little airy-fairy, whatever the neuroscience research says, try recalling what it felt like to learn how to do something new when you didn’t really care what your performance of it said about your place in the world, when you didn’t know what you didn’t know. It might feel like a whole new beginning. 

GO Beyond Your Comfort Zone

In my blog, “The Top 15,” I highlight what is very evident in my courage and leadership lessons work where I regularly speak and work with successful people across the globe. Since 2007, I’ve spoken to over a 1,000 CEOs, executives, authors, politicians and even neuroscientists. When speaking to these individuals, I always notice common traits that they all have, which lead to their success. I’ve boiled all of these down into the top 15 things they have in common which are all about moving out of the comfort zone:

  • They courageously know when to stay, step up, start up and when to leave, They go above and beyond even if it takes courage,They are willing to courageous fail so they can eventually succeed, They have an action bias, They set real and courageous goals that they can accomplish, They truly take accountability for themselves and their actions 
  • They lead change instead of being affected by it, They can communicate their story and what they stand for, They ask the right questions to the people who can deliver the right answers, They are life-long learners, They know who they are and their place in the world 
  • Using setbacks as steppingstones, They are more driven about the journey than the outcomes, They create instead of just consume 
  • They don’t shy away from tough conversations 

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

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Stay Kind. Stay Courageous.

Sonia x