The Little Things Impress Me Most

What impresses you? It’s a crucial question, because it says a lot about your goals, values, and purpose. Everyday we compare, evaluate, and judge. We watch others’ decisions, preferences, and outcomes in an effort to optimize our own lives. Yet what we consider to be signal, and noise, is critical to how we adjust our thinking and behavior.

The truth is that at various times in my life, I’ve been impressed by what I would now consider to be nothing more than noise. My admiration of others’ cars, houses, awards, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, employee counts, high-dollar exits, book deals, speaking engagements, and notable friends all added up to a lot of confusion in my life.

Eventually I figured out that the trappings of success don’t amount to much. If achieved, they quickly fade and don’t lead to any sense of enduring happiness. Nice things can be bought on credit. VC-fueled startup rockets often return to earth violently. Awardees usually stumble when the spotlight swings somewhere else.

But even if those things aren’t admirable, surely “successful” people must be smarter, more thoughtful, and more enjoyable to be around, right?

As I’ve had the opportunity to observe a wide variety people and situations, it has become clear that someone’s business and financial success bears very little correlation with my admiration of them, or my enjoyment of their company. My theory is that financial success is largely driven by luck, which makes the traits of the “successful” mostly random.

The longer I live, the more I’m impressed by the little things. I find it admirable when people show up on time. It’s small, but signals a respect for others and a general order to one’s life. I appreciate a simple “thank you,” which unfortunately is rare. Occasionally I’ll get a handwritten note. Talk about a show-stopper.

The people I admire most think long-term, see nuances, and ask questions. They consistently sacrifice immediate pleasure for delayed gratification. They don’t try to reinforce their prejudices, or world-view, but instead are intellectually curious and genuinely interested in the truth. They’re also learning machines, constantly reading, listening to podcasts, or exploring new subjects. They understand the world is complicated and rarely fits a simple narrative, leading to a comfortable humility about their own viewpoints.

My favorite people struggle with life’s big questions and work hard to have an opinion, seeking to understand and appreciate the other side’s argument inside-out. They’re slow to give advice and frequently say, “I don’t know,” because they’re not an expert on a given topic. But when they do offer commentary, it is reasoned, authoritative, and rightfully confident.

They consistently try to gain perspective by lowering expectations, putting themselves in others’ shoes, and practicing gratitude for what they have. They don’t try to hide their unique oddities and are comfortable being themselves. They’re a little weird, and proud of it.

Professionally, passion and pride impress me. Regardless of their chosen occupation, they passionately seek excellence. They treat clients and customers with respect. They do what they say they’re going to do, when they’re going to do it, for the price they quoted. They understand the only sustainable way to do business is through win-win relationships. They think creatively about how to best serve their customers, co-workers, and partners. And most of all, they’re thankful for the opportunity to do what they do.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the topic of admiration and the influence it has on my life. By surrounding myself with people that impressively do the little things, I hope some of it rubs off. To those who know me, watch out for a handwritten note. I apologize if it’s not legible.

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Brent Beshore is the founder and CEO of adventur.es, a family of companies throughout North America. Read more of Brent’s writings on investing, operating, risk, and not being an asshole. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.