Lessons from my 1-Year Old Daughter: Life and Business

My daughter turned one recently. In the past ~year I’ve been fascinated by her development and worldview. I’ve learned more from her than I ever expected; it has been humbling and gratifying. Children don’t carry our biases, inhibitions, experiences, or norms. They just: are, do, live, learn. The following are some of the critical skills and lessons I’ve picked up that are fundamental for life and business.

Curiosity

Her appetite for exploration, discovery, and combination of disparate parts of her knowledge are incredible. Children are learning machines and are constantly tinkering; this is something we lose as we are processed through narrow institutions — social, corporate, educational and so on. It’s the most important life skill and critical to creativity, happiness, innovation, and invention. We think we understand our world far better than we actually do and admitting that is the first step towards real education. As curious as I thought I was, she’s reinvigorated my journey.

Energy

On the topic of reinvigoration, her energy is inspiring. From the moment she wakes up she is ready to live. There’s no snoozing. No complaining. She attacks her day full of life and enthusiasm approaching everything ambitiously. During those waking hours she maximizes her time through immersion in whatever activity or undertaking she pursues. She’s present and whatever is happening in the moment matters. When it’s time to reenergize she makes that clear and switches off.

Communication

We could all use a lesson in clarity. It’s hard to truly appreciate the gravity of non-verbal communication until: (i) human-animal, (ii) adult-non-speaking child, or (iii) human-human(different language/culture). My daughter doesn’t yet speak, but that does not hinder communication. It’s generally clear what she wants, likes, dislikes, and feels. Too much time is lost to poor communication due to passive aggressive politics, lack of attention and precision, or a failure to listen.

No Preconceptions

She doesn’t have preconceived notions and ideas that limit her ability or willingness to engage. We’re always at risk of bias and lazy thinking and that’s dangerous because our default filters tilt towards self-selection; we crave the familiar. This is a true at the institutional level — glass ceilings, lack of diversity in corporations or VC — as well as the individual level — echo chambers, social circles. Strong opinions held loosely is where you want to end up. A good place to start is no opinions without having done the hard work to form them.

Persistence

There aren’t many things she considers true barriers. Obstacles are to be traversed, not always successfully immediately, but she generally comes back with a new approach. She is not self conscious. She isn’t focused on others — competitors, colleagues, friends, random people on social media — she’s compounding knowledge and experience and getting better day-by-day. She babbles, plays, explores, and lives like nobody is watching.

External social or competitive pressure starts to inhibit our success when we feel too invested or like we have something to protect. When the judgement, approval, or agreement of others regarding a course of action or outcome matters more than anything else, it’s hard to truly succeed under those circumstances. Keynes has a great quote: “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.” Internal scorecards are enduring and healthier. Stay focused and independent of mind and have the courage to follow the course.

Short Memory

She’s not obsessed with the past. She doesn’t remember the tumbles or accidents and impute that into a selfish world view. This is water. She learns and moves forward making her resilient and optimistic. The world is, on balance, a good place. If we live our lives with that simple outlook it has immense consequence on our experiences, how we interpret our environment, and what we can do to improve our circumstance.

Contentment

I doubt it’s news to anyone that kids don’t need much as far as ‘things’ go. Love, support, and encouragement go a long way. With all the toys, books, and trinkets, she still prefers emptying cupboards filled with pots and pans, playing with remote controls, and fiddling with the printer. Although, she’s always interested in reading time.

Purely by disposition, she brings joy to others by being full of joy herself. The Gandhi quote “be the change you want to see in the world” comes to mind when I see her interact. It’s a fundamental truth. Everything is a choice, but first, you must know you have one. Contentment isn’t a great fundamental driver of business success, but it sure helps personally in the long term.