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My Biggest Life Lesson at 47

Turning 47 hits differently than any other birthday. It might be because we are in the midst of this weird year, or it may be a slow awakening from 2 years of lockdowns. Nevertheless, waking up yesterday felt like starting all over again, in a good way. There was a sense of clarity and mostly a realization I felt far from being done.

My 40th birthday is a day I can still vividly remember. It was the moment I put a massive amount of pressure on myself. Without an apparent reason, I felt the need to deliver on everything in the next 10 years: all in, and no breaks. I wanted to right every wrong and become a perfect version of myself. In the meantime, I failed to realize I was setting myself up for failure instead of success. Whenever I was looking for change or improvement in my life, I wanted to take giant leaps forward instead of small incremental steps. It wasn’t until recent years that small incremental change is more sustainable and a fun way of learning new skills.

My life lessons, for some reason, always take me back to sports. In 2020 I had a pretty bad knee injury from a running event, and I wanted to get back to running as soon as possible. A few months into recovery, I decided to train at full speed, and before I knew it the knee injury was back and even more intense than before. Recovery had to start all over again. Luckily, I had some fantastic runners in my network who helped me recover properly. This meant slow and tedious runs for a long time, so I could heal my knee and, in the process, make it stronger. I was not too fond of the boring runs; they felt like they took forever. After 6 months, I finally understood the importance of these slow runs. My knee was getting better, and my average run pace was much faster. The confidence in my runs increased as well — all due to small incremental changes over a longer time.

This slow growth process (as I like to call it) works for many things, not just sports. It has helped me in relationships and at work. Yes, you often want to go head first into a new idea or project. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it helps to have your fundamentals in order even when you’re rushing into new adventures. Slow growth creates lasting habits, and lasting habits help you build strong fundamentals. When I was younger, it surprised me that successful people always had time to respond to an email within a short time. They were in control of their time. It sounds trivial, but it says a lot about how they approach their professional life. They created lasting habits.

People always ask what you would tell your 23-old self. I don’t think I have anything to say other than:

  • Take your time. Life can’t and shouldn’t be rushed.
  • Become an expert. Often we are trying to hedge our bets by becoming generalists. It might be a weird thing to say, but there are many benefits to completely owning or mastering a skill. However, as your career shapes up, a deep understanding of a topic will be beneficial. Don’t be afraid to say no to 10 projects and focus only on 1 or 2. When you stick to those 2 projects, the long-term personal benefits will be very gratifying. The challenge is to stay focused even when these projects don’t give you immediate returns.
  • You will get hurt. I am sorry, but there is no way around this. Your character, integrity, and values will get tested. Important is how you bounce back from disappointment and pain. The most important lessons I have learned are: keep talking, share your pain and never lose sight of what is important to you. The rest you will figure out along the way.

At 47, I am learning more than ever, feeling more confident, and I can’t remember being more fit than I am now. Slow growth gives peace of mind and deeper insights.

Growth is not something you can hack. You have to go through it because there is no way around it.

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Michael H. Lints

Partner at Golden Gate Ventures, husband, proud father of 2 and fanatic cyclist and runner. More about me @ www.michaellints.com