In our twenties and thirties, we discover those figures we idolize and want to emulate. And like the young boy who pretends to shave next to his dad or the little girl who wants to start using her mom’s makeup, we do our best to be like our heroes. We end up copying their actions without understanding the thinking behind those actions. As a result, we get frustrated when their results don’t look like ours.
“You’re asking the wrong question.”
While attending a leadership seminar, I watched the two primary speakers host a joint session for live Q&A with the audience. One man came to the microphone and directed his question to one of the speakers. “How do you put together your talks? I’m a public speaker and I think you’re phenomenal. I’d love to learn from your process.”
The speaker replied, “You’re asking the wrong question.” Everyone was shocked by the bold answer.
Once the murmuring stopped, the speaker continued. “I could tell you my process but it wouldn’t actually help you because my process is a reflection of who I am and what works for me. You’re not me. So, I’m not going to answer your question. I will, however, tell you a little bit about how I think about preparing for a talk. You shouldn’t copy what I do, but we can all learn from the way someone else thinks.”
Three People We Should Think Like
If that leadership speaker was correct and learning to think like our heroes and idols is more important than copying their tactics, how should we be thinking during the beginning of our adult lives and careers?
From my own experience and the wisdom of my mentors, I’ve discovered three ways to think which have helped me avoid the pitfalls my friends and peers have fallen into themselves.
1. Think like a farmer
As a pastor, I’m well aware of the Scriptures’ teaching about the power of our actions. Even the non-religious know the phrase, “a man reaps what he sows.” This phrase can be found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. When we watch someone make a series of bad choices and then pay the price, we often say, “well, you reap what you sow.”
While we know this phrase, I think we still struggle to think like farmers. To think like a farmer is to be patient. Jon Mertz, a Millennial mentor who also happens to be a Baby-Boomer, offers practical and insightful career advice at his website, ThinDifference.com. In an interview I did with Jon, he shared some insights from watching his dad.
“I am a farmer’s son. I learned farmers control very little when you think about it. They can choose the crops they plant, and they can mostly choose when they plant. Care for the land is essential as well. Beyond this, what happens is uncontrollable.
Weather brings bounty or wreaks havoc. Farmers have no control, yet they plant seeds each year. Farmers have a steely faith. This is a faith in what is possible, along with a faith in overcoming obstacles. Farmers pray. Farmers give. Farmers plant for growth.
What helps me gain courage is to remember what farmers do every day.”
Thinking like farmers mean approaching life with patience, controlling what we can while courageously responding to what we can’t.
2. Think like a writer
Ernest Hemingway was one of the most famous writers of the twentieth-century. His books of poetry and prose still move many today. And his use of French notebooks led to the success of Moleskine journals too.
One of my favorite Hemingway quotes is “the first draft of everything is (crap).” This quote was one of the first things I learned in my writing career. And it’s the reason you’re not reading the first draft of this article, but more like the fifth.
This current phase of our life feels like it’s everything. Because seemingly everyone we know is watching our lives via social media, we feel like we cannot fail, much less even stumble. We’re also tempted to believe every win means permanent success and every loss means permanent failure.
Millennial guru, Paul Angone, uses this metaphor about perseverance. “Success in your 20s is having the courage to write a crappy first draft. Then 7 re-writes later, you start really understanding your story.”
If we’re thinking like writers, then we know successful poetry or prose rarely comes out in the first draft. Decent writing is transformed into writing that sings and shines through ruthless editing. Amateur writers resist editing, while professionals embrace it. We need to start thinking like writers. We should show up every day and make something new, knowing through the editing process, we’ll refine our ideas and discover the true gold.
3. Think like a winemaker
A few years ago, my wife and I celebrated our fifth anniversary with a trip to Northern California wine country. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast, visited the ocean, drove slowly down back roads and toured many vineyards.
At one vineyard, I noticed the irrigation system near the vines and asked the guide how often they watered the vines. He replied, “As little as possible.”
Shocked, I answered how the vines got water in the seasons without rain. He said, “We have to make the vines chase the moisture within the soil. If we water the vines too much, the roots will remain weak, the grapes will be fat and plump (like we buy at the store) and the wine will be unsellable.”
I’m obviously still thinking about that conversation today. The winery’s approach to their vines has become my model for thinking about adversity. Instead of avoiding it, we should embrace it! In fact, it is the adversity we face in our twenties and thirties (and our response to it) which will often direct and define our future success.
When we think like a winemaker, we’re not looking for the easiest and most comfortable option, but the one which will best prepare us for our goals. We embrace the challenge, the difficulty and the obstacles because we know they’ll shape who we become.
Creating the Future
French philosopher Rene Descartes famously said, “Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.” We have the power to change the way we think about our past, interpret our present experiences and look toward the future. By changing how we think, we can control how we respond to the events we can’t plan for nor expect.
Who are you thinking like? Who are you learning from as you make your life today?