Reviewing Good and Bad

Marcus Aurelius has a great way of thinking about the events which occur throughout our lifetime and the way in which we react to those events. Part of the stoic philosophy involves rational thought before emotional action, and through reflection Aurelius explains what he thinks of the way we often look at good and bad events in the world. He writes, “…good and evil should happen indiscriminately to the good and the bad. But death certainly, and life, honor and dishonor, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil.” What is great about the way that Aurelius looks at the events that happen in our life is that he does not dwell on whether they are overall positive or negative, and he does not fret about why good things happen for bad people or why bad things happen to good people.  His thoughts are filled with a level of realism and pragmatism that we don’t often build into our own lives.  He takes the world as it is, and  tries to identify how to best move forward given the situation and experiences that we all face and share.


What I like about Aurelius’ quote, which is an idea he brings up throughout Meditations, is the focus on the perspective that we bring to all of our experiences and the idea that we are constantly trying to judge and keep track of our life.  We can spend time and mental focus worrying about why good or bad things happen to us, and we can continually judge our experiences as good or bad, but ultimately, this thought does not get us where we want to go. What we see as either positive, neutral, or negative can be interpreted in widely different ways by people with different social economic status, racial backgrounds, and experiences.  What we may perceive as a positive event in our life could be a tragically negative event in the life of another person.  Rather than spending time ascribing a positive or negative qualifier to anything that happens in our life, Marcus Aurelius would argue that we should think of how an event impacts our lives and the lives of others, and we should move forward from that event in way that is guided by reason so that we can better grow and participate in society.


I think that Aurelius’ ideas parallel nicely with Bob Berg’s ideas about relationships from his book The Go Giver. Berg wrote about how we view what happens in relationships and what we expect to get our of relationships. When we enter a relationship, be it personal, sexual, business, or any other form, our expectations and desires will influence how well we connect with another.  If we can approach a relationship without worrying about whether something was good or bad for us, and without judging everything in terms of how it relates just to us, then we can grow and connect better with others. Berg writes about being selfless in relationships and avoiding the mental accounting of keeping track of the good that you receive verses the good that the other receives.  He writes that a focus on making sure each event is equally matched for both partners by another event of reciprocal value will eventually pull you apart.  When you can understand that good and bad things happen to you both equally, you can focus your relationship on the other person and what your goal is together.

Revealing Character

The character of our business leaders is a major factor for driving successful organizations in the world today, and having a strong moral character will continue to be the key difference maker among leadership teams of the top corporations in the world. This is the argument laid out in Return on Character written by Fred Kiel. In his book he advocates that leaders and leadership teams need to be comprised of individuals with strong character if they are to build real value for their shareholders, communities, and for those working for the company. Kiel gives us many examples of how character can help a company thrive and win in today’s business environment, and he starts his book by taking a deep look at just what character is.


Early on Kiel establishes that character is defined by our belief system and our daily actions and behaviors. “Character has to be expressed through behavior. Integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion don’t live inside us.  Our behavior, especially as demonstrated through our relationships with others, is where our character comes to life. Which means that, despite the common wisdom, character isn’t some hidden quality that no one can really know or assess.”


I like Kiel’s quote because it shows just how prominent our character truly is in our lives, and how important it is that our behaviors and interactions represent our true character.  It does not mean that we must go out of our way to be showy and ostentatious, but it does mean that our character should manifests itself in all of our actions, be they grand charitable acts, or small actions barely perceptible within a conversation.  In order to build this character we must develop a level of self-awareness which allows us to consider others and our actions toward others as much as we consider ourselves and our desires.  To foster the character needed to succeed in today’s business world we must be able to take our drive, passion, and focus for success, and recognize that we depend on others to reach the levels we desire.  By creating more value for others, as Bob Berg would suggest, we can begin to increase the strength of our relationships and develop a strong moral character that is based on being a great person towards others.


One of the ideas Bob Berg establishes in his business book The Go Giver is the idea that we have to abandon the long-held belief that compromise and progress are built through 50-50 splits in ideas, needs, plans, and desires. In his story, the main character’s mentor tells him, “Forget about fifty-fifty, son.  Fifty-fifty’s a losing proposition. The only winning proposition is one hundred percent. Make your win about the other person, go after what he wants.  Forget win-win—focus on the other person’s win.” Berg explains that this mindset, focusing on the other and not fighting to both agree on as much as possible, is what drives progress in business and helps people build networks of support.


Berg’s message is that fifty-fifty does not work because no one truly gets what they want, and no one get’s a complete package that really works.  When you approach the situation as Berg suggests with a focus on the other person, you are supporting them and genuinely doing your best to help them. The reason we should focus on the other is because they will recognize the assistance or service we provided them, and they will be more likely to help us in the future by returning for business, providing us with more contacts, or by supporting us in other situations. Relationships never stop being important in any context of life, including business, and approaching interactions with a mindset that is best suited to build relationships will help us all become successful and get what we want.


Being able to take Berg’s message and apply it to relationships and areas outside of life is what makes his point of view so powerful. Considering personal relationships, Berg’s idea fits in will with ideas about respect and trust.  If you only seem to approach others when you need things from them, and when you have your own interests in mind, others will notice.  It is hard to be completely genuine and focus more on what we can do for those around us, but doing so will lead to greater satisfaction, and greater friendships that will provide more for us in the long run.

Why We Work

According to Bob Berg in his book The Go Giver there are three basic reasons that we work. In his story laid out in The Go Giver he introduces us to the three reasons by having his protagonist speak to one of his mentors about success, motivation, and drive.  Prindar, the mentor of the story guiding our protagonist Joe, explains his idea behind the three terms, survive, save, and serve. “They are the three universal reasons for working. Survive—to meet your basic living needs. Save—to go beyond your basic needs and expand your life. And serve—to make a contribution to the world around you.”


I find this quote to be interesting because it hits our most basic motivation or need to work. It also helps us see exactly why we are working and gives us a chance to truly consider why we are striving as hard as we are, and what we are driving toward.  If we have an idea of success that does not line up with one of the three basic reasons for working, then we may not be enjoying what we are doing, and we may not be bringing our best self to what we are doing.


One of the first thoughts I had was about survival.  If we are working to survive then we should ask ourselves just how much of what we have and think of as necessities we could do without.  Perhaps we are working hard and pushing ourselves and feeling as though we are just getting by, but we are living with far more things and luxuries than what we truly need just to survive.  In this sense a minimalist approach to life may help us enjoy what we do and reduce how much we need to work to maintain what we need to survive, all the while boosting happiness. The Minimalist Podcast produced by Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus focuses on this idea and discusses ways in which we can simplify and better enjoy our lives when we can abandon our focus on material possessions and wealth. I think that their message lines up well with Berg’s ideas about surviving, saving, and serving, and through their life journey the two minimalists are able to explain ways in which serving becomes more valuable than the items which clutter our homes.


On the other hand, perhaps when we look at our reasons to work and consider a basic level of survival, we can take a more empathetic view of those around us and those who are in poverty.  When we look at the jobs people do and understand that in many situations they are doing any work possible for survival, then we can approach them and adjust our attitudes to help them in the work they do. This is a big shift for many people, and requires a level of self-awareness that is not easy to attain.  Berg’s philosophy helps us appreciate those who do work that we would abhor as opposed to antagonize them or looking donw on them for the work they do. Ultimately they are as human as we are, and by entering into the jobs they do, they are making sacrifices and making the decisions to help them survive.


Berg’s quote also brings up ideas about success and living a lifestyle that one desires.  Perhaps what we are working towards is something larger than what we currently have and a lifestyle that is more comfortable and entertaining. Perhaps we are driving toward a lifestyle where the work we do greatly matters and drives us to make a greater change in the world.  By acknowledging the reason we work, we can better align ourselves with who and what we do. We can also evaluate our desires to make sure that we are moving in a direction that ties in our desires and true selves.  This mindset is crucial if we are to begin to understand what exactly we should desire or expect in our lifestyle. Ultimately, viewing life and our work from the perspective of survive, save, and serve helps us build more self awareness and alignment into our lives and our daily activities.

Value & Worth

One of the business books I read in the last year was Bob Berg’s book The Go Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea. The powerful business idea that Berg lays out in his book is summed up in the following quote, “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.” This quote is told to the story’s protagonist, a young business man named Joe, early on by a successful colleague of his. Joe was struggling to reach his quarterly goals, even though he felt as though he was working harder than he ever had, and his senior colleague was giving him advice about how to become more successful. This simple idea, and lessons from a new mentor, help push Joe in a new direction thanks to a new way of thinking about life, relationships, and business.

I enjoyed Berg’s writing because the lessons he explains in his short book about business can truly be expanded to other areas of ones life. Berg’s quote above shows that in business when you focus on providing a great value to others you increase the overall worth of yourself and the products you offer for those you serve.  He explains in his book that you are allowed to ask for payment or reward, which can be quite significant, but he explains that when the value you provide is greater than the payment you receive, you become indispensable.  Berg in his quote is shifting the idea of setting out to directly build your own self worth and reach success. He shows that one truly becomes successful by thinking of others and looking for ways to provide greater value for those with whom one interacts.  As we build the value we provide to others, we are able to ask for more in payment, and the more we serve and the greater the value we create for all, the more we can ask for in return.

This can play out well in relationship because of the shift of focus from, “What can I get out of this?” to “What can I put into this?”. When we focus on a relationship the way many think that businesses focus on customers, we would try to minimize the relationship and our input into the relationship to maximize our effort and efficiency.  We would measure ourselves relative to others in a game of mental accounting to make sure we were both playing fair in the effort and sacrifice made for our relationship.  But when we think of ourselves in a relationship the way that Berg thinks of a successful business, we are able to change our view and think of how we can put more into the relationship and what more we can do for the other person. We stop our game of mental accounting and in any given situation we think of the other before ourselves. This does not mean that we give up all of our desires to simply give all control to the other person, but it means that we put their happiness as a focus beyond our own, knowing that they will make a grater effort to help us and participate in things we enjoy as well.

What We Set Out to Find

In his book The Go Giver Bob Berg tells a story that relates back to positive ideas about business and the sales side of business.  It is often hard to picture positive things coming from a work and business environment, especially when companies and executives are portrayed as greedy and selfish.  In his book, Berg lays out a better platform for looking at and understanding business contexts. He talks about the importance of developing relationships of trust within our professional lives, and acting with integrity as a genuinely nice person to others.  His cornerstone idea rests with treating other people well, and providing more in value than you receive in payment. In other words, Berg is focused on giving more than asking and taking.  Hi book explores how the idea of giving can lead one to become very successful, especially at points where we need to rely on others for assistance.


Throughout his book he dives into multiple themes and ideas, and one idea that resonated with me was his thoughts on perspective.  Berg writes, “See the world as a dog-eat-dog place and you’ll always find a bigger dog looking at you as if you’re his next meal.  Go looking for the best in people, and you’ll be amazed at how much talent, ingenuity, empathy and good you will find.” What Berg is identifying her is the importance of what we are focusing on and trying to perceive.  Our perspective can be limited to only the negative aspects of any place that we are at, which will only lead to the continued flood of negative thoughts and perceptions. Berg continues, “Ultimately, the world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated.” He is showing us how confirmation bias can affect our workplace, and how disastrous it can be if we are not aware of the thoughts that we build.


What Berg explains in his two quotes is the idea of perspective and expectations shaping our experiences.  Our presumptions and prejudices will change the way we interact with others, which will be noticeable to them, and in the end our attitude will shape the way we are treated by those with whom we interact.  A negative mindset will prevent us from connecting with those around us or in our community and will lead to others having negative thoughts about us. In his book, Berg explains that a positive perspective can help us become successful because it changes the expectations we have about our work, and allows us to reach for new possibilities.

Giving and Success

Bob Berg wrote the book The Go Giver as a story that opens up the importance of relationships and having a positive focus while trying to reach our goals and find the level of success that we desire.  Berg focuses his story on business and sales, but what he writes can be applied to many areas of our life, including areas outside of business.  One of the cornerstones to Berg’s book is a focus on giving and providing value for others that helps one build, in an almost oblique path, toward the success  they want to see.  In one section a character in Berg’s book states, “You can’t go in two directions at once.  Trying to be successful with making  money as your goal is like trying to travel a superhighway at seventy miles an hour with your eyes glued to the rearview mirror.”  Through this quote, Berg is addressing the idea that our goals are not always best served by simply diving in one direction after one idea.


For Berg, being a complete human being and thinking of others is of greater importance than anything else, especially when it comes to business. He argues throughout the book that those who reach the greatest level of financial success don’t just wake up and think how can I become super wealthy? Instead, they wake up thinking about how they can solve problems for others and provide greater value for others. By focusing outside of themselves they find solutions to help people, and they do so with the idea of assisting others and doing things that benefit them first, knowing that they will be able to find rewards afterwards.  Often times we seem to think it is impure to want to assist others for our own personal gain. I think, and I suspect that Berg would agree, it is ok if we have a motive related to ourselves in helping others. If we decide to spend the time clearing trash from a street because we don’t want to see it and we know that others will appreciate it, we are still doing a good thing for the community even if we were primarily motivated by our own gain in the end. Where Berg would say this mindset needs to end is when we are setting something up that benefits us far more than it benefits others.  Taking actions and presenting them as though they help all when truly they only marginally benefit anyone other than yourself misses the point, especially if you create an atmosphere around yourself in which your act as though your behaviors truly assist everyone.


Ultimately, the idea Berg shares in The Go Giver is the idea that we can drive toward huge successes and still be good people if we focus more on providing value to those around us as opposed to looking at the world for the value it can provide to us. When we focus first and foremost on others and helping them, we find ways in which we can grow, and we build relationships that will return something positive to us.  Through these relationships, and through an idea of giving, we find a path toward success that is well rounded and more enjoyable.

Greatness and Ego

Vera Countess von Lehndorff wrote a letter to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, and in her letter she discusses goals, ambitions, talents, and our journey.  She encourages us to have courageous goals, but she also brings in a bit of self awareness with out goal setting. “You want to be the greatest? You want to just feed your ego? That’s not so great.”  This quote is her response to lofty goals and visions of success.


When I read over this quote I think about the goals that I have had throughout life, and how many of them are less about me, and are in one way or another more about fulfilling other people’s expectations and looking impressive.  These types of goals promise us a land where we will feel high and mighty because we will gain the respect and admiration of others as a result of our greatness. However, these goals may not always be aligned with our true purpose or talents, and pursuing them relentlessly could cost us our peace of mind, happiness, and relationships.


For me, building habits of self awareness and learning how to look inwards to examine my goals has helped me understand where my goals originated. When I began to examine my goals I found I pursued some because society had determined that they were lofty and valuable.  When I return to von Lehndorff’s quote I can see the ways in which pushing towards goals that simply feed an ego are more damaging than positive for the individual and the world.  Losing sight of other people to pursue a goal that will build your ego will direct you to a place where people may be impressed by your title or your material possessions, but you may risk jeopardizing true friendships along the way.  If you set out on a goal that only serves your ego, you also risk missing the chance to provide something meaningful and unique to the world. I am currently reading The Go-Giver by Bob Berg, and Berg would agree with this point of view.  He would argue that you can provide value and find success by chasing goals that only serve yourself, but that in order to reach a level of stratospheric success you must focus more on the value you provide to others.  This means that you must forget about your own ego and find goals that serve others as much as yourself.


Ultimately, I believe the problem with chasing a goal fueled by ego is the likelihood that you will burn out.  You run the chance of pushing yourself into situations that serve your ego rather than your purpose, and you miss out on actively working towards  goals that excite you and fuel a passion. In the end, aiming for greatness takes you away from happiness because your ego is built by your accomplishments and outside recognition.  If you abandon ego and learn to operate without requiring the praise and admiration of others, you can find a level of greatness where you understand that you are great independently of outside recognition and ego serving applause.