To My Readers: I’m honored to republish, with permission, Life Lessons: Become The Best Version of Yourself by Rodger Dean Duncan that first appeared in Forbes August 9, 2022. In it, he interviewed me about important life lessons.
— Frank Sonnenberg
Become The Best Version Of Yourself
By Rodger Dean Duncan PhD with Frank Sonnenberg
It was Will Rogers who famously observed that “common sense ain’t all that common.”
Too bad. In a world of grenade-lobbing commentators and social media brawls, calm and reasonable thinking is needed more than ever. Especially thinking that helps people navigate the sometimes-perplexing issues of everyday living.
That’s what you’ll find in The Path to a Meaningful Life by Frank Sonnenberg. This delightful book includes 51 four-page chapters. Frank calls them “Life Lessons.”
Here’s a man whose wisdom is a gift that just keeps on giving. With nearly five million readers, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named one of the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs” and is among the most frequently shared items on the Internet. Why? Because Frank advocates for moral character, personal values, and personal responsibility—qualities that often don’t get the focus they deserve.
Do you want to become the best version of yourself? This is a book that deserves a place atop your reading stack.
Rodger Dean Duncan: What role does mindset play in a person’s ability to fashion a meaning-filled life that will be gratefully remembered by others?
Frank Sonnenberg: How do you want to be remembered? As Mark Twain said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you understand why.”
You may be thinking, “Who cares. I’m too busy.” While that’s understandable, if you wait too long to identify your destination, you’ll never really know if you’re heading off course. While you’re busy, life happens.
If there’s a meaningful gap between who you are and who you aspire to be, ask yourself why. Do you arbitrarily set priorities, make choices, or act without intention? Remember, if you don’t have a goal in mind, you can’t expect to achieve it.
Make a conscious effort to live a life that makes you happy, one in which you make a difference, and one that makes you proud. You have an opportunity to define your life as you see fit, or to go with the flow and let it be defined for you.
Duncan: What’s your advice for discussing a hot button issue with someone who clearly sees the world through a lens that’s different from yours?
Sonnenberg: When differences of opinion arise, take the high ground. There’s no need to disparage anyone or resort to personal attacks. Furthermore, remain open-minded. Search for the truth by listening to opposing arguments and letting others challenge your views and opinions. Look for common ground. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to find the merit in each other’s arguments. Moreover, keep in mind that communication is a two-way street—it requires more than talking. Lastly, don’t look for ways to back an opponent into a corner. Instead, find ways to let each side save face. It goes without saying, never dance in the end zone when you score points. The bottom line…Never win at the expense of a relationship.
Duncan: How can a person get better at practicing self-discipline?
Sonnenberg: While self-discipline is most often associated with willpower and perseverance, it also means that you have the courage, strength, wisdom, and moral character to do what’s right—even if it’s difficult.
That may require you to speak up when others are silent, search for the truth when others jump to conclusions, question the status quo when things are set in stone, hold firm when others cave in, find common ground when others won’t compromise, or sacrifice something today so that you can benefit tomorrow.
Self-discipline is a sign of inner strength. You demonstrate it with your willingness to accept personal responsibility, your ability to make hard choices, and your determination to live your life with honor. It’s not always easy to do what’s right. That’s what makes it so special!
Duncan: The Covid pandemic has turned workplace assumptions and practices upside down. What kind of work ethic (attitude about work) do you see as most likely to produce positive results?
Sonnenberg: Work isn’t just about getting a paycheck; hard work builds character, promotes dignity, and gives you control over your life. But not everyone sees it that way. As Sam Ewing, the professional baseball player, said, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.”
Some people will do anything to get out of work. Examples range from those who say a job is “beneath them,” to folks who request promotions or demand more pay not because it’s earned, but because they want it. What none of these folks realize is that hard work isn’t a punishment; it’s a gift.
Hard work builds character, contributes to success, provides a living, and promotes happiness. The converse is also true. When any part of the human body isn’t exercised properly, it will atrophy. The same is true of the spirit.
Duncan: Occasionally we hear workplace activists promote the view that some people are historic “oppressors” while others are “victims.” What impact do you expect that orientation to have on people’s ability—and willingness—to trust and collaborate with each other?
Sonnenberg: Some folks see everything as a finite pie—there’s only so much of it to go around. As such, if someone takes a big piece, that leaves less for everyone else; one person wins, another person loses. That mindset encourages everyone to fight for their share because when the pie’s gone, it’s gone.
That can lead to frustration, mistrust, and even anger.
If you believe that someone’s success is unfair, unwarranted, or that it deprives you of richly deserved rewards, your focus shifts from building a successful life to fighting for a piece of the existing pie.
Success is not like a pie that can feed only so many people. There are no restraints on the number of people who can obtain it. The only limitations on what you can achieve are the constraints that you place on yourself. That said, the more time you spend vilifying others, the less time you’ll have to make your own dreams come true.
Duncan: People can often learn a lot from the mistakes of others. What are some important lessons that can be gleaned from such observation?
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Before you begin any undertaking, consider whether it’s been done before—and apply lessons learned.
- Celebrate learning. Treat every experience as a learning opportunity in which mistakes are tolerated, feedback is welcomed, and failures are viewed as hurdles rather than roadblocks.
- Learn and move on. Mistakes don’t make you a failure but beating yourself up makes you feel like one.
- Make people comfortable. When analyzing problems, focus on the act, not the individual.
- Dig beneath the surface. Several factors often contribute to failing. Therefore, don’t be impatient and shut down discussion after the first cause is identified.
- Live and learn. Ask yourself whether a mistake is being repeated. Making a mistake is acceptable. Just don’t let it return for an encore.
- Optimize the learning experience. Strike a balance between the point at which you review a situation versus waiting so long that you forget the details.
Duncan: In today’s competitive job market, what can employers do to attract and retain people who will help the business—and themselves—thrive?
Sonnenberg: Money is only one form of compensation.
Employees want to work for an organization that they can feel proud of—one that provides challenging and meaningful work; one where policies, procedures, and paperwork are never more important than results; one that rewards its people based on performance rather than an arbitrary metric; and one where winning is never at someone’s expense.
Employees want to work for an organization that has values and viewpoints compatible with their own; an organization that cares about morals and ethics, and one in which doing what’s right is as important as the bottom line. Employees want to work for an organization that does what’s in the best interest of its customers, the community, and the world at large, not because it’ll enhance the firm’s reputation or lead to new business, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Duncan: What advice do you give someone who’s genuinely serious about adding value to the workplace?
Sonnenberg: You were hired to add value, not be a placeholder. Here are nine guidelines to keep you on track:
- Challenge yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. If you don’t push your limits, you’ll never get better.
- Focus your efforts. Trying to be excellent at everything leads to mediocrity.
- Start doing more by doing less. Subtracting from your list of priorities is as important as adding to it.
- Embrace continuous improvement. Strive for small improvement in everything you do. Remember, progress is one step closer to excellence.
- Score small wins. Hit singles rather than home runs. Small wins will keep you motivated as you pursue your long-term goals.
- Give it your best shot. Strive for excellence, not perfection.
- Request feedback. Treat feedback as a gift rather than as a slap in the face.
- Lead by example. Virtue isn’t demanding more of others; it’s expecting more of yourself.
- Do what’s right. You must live with yourself for the rest of your life.
Duncan: What are some common habits that stunt personal growth?
Sonnenberg: Personal growth requires a conscious effort to better yourself every day. It will never be urgent—unless you make it so. It will never be convenient, but that shouldn’t stop you. And the benefit may not be visible right away. But every step forward is a step in the right direction. Here are some habits that stunt personal growth:
- Laziness. If you don’t try, you have no one to blame but yourself. When you do nothing, nothing happens.
- Indifference. If you’re not willing to make the commitment, don’t complain about the outcome.
- Being close-minded. It’s hard to see the light with your eyes squeezed shut.
- Being self-destructive. If you keep telling yourself you’re a failure, you’ll ultimately convince yourself.
- Negativity. If you believe you can’t, you won’t.
- Egotism. If you think you know everything, you’ll assume there’s nothing more to know.
The bottom line…The one who may be holding you back is you.
Duncan: Parenting, you’ll no doubt agree, is the hardest, most important, and most rewarding “job” you’ve ever had. What do you see as some of the must-do behaviors of good parenting?
Sonnenberg: First, provide a strong family structure, instill solid values and a powerful work ethic, and combine those elements with a first-rate education. Most importantly, you can lecture your kids until you’re blue in the face, but the best way to teach them is to lead by example. Period!
Second, prepare your kids for the real world. Let them experience adversity, learn from failure, and know what it feels like to lose. Kids grow most when they’re confronted by challenges and learn to overcome adversity. It’ll shape their character and make them strong.
Third, teach your kids to be self-reliant. From the moment they’re born, prepare them for the day you’ll set them free. In essence, make them earn their success! It’ll promote self-reliance; it’ll do wonders for their self-image; and it’ll enhance their ability to function in the real world. I know you mean well by supporting your kids but helping them too much only makes them helpless.
This article first appeared in Forbes. It is republished, with permission. (© 2022 Rodger Dean Duncan. All rights reserved.)
Check out Frank’s new book, The Path to a Meaningful Life.
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Rodger Dean Duncan is the bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance
About Rodger Dean Duncan
For the past 40 years I’ve consulted and coached leaders from the factory floor to the boardroom in some of the world’s best companies in multiple industries. Basically, I help people get good stuff done while avoiding the Dilbert Zone. Early in my career I covered politics and business for Texas newspapers, and freelanced for publications ranging from The New York Times and The National Observer to Boys’ Life and Parade magazine. Then I was a university professor, worked on Wall Street, served in two White House administrations, advised several U.S. Senators, and headed worldwide communications at Campbell Soup Company. My Ph.D. (Purdue University) is in organizational behavior, but my orientation is the real world of real work. My bestselling book is CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan
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