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  • Juan Pablo Barrantes

Simon Sinek's 5 Rules to find your Spark in life

Actualizado: 24 sept 2023

I am a big fan of learning on Leadership and Entrepreneurial matters. Along this learning process, I’ve read and listened great individuals whose expertise is admirable in such subjects through their experiences in life.

One of these leaders is Simon Sinek; you may know Simon’s legacy in his books “Leaders eat last”, “Together is better” and “Start with Why”. He is also a top TED speaker and he’s an influencer in today’s business and especially followed by thousands of Millennials.

Looking on some of his speeches, I’ve found one that has particularly engaged my attention because of the life lessons he explains to a group of youngsters.

Here are some observations Simon spoke for a group of Millennials’ future in life. He advised on five rules to follow, on how to find the spark in life:

  1. Go after the things that you want. I friend of mine and I went for a run in Central Park, the road runners Organization, on the weekends, they host races and it’s very common at the end of the race to have a spot where they giveaway something: apples, water, bagels… on this particular day we went to the run, there were some free bagels. They had picnic tables set up, and on one side there was a group of volunteers, on the table were boxes of bagels and on the other side there was a long line of runners waiting to get their free bagel. So I said to my friend –let’s get a bagel, and he looked to me and said –hmm, the line is too long. And I said –free bagel! And he said -Hmm, I just don’t want to wait in line… And I was like –free bagel! And he insisted –No… it’s too long! And that’s where I realized that there is two ways to see the world: “Some people see the things that they want, and some people see the things that prevent them from getting the things that they want”. I could only see the bagels, he could only see the line. And so, I walked up to the line, I leaned in between two people, put my hand on the box and pulled up two bagels. And no one got mad of me, because the rule is: “You can go after whatever you want, you just cannot deny anyone else to go after whatever they want”. Now, I had to sacrifice choice, I didn’t have the chance to choose which bagel I got, I got whatever I pulled out, but I didn’t have to wait in line. So the point is, you don’t have to wait in line, you don’t have to do it the way everyone else is doing it, you can do your way, you can break the rules, you just can’t get in the way somebody else is getting what they want. That’s rule #1

  2. Sometimes you are the problem. In the eighteenth century there was something that spread across medical groups in Europe called “the puerperal fever”, also known as the black death of child birth. Basically what was happening is, women were giving birth and they would die within 48 hours after giving birth. This black death of child birth was the rubbish of Europe, and it got worst and worst over the course of decades in that century. In some hospitals it was as high as seventy percent of women who gave birth who would die as a result of giving birth. But this was “the Renaissance”, this was the time of empirical data in science, and we have thrown away things like tradition and mysticism, this were “men of science”, this were “doctors”, and these doctors and men of science wanted to study and find the reason for this black death of child birth and they studied the corpses of the women who have died, and in the morning they would conduct autopsies and then in the afternoon they would go and deliver babies and finished their rounds. And it wasn’t until something on the mid eighteenth hundreds that Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes –father of Supreme Court Justice, who realized that all of these doctors conducting autopsies in the morning, weren’t washing their hands before they delivered babies in the afternoon! And he pointed it out and said: -guys, you are the problem! And they ignored him and called him crazy, for thirty years… Until finally somebody realized that if they simply wash their hands it will go away. And that’s exactly what happened, when they started sterilizing their instruments and washing their hands, the black death of child birth disappeared… My point is, the lesson here is: sometimes, you are the problem. We’ve seen this happening all too recently on this men of science and despite men of finance, who are smarter than the rest of us… until the things collapsed! And they blamed everything else, except themselves… And my point is: Take accountability for your actions! You can take all the credit in the world for the things you do right, AS LONG AS YOU TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE THINGS YOU DO WRONG… It must be a balanced equation! You don’t get it one way and not the other, you got to take credit when you also take accountability… That’s lesson #2.

  3. Take care of each other. The US Navy Seals are perhaps the most elite warriors in the world, and one of the Seals was asked: “Who makes it through this selection process?”; “who is able to become a Seal?”, and his answer was –I can’t tell you the kind of person that becomes a Seal, I can’t tell you the kind of person that makes it through, but I can tell you the people who don’t become Seals; he says: -the guy who show up with huge bulging muscles covered on tattoos who want to prove to the world how tough they are… None of them make it through! He said: -the preening leaders who like to delegate all the responsibilities and never do anything themselves… None of them make it through! He said: -the star college athletes who’ve never being tested to the core of their being… None of them make it through! He said: -some of the guys who make it through are skinny, and scrawny… He said: -some of the guys who make it through you will see them shivering out of fear… He said: -however, all the guys who make it through, when they find themselves physically spent, emotionally spent, when they have nothing left to give physically or emotionally, somehow, someway they are able to find the energy to dig down, deep inside themselves to find the energy to help the guy next to them… They become Seals! If you are going to be a lead warrior, it’s not about how tough you are, it’s not about how smart you are, it’s not about how fast you are… If you are going to be a lead warrior, you will have to be really, really good at helping the person to the left of you and helping the person to the right of you, cause that’s how the people advance in the world. The world is too dangerous and the world is too difficult for you to think you can do these things alone, if you find your spark I commend you now: who are you going to ask for help? And when are you going to accept help when it’s offered? Learn that skill, learn by practicing helping each other, it will be the single most valuable thing you’ve ever learn in your entire life: to accept help when it’s offered and to ask for it when you know you can’t do it. The amazing thing is, when you learn to ask for help you will discover that there are people all around you who have always wanted to help you, they just didn’t think that you need it, because you kept pretending that you have everything under control. And the minute you say: -I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m stuck, I’m scared, I don't think I can do this… You will find that lots of people who love you will rush in and take care of you. But that will only will happen if you learn to take care of them first. 

  4. Be the last to speak. Nelson Mandela is a particularly case study in the leadership world because he is universally regarded as a great leader. You can take other personalities and depending on the nation you go to you have different opinions about other personalities, but Nelson Mandel across the world is universally regarded as a great leader. He was actually the son of a tribal chief, and he was asked one day –How do you learn to be a great leader? And he responded that he would go with his father to tribal meetings and he remember two things when his father meet with other elders: they will always sit in a circle and his father was always the last to speak. You will be told your whole life that you need to learn to listen, I would say that you need to learn to be last to speak. I see it in boardrooms every day of the week, even people who consider themselves good leaders, who may actually be the decent leaders, they walk into the room and say: -here is the problem, here is what I think but I’ve been interested in your opinion and let’s go around the room… It’s too late, the skill to hold your opinions to yourself until everyone has spoken requires two things: it gives everyone the feeling that they have been heard and it gives everyone the ability to feel that they have contributed, and you get the benefit of hearing what everyone else has to think before you render your opinion. The skill to keep your opinions to yourself is, if you agreed to somebody don’t nod yes… If you disagree with somebody don’t nod no… Simply sit there, and the only thing you are allowed to do is to ask questions so that you can understand what they mean and why they have the opinion they have. You must understand from where they are speaking, why they have the opinion they have, not what just they are saying. And at the end you will get your turn. It sound easy… It’s not… Practice being the last to speak, that’s what Nelson Mandela did.

  5. You only deserve a Styrofoam cup. I heard a story about a former Under Secretary of Defense who gave a speech at a large conference. He took his place on the stage and began talking, sharing his prepared remarks with the audience. He paused to take a sip of coffee from the Styrofoam cup he’d brought on stage with him. He took another sip, looked down at the cup and smiled. “You know,” he said, interrupting his own speech, “I spoke here last year. I presented at this same conference on this same stage. But last year, I was still an Under Secretary,” he said. “I flew here in business class and when I landed, there was someone waiting for me at the airport to take me to my hotel. Upon arriving at my hotel,” he continued, “there was someone else waiting for me. They had already checked me into the hotel, so they handed me my key and escorted me up to my room. The next morning, when I came down, again there was someone waiting for me in the lobby to drive me to this same venue that we are in today. I was taken through a back entrance, shown to the greenroom and handed a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.” “But this year, as I stand here to speak to you, I am no longer the Under Secretary,” he continued. “I flew here coach class and when I arrived at the airport yesterday there was no one there to meet me. I took a taxi to the hotel, and when I got there, I checked myself in and went by myself to my room. This morning, I came down to the lobby and caught another taxi to come here. I came in the front door and found my way backstage. Once there, I asked one of the techs if there was any coffee. He pointed to a coffee machine on a table against the wall. So I walked over and poured myself a cup of coffee into this here Styrofoam cup,” he said as he raised the cup to show the audience. “It occurs to me,” he continued, “the ceramic cup they gave me last year … it was never meant for me at all. It was meant for the position I held. I deserve a Styrofoam cup. “This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,” he offered. “All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a Styrofoam cup.

Always learn to be humble, understand that you in your position are appreciated and needed but not essential nor irreplaceable. Always be appreciative and pray thanks for what you have and for what you have achieved so far, but be aware of where you came from, and be also aware  that the essential in this life is about leaving a legacy in those around you.

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