The 50 Year Milestone

Today I turned 50. I would normally say that I can't tell you how long I've waited for this. But it's not true. I know exactly how long I've waited for this. 30 years.

Sounds crazy, right? To wait 30 years to reach this point in life. Well, I haven't been waiting. I've been preparing.

Thirty years ago I was given a book. It was a leadership book. A pretty academic tome. Research on hundreds of leaders.

Initially I felt thankful that someone noticed my leadership qualities at an early age. But then I read the book. The first time I read it, I pretty much hated it. Because it suggested that my real impact, my real influence, wouldn't start for decades. Now, to be clear, it didn't articulate a specific age. Instead, it highlighted that leaders move  stages of development and take a lot of work to get to where I wanted to be. In my mind, it meant I wouldn't be the leader I wanted to be until I was 50.

So for the last 30 years, I've been making decisions with today in mind.

The time the bank issued a $100 bill instead of $20, I really wanted and needed that money. Was this an integrity challenge? How would I handle it? And it was hard. But the next time, when my company issued me a paycheck with thousands more than it should have, it was a little bit easier (though still a lot of work) to figure out how to give it back to them. When the opportunity to win a consulting bid  in a shady way was put in front of me, it was a lot easier to reject it because I was already developing a specific kind of muscle memory for these situations.

Doing what's right is pretty normal, so it's hard to suggest it was only because I was working to become a specific kind of leader.

More challenging was dealing with my own ego. And again, the earlier years were the hardest. Big opportunities for big jobs with big titles were alluring. They were the result of a lot of hard work, and I finally felt recognized. But the moves presented a choice between my career and my family. I'm not saying you can't have both. But in my case, I had to decide what was I investing in, in the long run. Choosing Melissa over a fancy job with double the salary was super hard right after we were first married. The last time it happened, a couple years ago, it took seconds to decide.

I would not be famous. I would not be known for some magical technical innovation I had created. And I likely wouldn't be known for having a great marriage with Melissa, except that Melissa would know. And in this case, I was working for an audience of one.

But it meant fighting the other audience of one, my ego. And my marriage to Melissa has been one of the strongest ways I've learnt the humility of being “under” someone else. She's not my boss. But choosing to submit, to our marriage and family has been a choice and a significant move to shape the leader I've wanted to be.

The biggest moves started at 38. I felt that influence and impact wouldn't be likely in the context and situation that we were in. So we spent 2 years evaluating locations and thinking a lot about my career and future. We moved just after I turned 40 (which was the plan), and spent 10 years in San Diego. We invested in people, in work, in my hobbies, and built the community I was a part of – in person and online.

The goal was to create a platform, over 10 years, where I could build an audience to have influence. It would take time, we knew. The first couple of years would be slow. But our hope was the last 7 of the 10 would prepare me for this day.

  • In the last 7 years, I shifted my hobby to my full time job.
  • In the last 7 years, I've grown a twitter account from 200 to 20k+ followers.
  • In the last 7 years, more than 7 million people visited my blog.
  • In the last 7 years, I've spoken on more than 100 stages (in front of 50, 200, 500, and 3,000).

I had hoped I'd have some platform by now, but nowhere near this size or reach.

And, you might wonder, to what end? Why build a platform? To sell something?

That book I read, more than once now, helped shape how I thought about leadership. It wasn't about the competency of doing. It was all about the competency of being.

Fundamentally, I was working on myself, not on anyone else – though leadership is always in the context of people.

I was learning what was true about me, deeply, so that I could leverage it once I got to this day, and had the opportunity to really leave a legacy.

And no, it's not to sell you something.

Today, at 50, I know the waiting was worth it. 

I embrace storytelling, generosity, teaching and leadership as the tools I have developed over 30 years to help the people around me to one end.

Let me explain it this way –

Imagine you have a puzzle piece in your pocket. First, you may not even know, at the time, what a puzzle is, or how a piece works. Second, you may not know where the puzzle is. And third, you may be insecure about pulling the puzzle piece out and placing it on the table.

My goal is to help you play your piece.

Sometimes the encouragement requires a story. Sometimes it needs a little generosity to drive your courage. Sometimes you need to know where the puzzle is, and sometimes you need someone to suggest you bring yours out into the sun.

But here's what I know: Puzzles look better when all the pieces are put together.

And when you can see how you fit into the bigger picture, it always feels good.

I'm 50 now, and the fun is just getting started.