Learn Up & Learn Down
I’m a runner, but not the Boston Marathon–type runner. In fact, I am not the 5K-type of runner either. Heck, I’m not even the once-around-the-track type runner. No, I’m pretty much good for 50 or 60 yards (at best), but I’ll wager a steak dinner that I can get there before you can even at the ripe ole age of 38. When God decided what kind of gifts He was going to bless me with, He passed over a lot of things, but somehow he concluded that running like a deer would fit me well (at least over short distances). And I’m grateful; I mean, a very select few ever get to experience the thrill of winning a collegiate track meet or playing sports at a pro level. Folk singer Joni Mitchell said it best: It seems you don’t really know what you got ’til it’s gone. I know, I should just be content with the gifts I’ve been given and enjoy the successes I’ve had, but, man, would it be cool knowing what it’s like to dunk a basketball or throw a baseball 100 mph; to play the guitar like Eddie Van Halen or sing like Andrea Bocelli.
This week, I sat in our multi-shop owner Mastermind group and I shared with my friends a story about a great runner. He was an Englishman and his name was Roger Bannister. Ring a bell? On May 6, 1954, at Oxford University, Roger Bannister became the first person ever to run a mile in under 4 minutes. He was arguably the fastest man alive. But considering this feat had never been done in the recorded history of mankind, what ensued after is perhaps even more shocking. Just 46 days after Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, he also beat the time by over a second. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half-century, more than 1,000 runners have conquered a barrier that was once hopelessly out of reach. The point I was trying to make to my peers is that there is immense power in watching the impossible come to life. Seeing is believing.
Such paradigm-shifting events are occurring more and more often. At least, it seems that way with the constantly expanding availability of information online. While it is easier than ever before to self-educate by surfing the net, I prefer to hear the “how I did it” stories live and direct from the source with context and details. Some people call it networking; I call it “learning up.” Learning up is the practice of intentionally pursuing people who are further along in life or in business than you are with the intent of pushing the limits of your logical reasoning. For all my hermits and homebodies out there, it might make you a little uncomfortable because learning up requires reaching out.
At the recent Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference in Chicago, I attended a session taught by Scott Brown, an owner/operator who achieves $4 million in service and repair revenue out of a 2,000-square-foot Shell gas station in Springfield, Va. Bet you didn’t think that was possible, did ya? I didn’t. I also heard from Rissy Sutherland, who has purportedly been responsible for the operations of over 400 automotive shops in her tenure. Most of us are here running one or two shops and pulling our hair out wondering how we’re going to get beyond 3 percent net profit or how we’re going to find a qualified technician with a reasonably positive attitude. Meanwhile, others are out there pioneering and devising new ways for the automotive industry to advance. There are many great resources you can utilize to learn up, so whether you choose peer groups, coaches, podcasts, webinars, books, conferences or seminars, step out of stagnation and do something. You’ll thank yourself later.
Conversely, I implore you that living a purposeful life does not exist solely in gorging our self-serving egos. It feeds the soul of a person when we accomplish something we thought was impossible, but it is a feast for the soul of a person when we take what we have learned and pass it on to others. I call it learning down. Learning down sounds easy enough but it actually takes a disproportionate amount of effort when you compare it to the simplicity of ingesting information for personal gain. To say it more succinctly, it is easier to get than to give. But the opportunities to give back are endless. You can sign up to mentor at the local high school or community college, serve in your local ASA chapter, chamber of commerce or Rotary. You can choose to stay in a peer group that you feel like you have outgrown or even start a new one. For every owner who’s got it all figured out, there are several others desperate for improvement.
Albert Einstein, a world-renown pioneer in his own right said, “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” He made it his life’s focus to quantify the physical properties of both what is seen and what is unseen and his scientific contributions left a transcendent mark on history. Of course, it’s perfectly fine for you and me to spend a worthwhile amount of time pursuing growth, personal development and profitability. We do have an obligation to maximize what we do with the talents and abilities we’ve been given and maximizing requires both information and inspiration. But, lest we forget, we don’t get to take our success with us when we leave this life, so perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate who and what is vying for our time.
While Roger Bannister is credited with being the first man to achieve a sub-4-minute mile, what most of us don’t realize is that he had two other men running with him who served as pacesetters. He didn’t do it alone; he relied on others to push him beyond his known limits and help him accomplish his goal. Then, once he did it, he opened up the door for thousands of others to dream and defy convention. Every one of you has something to offer and a platform to share from simply because you didn’t give up. Necessity breeds invention; desperate times bring desperate measures and you made it!
Every one of us also has bad habits, mental blocks and a certain amount of fear that is holding us back from realizing the magnitude of the potential that lies within us. An essential to becoming an overachiever is being proactive about gleaning new, paradigm-shifting ideas and experiences from others. But the moment you begin to experience the thrill of victory is the moment you must step off of the podium and find another battle-weary contender who deserves to know what it’s like to cross the finish line as a winner, too. Not only will it enrich your soul, it will also fortify and deepen the roots of your understanding in a lasting and meaningful way.