Engagement often leads to learning

Young Professionals Series: The world is an immensely interesting place with lots of fascinating people, and the best way to learn is by engaging and listening to the stories.

Dr. Nevil Speer

April 4, 2019

4 Min Read
Engagement often leads to learning

"Dad, you talk to everybody." That's my daughter's assessment whenever she's out with me and I strike up conversation with complete strangers. She is right -- I like engaging with people and learning their stories. That's because the world is an immensely interesting place with lots of fascinating people.

That’s precisely what happened to my wife and I on a recent trip to Dallas, Texas. We were loading onto the rental car shuttle when I noticed the man in front of me had an unusually large, bulky case he was hauling around. So, when we sat down I said to him, “Man, that thing looks heavy! How much does it weigh?”

It was immediately evident he also was a talker. He answered, “100 lb.” And that led to a back-and-forth about dealing with overweight luggage and all the logistic complications with the airlines versus just getting it shipped to your final destination. Through all that I learned a lot about our friend.

Turns out his case contained a prototype for specialized airport ground support equipment. He had a meeting the next day at Love Field, but he couldn’t get the prototype shipped in time; thus, he was stuck having to travel with it. So, he’d be back to the airport tomorrow to provide a working demonstration for airport officials.

Best of all, though, we learned about his personal journey. Turns out, our equipment salesman was the first one in his family to go to college. He received a degree in engineering, worked for three years in the field but then told us, “I was a terrible mechanical engineer.” So, he turned to sales and has established a very successful career with his current company.

As a salesperson, he leveraged his engineering training to fully understand the equipment. Better yet, though, he put his skills and innovative tendencies to work and built the very prototype he was now lugging around. It’s taken him all over the world. Last year marked 20 years in his current position; his most successful thus far with over $20 million in sales!

There’s a couple of key takeaways from all this. Perhaps the primary one being the way our engineer turned salesman has become successful. It was a process starting with a brutally honest assessment of his own skills, “I was a terrible engineer.” That’s not easy for most people to do. In essence, he said to himself, “I’m really not made to do this,” and decided to find something else.

As we were talking, I kept hearing John Maxwell in my head. I recalled a talk he gave several years ago at a Dave Ramsey event emphasizing the importance of personal growth:

“If you came to me and said: What's the best advice you could give me? I would look at you and say, is for you every day to intentionally grow and never allow yourself to get in a state where you're not learning and growing and expanding and getting better. I know I'm known for leadership but I'm more passionate about personal growth … growth is not automatic … if you're going to get better you have to do it intentionally … the only way you and I get better is to be intentional. The only thing automatic in life is death … you don't have to plan for that … just because you get older doesn't mean you get better … the only guarantee you have that tomorrow is going to be better than today is that you're growing today. When I hear people say, "I hope (fill in the blank)." Hope isn't a strategy. If you really want to get better I can tell you how to get better: you grow today, you set up success for tomorrow … you will invest in yourself as much according to the way you see yourself. … and when people stop making trade-offs they stop growing -- they stop growing when the price gets too high. … growth always extract a price from us. It's all uphill -- it's uphill all the way. We have uphill hopes and dreams -- but we have downhill habits. You can't go uphill with downhill habits.

Our friend on the bus is a perfect example of these principles: personal growth, hard work, good habits. The fact he wasn’t good at (or didn’t really enjoy) his first stop didn’t deter him from success. To that contrary, he stayed after it. He used that to reach even further -- it was that experience that enabled him to envision what was needed to get non-engineer customers to understand the qualities and benefits of the equipment he’s now selling.

That conversation on that bus ride underscores just how rich the world is. There are lots of interesting, motivating people all around you -- from all of whom you can learn something. My wife and I got into our rental car talking about how encouraging it was to have that visit. It’s always energizing to talk with resilient, successful people who have a great outlook on life -- they’re out there “learning and growing and expanding and getting better” -- making the most of every opportunity every day.

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