How do you achieve long-term success without burning yourself out along the way? This question has been nagging at me the last few years. Short-term success, or the appearance of it, can be achieved with a few years of hard work and hustle, a carefully curated social media presence, or just the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. But how do you build an enduring and rewarding career that is measured in decades? How do you become a respected master of your craft? How do you create a legacy and a body of work of which you can be proud?
To find the answers to these questions, I need to go further back than my own generation. I need some Old Wisdom. The type of hard-won wisdom and perspective that only comes from a lifetime of experience. So, this past year, I decided to profile two 82-year-old local real estate legends, Lowell Milton and J.P. Vaughan. With combined real estate experience of 118 years and counting, these two men know a little about how to build a lasting career. Both men generously shared their stories and their wisdom with me. Family members, friends, peers, employees, and business partners graciously sat down for long interviews. My goal was to glean from their stories all the wisdom I could. Their full profiles can be found in the Lynchburg Business archives, but this is what I’ve learned so far:
1. Don’t let your starting point in life define you. Both Lowell and J.P. came from very humble beginnings where great success was neither probable nor expected.
2. Never stop learning. Both Lowell and J.P. absolutely love to learn new things. Invest in your own personal development. Follow your interests wherever they lead.
3. Work hard. Work joyfully.
4. Be coachable. Be open to ideas, suggestions, and guidance from others, particularly those who have blazed the trail before you.
5. Find a mentor. There’s a lot that you can learn by doing and making your own mistakes, but a wise guide can speed up the learning process and save you from some common missteps. Mentors can’t do it for you, but they can provide invaluable perspective and wisdom at crucial moments.
6. Define success for yourself. Don’t adopt someone else’s definition of success by default. You’ll only get where they want to go. Decide what’s important to you and pursue it.
7. Get yourself some longtime people. Almost everyone interviewed and quoted in the articles is a “longtime” something. Longtime attorney. Longtime banker. Longtime business partner. Longtime secretary. Longtime friend. Some people will only be in our life for a season, but everyone needs a few longtime people by their side.
8. Be honest. Always. A reputation for honest-dealing and integrity were the most commonly-cited reasons for Lowell and J.P.’s success.
9. Be good to people. Lynchburg is small. Life is long. You will run into the same people again and again.
10. Cast a vision. Do you want people to follow you? Do you want to take people where they haven’t been before? To do so, you must cast a clear and compelling vision.
11. Stay in motion. Make regular physical exercise a part of your daily routine. This may seem simple, but I’ve gotten it wrong for a lot of years. Both men made a point to stay physically active throughout their careers. Not only does it help you relieve stress and stay healthy for the long run, a good workout can clear your mind and sharpen your thinking. Plus, practicing physical discipline helps build discipline in other areas of your life.
12. Take some risks. Try stuff that might not work, such as starting the first real estate TV show in the country (J.P Vaughan). At the very least, you’ll learn something.
13. Know that hard seasons come for all of us eventually. There will be seasons where you feel like you’re losing more than you’re winning. Nobody makes it to their eighties without experiencing just how sweet, and how bitter, this life can be. Don’t be surprised by these winter seasons. Weather it. Lean on people. Keep going. Spring is coming.
14. Play the long game. Take the long view. Make decisions like you plan on being around for a while.
15. Invest your time, your energy, and your love in the people around you. The best returns in life are always found there. If you get nothing else, get this one.
Take from this imperfect list those things that resonate with you and leave the rest. Finally, if you really want to level up, identify the people in your circles that you most admire and go learn as much as you can from them. Closely observe how they live their lives. Notice those things that they do differently. Spend time with them. Ask them their story. Listen carefully as the wisdom of their life is revealed in its telling. Write down all you learned, then let’s compare notes in this shared search for wisdom.