Five things I’ve learned on the way to the big six-oh that apply to business

Phil Castle

Sixty years. The BIG SIX-OH. As in, oh my God, that’s old.

Depending on when you read this, I’ve either nearly reached that milestone or just whizzed past. And I use the word milestone in the general sense of a marker and not in the specific sense of a significant event. I harbor no illusions. Certainly none of grandeur.

After all, 60 is just another number. Albeit a nice round one. Why is it, by the way, round numbers take on some noteworthy quality? What’s wrong with 59 or 61? Both of them are prime. Way more cool, if you ask me.

Here’s the other thing. There are lots of people who’ve advanced in age far beyond me who’d look back at 60 and shrug. So what? Call me when you get to 100, young man. Then we’ll talk.

There’s an expectation, nonetheless, those blessed to reach certain round numbers have something important to say about having done so. But what, exactly? I’m reminded of the scene in the movie “On Golden Pond” in which the character portrayed by Henry Fonda celebrates his 80th birthday. “I’ve been trying all day to draw some profound conclusions about living four score years,” he announces. “Haven’t thought of anything. Surprised it got here so fast.”

It was the same reaction for this old poop on living three score years. To quote another line from another movie: “Don’t they go by in a blink?”

Still, as alert readers know all too well by now, I never miss an opportunity to hold forth. To wax philosophic, even. So here are five things I believe I’ve learned over time. Wisdom, if you will, gleaned from 60 years on the planet. Most of these, I suspect, are more obvious than revelatory, more platitudes than profundities. But they also happen to apply to running a business, which I suppose is the whole point of writing a column for a business journal.

Value relationships. Just what is it, do you imagine, you’ll take with you to the great beyond? The sexy red convertible? The spacious three-bedroom house with the two-car garage? How about that impressive stock portfolio? The apostle Paul offers an answer in his letter to a young pastor named Timothy in what’s now Turkey: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” If we’re fortunate, what we’ll possess at the end are enduring memories of the relationships we’ve developed over the years. God willing, they’re fond memories. What do you hope to leave behind? The car, the house and stock portfolio might be nice. But what will your heirs value even more? The memories. Of the times they spent with you. What you did. And most of all, the way you made them feel. Treasure relationships, for that’s what they are. Nurture them. And never, ever, take them for granted.

Be kind. Writers with more talent than that to which I could ever aspire emphasize kindness. Jack Kerouac wrote in a letter to his first wife: “Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.” Leo Tolstoy put it this way in a collection of thoughts he compiled, one for each day of the year: “The kinder and more intelligent a person is, the more kindness he can find in other people. Kindness enriches our life. With kindness mysterious things become clear, difficult things become easy and dull things become cheerful.” Kindness doesn’t cost anything, yet pays so much. Which makes the absence of kindness, particularly among those who believe themselves to be our leaders, all the more appalling.

Withhold judgment. There’s nothing easier — or more tempting — than to believe you know something about someone based on casual observation or superficial encounters. Invariably, you’ll be wrong. Such judgment lacks not only empathy, but also an understanding of the unique combination of experiences and challenges that affect actions and behaviors. To get to know people is to get know what really motivates them. I’m willing to bet you’ll be surprised. With familiarity comes appreciation, along with the willingness to overlook those flaws that aren’t that consequential after all.

Practice gratitude. Despite the growing evidence practicing gratitude increases a sense of well-being, people fixate all too often on misfortune. I’ve always admired optimists with just the opposite outlook. Presented with a pile of horse manure, they dig right in. They know there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere. Realize that life’s a gift. Say thank you. Acknowledge a job well done and those who bust their butts to complete them.

Have fun. There’s the importance of being earnest. But as an aesthetic, the playwright Oscar Wilde also would point out the importance of seeking out beauty, of savoring experiences … of having fun. That’s as true of work as it is life. The Greek philosopher Aristotle contended those who enjoy their work are far more likely to enjoy success. As someone who loves his job — I actually get PAID to write, for heaven’s sake — I couldn’t agree more.

Well. There you have it. Whether naively hopeful or hopelessly naive, it is if nothing else sincere. Consider it my present to you on my birthday.

Wow. Sixty years. Don’t they go by in a blink?