Wisdom//

3 Life Lessons From A Living World War II Veteran

My grandfather's wisdom has helped keep me resilient, optimistic, and curious.

I discover more on Sunday afternoons than on any other day of the week.  How is that possible?

Well, on Sunday afternoons I spend time with one of the most intellectually curious mentors and teachers I’ve ever met:  my 96-year-old grandfather.

My grandfather is a first-generation American who served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters in World War II.  After serving his country, he enrolled himself in computer classes in midlife, ran his own finance and insurance business, and most importantly, he never stopped being curious.

Our Sunday conversations begin with rations.  One cup of coffee.  Then one beer.  And, ultimately, one steak.  The steak is the size of a dinner plate, and a “no leftovers” policy is strictly enforced. But the really important side dish is his one question of the week.  My grandfather spends all week ruminating on something – one thing – he wants to ask me.  And readying his point of view for a vigorous debate.

The conversation always starts like this.  He leans back in his chair, twiddling a toothpick as he looks over at me.  “Now,” he says, taking a deep breath for emphasis, “I have a question for you.”

What kinds of questions do you think a perpetually curious 96-year old might ask?  

His questions touch on topics like:  “How does the Internet work?”  What is ‘the cloud’?” He wonders how companies make money on this “cloud,” wherever it may be.  And how will we ever pay off this national debt?  

I’ll never forget the time I had the opportunity to accompany him on a flight to Washington, D.C., to honor the sacrifices of World War II veterans.  While most of the vets sat in their seats, having polite conversations, my grandfather verbally dismantled every part of the plane, because he was curious about how things worked.

My grandfather spends his time day trading using his smartwatch, his two iPads, and multiple laptops.  He poses questions to Siri (affectionately calling her, “Sirrah,”) about what he might do next.  Every Sunday he tests me, but Sirrah gets it everyday.  Evidently, he wants to know what she knows as he continues to search for the edge of the Internet.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, said that.  And my grandfather took a page from his playbook.  It’s fascinating to me that no matter how much he’s learned and no matter how much he’s experienced, he’s always interested in asking more questions.  He’s determined never to stop making discoveries.  Born before the Great Depression, he’s lived through world wars, moon landings, and the microwave.  What you and I might consider “archival footage” is simply his life.  His memories.  His personal perspective.

Think of all that he’s seen and experienced!  What would happen if you could capture the power of his curiosity and bring that to life in your life and in your business?  What questions would you ask if you realized that there was always something new to discover?

When we are curious, the journey never ends.  

You don’t have to wait until Sunday to find out something fascinating about the world and the people in it.  In business, as in life, there’s always a question waiting to be discovered.  The better questions lead to best discoveries, but only if you have the courage to ask.  Those questions are always an invitation – an invitation to discover something new.  Something about yourself…your world…your possibilities.

Three Lessons From My Most Cherished Mentor In Business & In Life

  1. Knowing is the enemy of discovering.  As John Wooden said, when you know it all, there’s one thing you’ll always miss;  an opportunity to discover something new.  
  2. Every great discovery begins as a great question.  The two-word question that’s opened up so many possibilities for me is right here:  “Why not?”
  3. Lifelong learning fuels a perpetual passion for life.  Veterans who have fought for our country know that passion – perhaps better than any of us.

Excerpt adapted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Listen Up! by Karen Mangia. Copyright ©2021 by John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and eBooks are sold.

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