Learning from Our Cultural Elders

So, one of the things that every society or culture begins to have is our sort of cultural elders. And one of our current elders in our culture, that there are a lot of people are paying attention to is Bill Gates. One of the reasons why we need these people is that when they pierced into their ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, we want to see what life looks like when somebody is trying to live really intentionally, into that season of life when they are really at the height of their wisdom.

And so there’s a great documentary by the way, Bill Gates’ Brain on Netflix. Jeff just downloaded it on his iPad. I’ve watched all of them, I loved it. Man, I just find it’s really interesting. But Inc. magazine wrote an article about Bill Gates and just the contrast between his 25 year old self, which, you can see in those documentaries really well, and his current self. And so they try to articulate the difference, and it was really interesting what they said, they discovered. They said, “For the 25 year old Gates, the only question that mattered was posed to assess his business success at the end of the year. Is Microsoft software making the personal computing dream come true?”

That was the question that he really tied his personal success to. A new set of questions have emerged in his final 2018 blog post, Gates’ Notes. He said that he still assesses the quality of his work, but the questions are very different from the ones he would have asked in his ’20s. Here they are. One, “Did I devote enough time to my family?” Two, “Did I learn enough new things?” Three “Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones?” Gates readily admits these questions would have been laughable to him at 25. At 63, they’re much more meaningful.

So this is one of the problems that, you know, if you think about the 25 year old Bill Gates, one of the things that he was completely really, probably disentangled from was really looking and gaining wisdom from his elders. He had great parents by the way, but I think for sure he was so obsessed with this singular goal. But, one of the things I love is just, as the years go on, and his wisdom really begins to settle, you see these guys just begin to reevaluate, okay, the questions I ask myself or how I judge my success, so often determines the kind of trajectory I go in.

And so, he seems to be very careful with the way that he asks himself these sort of annual questions. And so, obviously that first one, did I devote enough time to my family? That, apart from all the other things, if you watch the documentary, he’s trying to like, rid the earth of polio and fix sanitation for the third world and, on and on and on these massive goals. And for a lot of men they would think, well, if you’re stewarding billions of dollars and trying to solve world problems, then maybe the family goes on the back burner.

And it’s fascinating that his first question was just the amount of time he was spending with his family. But yeah, Jeff, what are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, I love that. I mean, I love when people have kind of achieved what everyone wants to achieve, but yet then are still asking interesting questions like that, or ones that we might not think they would be like, he’s got all the money in the world, but clearly he’s showing that that’s not what’s important, what’s important is the things that he even says are more meaningful when he was older. So I think with the, you know, it does a service to not repeat mistakes by learning when you are 25, or when you are 30 to ask the questions that the 63 year old is learning and asking, so then you can be far ahead of them once you’re 63.

So I think that’s really, really helpful and important. And I love that too, where he did have that singular question, even when he was 25 of, is Microsoft software making the personal computing dream come true? I think like we need to have questions as fathers, as families of, are we, at the end of the year, are we really taking a good, hard look at what we did? As a family, as a team, in our fatherhood, in our fatherness, and as a coach, as a leader, always different things. I think like if we’re really honing in on those questions, year after year, after year, it really takes us into a really beautiful place.

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