Alain de Botton

by | Oct 18, 2019 | Thought Piece Series

This is part of my Thought Piece Series where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward.

I’ve been geeking out with Alain de Botton for the last couple of years via YouTube. I’ve got a major mind-crush on the guy. So when I saw that he was coming to Amsterdam to give a talk, I gave myself the best. gift. ever. I am only sharing a small amount of his immense wisdom in this post as there is too much to fit in one post.

Alain de Botton - photo courtesy of the School of Life

Here’s a bonus to the thought piece – on a regular basis, give yourself gifts that make you feel good, that elevate your soul, lift your spirit. Basically, that makes some part of your rise up in joy. It is necessary and will change how you are and what you do for at least a day.

“We learn everything at school except for the things that really matter” – (paraphrased) Alain de Botton

It’s a bold statement, but what does it mean?

Well, we learn lots of technical, functional information at school. But poor math skills or lack of technology don’t cause real problems in the workplace.
These are not the things that make life go wrong.

Life, in and out of work, goes wrong when people don’t talk to each other, when there are misunderstandings when conflicts arise.
And the skills needed to interact successfully with a wide range of people (think about how tough diversity and inclusion is turning out to be) are not what we learn at school.

At the heart of The School of Life is the belief human life is impossible to perfect.

So stop trying to become perfect. Accept that you are imperfect, make mistakes, act foolishly, get angry, misunderstand, don’t know enough, get lost in the problem and can’t see the opportunity, don’t want to resolve that issue with Bob because he annoys you….. (sorry Bob, nothing personal)

Accept your imperfection and you will begin the important act of charity to yourself. Then accept that others are just like you too: imperfect.
From this basis, amazing things can be done. We can build around the imperfection.

So what do we need to learn?

To make real connection, don’t talk about your achievements, talk about these things:

  • what you are ashamed of
  • what you are afraid of
  • what you regret

We did this in the theatre. Turned to a stranger and introduced ourselves and told each other these things.
Now I know this doesn’t mean that the lady sitting behind me and I are now best friends. But saying these things to her, and hearing what she is ashamed of, afraid of, and regrets, created a connection: oh you are human just like me. I know you.

I don’t know about you, but when I deal with humans: real people that I can connect to, I have more patience, compassion, and understanding.
I can be more forthright – in a productive way instead of a destructive way.
Conflicts arise but they are resolvable.
I can work through whatever needs to be worked through and get to the other side with both of us in a better place, and more goals achieved.

It’s the “have done everything, are everything, perfect beings” that I struggle to interact with. They trigger the worst of me, my insecurities. Then I trigger the worst in them.
Result: the worst of ourselves start fighting with each other.

These ideas resonated with me and reflect something I have seen to be true. Plus accepting imperfection frees me from a pointless task of trying to achieve perfection. Instead, I go out and do what’s good enough to get the job done. And that’s pretty amazing most of the time.

Check out his videos on YouTube or check out The School Of Life. Let me know what you think about his philosophy of life.

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