Every so often after I have given a motivational keynote speech or seminar, a person will comment:
Sometimes they will say it in person, to my face; other times they will share this feedback in post-event surveys, where their anonymity is ensured.
I feel badly for these select individuals as it appears that they don’t have any room for new insight, learning or experience. There is no more space for anything in fact, new or old. Their cup is full and therefore their growth is limited.
“Empty Your Cup” is a fundamental life concept and it also is a central theme in the martial arts. The premise is that if one’s cup is full of preconceptions and prejudices, there isn’t any more room for new learning, knowledge, or experiences .
In this video clip from the movie The Forbidden Kingdom, the character, Lu Yuan (played by Jackie Chan), imparts this wisdom somewhat poignantly to the student Jason Tripitikas (played by Michael Angarano).
Young people get bored easily
When I was training in the art of Tae Kwon Do, I would see this kind of impatience in teenagers. They frequently got bored when lessons were repeated or if the action wasn’t exciting enough. They would first check out mentally, then emotionally, and then they would stop coming altogether. Their cup was full; they became disinterested; sticking around wasn’t worth their time. Information and experience just poured over and could not be captured. They stopped learning.
Adults check out too
You might jump to the conclusion that this is a matter of immaturity on the part of young people, or a natural urge to dabble and experiment in lots of things. You could also say that there is a need for age-appropriate, engaging curriculum.
This may all be true when it comes to the Millennial generation; but I see the same dynamic in adults as well. We expect to be entertained, spoon fed, and continuously stimulated by technology, videos, bullet pointed information, pictures, mashups and media.
We have little tolerance or patience for slow-moving information or ideas, solutions or people that don’t immediately blow your mind. It’s like a fast-food addiction, but for thoughts and ideas, rather than burgers and fries. Our taste buds for learning have fundamentally been altered, and not necessarily for the better.
What can you do to ensure that you stay open to learning and development?
1. Empty your cup. Change your attitude. Cast off your arrogance and know-it-all beliefs. Give your ego a rest and realize that anyone and anything can offer you a valuable learning experience. Suspend your limiting beliefs and open your mind to new ideas, new information and new people who are different than you. And always remember that knowing something is very different from putting that knowing to use.
“Knowledge is not power; knowledge is only potential power. Action is power.” – Anthony Robbins
2. Deepen your cup. You’ve heard of the bottomless cup of coffee? Well, perhaps you could adopt a similar policy for how you serve up learning and development for yourself and others. Become a lifetime learner. Read more. Listen more. Observe more. Attend classes. Continuously sharpen your stick. You might think you are the subject matter expert, but you will always be a student. The journey to mastery is a lifelong venture.
3. Get a new cup. When all else fails, you can start over again with a new cup. That might be required when your industry/profession has had a fundamental disruption and your skill set is no longer relevant. Or perhaps you’ve had a life changing experiencing – such as cancer, a disability, a bankruptcy, or a divorce – an experience that changes the way you interact with the world. In life, you can start over and rebuild…with a new cup. (But first you have to put the old cup down)
Your Networking Goal for the Week
This week, I want you to take a good, long look at your cup of knowledge and how you have been responding to new information, new ideas and new people.
Start by recreating the physical experiment shown in the movie clip above: where the cup is almost full and you continue to pour more liquid into the cup. See what happens when it becomes to overflow. You can use a cup of tea or coffee or water. See what kind of mess you create when you are physically unable to receive and to hold the new content. (I suggest you do this little experiment over a kitchen sink.)
Now reflect on the times in the recent past when you were closed to new ideas, new information or new ways of looking at things. What kinds of messes did you make? Who else was impacted? What relationships were impacted as a result of your “my cup is full; I don’t need more of what you have to offer me” thinking and behavior?
As you network this week, having conversations with new and existing relationships at work and at home, practice the strategy of emptying your cup before engaging with others. Listen more actively. Don’t finish their sentences. Don’t disregard information that they share with you just because you think you already know, or because you are wiser, older, smarter, more powerful, etc. Be a student of relationships. Build new people bridges. Allow the people in your professional and personal networks to enrich you with new learning. Make room in your cup.