June 01, 2016 Rōnin Reports

RŌNIN REPORTS: Life Lessons I Share with Students

Benjamin K. Sanchez

In addition to practicing law, I enjoy writing and speaking. Often, speaking reminds me of what I should be doing in my own life and affirms those good habits I’ve taken up. Although I often teach lawyers about substantive law, procedural rules, and ethics applied to our profession, I am happiest when I am able to speak to students. I enjoyed recently speaking to high school seniors in Houston about the importance of jury service, but I enjoyed speaking to a diverse audience in Washington, D.C., on life lessons even more. The event, held at Howard University School of Law, was a two-day conference called the Third Annual National Diversity Pre-Law Conference and Law Fair. The audience was made up of college students, law students, law professors, lawyers, and judges. I was one of the closing plenary session speakers and wanted to leave the conference attendees with some words of wisdom that I have learned in my life thus far. I now impart those points to you in this column.

Be a Failure

I encourage you to be a failure. Yes, I mean that! Fail often and fail big. For in the acts of failing, we learn. If you fail often in your life, that means you are trying new things. If you fail big in your life, that means you are trying grand things.

Now there is a difference between hitting your head against a brick wall repeatedly and learning from your failures. There are two ways to fail: forward and backward. If you fail backward, you find it difficult to get up and move. If you fail forward, you learn from your mistakes and get back up. If you fail backward, you blame everyone else but yourself and curse the world. If you fail forward, you evaluate what you did and look to change yourself. If you fail backward, you believe the failure is a sign to give up. If you fail forward, you know the failure is a learning lesson on how to do it again in an improved way. When you fail forward instead of backward, you are not a failure.

How many people have failed at something only to find success afterward? James Patterson, best-selling author, had his first book manuscript rejected 53 times before being accepted. If he had given up, he wouldn’t have enjoyed his splendid writing career. How many times did Thomas Edison fail at his prototype of the light bulb? Hundreds of times, but if he gave up, where would modern society be now? The fruit of failure should not be discouragement but rather encouragement because you have learned something new. So, go out in this world and don’t be afraid to fail, and when you do, make sure you fail forward!

Be Intentional

The musician Glenn Frey’s passing was significant for anyone who grew up listening to the Eagles. In “Already Gone,” Frey sang “So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” To me, this is another way of saying that we allow life to happen to us rather than taking control of our lives. Most people live their lives in a reactionary mode. I encourage you to be different and be intentional with your life.

You can build the life you want if you are intentional about the steps to get there. If you have to learn something to get where you want to be, then be intentional about the learning process. If you have to work long and hard to build the foundation of your career or law practice, then put in the necessary work. If you want to be a great parent, then model yourself after great parents and learn about the psychology of children. If you want to be an author, then write. As I often say, writers write and speakers speak.

When you are intentional about your life, you no longer have time to play games with people or allow drama into your life. You have a purpose in everything you do, and you act according to what will fulfill your purpose. The most successful people are not successful by accident. They are intentional in their lives and reap the rewards of such discipline.

Be Significant

We are often told that success is the be-all and end-all in this world. If we are successful, then we have made it. Success is what we should strive for in our lives. There is just one problem with this thinking: It is self-centered. I encourage people to transcend being successful and become significant. You see, success is about me, whereas significance is about we.

What good is finishing first if you are all alone? A true leader doesn’t finish alone, but rather finishes with a group of people. A great leader develops leaders from those around him or her and brings them along on the journey. While success sounds enticing and may be enjoyed temporarily, what we all yearn for in this world is significance, to have changed this world for the better because of our having lived in it. Remember, on our deathbed, our material successes won’t matter nearly as much as the changes we have made in people’s hearts and minds. Share your success with others and teach others to be successful, but more importantly, develop significance in your life.

Be a Leader of One Before Being a Leader of Many

How many times have you looked at someone and determined that he or she is a hypocrite? This person will say one thing but do another. It is difficult to follow a person whose life is not in sync with professed values. If Martin Luther King Jr. had been a violent man despite his mantra of non-violence, he would not have had the authority he did to lead a movement. What we sometimes forget is that we cannot lead others when we don’t lead ourselves.

In order to be significant, you must be a leader of one before being a leader of many. You must walk the walk before people will listen to you talk. Self-leadership doesn’t happen overnight but rather stems from that slow and steady grind of discipline. That’s why being intentional is so important. Would you follow a physical trainer who is out of shape? Would you listen to a teacher who has never done what he or she teaches? You cannot expect anyone to follow you or join you in your journey unless and until you become sincere about leading yourself. Now, I don’t think you have to be an expert before you can lead, but you must be authentic in your own life. People will gravitate toward you when you are sincere, authentic, and intentional.

Remember These Words

As you proceed in life, remember that bright-eyed student who was eager and ready to take on the world. Remember what he or she didn’t know and remind yourself of the words you would have liked someone to tell him or her, and then act accordingly in your life now. It is never too late to start a new beginning. So, I encourage all of you to fail, be intentional, and be significant. Lead yourself first and others will follow!

Benjamin K. Sanchez

Benjamin K. Sanchez is a commercial and collection litigation attorney and JMT-certified coach, trainer, and speaker in Houston, Texas.