Life lessons from everyone you’ve ever met

There’s a saying that ‘you’re a collection of all the people you’ve ever met’. I love that idea, although I did once meet an 80-year-old drunken retired sailor who still lived on his rotting boat in Marseille harbour, so I’m not sure what part of me is him. However, I do think it’s true that you learn something from every encounter, however brief, and sometimes it’s the small encounters that can leave you with the biggest lessons.


(n.b. On the right, the sailor. On the left, my friend. Not to be confused.)

A few years ago, I met a new sales manager at my company. He wasn’t actually my manager, but I happened to be in the room as he delivered his first welcome to his new team, sharing ideologies and words of encouragement. However, not long after that meeting, he decided to leave the job (potentially because he was unimpressed by the poor meeting room availability which meant that people like me could earwig into his team meetings).

Despite this solitary, one-off encounter, what I heard him share has stuck with me ever since, to the extent that I have essentially stolen his approach and now use it with my own teams. I would give him credit but I don’t even know his name, so maybe if he’s reading this (unlikely as he’s not my wife or Facebook friend) he’ll know it’s him I’m talking about – and will have forgiven me for my slow, loud, keyboard typing and confracall-yelling which potentially drove him to hand in his resignation before the ink was dry on his contract.

'Allo 'Allo

So, what was it that this mystery man, a fleeting presence in my life back in the days before the iPhone arrived, actually said? Well, in essence, there are five things you need to do to be brilliant, and I had to listen carefully as he said them only once:

1. Be the best you can be

2. Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it

3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

4. Seek to improve yourself

5. Have fun

In my view, these are the perfect collection of traits to aim for. Always do your best, explore what your best could be and go for it, try not to let people down, set realistic expectations and keep your promises, show empathy and understanding, take time to get to know other people, keep learning (however big or small), and most importantly, enjoy yourself. All of these are captured in the five simple traits above, and if you (or your teams) aim to achieve these five things, I guarantee you’ll be successful. Probably.


If those are the five things to fight for, what are the things to fly from? In another meeting of minds which has influenced my thinking, founder of The Brain People and Coach Extraordinaire James Hutchinson discussed what’s called the ‘three diseases in life’, the common traps that people fall in to, making them slightly less brilliant than they could otherwise be.

In no particular order, these are:

1. Certainty

2. Self-importance

3. Seriousness

Look around your office today, and see how many examples of these three that you can spot. People being absolutely sure that their opinion is right, their idea the best one, or that they definitely absolutely did something and could not have made a mistake. People who over-estimate the importance of this opinion above everyone else’s, send an URGENT email that should be your priority too, or feel the need to tell you their news first. And people who believe their job is the most important of everyone’s, barely cracking a smile in fear of letting their finely-honed and practiced work-facade slip allowing everyone to see their true (and probably quite nice) personality.


This collection of dos and don’ts aren’t just relevant in the work environment, either. Think about being at home – how much better would your life be with your partner if you both took the time to be in each other’s shoes (not literally), or did what you said you’d do when you said you’d do it (I’ve been promising to fix a cupboard door for over a year). How often are you 100% certain of your opinion when your family has a different view (I definitely told you I was going out for a drink after work tonight…), or you think what you have to say should be heard above others (I’m in charge of the remote control.) And how much better would it be if you laughed at the silly things that happened, rather than getting annoyed at them? (I’ve spilt the Paint. Everywhere. Again. It’s on my face. Again.)

So there we have it. Five things to do and three things to avoid, stolen from people I’ve met in the last few years, that have shaped my career decisions and direction.

Across the web there’s a huge number of books, blogs, and vlogs which will give you all kinds of hints and tips to be better. But in my opinion, these eight traits are a pretty good place to start.


I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

2 Thoughts

  1. No one might have asked you owing to the fact that they would not want to see anyone think low about them. In reality, it is a gnawing fact in the minds of everyone who is living a mediocre life and would want to somehow make something good of their very existence. Thank you for your valuable post. Hope I will keep them in mind every time I feel like I am not being brilliant.

  2. John

    A lovely post and filled with wisdom and humility in equal measure. The concept is very near to guiding principles, something that I’ve put a lot of investment in through the years and which is dear to me.

    Thank you.

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