I’m fairly confident that you remember the lyric that Steven Tyler from Aerosmith popularized – “Life’s a Journey, not a destination….”
However, did you know that the Grateful Dead never played the same song twice?
This post is about learning how to enjoy the process and not losing focus about what life is all about.
Let me share a quick story with you about one of my great mentors and a lesson that I was taught that will forever stick with me….a piece of wisdom that I intend to share with my kids and a story I pass on at every opportunity.
Many of you know that my entrepreneurial life started while I was in college.
In fact, post high school I was a “professional student” for 9 years having graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from Penn State University, a M.S. from Villanova University, and a J.D. from Albany Law School.
It was during my years at Penn State that I learned one of the golden lessons of life…..
During my junior and senior years at Penn State I had the honor of working with a distinguished, internationally recognized psychology professor – Dr. Aaron Pincus.
Dr. Pincus was not your typical college professor having attended over 300 Grateful Dead shows and having been mentored himself by one of the Godfather’s of interpersonal psychology theory Jerry Wiggins who interestingly worked with and was influenced intellectually by the iconic Timothy Leary.
Dr. Pincus has an incredible talent to develop his undergraduate research students (I was one of them) by allowing them to work directly and closely with his doctoral students. I can remember vividly several times where Dr. Pincus would ask me my opinion on a given research project during the same discussion he was having with established 3rd and 4th year Ph.D. students – I can’t tell you the profound positive impact that had on me personally because it forced me to be as thoughtful as possible and really think about the topic at hand. Moreover, as a young guy who was still finding his confidence it was an eye opener – it allowed me to feel smart and that I too could get a Ph.D. or for that matter….that my opinion was important and valued….and that I should have the confidence to express it.
Dr. Pincus was the guy that inspired me to go to graduate school and also lit a fire at the time for my interest in studying interpersonal relationships (and living life to the fullest). While I ended up writing my Master’s Thesis on interpersonal relationships and carried on the Aaron Pincus / Jerry Wiggins tradition for a few years at Villanova University (with Dr. John Kurtz) that’s not the point of this piece – I digress, but I just had to share with you the power of mentors…and a bit more on the great man Aaron Pincus.
The moral of this piece is about one of the secrets Dr. Pincus shared with me regarding what he personally learned from following the Grateful Dead!
One day about midway through my senior year at Penn State my great mentor Dr. Pincus and I crossed paths on the second floor of the Moore Building.
Dr. Pincus noticed that I seemed a bit run down, a bit beat up.
He called out my name and asked me a seemingly simply, everyday question:
Kris – How’s it going?
My response was pretty automated – “Ahhhhhhh, everything is OK. I mean, things are good.”
Apparently my body language told a completely different story……so Pincus grabs me by the shirt and pulls me in a bit closer to him and asks me again…
Kris, no seriously. How’s it going? Is everything O.K.?
I proceed to tell Dr. Pincus that I had gotten my scores back on the Graduate Records Exam (GRE’s) and that the test kicked my ass and that I had no chance of getting into any graduate schools.
He looked at me….took about 3 seconds or so to think about how to respond to me…and said:
Kris – What are you doing later this afternoon – say around 4:00pm or so?
Before I could respond with some lame reason for why I wouldn’t be able to meet with him he asked me to meet him at the Nittony Lion Inn for a drink….to chat.
So that’s what I did.
I arrived at the Nittony Lion Inn at 4pm and Dr. Pincus is sitting at a table with a pitcher of beer (Killian’s if I recall correctly) and two glasses.
Ironically, half the pitcher was already gone but that’s just because my great mentor knew how to have a good time.
So I sit down with Pincus and we start to shoot the bull…..he asked me about some of the schools I applied to, what I thought about the the PSU Football team, etc.
Then Dr. Pincus asked me if I listened to the Grateful Dead.
I shared that I did on occasion and that some of my friends were huge fans….saw them in concert, etc., but that in general I liked the Dead but wasn’t a Dead Head.
He proceeded to talk to me about life and the value of enjoying the process.
I’m not certain why….maybe it was the tremendous respect I had for Dr. Pincus’ advice….maybe it was how sincere Dr. Pincus was as a person and friend….and that I knew there was some purpose to the meeting outside of enjoying a few beers…..but this conversation and moment changed the rest of my life.
Pincus continues……”Kris…..the amazing thing about the Grateful Dead is that they never play the same song twice….”
“Every song is original because the Dead understand that in life it’s about enjoying the process….”
Profound I thought.
I asked a few questions. Stuff like….yeah, I remember my buddy Michael (Jones) playing the Dead and some of the songs seemed like they lasted for 20 minutes. He said – “Yep, and some of them last for only a few minutes….The Dead would allow the music to play them, they didn’t play the music.”
As the conversation proceeded Dr. Pincus brought up the frustration and fear that I was facing with having done poorly on the GRE’s within the context of kicking ass as a student (I graduated with a 3.79 GPA overall and 4.0 in my major)…..having a loving family….and basically having the world by the balls….if I wanted it.
Pincus really believed in me, but more importantly he believed that life is a journey, not a destination.
Over the years I have reflected back on my meeting with Dr. Pincus hundreds of times.
I’ve shared the story during dozens of speeches in front of hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people.
Life is short.
Many people don’t take action because they fear the outcome.
Too many people aren’t happy because they are unable to enjoy the process.
It’s in the process that happiness is found not in the end result.
It took a great mentor at a very impressionable time of my life to spill the beans on what I believe is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received:
“Kris, just like the Grateful Dead…..you have to enjoy the process of life and not focus too much on the end result. Don’t play the music, let the music play you.”
Thanks for the sage advice, friendship, and extraordinary Mentorship Dr. Pincus.