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The 5 Ethics of Life You Need to Know About



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I recently read the 5 Ethics of Life from The Wise You. I believe these 5 principles offer a great deal of wisdom for living a very successful life.

1. Listen Before You Speak

Every successful person I have ever worked with has developed the ability to listen.

I was directing a basketball clinic in New York and went to dinner with a high school coach and the legendary UCLA coach, John Wooden. Coach Wooden’s UCLA teams won 7 NCAA National Basketball Tournaments in a row and 10 in the last 12 years he coached. I don’t think either of these feats will ever be eclipsed.

If you had been at that dinner and you thought speaking was the key to intelligence, you would have thought the high school coach was John Wooden and Coach Wooden the high school coach. The high school coach did most of the talking and one of, if not the best, team coach in the history of American sport did most of the listening.

My daughter, Colleen, is a lawyer who worked exclusively in the Hedge Fund industry. She often had to negotiate contracts where a great deal of money was on the table. So, everyday when she opened her computer, she read this quote, “I won’t learn anything today by talking; but I will learn today by listening.”

2. Earn Before You Spend.

I worked at a university where budgets were quite tight. When we needed more dollars in our athletic individual sport budgets or to expand something for all our sports, we were often told to earn or fundraise the money needed. I was involved with both these areas as I was the basketball coach and the athletic director/chair.

To better serve our student-athletes we needed to expand our weight room. Many of the athletes we recruited were from high schools where the weight rooms were bigger and better than what we had at our university. To accomplish this expansion, we had to raise the money. We reached our goal through the initiation of a golf outing that continues to serve athletics today.

The same problem existed with our basketball budget. Our budget was inadequate to serve our players the way they deserved to be served. Once again, we had to earn the money before we could spend it. So, we started a  clinic for Chicago area coaches. The clinic enhanced our budget by 38%. 

It would have been nice to be given the money for these two necessities, but by earning the money before we could spend it, we were very judicious in our spending.

“To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.” – Reba

3. Think Before You Write.

I believe I learned two valuable lessons from two good friends on thinking before writing.

My first lesson came from a very successful businessman. His advice was that it was okay to write about something you were angry about. However, don’t send it that day. His wisdom was to read it the next morning when you had cooled off, tear it up, and then rewrite it.

My second important lesson was directed to the writing segment of thinking before you write. A successful college administrator taught me this. As a leader you often have a colleague come to you with an idea he is excited about. If you begin talking about it at that moment, that conversation may end up taking two hours of your day.

Instead of talking about it when he/she brings their idea to you, tell them to put it in writing, bring it back to you, and the two of you will discuss it. This philosophy makes them think before they write. Their new concept(s) will be more concise and more organized when they come to the discussion.

One other thought about people interrupting your day with their ideas. A professor at Notre Dame said he complained for 25 years that he could get little done at work because of all the interruptions. Then in his 26th year, he realized the interruptions were his work.

Leaders must listen to the interruptions because they are important to the people bringing them. However, you benefit both them and you when you tell them to think, then write.

4. Try Before You Quit.

Thomas Edison is said to have failed in 10,000 experiments before he founded electricity. He must have had a strong FQ – Failure Quotient. He could and did fail often but he had the resiliency to keep getting back up.

Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to be one of, if not the best, president in American history, lost the great majority of all the elections he ran in before being elected president. Like Edison, he had a strong FQ.

The movie, RUDY, may be the best example of combining trying with a strong FQ that I have seen in my lifetime. I know Rudy Ruettiger quite well and the movie accurately portrays the many obstacles he had to overcome to get admitted to Notre Dame and to become a walk-on with the football team. I am positive he was the only person in his life who believed he could accomplish either dream!

It is easy to quit; it is tough to try, most especially when the odds are not in your favor.

The title of the Reverend Robert Schuller’s outstanding book represents the most important concept in trying – Tough Times Don’t Last but Tough People Do. 

5. Live Before You Die.

I was fortunate to be asked to present basketball camps and clinics in some European countries. These events presented great opportunities for me to live before I died.

This travel offered me a great learning experience. One of the best parts of these trips was how educational they were. They brought me to places I never would have seen in my lifetime were it not for basketball.

In Belgium coaches took me to Ardennes where one of the most important battles in World War II was fought, The Battle of the Bulge. After the Allied Forces won this battle, the Germans retreated for the rest of the war. I will never forget looking at the pillars which listed all the states where American soldiers who were killed in that battle lived.

In Ireland I saw the beauty of the Ring of Kerry and the extraordinary Cliffs of Moher, but it was the warmth and the incredible hospitality of the Irish people that I remember most.

In Austria the coaches brought me to a concentration camp. Although I had read a great deal about the holocaust, I was not prepared at all for what I saw. It was the most eerie feeling I have ever had in my life. It is unbelievable that the Nazis could even think of, let alone do, the atrocities that were done in that camp and camps throughout Europe. 

In Greece I went to the Acropolis. There are no tall buildings in Athens because from ever building the Acropolis must be seen. It was a long walk to the top, so I asked the coaches how did the workers carry all the marble to the top of the hill when they were building before the life of Christ? Their answer was – SLOWLY!

When we traveled with our team throughout the United States, we tried to have our players live before they died. They had the opportunity to go to Cooperstown in New York: Fenway Park in Boston; the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City; Juarez, Mexico while playing in El Paso; skiing in Colorado; and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to name a few. Our trips were much more than basketball.

Final Thoughts

These 5 Ethics or principles can lead to a most successful life:

  • Listen. Before You Speak.
  • Earn. Before You Spend.
  • Think. Before You Write.
  • Try. Before You Quit.
  • Live. Before You Die.

Pat Sullivan was a successful coach, teacher, and administrator in the Chicago area for 44 years – 10 years at the high school level and 34 at the collegiate level. His basketball teams won 602 games; he was named Coach-of-the-Year 11 times; and he has been inducted into 8 Halls of Fame. He has received Lifetime Achievement awards from Lewis University, the Joliet, Illinois, Chamber of Commerce, and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. Pat has offered basketball clinics and camps in Austria, Ireland, Belgium, and Greece and has spoken at clinics throughout America for the USA Coaches Clinics. He has also spoken to business executives from IBM, Accenture, and Sun Microsystems, as well as the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like A Champion conference. He is the author of Attitude-The Cornerstone of Leadership and Team-Building: From the Bench to the Boardroom.

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