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David Simmons: A Letter To My Former Self

In a few weeks, I will have the honor of giving the commencement address to one of the graduating classes of the University of Central Florida.  As a Florida State Senator who has had the opportunity to be a big part of the success of Florida and the growth of UCF in the past 17 years, I will be challenging these graduates, and seeking to inspire them to reach the full extent of their potential.

I will be talking to these students not only as a Senator, but also as the financial managing partner of DSK Law, one of Central Florida’s largest and most successful law firms.  I will be counseling these students about how to work with others in business.  I will do so as a Senator who has not forgotten that in Florida, legislators are expected to remain “citizen legislators” who continue working in their chosen careers.  For me, that has meant continuing in the active practice of law at DSK Law, and specializing in business litigation.

At this time, however, I have the opportunity of writing to you, David Simmons, my former self, regarding my challenges to you, and the lessons I have learned that I can impart to you.  You have just graduated from Tennessee Technological University, and will be attending Vanderbilt University Law School this fall.  I will give to you 12 rules to guide your life.

First, I want you to know that you, like everyone else, will have major challenges in your life.  It’s only in TV and in the movies that everything in the past can be forgotten and every show has a happy ending.  Instead, life goes on after each success, and the challenges continue.   No one is immune from the continual grind of life.  There is no greatness without the grind.  As Dolly Parton said, “the way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”  Also, thank God for the prayers that He does not answer.  Said another way, “no” sometimes is an answer to your prayers, because what you want now may not be what you really need, and only years later will you realize that it was best that you did not get at that time what you wanted.

Second, count your blessings.   You are responsible for 90% of what happens to you.  Don’t blame others for what you have done to yourself.  You are the architect of your future. As Stephen Covey, the author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” says, “I am not a product of my circumstances.  I am a product of my decisions.”  

Third, since you are responsible for yourself — there is no substitute for hard work.  As Thomas Jefferson said, it seems the harder I work, the luckier I get.  He realized that success is more than luck; we more often than not make our own opportunities.

Fourth, surround yourself with good people who will support you, as you support them.  There is an old Spanish proverb:  “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.”  Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.  Your success will derive from surrounding yourself with good, hardworking people. If you hang around friends with bad character, you more likely than not will pick up those traits.

Fifth, read the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey.   Read it several times a year. It teaches you that you must be proactive, not reactive.  You must start each project with the end in mind, and not deviate from that goal.  And you must treat others with respect; to do that you must understand what others are telling you. Listen with empathy and treat your employees just like you treat your best customers.  And all of these keys to success are based on your having good character, because there cannot be success without good character – traits like honesty and treating others the same as you would like to be treated.  Above all, be honest.

Sixth, 95% of success results from just showing up, and doing so consistently and on time.  The other 5% results from listening when you get there.  As Walt Disney said, “the difference between winning and losing is most often not quitting.”

Seventh, when dealing with others, it’s not just the message, it’s the way the message is delivered.  Words do matter, and you can say things that you simply cannot take back.  When you have to make a decision, especially one that involves saying something that you may not be able to take back, sleep on it.  It’s amazing how a problem looks different the next morning.

Eighth, don’t procrastinate.  Preparation is the key to success.  As a great trial lawyer, Louis Nizer, once said, “There are three secrets to success in trial – preparation, preparation, and preparation.”   At the same time, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Don’t keep redoing a project so many times that it never gets done.

Ninth, pick a hero, someone to admire and emulate.  It may be your grandfather, your father, your mother, or maybe Abraham Lincoln.  Pick someone you admire, and who has the great characteristic of honesty.

Tenth, love your family.  You will be lucky enough to have two children, and you will find that, in the end, it’s all about your children.  And tell them often how much you love them. They will make your life worth living and the sacrifices worth making.

Eleventh, no matter how bad it gets, you must remain calm.  Losing your temper will not make a bad situation better.  People look for a leader based on his or her ability to remain calm in times of crisis.

Twelfth, get as much education as possible and never stop learning.  You will be increasingly in a world that demands that you keep learning.  Success will be easier to those who are educated.  And learn another language, because success in the world will demand it.

Follow these rules, and you will be a success.  You will leave this world a better place than when you arrived.  And that’s all each one of us can ask of life.

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