Have you ever worked with somebody who taught you a valuable lesson that you have used in your life? Has anybody given you sage advice? It could be a boss, colleague, parent, teacher, coach, religious leader or somebody else whom you have been associated with during your life.

A good lesson learned will be etched in your memory and probably part of your daily routine. You can recite them in your sleep? Your poor family and friends have heard the lessons hundreds of times. You probably have tried to impart these valuable lessons to colleagues at work!

And sometimes they can be so simple it is astonishing that the lesson you learned has stayed with you for so long!

One that jumps to my mind came years ago when I was just fourteen years old. I was playing in a baseball all-star tournament and my team was set to go against a player who was an all-world pitcher. At practice the day before the game we were all intimidated by what we considered the herculean task of defeating this behemoth. We were even more of an underdog than David vs. Goliath! At least it felt that way!!

But I’ll never remember my coach, Mr. Wilkinson, telling us not to be intimidated by this guy and that he “puts his pants on one leg at a time just like we do. His message was clear. This guy was mortal and he was beatable. Well we went out the next day and won the game to advance to the National Championship Babe Ruth World Series. And thanks to Mr. Wilkinson I never ever let anybody intimidate me before a game for the rest of my career!! Any imposing situation I face, I recite the words of wisdom from Mr. Wilkinson!

I’m not even sure what Mr. Wilkinson did for a living. He was the head coach because his son played on the team but his simple lesson that day stuck with me and has served as an important lesson for me in all walks of life.

I have been blessed to have worked with some of the most successful people in this country. I have been raised and mentored by loving, caring and insightful parents. I had great teachers. I have worked for some great bosses. And I have learned from many of them. Their words or wisdom and knowledge have helped me to inspire thousands of staff members who have worked for me.

You must have lessons that you have learned and have helped shape your career and your life? Listed below you will find just a sampling of the many lessons that I have been taught over the years that have impacted my life decisions. I believe you will find them interesting, and perhaps surprising. In some cases, I believe the individual responsible for the lesson would be amazed to have made this list. Here you go:

“Pizza Theory”. This one came from one of my all-time favorite bosses, former UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker. Chancellor Hooker was probably the most visionary boss I ever had. You remember the old commercial about the financial services company that said when “EF Hutton talks, everybody listens?” Well, the same in real life could be said for Chancellor Hooker. When he spoke, he had the undivided attention of all. One of his theories was “the pizza theory.” Pizza theory??? What it means is that when we order a couple of slices of pizza we are so in a hurry to get to the second piece that we forget to enjoy the taste of the first slice of pizza! I find myself doing exactly the same with pizza and life. I rush through that first slice, stuffing it done my face, so focused on getting to the next slice that I forget to enjoy the taste of the first piece! So, a great leader must make sure to pause and celebrate the success of the team. Enjoy the success. You will move on quickly to the next “pizza slice” in your business journey but don’t cheat yourself of enjoying the “first slice” or first business success.
“It takes a 100% return to break even when you have lost 50%”. This one comes from Mark Yusko, the very successful CEO and Founder of a multi-billion dollar investment firm. Mark was a colleague at UNC where he served as Chief Investment Officer at UNC. Mark, who is a good friend, is a very wise and smart investor. His lesson was simple and dealt with managing risk and looking for opportunities in growth and value of your investments. When you have a stock that trades at $4/share and it drops to $2/share that is a 50% decrease. To get back to the original price of $4/share, you will need a 100% return – taking the stock from $2/share to $4/share! Simple but profound!! His point was that with endowment and investment returns you don’t want to decline or go backwards because a 50% drop will necessitate a 100% increase to bring you back to the price where you started!
“Put Yourself in a Position where Good Things will Happen”. This lesson comes from my former UNC head football coach Bill Dooley. Coach Dooley recruited my brother Chris and me to UNC so we will forever be grateful. And Coach Dooley was probably the coach most responsible for elevating the level of football being played in the ACC. Coach Dooley was tough, he was old school as a former offensive lineman, he was totally committed to the running game and the discipline and power it took to run the ball, and he disdained the forward pass during our UNC years. He would often cite that “3 things can happen when you throw the ball and two (incompletion and interception) are bad!” But Coach Dooley was a man of lessons and one his favorite sayings was that you needed “to put yourself in a position where good things will happen.” It meant that as players we must know our assignments, we must have prepared and practiced hard for the game, and we must have gotten our rest. If we were physically and mentally prepared to put yourself in a position where good things will happen, then undoubtedly good things would happen. We make the plays and create the opportunities. So, much like everything we do in life we have to be ready, we have to prepare and then we have to execute. If we do, we will have “put ourselves in a position where good things will happen.”
“Solicitation is part of the cultivation”. This lesson comes from Paul Fulton, one the true giants I have ever worked with. And maybe the individual I learned the most lessons from. Paul was a UNC graduate from tiny Walnut Cove, NC (population 1,000) who went on to become President of Sara Lee Corporation, the huge consumer goods company. Paul also served in many other key roles including Dean of the UNC Business School and Bank of America Board of Director member. Paul was the co-chair of the Carolina First Campaign which raised $2.4B and at the time was the 5th largest completed university campaign in U.S. history! Paul was the most remarkable “make things happen” person I have ever worked with in my life! This lesson comes from his work as the volunteer leaders of this huge UNC campaign. We had a number of fundraisers who would take prospects to lunch every week but would never get around to asking for the philanthropic gift! And then they would go to lunch the following week with the same outcome. Finally, Paul – in a bit of frustration – taught us the lesson that the “solicitation is part of the cultivation!” This means that to move the process to closure it is often important to put the proposal on the table even if it doesn’t close at that meeting. Asking for the business helps to drive future conversations between the prospect and fundraiser and puts everybody on the same page. I truly great lesson for all of us in whatever line of business we are in.
These are but a few of the countless lessons I have learned over the years that have impacted the decisions I make in my professional and personal life. I’d love to hear examples of lessons you have learned if you would be willing to share them. Please go to mattkupec.com and on the contact page, let me know the lessons you have learned.

About the Author (mattkupec.com)
Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience. He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership. He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.