How To Avoid Being a Has-Been

A couple of weeks ago, I found a webpage with some interesting climbing photos taken at a local quarry in which I spent nearly a decade in 1990s climbing. I asked a few questions in a most friendly way to the person who had posted the photos, commenting about how technical grading of some classic climbs had changed since the ‘old’ days. To my surprise, I received a hateful note from the 30-something year old banker, who questioned my contributions to the climbing community, how I made my living, challenged me to climb at the quarry, and called me a ‘ has-been’. This potential online flame war could have lasted to Christmas. Instead it caused me to reflect on what constitutes a ‘ has-been’, and what causes people to respond online in a way they never do face-to-face. Here are some life’s lessons in avoiding being a has-been – which I hope may filter one day to the ‘Banker Boy’, as I’d like to refer to him.

1) Don’t Insult People You Haven’t Met: This is a fundamental, and idiot-proof skill in getting on in life, building bridges and developing new contacts. Just 2 weeks ago at a professional association meeting, the evening’s speaker insulted a member of the audience. You kind of wonder why people dynamite bridges they haven’t even seen fit to cross. Has-beens do this as they struggle with the anger in dealing with declining competency and popularity

2) Constantly Learn From Others and Apply the Learning: Another no-brainer, but how many of us do what we have learnt from others? Often times, has-beens are has-beens because they failed to re-invent themselves, and always focus on fading past glories, instead of building adding fresh value to everyone around us. But when you shut down an intelligent discussion and opportunity to learn by doing Para. 1, how can any wisdom pass through Banker Boy’s ego-clouded brain?

3) Be Known for Your Expertise, Avoid Being ‘Famous’: Fame is fleeting and people’s memories are short. Instead, whether in your company, or outside, seek to be the “go to” person for specific skills and expertise. I’d like to think that climbing Mt Everest in a flat tropical island can make you famous for a while, but is so much better if you can learn how to help others in their unique context, tackle their own personal ‘ Everests” instead

4) Pick Your Fights: If you want to turn up for a gunfight, don’t bring a pea- shooter. You won’t last long. Knowing which battles to fight in your career can help you win long-term and build your reputation. Picking the wrong ones just send you straight to Corporate Hell, and grant you ‘has-been’ status

So, if you are ever in Singapore, and meet a 30-something year-old banker who climbs, disses older, perhaps wiser people as ‘ has-beens’, just let him be. He’s becoming one quickly without anyone’s help. In the meantime, this old “has-been” is preparing for an expedition in August. Stay tuned at