Unlocking Life’s Hidden Principles: 5 Universal Insights for Executives and Leaders

Darren Kanthal
7 min readNov 7, 2023

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I don’t know about you, but my brain seems to be on overdrive — non-stop!

When I divorced in 2013, I remember my therapist asking me, “When do you relax?” I got defensive before replying, “I relax plenty!”

But she was too smart and saw through my bullshit.

Nowadays, at the ripe old age of 48-years-old, I’ve learned a few tricks to help unwind, relax, turn the engines down a little, and allow my brain to process things. It’s in this downtime of relaxing that I find I’m able to see the angles and connecting points between this and that.

As a Coach, I regularly try to find connecting points between my clients’ lives and their professions.

I believe that people generally aren’t great at compartmentalizing. Rather, work and life bleed into each other — even with our best efforts and bluster about how we “check our emotions at the door” or how effective we are at separating “church and state” (aka — home and office).

During a 2-week European vacation with my partner Rachel, I started to notice how we showed up on this trip and how our day-to-day lives had some relevance to work. And then it dawned on me — how great is it that the way I live life applies to all aspects, kinda like I don’t need to have one operating system for how I operate at home and a completely different one to excel at work.

Instead, I apply the same general principles at the office, on the couch at home, and navigating foreign cities without getting overly stressed and worke up.

5 Universal Principles for Living Our Best Lives

Here are the 5 principles that I uncovered.

#1 Partner with the Right Partners

Have you ever been on a trip with someone you didn’t like or had material differences with? I have! And it sucked! It made what was supposed to be a fun adventure that much less enjoyable — all because I didn’t have the right partner(s).

Rachel and I are compatible in many ways — along with having many differences. At the core, minus a few long-standing disagreements, we see life in similar ways. The adventure and excitement of life, the common courtesy and respect we show one another and others, the level of customer service we extend to our clients, the ability to look internally, not always point the finger outwards, and apologize for our part in the situation, and the way we eat and exercise (to name a few).

Another thing we share is that we don’t plan very well. Other than missing a tour of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, we scheduled what we wanted (Anne Frank House, Dauchau, & Oktoberfest) — and left the rest of the trip to the serendipity of impromptu adventure.

Without the right partner, those 2-weeks might have been a slog and less fun.

Having the right partner(s) is imperative to our success.

#2 Have the Right Resources

For those that don’t know, eating with me can be a real pain in the butt! Not only do I need to eat a gluten-free diet — but I’m also dairy-free. For part of our trip, with our bellies grumbling, we’d walk up to a menu at a restaurant, glance at the key to see if they indicate Gluten-Free — and then look at our options. All too often, our response was — NEXT!

That was until we uncovered the amazing app: Find Me GF. As a gluten-free guy — this app is fantastically amazing! Instead of walking from restaurant to restaurant trying to find what to eat, we logged into our handy app, found the type of food we wanted to eat, put the restaurant address on the phone, and off we went!

Having the right resources is another one of those imperatives to living our best lives.

Think about it — at work, we have a myriad of systems and tools. Email, text, CRM’s, Cloud-Based document management, etc. Without these tools, we’re going back to the days of using an abacus, rolodex, and fax machines. No, thank you!

In order to live our best lives at work and home — we need the right resources.

#3 Embrace the Unknown

One of my top 5 values is flexibility, and I see it play out in my life daily. (If you’d like to know your top 5 values — check out my values assessment.)

Adventure is another one of my top 5 values. Combine the 2, and they add up to some great experiences.

Without an itinerary, many of our days started on foot by leaving our hotel with a destination in mind for coffee, sweets, or a meal. Once we walked out of the lobby, and only knowing our destination, we were free to meander wherever we chose.

On one occasion, we stopped at a street fair and bought some really cool artwork. On another, we found jewelry for a family member.

The flexibility to take a right when Google Maps said to go straight, to embrace the unknown of what unfolded down this alley or this street, made the adventure of our trip all that much more enjoyable.

Even with the best-laid plans and strategy — things almost always veer off course and don’t go as planned.

In my personal life and experience with many that I coach, those who apply a sense of flexibility to the unknown thrive more than those who lament why life didn’t unfold as they planned.

#4 Be Clear on Your Commitments

… and also know when to break them.

Both Rachel and I like to exercise and eat well. Although she doesn’t follow my exact protocol — we generally eat the same things.

For my GI and overall comfort (which is another of my top 5 values) to be optimized, I need to be pretty diligent about what I eat.

For most of our trip, we both held to our commitment of health and wellness (you guessed it — health and wellness are another top 5). We walked 6–8 miles almost everday, exercised at the hotel gym a couple of times, and ate healthy and tasty food…

Until we didn’t! Which was perfectly OK!!

I mean — when in Munich, you drink Oktoberfest beer with as much gluten as you can get!
I know the commitments to myself, and I know the consequences when I break them. My eyes were wide open, and there was no BS’ing myself. I knew what was going to transpire after breaking my personal commitment.

When we break commitments, knowingly or not, we need to own it, take whatever steps are necessary to recommit, and be unwavering.

#5 Stop and Smell the Roses

In Amsterdam, we didn’t smell roses — we stopped and bought tulip bulbs. This was on yet another adventurous trip to a restaurant that supposedly had the best GF sweets (they were good, but not the best).

Along this particular 2ish-mile stroll through Amsterdam, we saw this bulb shop, stopped, looked at the wide varieties of tulips that we’d never seen, and bought 4 bags of them.

This sort of stopping happened throughout our entire trip — to reflect on the fun we were having, to give each other a hug, to marvel at the architecture — or a pianist playing beautifully in front of a massive and ornate castle-looking building in Munich, the New Town Hall Tower, to marveling over the low cost (approx. $80) of the biggest meal we had during the whole trip — the sizzle, steam rising, and aroma rising from the steak, the colors of the shellfish in the paella, and the syrupy goodness of the Limoncello to cap off the evening.

See the pianist here!

All too often, we rush through life without literally seeing what’s around us, celebrating our accomplishments, resting, or embracing our loved ones. Stopping to smell the roses (or to buy the tulips!) means we take time to appreciate the moments that make life worth living.

Applying The 5 Universal Principles

These 5 principles have the power to transform our lives, and it’s important to remember that they aren’t limited to one area of life. Work and home are not separate entities; they are interconnected, and what we learn in one sphere inevitably influences the other.

Remember — even the most meticulously planned journeys can take an unexpected turn — just like our quest for gluten-free options, or the moment when Oktoberfest beer beckons with irresistible allure.

So, let’s navigate our everyday work adventures and our vacation travel plans with these universal principles in our backpacks, and don’t be surprised if life occasionally hands us a menu without a “Gluten-Free” key. After all, it’s these detours that often become our most cherished stories and life lessons.

Cheers to finding the right partners, the right resources, embracing the unpredictable and making every moment count!

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Darren Kanthal

Darren is a values-driven leadership and career coach who supports mid-career leaders with transformative career action plans and candid coaching conversations.