by Andrew Carpenter
Stephen Duneier’s list of life accomplishments is quite impressive. After graduating from New York University Stern School of Business, one of the top financial programs in the world, he has been an Exotics Derivative trader, the Currency Options Manager for Bank of America, the Global Head of Emerging Markets for AIG International, and the founder and CIO of two award-winning global hedge funds. These accomplishments are just a summary of his professional career. Duneier has also taught himself German, acquired auto racing licenses, became an aerobatics helicopter pilot, marathon runner, world-renowned yarnbomber, and a Guinness World Record holder for crocheting the world’s largest granny square.
It is tempting to look at the list of accomplishments in Duneir’s life and conclude that he possesses some sort of special talent or character trait that has helped him to become so successful. The truth of the matter is that Duneier possesses no such talent or trait. From Kindergarten until his second year in college, Duneier was, at best, a C- student. What changed was that he decided to take a look at his self-management habits. By making small tweaks to his decision-making process, he was able to increase his margin for success. Instead of not studying at all, he decided to read small portions at a time of an assigned reading and to take breaks in between. Little by little, small decisions in his self-management process began to produce large results. From that time forward, he became a straight A student. He then decided to apply this theory to other areas of his life.
Duneier realized that a marginal improvement in self-management and decision making would make a dramatic difference in the outcomes of life. For instance, Duneier had an hour and a half round-trip walk to work every day. During his walk, he would listen to music on his iPod. One day he decided that he wanted to be more efficient with his time, so he stopped and bought a German-language CD set and downloaded it to his iPod. He soon realized that he wasn’t disciplined enough, so he removed all the music and left just the German language learning set on his playlist. Within a few months, he was able to have conversations in German while vacationing with his family in Germany.
To this day, Duneier will tell you that he is still the same undisciplined C- student with no special talent. The difference in his life was the change in his self-management, taking large tasks and breaking them down into small decisions that would increase his odds of success.
Self-management can also be described as self-control or self-regulation. Simply put, self-management is the ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively. Many times we think of self-management or self-control as the ability to keep ourselves away from all of the things that are bad for us. What is powerful in Duneier’s story is that it wasn’t his ability to say no or a special character trait that made the difference; it was his thoughtful approach to taking large tasks and breaking them down into small decisions to increase his odds of success. His self-management wasn’t magical, it was practical.
A Biblical example of practical self-management would be Joseph. Frequently people look at Bible characters as people who possessed magical abilities to become successful. However, Joseph was not successful because he possessed magical power, but because he decided to apply good decision-making principles to his self-management practice. Joseph experienced the trauma of being sold into slavery, he was unjustly accused of sexual assault, and he was thrown into prison and forgotten by those who made promises to help free him. Yet, these experiences taught Joseph to be the great leader he was. He learned humility as a slave, business management as the head of Potiphar’s household, and people management skills while managing a prison full of criminals. Despite the awful circumstances of his life, his self-management practice allowed him to find success and eventually see that what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good.
As life presents circumstances that seem overwhelming and too big to overcome, take the time to evaluate your self-management process, identify the small decisions that will help increase your chances for success, and remember the stories of hope that can help give us strength.
If you would like to learn more about Stephen Duneier and how he changed his life, you can watch his Tedx Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQMbvJNRpLE