In Chapter 17 of 20 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek shares what his parents, married 40 years, have taught him about building successful relationships. Sinek reflects on his college days and the anticipation he had for school breaks and family visits. Sinek notes valuable relationships require years investment, nursing and cultivation. Ultimately, relationships will save your life, both knowing you have that support in trying times and actually having the unquestionable support in trying times. Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer who applies his curiosity around why people do what they do to teach leaders and companies how to inspire people. He is the author of "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". Sinek holds a BA degree in cultural anthropology from Brandeis University.
Erik Michielsen: So speaking of longevity, your parents recently celebrated their 40th year anniversary.
Simon Sinek: Yes, they did.
Erik Michielsen: What have they taught you about building lasting relationships?
Simon Sinek: My parents asked me to say a few words and I didn’t prepare anything, and so there I had to say, you know, talk about forty years of marriage and I was like, “uh oh” … and so I told a story, and it was a true story. Which is, I never appreciated my parents’ marriage until I got to college. And I’m 18 years old, 18 years, I never, never appreciated it. And that was already 21 years of marriage or something, right?
And what I started to learn when I got to college was during the holidays. There were people who made every effort not to go home, because they didn’t like their families, right? They would go to a friend’s house, or plan a vacation, but they did not want to go home. And I remember loving going to school – like when I was at home I loved leaving for school – but when I was in school I loved coming home. And it was then that I realized what I had, and this thing that I took for granted. And then you also take stock, my parents have been together for 40 years, the number of my friends whose parents are divorced is astronomical.
And I … you start to realize that so many of my friends at college either had broken homes, or – and/or – even if their parents were together, they didn’t want to go home. So, you’re left with a very small percentage, and so, not taking these things for granted, you know? Valuable relationships, close relationships – and they don’t have to be marriages … friendships, they’re pretty damn important. And you can’t make them over night; they take years to get good. You know? A little bit like fine wine, and they require nursing, you gotta re-cork ‘em and you gotta turn ‘em. And we all know that relationships take work, and I got all that, but just to understand and acknowledge that those close relationships that we have will save your life.
And I don’t just mean somebody who will risk their life for yours, although that may happen, but that in your time of need, it’s the knowledge that someone will be there for you that is more important than anything else. A friend is not somebody where it’s equal and reciprocal all the time. “Well I did three things for you, you have to do three things for me.” You could do a hundred things for somebody and they could do nothing for you, but for the fact that you walk around with the knowledge that the moment you need something they’ll be there without question, that’s not to be taken for granted.