I woke up early this morning in a little bit of a daze. I thought about the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others yesterday and my initial thought was, “Oh, it was just a bad dream.” Then a few more breaths and I realized, “Nope, not a bad dream, a sad reality.” My heart sank.
The fourth anniversary of my sister Lori’s passing was earlier this month, followed by what would have been her 50th birthday a few days later, so I have been thinking about life, death, loss, and the fragility of it all a lot in recent weeks and months (over the holidays).
It feels sad and scary to think about this for many reasons, but also important and liberating at the same time. I often think about and quote something that was said to me many years ago, “You’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it…you have to remember, nobody ever has.” So true.
When people die – especially when it seems too soon and it doesn’t make sense – it’s often hard to process. Even when people are older and/or have been sick for a while, it still can feel wrong, unfair, and confusing. We live in a culture that is obsessed with results, action, youth, beauty, winning, progress, and more. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves, our obsession with them, and our tendency to forget to focus on who and what matter most, can be incredibly damaging.
In moments of loss like this – whether the loss is personal or public – it serves as an intense reminder for each of us and all of us to stop, reflect, and take inventory of our priorities.
I didn’t know Kobe, his daughter Gigi, or any of the other people on that helicopter yesterday, but my heart breaks for all of them and everyone who knew and loved them. They are all in my thoughts and prayers.
And, as I sat on the couch last night watching the Grammys with my wife Michelle, our daughter Samantha (who is the same age as Gigi), and our younger daughter Rosie, I cried during a number of the songs, speeches, and tributes – thinking about Kobe and everyone touched by yesterday’s tragedy, and also thinking about my sister Lori, my parents, and everyone important who I’ve lost in my life…as well as all of the loss and grief we each experience as human beings.
Death can be so painful, and grief can be so hard. And yet, it is one of the most universal experiences of being human. It reminds us of the fragility and vulnerability of life in a body, forces us to put things in perspective, challenges us to expand our understanding of how things work, and connects us with one another in a profound way.
When something like this happens, it makes it clear to me that we’re all in this life thing together, doing the best we can, and that there are no guarantees. And, as scary as this can be, there’s also some real freedom in it if we’re willing to embrace it, be real about it, and lean on those around us and tap into our spiritual connection in an authentic and open way.
Let’s be gentle with ourselves today (and every day), do everything we can do focus on love, forgiveness, and the people and things that truly matter most.
While we are still in the first few weeks in January, the annual “new year, new you” phenomenon is all around – online, in the media, in our social media feeds, and more. And while this time of year can be a great catalyst for positive change in our lives, what if we made a commitment to live our lives in 2020 focused on who we are, and not so much on what we do, what we accomplish, what we look like, what we’re striving for, and more? One of best things we can do in this year is to focus on who we really are and what’s most important to us, instead of who we think we’re supposed to be.
Who would we be without our accomplishments (or failures), our degrees (or lack thereof), our bank accounts, our experiences, our title, our home, our status, and more? As simple of a concept as this is for us to think about and discuss, at least on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult for many of us, myself included, to genuinely separate who we are from what we do (or have done or not done). These past few years have taught many of us, in some cases quite painfully, how quickly the external circumstances of our lives (and the world) can change dramatically and things can be taken away.
The deeper question for us to ponder here is really one of the big philosophical questions of life, “What makes me valuable?” While this is something we have all thought about to some degree, most of us don’t really engage in this inquiry on a regular basis. And, when we do, we often think that if we just got more done, lost some weight, made more money, took a vacation, accomplished a goal, had more meaningful work, made it to retirement, or whatever, then we’d be “happier” or feel more “valuable.” Sadly, as we’ve all experienced, this is not usually the case and is also one of the main reasons why most of our New Year’s “resolutions” don’t really last.
What if, in addition to having important goals for the year (and in general), we could also expand our capacity for appreciating ourselves and being who we really are this year – having nothing to do with our external circumstances? What if just being ourselves, the way we are right now, is good enough?
Being ourselves actually takes a great deal of courage, commitment, and faith. It’s a process of letting go of many false beliefs we’ve picked up from the collective consciousness – that we have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, have the proper experience, make a certain amount of money, and more, in order to be happy and successful in life. Being ourselves can be scary and counter intuitive, difficult and even off-putting, and, at times, lonely.
However, being our authentic self is liberating, exciting, and fulfilling. When we have the courage to just be who we are, without apology or pretense, so much of our suffering, stress, pressure, and worry in life simply goes away.
Here are a few things to consider and practice as you deepen your awareness of and capacity for being who you truly are in this New Year:
1) Tell the truth to yourself. Think about and own how much of your self-worth is based on what you do, how you look, who you know, what you’ve accomplished, etc. (i.e. the external stuff). The more we let go of being defined by the external, the more freedom, peace, and power we can experience. And, as we really get honest with ourselves, we may realize that outside of these external things, we don’t really know who we are. As scary as this may seem on the surface, it’s actually great news and can give us access to a deeper and more meaningful experience of who we are.
2) Appreciate who you really are. What do you appreciate about yourself that has nothing to do with anything external? In other words, what personal qualities (of being, not doing) do you value about yourself? The more we’re able to tap into what we appreciate about who we are (not what we do), the more capacity we have for real confidence, peace, and self-love.
3) Practice just being you. As silly as it may sound, we all need to “practice” being ourselves. We have a great deal of experience being phony or being how we think we’re supposed to be. It actually takes conscious practice for us to be able to just show up and be who we are. We can practice alone, with people we know, and with total strangers. This is all about awareness – paying attention to how we feel, what we’re thinking, what we say, and how we show up. It’s not about getting it right or doing anything specific, it’s about letting go of our erroneous notions of how we think we’re supposed to be, and just allowing ourselves to be who and how we are in the moment.
Have fun with this, talk to others about it, and have a lot of compassion with yourself as you practice – this is big stuff for most of us. This year, instead of trying to be a “new” you by fixing a list of things you think need to be fixed about you, just be yourself and see what happens.
In the past few months, I’ve watched a few annual events on television that I usually enjoy very much – the Super Bowl, the NBA dunk contest, and the Academy Awards. And while I did have fun watching all of these once again this year, I noticed a theme that I found fascinating. Most of the commentary about each event was that they were “disappointing,” “boring,” or “not as good as they usually are.” And while clearly sometimes a sporting event or awards show can be more (or less) exciting based on the nature of how it plays out, I also think in today’s world of instant feedback, social media chatter, and computer-generated graphics, we’ve become more critical, negative, and even spoiled, to our own detriment.
I remember something a mentor of mine said to me a while back. “Mike,” he said, “there are two things you can do that will dramatically improve the quality of your career and your life. They’re simple, just not that easy.”
He went on to say, “The first thing is to be easy to impress. Be in awe of people, talent, nature, art, technology, work, and the world around you. Embrace a sense of wonderment, like a child does. There are so many extraordinary people and things around us all the time, we just don’t often stop to appreciate them and allow ourselves to be impressed.”
He continued, “The second thing, and this one is even harder, especially these days, is be hard to offend. In other words, don’t take things so personally and allow yourself to get offended so easily. Imagine, Mike, if you woke up tomorrow morning and said to yourself, ‘It’s going to take something enormous to offend me today.’ That would probably be a good mindset to take to work and out into the world, don’t you think?”
He then said to me, “Most of us, unfortunately, have these the other way around. Once we’ve lived a bit, gained some professional experience, or think of ourselves as somewhat sophisticated, we often get jaded. It takes something pretty remarkable to impress us. And, sadly, we get offended very easily and blame others for our stress, frustration, and disappointment.”
Then he challenged me, “Mike, I dare you to make a commitment to yourself to be easy to impress and hard to offend…and see what happens to your career and your life.”
I never forgot that conversation and his feedback. I think of what he said to me all the time, and try to follow his advice. While this is a pretty simple concept, I do find that it’s not all that easy to practice in our world today.
However, as I travel around the country and the world working with people, leaders, teams, and organizations of all kinds, it’s clear to me how important this mindset can be. Unfortunately, we often justify our lack of being impressed and how easily we get offended, instead of realizing all the ways these things hold us back.
Moving forward successfully in our lives and careers has a lot to do with how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. While it may be easy to get caught up in the drama, stress, and negativity of those around us, our environment, or the world we live in, ultimately, we have a choice. And, if we choose to be easily impressed and hard to offend, it will have a dramatic and positive impact on our career and our life. Try it out…I dare you!
A few months ago, I had a chance to see the wonderful musical Anastasia on Broadway. I was on a business trip to New York City and brought our ten-year-old daughter Rosie with me. We got tickets at the last minute, and they happened to be in the front row, which was a new and unique experience for both of us. Because of where we were sitting and the design of the set, not only were we able to see the actors up-close, we could also see down into the orchestra pit, which was cool.
As enthralled as I was with the story and watching the performance on the stage, I was also incredibly impressed by the talent, coordination, and synchronicity of the conductor and the musicians. Of course, I’d been aware of the music at previous shows I’ve seen, but sitting where we were that night had me realize how vitally important these musicians are to the overall production, even though I’d never taken the time to fully appreciate it until that moment.
If you’ve ever attended a play, sporting event, or concert, chances are you paid primary attention to the people on the stage or field, but not as much to all the people behind the scenes working to pull off what made the event so fantastic.
The Difference Between Your “Job” and Your “Role”
Whether it’s an organization of three people or a group of 3,000, teams thrive when everyone does their part and every role (and person) is valued and appreciated.
When most of people think about their “job,” they think of what they do—engineering, sales, project management, marketing, human resources, operations, design, finance, and so forth. While these descriptions may encapsulate what you do and the title you hold, they’re not actually your job. If you’re part of a team, you have a specific role, which is what you do. However, your job is to help fulfill the goals, mission, and purpose of the team and, ultimately, the company.
In other words, you’re there to do whatever you can to help the team win. The challenge with this is that most people take pride in their role and they want to do it really well, which is great. However, when you put your role (what you do specifically) over your job (helping the team win), things can get murky—your personal goals become more important than the goals of the organization.
It takes commitment and courage, but teams and organizations made up of people who understand this simple but important distinction—who realize that everyone on the team has essentially the same job but different roles—have the ability to perform at the highest level and with the most collaborative environment.
At that Broadway musical a few months ago, the actors on the stage, especially the lead actors, got much of the attention from me, Rosie, and those of us in the audience that night. However, without the musicians, the set and costume designers, the lighting and technical experts, the stage manager, the ushers, the marketing team who promoted the show, the ticket takers at the door, and so many other people, that show could not have happened and we would not have been in the audience.
Remembering that every role and every person on the team is vital to the overall success of the team is a simple, yet important thing to remember. And, operating this way can help your team and organization succeed at the highest level.
Negativity can be the downfall of even the most talented teams. Over the past 18 years as a consultant, I’ve worked with many organizations that had great people, quality products or services, and innovative ideas, but the environment in which they worked was filled with so much negativity, they weren’t able to reach their full potential.
Creating a positive work environment is not simply something that feels good, it’s a key driver in the success and performance of the individuals and teams that make up the organization.
If you think of the most enjoyable work experiences you’ve had, and the most successful teams you’ve been a part of in your life, you’ll probably notice that the environment in which you worked was positive.
In the video below, I share these five specific tips for how to create a positive work environment:
- Stop Complaining
- Listen to Each Other
- Stop Gossiping
- Have Fun Together
- Appreciate One Another
I give examples and tips about each of these ideas in the video. Feel free to check it out, share it with others, and integrate these principles with your team to create the most positive work environment possible.