What I thought was just a hayfever attack last week turned into a head cold and a sore throat over the last few days--nothing too bad, but enough to put me out of action for the weekend. The enforced rest left me with ample time to reflect, and I was reminded of another illness I'd experienced and written about almost exactly eight years ago. That episode was much more serious, but it's still been interesting to compare the lessons I learned in 2009 with my perspective today:
March 2009: I really miss Martinis, exercise and being outdoors.
March 2017: I'm even more grateful for these transient joys.
I've always loved a well-made Martini, working up a good sweat, and immersing myself in a natural landscape, and none of that has changed. As I prepare to turn 50 I'm more circumspect about my Martini consumption--one is usually sufficient--and I've learned the hard way that avoiding injury is more important than setting PRs, but I find myself even more grateful that I'm still able to enjoy these experiences. That gratitude stems primarily from an appreciation of life and the unique joys of this existence, a perspective that I began to appreciate in 2010 after the deaths of my father-in-law and a student of mine. I don't live in this state of mind 24/7, but every once in a while I'm able to access it a little more fully than usual.
March 2009: I don't do stillness well...and perhaps I should find a way.
March 2017: Progress!
Eight years ago I was just beginning to understand the role that mindfulness could play in my personal and professional development, and at the time it was profoundly difficult for me to simply be still without being actively occupied by some cognitively demanding task. This has been a significant focus of mine over the past decade, to the point where I now regularly meditate for 30 minutes at a stretch--something I couldn't even have considered in 2009. I've learned how much value I can add as a coach (and as a person) by simply being present for other people, without doing much at all. I continue to have plenty of room to grow here, to be sure, but it feels good to be able to acknowledge my progress.
March 2009: I'm less ready for old age--and mortality--than I thought I was.
March 2017: Not "ready," but more prepared.
Writing in 2009, a few months before turning 42, I described myself as "too young to feel truly old, but old enough to no longer feel young." To my credit, I realized that "the changes I've felt and adjusted to in my early middle age are merely the absence of youth, the dawning awareness that my health and vigor and independence are gifts, not entitlements, and they can be taken away with shocking speed." It's hard not to smile reading that today--it's true as far as it goes, but it also feels a little naive. I've spent a lot of time since then thinking about mortality and learning from Seneca, and Atul Gawande, Joan Didion, and Christopher Hitchens. I'm not morbidly fascinated by death, but I do believe that one of our primary responsibilities in this life is preparing to leave it with some grace. I doubt I'll go out with the articulate dignity of Oliver Sacks, but it's something to shoot for.
The title of this post is derived from Five Leadership Lessons, which I wrote in 2011--the halfway mark between 2005, when I first began to consider coaching as a career path, and 2017, when I have the privilege of coaching senior leaders every single day. I have plenty of room for improvement, as a coach and as a person, but there are moments like today when it's gratifying to look back on more than a decade's worth of struggle and see the growth that's resulted.
Photo by U.S. Army. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.