Are you Catching the Curve Balls?
When I was 23 years old, a tragic event taught me about the importance of legacy. One summer day, I came home from work and found my mother lying dead on the floor of her bedroom. Somehow, I was able to calmly walk to the telephone and summon an ambulance and the police, although it was too late to make a difference for her.
As the days and weeks went by, I functioned in an efficient stupor, handling funeral arrangements and taking care of all of the legal matters that accompany such events. Among the many challenges of settling my mother’s estate was deciding what to do with a business that she owned, which provided employment for fifty people. After a couple of days of pondering the options, I decided to take a leave of absence from medical school and left my summer job to run the business until it could be sold.
The business was, I came to understand, my mother’s legacy to me. The life path I had so carefully constructed for myself was important, but once I thought about it, my decision to run the business wasn’t such a detour.
It was an experience that taught me six important lessons – lessons that were part of my mother’s legacy, ones that I still apply in business today, and lessons that I hope to pass on to others:
1. We can have an obligation to ourselves at the same time that we have a responsibility to others. As career women, we often give ourselves away in the process of meeting the needs of the organization or the needs of our family and friends. So, we strive for finding that elusive balance between doing for others and doing for ourselves. What I’ve learned is that it’s not about balance, especially if you’re passionate about your work. I suggest instead looking for share allocations of your time that both meet your need to accomplish work goals, and your need to refuel yourself with time spent with family and friends. It won’t always be a 50-50 split, so if we stop pressuring ourselves to achieve that goal, things start to feel easier right away.
2. Mistakes are the shell in which success is encased. We spend a lot of time trying not to make mistakes- and when we do make them, we devote even more time trying to forget them. What I’ve learned is that pearls of wisdom are hidden in every mistake. Our job is to find them. So, the next time you goof up, look for the learning, as well as a way to set things right. It’s how we grow as people and as leaders.
3. Treat others fairly, even if they can do nothing to hurt you or to help you. This lesson is especially relevant, as I see so many business leaders restructuring organizations and eliminating jobs. Recently, I’ve heard from a number of individuals caught in downsizings about how poorly they were treated. What I know for sure is that there is a better way to engage in the unpleasant act of terminating employees. It starts by putting yourself in the employee’s place and imagining the impact that losing a job might have on you. It’s a humbling thought that will send you searching for the most humane and fair way to treat others.
4. Those who have more (ability, opportunities, financial success) have a responsibility to share their gifts with others. I firmly believe that every woman has something positive to offer, regardless of their level in the organization. But, if you are a female leader, reaching out to other women and helping them develop is a must. It supports the advancement of women leaders within organizations and fundamentally influences the kinds of decisions that get made in the C-suite and their impact on society as a whole.
5. Living your values and passions is not always easy when trying to manage a bottom line, but doing so makes it a heck of a lot easier to look in the mirror. The work environment is an amazing testing ground for our values and our passions. It’s where we learn a lot about ourselves and is the milieu in which we refine our beliefs and convictions. Holding on to your values and finding an outlet for your passions at work is not always easy, but letting go of them and living with that knowledge is much more difficult. Look carefully at any organization you join to be sure that the company’s values align with your own, and look beyond the face value of any job. If you understand what you’re passionate about, you have a much better chance of finding an outlet for your passions in your work and the fulfillment that it provides. I suggest that you “Do who you are, rather than trying to be what you do”.
6. When life throws you a curve ball, try really hard to catch it, because that’s where the learning begins. Losing a mother is a pivotal moment in any woman’s life, as it was for me. These many years later, I realize that I seized adversity with both hands and used the experience as a learning opportunity. Had that fateful event not occurred, I might not have built a successful career in business and could have missed out on learning many important things about myself.
As you move through this week, I encourage you to deeply consider the legacy you want to leave behind. It’s never too early to start, so begin by considering these questions.
• How is my work contributing to a legacy from which others will benefit?
• What have I done with the curve balls that life has thrown me?
• More importantly, what will I do with the next one?
By Alaina Love
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