As I sat down this week to write a blog post about taking stock of the year, helping us all think about accomplishments, failures, learning, I found myself rather uninspired. I started, and stopped – multiple times. It wasn’t until I happened to visit a friend in the hospital that I was truly inspired to write this post – because it gave me a glimpse into what really matters as we take stock of our year and our leadership. Shelley is a cancer survivor – for the fourth time. Here is her story and what I learned from the experience.
Shelley and I had met in a meditation class and had lost touch for a couple of years until a mutual friend mentioned she was in the hospital. When we arrived it was a bit of a shock to see her. She had lost most of her hair and was about half her size. She was in great spirits though. We visited a while and caught each other up about our lives. She shared with me that somewhere in the midst of her cancer treatments she had suffered a stroke and lost the use of the right side of her body – so while her body was free from cancer she was not able to use much of it. She was going through physical therapy and was grateful for how her body was responding to it. Fascinated by her resilience, I asked her what she was learning from the experience.
She laughed. She told me that she’s learning to be less of a perfectionist. You can’t really be much of a perfectionist when you don’t have much control over your own body. She told me she’s learning humility. She described a couple of times when she rang the bell for the nurse so they could move her because she was uncomfortable. It took them an hour to get to her – during which time her pain reminded her again of all she had no control over. When the nurse did come, she had no apology. She just seemed annoyed. Shelley mentioned how angry she was on the inside, yet how powerless she was to express the anger because she was so dependent on the nurse. Shelley told me that the experience was teaching her to practice forgiveness. She laughed and said she wishes she was more enlightened so she wouldn’t be so annoyed. Instead, each day she now takes an inventory of the people who annoyed her and prior to going to bed she closes her eyes and forgives them. She said she does it for her own peace – but she’s finding that as she forgives people they are warmer and friendlier to her.
So what was the big lesson Shelley taught me about taking stock of the year? Sure, we can make a list of what we did that was a “success” and what we learned from that was a “failure”. Let’s do that. But ultimately what I learned from Shelley is that “success” and “failure” are just labels we place on what happened relative to what we wanted or expected. Ultimately, the important question to ask ourselves is how we evolved this year as human beings and as leaders. Our leadership impact comes not just from what we accomplished but who we are – our qualities of “being”. How did we grow in our capacity to be strong, to be humble, to appreciate, to experience, to forgive, to love? How did we deal with the circumstances that were dealt to us to grow in our own humanity? That is the question I am asking myself as I take stock of this year, and that my friends is the question I ask you to ask yourself. Shelley inspired me not because of what she did, but who she is. And so it is for the leaders we follow.
All my best to you and yours for a wondrous holiday season.
A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes leadership blog.
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