Last week, I saw this quotation and loved it. In work and in life, we often find ourselves in a boat with others wondering why and how we got there. This could be a re-organization, or a life event, or anything that is a change for us.
One piece of the quotation that especially resonates to me is the focus on the present–“we’re in the same boat now.” And that’s true about many facets of our lives or our relationships or our families or our work teams because it’s easier for people to spend our energies in a more negative way, questioning and fighting what has happened, instead of re-framing our orientation that the reality is we’re in the boat now.
Say to yourself, “this is my job” or “this is my life” or “this happened to me” and then embrace the presence of that realization.
In time, that realization can turn into motivation–if you choose to accept that you are now in the boat.
You might just start rowing.
Four years ago today, January 15, 2011, I was driving to a basketball tournament in Rice Lake, MN early in the morning, as I’ve done dozens of times. I was giving a ride to my friend Michelle, her son Chris, and my son Will. I was driving my 1998 Honda Accord, and the boys were sleeping in the back. We started out about 6:30 in the morning, and it was snowing pretty hard. For some reason, our directions took us on a path which was a bit remote, but we made it through until we reached a major highway, which was in much better condition. As I turned Eastbound on Highway 8, I remember a sense of relief to that point.
Highway 8 is a two lane highway, and Michelle and I were making small talk, probably about our shared relief to no longer be on the back roads. I remember being in mid-sentence when I heard the first of two loud thuds in succession. The second thud was something slamming into my car head-on, driving us into the ditch to the right. At that point, much of it became a blur, but airbags, glass and panic ensued. I quickly looked around the car, both boys returning with eyes wide in shock. I yelled, “is everyone OK?” and they nodded. Like the cliché, I had no idea what had hit us. I instructed everyone to get out of the car. Michelle, who is a registered nurse, quickly noticed that my arm was bleeding. “It’s gotta be broken Omar,” she said. I winced and tried to pry my door open to get out.
I looked out my broken window and a truck was stopped on the road, and the driver was trying to talk to me. Soon, all I can remember is getting out of my car, crossing the road, and seeing emergency vehicle after emergency vehicle racing down the road. All the focus was on whatever had hit me.
Michelle and Chris were separated from me and Will, and in an ambulance someone was taking care of me. My son just sat there, unable to even speak. I finally remember a helicopter landing in the field where the other vehicle was in addition to fire trucks, police cars, and many people.
We traveled by ambulance to Amery, WI. where I learned that the driver of the pick-up truck that had crossed the center lane and hit me was killed. I was beaten up, bloodied, and stitched up, and clearly in shock.
But we walked away. He didn’t.
It’s taken awhile to get my thoughts around the enormity of this accident. Both boys are thriving young high school Juniors. The police said that because they were sleeping, the impact was less, similar to why a drunk driver sometimes inexplicably escapes injury in a crash.
When you walk away from something like this, you can’t help but think you got a second chance. I got a second chance.
So what have I done with it?
Honestly, not enough. I wish that I’ve done more. I wish I had some inspirational change or comeback story to share with you. I’m humbled that I don’t.
But re-living a major events is healthy. It gives you a reminder and perspective about the bigger picture. It makes me want to thank everyone that is a part of my life, who has supported and believed in me. Even the modest number of followers to this blog. You don’t know how important it is to me that you read, and care about, things that I have to say. And I hope in some small way its added value. Today, for me, is a day of reflection, and a day to now look forward. With this humble reminder of what happened on January 15, 2011, it’s time to do something with that second chance.
A lesson I have learned recently is that your present perspective is just one of many. But think about how current issues can demand much of our time, emotion, and energy. We can be so focused on the here and now that we forget that in a couple weeks it will be the there and then. Disappointment 2 weeks ago that something you wanted didn’t work out becomes the liberation that you might be destined for different things.
I think in life this happens to us more than we think. Often we have a belated appreciation for things. The same experiences, people, situations look so different with even a slight change in our circumstances. That tough and difficult boss now seems appropriately demanding; that stressful and never-ending project seems to have stretched you out of your comfort zone; that difficult and flagrant co-worker now seems to have challenged your assumptions and biases. Ideally it would help if in the midst of whatever is happening we could remember that the present perspective is just one of many.
(Inspired by the Daily Reflection–Fr. Don Talafous, St. John’s University)
I keep coming back to these 4 words in my leadership journey. They are simple and clear. And powerful. I guarantee that my best work relationships have those 4 words resonate with both parties. I also think it’s true in other leadership capacities. I’ve seen recently a son of mine perform at a much higher level in basketball this spring with a new coach. I asked him why and he said, “coach believes in me.”
Conversely, my poorest relationships didn’t have those 4 words going both ways. A lot of it was me. I tend to have high expectations for myself and for others. I found myself disappointed one day and a friend told me, “Omar, there you go again, you and your high expectations. If you would just lower them you’d be a lot happier.”
Truth is, I can’t. For me, having high expectations of myself and others can work, and when it does, we all believe in each other. Then we have that solid foundation to do extraordinary things. Getting to that place, however, requires some hard work and sweat equity. No one said it would be easy. If you are willing to take it, head on, you will see a huge upside. You might have some hard conversations, or not see “eye to eye” on some things. But who said we’re always supposed to see “eye to eye” on everything?
But I also found that I was not saying those 4 words enough when I truly felt them. I was missing opportunities to engage and inspire people just because I was focused on other things. I’ve learned to pause more and recognize when that feeling is really there. Taking that time has resulted in some great work. My advice to you: Say those 4 simple words to the people working hard every day around you. It means a lot.
In 1986 I lived in Glasgow, Scotland with my parents and sister Susan while Dad was a visiting professor at the University of Glasgow for a semester. We lived in a flat and had no car. We walked or took public transportation everywhere. On the way to school there was an ice cream store. I don’t remember the name of it but one of the treats they had was an ice cream sandwich of sorts called a “Wafer”. Essentially home-made ice cream packed between 2 wafer cookies of sorts. It was delicious.
Kids like ice cream. I was a kid. But I don’t remember getting an ice cream every time I walked by. What I do remember is that Dad has always been proficient at finding loose change on the ground. Eyes peeled to the ground, he could find a coin in the smallest of spaces. Most days, he would come home and deposit that day’s change in a jar. When the grand total in the jar equaled enough to buy 4 wafers, off we went to the ice cream store. Then, the process would begin again.
Hundreds of times walking by=no ice cream
A couple times with a jar of change=appreciated ice cream
I was reminded of this story when in Chicago with my kids on a trip. We had eaten breakfast in the hotel room and my kids had been given a glass of Archer farms apple juice which we had brought from home. I noticed as we left the room that some of the juice had gone unfinished, which is fairly normal. But at least we had attempted to meet their basic needs. Within the hour, we were waiting to get the pass we had purchased for touring the sights and I decided to buy my wife and I a cup of coffee. All four kids in tow, we waited in line and I ordered the coffees.
Suddenly, the kids just expected to also get—of all things—a juice box of apple juice. Not the cheap variety mind you, but $2 a pop. That’s 2 bucks times 4 kids. My initial reaction was “no”. “No” is a complete sentence. Unpopular decision. We parents are faced with these decisions all the time. “Oh come on, we’re on a vacation.” or “pick your battles.”
I talked to my kids about this blog/story and for me it comes down to appreciation. If you are privileged in life, then showing appreciation can neutralize your behaviors of entitlement. My Dad’s lesson in loose change was an intentional teaching point. I’m sure had I asked for some impromptu ice cream he would have bought it for me, but I never expected it. Whether it is ice cream or apple juice, sometimes waiting for enough loose change might just teach you a valuable lesson in appreciation.