I have yet to meet the person whose life is a forever happy, straight line with an uninterrupted positive slope upward from birth to death. After all, life tends to be an assortment of highs (graduating from school, getting a good job, maybe getting married, having children, getting promoted, etc.) and lows (losing a job, the death of a friend, etc.). Macro issues – social, political, environmental – also have a tremendous impact on our lives, contributing to both the peaks and the valleys in our “lifelines.”
In my experience, far too many people neglect to truly reflect on this reality. As such, they find themselves stressed out, constantly worried about something or another. Time and time again, they are surprised by “unexpected outcomes,” many of which they would most likely realize upon self-reflection are not that unexpected, given the choices they’ve made in their lives. I often use the example of a friend I ran into at an airport on a business trip once. I hadn’t seen him in a while and asked him how he was doing. After the usual small talk, he shared that he was surprised to realize that he had no relationship with his two sons. When I asked him if he spent time with his sons, he stated that he did not spend any time at all with them. I found myself wondering: Why was he surprised? I was surprised that he was surprised!
People who are self-reflective are rarely surprised. Think about it for a minute. We may not know when it will happen, but most of us will at some point not receive that promotion we expected, or we may lose our job. Someone we love and cherish will pass away. It is most certainly unfortunate – but it should not be a surprise. This doesn’t mean you adopt a pessimistic world view and not celebrate or enjoy the peaks. It simply means that you take a clear-eyed view of the nature of life, and prepare yourself. Through self-reflection, we can ground ourselves in who we are, what we value, and how we wish to navigate the ups and downs in our lifelines. We can plan ahead and consciously choose how we will react before things happen. If instead we wait until we are already at a low, it is too late. By then, worry, fear, anxiety, pressure and stress have already set in. So why not prepare for these inevitable lows when things are going well (or at a “plateau”)?
As part of my nightly self-reflection, I ask myself questions to prepare for the lows AND the highs. What should and would I do when things are going really well and I am at the top of a peak? And what will I do WHEN (because it is not IF) things don’t go well and I come down off the peak? Through my self-reflection, I reaffirm to myself that no matter what happens (no matter how amazing, bad or unfortunate), I will always try to do two things:
- Do the right thing*
- Do the best I can do
Now, when I say “do the right thing”, I always put an asterisk after it: What, after all, is the “right thing to do”? Indeed, the “right thing” can mean very different things for different people. For me, the key is to surround myself with people I admire and respect with strong values who will help me “do the right thing” in an uncertain world. Combining that with “do the best I can do” completes the puzzle. Why? Well, I strongly believe that if you can convince yourself that no matter what happens, you will “do the right thing” and “do the best I can do”, then “worry, fear, anxiety, pressure and stress” can be SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED. Since we are human, they probably cannot be eliminated, but by being reduced they can help us lead a more balanced, healthy life.
Think of the power this gives you over your emotions! Rather than getting anxious or depressed, I can keep things in perspective. As my grandfather used to tell me when I would complain about my job being difficult, “Harry, that’s why they call it work!” And then he would add, “Harry, you should hope there are problems or issues at work tomorrow, or they may not have a job for you!” Yes, a little self-reflection goes a long way!
Through the peaks and the valleys, may your “lifeline” have an overall positive, upward slope 🙂 As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!
It looks like reflection is working for you, Harry. I have to admit I haven’t started the daily examine yet. If there is one thing I have found very helpful is my morning prayer and Rosary. I pray for lots of people including our government leaders. They have great challenges each and every day. Thank you for your strong faith and living example. If we attempt to create a peaceful world, does it make sense that those who are true peacemakers are those that have great respect for the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death? I wish all religious authorities would Speak Up in favor of this. Mother Teresa did. Thanks for your witness too.
Great perspective professor! Thanks for the timely message. If we’re not careful, time for self-reflection is easily overlooked. I like the idea of making it a nightly ritual.
I especially enjoyed your grandfather’s wise words. Thanks for sharing. – rh
Totally agreed, professor.
I have always been doing the “right thing” after taking your Managerial Leadership course.
Holding onto my values prevents me from later regrets that might have happened otherwise.
Thank you for making such a significant change in my mindset and of course, my life.
Thiraya, KSM 2014