Ever since I was a young child, people have frequently asked me how I manage to always stay positive and smiling most of the time. In grade school I was often called “Happy Harry.” As I got older, attended college, and moved into stressful jobs, I continued to get asked, “How do you stay so positive, Harry? Don’t you ever get worried?” Or, “Don’t you ever get depressed?”
A few years ago I started to spend some time reflecting on these questions and thought it would be helpful to share a few personal perspectives. These are my opinions, and surely will not apply to everyone. I will first describe my overall thought process and then give you a recent example of the process in action.
In summary, no matter what happens in life, I believe things can always be worse. Just to be clear, I will never be complacent and accept the status quo. I will always try to understand the situation and do my best to improve it. However, “by trying to do the right thing, and doing the best I can do,” I am able to significantly reduce and minimize (even if I cannot necessarily “eliminate”): Worry, fear, anxiety, pressure and stress. As a result, rather than thinking about the glass as half full or half empty, I like to think of the glass as overflowing!!!
Where does this positive, upbeat attitude come from? For me, I think much of it comes from a strong religious and spiritual grounding. I believe I am on this earth for a blink of an eye and preparing for eternity. Whatever happens is a temporary test to which I am challenged to “try to do the right thing and do the best I can do.” In addition, as leaders, I believe we have the potential to be a positive influence on everyone with whom we interact. Most people don’t get excited by leaders that are negative and energy drainers.
Just to be clear, I am not saying this perspective is always easy, as my recent experience in Italy demonstrates:
Julie, Diane, and I flew to Italy last week to visit Daniel. He is there for a 12-week Notre Dame experience. We picked him up in Milano and planned to drive him to Siena. On the drive there, we decided to stop in Pisa and had a great time visiting the sites. However, when we returned to our rental car, Julie was the first to notice that the back window was smashed. Then, to our horror, we saw that all of our luggage was gone — stolen in broad daylight! Of course, it was upsetting to have lost all our clothes except what we were wearing, but what struck me most deeply was that my briefcase was also stolen! It is hard for me to describe that immediate feeling I had losing that briefcase. It was an old, beat-up thing that had definitely seen better days, but it held several of my most important items: my notebooks with my journals, calendars, laptop, eyeglasses, and contacts (I also usually kept my passport in it but thankfully not that day!). Those of you who know me well know how dear those notebooks and calendars are to me; they are a core part of the system I use to keep my life organized. That briefcase was such a critical part of my life that my children called it my sixth child! 😀 So you may be able to appreciate that when I saw that my briefcase was also gone, it felt as if someone had literally turned off the oxygen.
However, as depressing as it was, I almost immediately recovered by realizing the following: Nobody was attacked or injured; what if Julie or one of the children was sleeping in the car when the window was shattered? Also, by chance, I carried my wallet and all of our passports with me when we went sightseeing at Pisa. I realized that as bad as the situation was, it could have been much worse. Just to be clear, trying to redo my daily journal and recall my calendar won’t be easy, but I do remember my grandfather’s mantra, “Harry, that’s why they call it work.” 😉
Okay, let’s end this on a positive note with some pictures that show that the glass is indeed overflowing!