An Eastern monarch asked his wise men to invent a phrase that would apply to all times and in all situations. After careful deliberation, they offered this statement: “And this too shall pass away.”
When Abraham Lincoln heard the story, he mused: “How much it expresses. How chastening in the hour of pride; how consoling in the depths of affliction.”
In my early forties I had several career leaps that catapulted me up near the top of my profession. The rails were greased and the momentum strong. But the high times were soon tempered by the challenges of life. Good times don’t last forever.
In my late forties I became clinically depressed. I thought my life as I knew it was coming to an end. If you’ve never been depressed, it’s hard to understand the feelings of hopelessness and confusion that torment the mind. I told my wife that we needed to liquidate our belongings and go live with her mother out in the country. But that season of my life passed. With the help of medications, I climbed out of the dark abyss and resumed normal life.
When you’re going through tough times, don’t be overly discouraged because “this too shall pass away.” And when you’re going through times of prosperity, don’t be smug and proud because “this too shall pass away.” Events are seldom as catastrophic or fortunate as we think. This truth, if embraced, will give us ballast and stabilize our emotions.
Winston Churchill touched on this thought when he said, “Success is not final…failure is not fatal…it’s the courage to continue that counts.”
What? – Life is usually a series of ups and downs, but the peaks and the valleys seldom last.
So what? – Don’t be too discouraged by the low points in life nor too emboldened by the high points in life.
Now what? – Remind yourself and others of the transitory nature of life. Try to achieve a balanced perspective on life.
Leaders – When your organization is prospering, be grateful but not smug or arrogant. When your organization is faltering, don’t panic but take guided steps to stabilize it.
Never underestimate the significance of planned and unplanned acts of kindness.
The African bishop, Desmond Tutu, was once asked why he became an Anglican rather than joining some other denomination. He replied that in the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met while walking on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass and then nod his head as a gesture of respect.
“One day,” Tutu said, “when I was just a little boy, my mother and I were walking down the street when a tall, white man, dressed in a black suit, came toward us. Before my mother and I could step off the sidewalk, as was expected of us, this man stepped off the sidewalk and, as my mother and I passed, tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her! I was more than surprised at what had happened, and I asked my mother, ‘Why did that white man do that?’ My mother explained, ‘He’s an Anglican priest. He’s a man of God, that’s why he did it.’ When she told me that he was an Anglican priest, I decided there and then that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”
Desmond Tutu was one of the key contributors to the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa.
Continue reading “Be kind”
In Leo Tolstoy’s novel The Death of Ivan Ilych, the protagonist, Ivan Ilych, is a smart, competent attorney dying from an unknown cause. Tolstoy describes a scene in which Ivan has a sobering realization while gazing at his sleeping daughter, Gerasim.
“Ivan Ilych’s physical sufferings were terrible, but worse than the physical sufferings were his mental sufferings which were his chief torture.
His mental sufferings were due to the fact that at night, as he looked at Gerasim’s sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?’
It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true.”
What a solemn question. Continue reading “Consider that you may be wrong”
In his helpful book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg introduces the concept of keystone habits.
“Some habits have the power to start a chain reaction as they move through an organization. Some habits, in other words, matter more than others. Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.” (Random House, 2012, pgs. 100-101)
A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone piece at the apex of a masonry vault or arch which is the final piece placed during construction. It locks all the stones into position, allowing the arch to bear weight. Although a masonry arch or vault cannot be self-supporting until the keystone is placed, the keystone experiences the least stress of any of the stones due to its position at the apex.
According to Duhigg, strategic keystone habits can serve the same important function in our personal lives and in organizations – they hold together other critical elements. They may be simple but they are important and influential. One or a few keystone habits can make the difference between success and failure in our lives and organizations. Continue reading “Develop keystone habits”