In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you a very personal and special experience I had a few years ago with my family. So, rather than send you my typical Sunday newsletter, I thought this was important and timely enough to share with you today. Now, for those of you who are outside of the U.S.A. or do not celebrate the holiday we refer to as Thanksgiving, I wrote this believing that the message here applies to everyone, wherever you live in the world and whether or not you celebrate a holiday similar to what we refer to as Thanksgiving.
As you may know, I do a decent amount of global travel. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world, coaching and supporting salespeople and managers on five continents and in over 50 countries around achieving greater success by tapping into their fullest potential to become the leaders they can truly be.
I love what I do and can’t believe I’ve been doing this for over 25 years! I’m fortunate enough to be able to say this and feel truly blessed that I get to engage in my life’s work and honor my core values every day, which are; my children, my wife and making an impact while I’m on this planet. These are the three things which I cherish most. These are the three things that get me out of bed every day. While I have additional values that extend beyond these three (health of course, creativity, connection, adventure, travel, friendship, music, well-being), these are the three core values that every goal I set and decision I make revolve around. They are simply non-negotiable.
However, it doesn’t mean that my core values don’t get challenged at times and it doesn’t mean that I am always doing my very best to honor them every day. Here’s an experience I had that enables me to continually maintain my focus on my three top priorities so that I never lose sight of what really matters.
I was flying from California back to my home in New York. It was early Friday morning and I had just spent the last two days delivering my management coach training session for a team of executives. But between the travel distance as well as other meetings I had scheduled, it forced me to fly out earlier in the week. So, I had not seen my family since I left for this trip on Monday of that week.
I landed at JFK airport that Friday afternoon at around 4pm, just in time for rush hour and a torrential rainstorm. Trudging through the crowds of people, I made my way to my taxi. We forged through the traffic and what would have normally been less than an hour ride, about two hours later, I was at my front door. I opened it, only to be greeted by the warm embrace of my beautiful wife and my three incredible children. “Welcome home,” my wife said.
“Daddy’s home!” Nikki, my seven year old daughter exclaimed, as she ran towards me with the most wonderful hug that you would expect from a 270 pound linebacker. “Yeah daddy, I missed you so much,” my 11 year old daughter Jessica said as she wrapped her arms around me and kissed my head. “Hey dad, I really missed you and I’m glad you’re home,” Jett, my seven year old son told me, which at that moment, took precedence over playing Xbox Live with his friends. Lots of hugs, lots of love. I felt it to my core; I felt so happy and so very blessed.
“Hi guys! I missed you so much!” This was truly and will always be my first visceral reaction when being away from my family, even for a day, let alone an hour.
After the hugs and the hello’s, my wife thought that, since it was still early enough, it would be a good idea to go out for dinner with the family. “Absolutely, I said. “Let me just take a quick shower, change and we then we can leave.”
It was still raining when we got into the car; my wife, my three children and me. And off we went, to our favorite Italian restaurant. “It was great to be home,” I thought, listening to my children in the back seat of the car, laughing, arguing, giggling, talking about their friends, their week’s experiences at home and at school, their thoughts and observations.
And then it happened. Just like that. There was a problem. I was gone. Not in the physical sense but where my mind started to wander. I was home but I wasn’t present. After all, being away from the office for five days puts a bit of a strain on your daily routine. The emails still come in and wait patiently in your inbox to be opened, read and responded to. The voice mails and calls I had to return piled up after five days of being out of the office.
At that moment, I was no longer with my family. I wasn’t present. The moment escaped me, as I started thinking about all the work I had to now catch up on after being away for several days. The calls I had to make, the blogs I had to write, the projects that I needed to catch up on, the clients who wanted to schedule coaching sessions, my own team that had a list of questions for me, the timely deadlines on certain tasks that were quickly approaching, even my next trip. I was now officially stuck in my own head, and the greatest cost was; I had left the presence of my family.
Well, the rain started to subside as we approached the restaurant. And then it happened. A defining moment. One that I will never forget.
My son, from the back seat, yelled out enthusiastically, innocently as only a seven year old could, “Dad, quick! Look out the window! A rainbow! Look how beautiful it is! Amazing! You can see all of the different colors.” Nikki and Jessica now started naming all of the colors they saw in this magnificent rainbow. “I see red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet…..”
My dear, sweet son, all of seven years old and his two beautiful sisters all sat in awe and excitement with their faces plastered against the glass window of the car door, trying to get the best view of this glorious rainbow.
My three children, unbeknownst to them, taught me another valuable lesson; reinforcing the fact that they are truly my greatest teachers. They reminded me, as they continually do to this day, that the greatest gift of all is the present moment; to never stop looking at the world with sheer curiosity and wonder, to never take things for granted, to be authentically engaged, focused and actively listening during every conversation you have, to approach every experience with excitement, an open mind and an open heart; as if it were the first time. And to be mindful not to allow your life’s experiences to taint, tarnish and dilute your soul and your attitude, dismiss what is happening, become aloof or to shift your focus on what you wish would happen but isn’t.
It was at that very moment, I was immediately smacked back into the present. The universe is funny that way. You never see the big lessons coming at you and if you don’t pay attention, they can easily pass you by. Just like life. If you’re not paying attention, before you know it, that too, has passed you by. And unfortunately, living in regret can last a very long time.
Quickly, my mind shifted back to where I needed to be, in the present, in that beautiful moment, with my family and my children so that I can truly be engaged with them and part of this glorious experience. Glorious, you say? Yes, we do have a choice of how we all interpret the world. For it’s not the events in our life but how we choose to respond to them that create the authentic quality of our life.
And this same experience as an adult, can easily pass you by as seemingly insignificant, if that’s how you choose to respond to it. Like it’s just another rainbow, or just another day in the office. But I had a choice. I could have remained stuck in my own thoughts; in my own world and responded with a, “Nice. That’s nice, kids but daddy’s driving so sit back in your seat.”
But thankfully, I didn’t.
Instead, I immediately looked out the window and caught a glimpse of this rainbow and said with unadulterated enthusiasm, “Wow! How cool is that! That is so awesome! It’s so bright and vivid, you can almost see where the rainbow starts and where it ends. Can you guys see the end of the rainbow? Thanks, son, for showing that to us. That’s such a cool gift that nature just gave us, right?”
“Thanks.” Such an interesting word. How often do you use it? Probably dozens of times each day. Whether you offer a polite thank you when someone does something for you, when a waiter hands you a menu when sitting at a table in a restaurant, when someone holds the elevator door for you. “Thanks.” But how often do we thank others for just being who they are? For having them in our lives, for allowing us to be a part of theirs? For being thankful for our lives today? Thanks…
This is a holiday of giving; giving thanks. Giving thanks for what we have and more important, who we have in our lives. If you’re going to have Thanksgiving at your home this year, are you already stressed out because you have to entertain and cook for 20 or more people, or are you truly feeling blessed that you have that many people in your life you care about and who care about you? Are you able to put aside your petty differences, suspend the judgment you have of your friends, spouse, significant other, children, siblings, cousins and parents and live in a state of deep gratitude for having these people in your life in the first place, rather than being all alone? Can you rise above and beyond any bitter feelings of remorse, regret or resentment and come from a place of pure acceptance of who they are and who you are?
If we all just stop, breathe, be mindful of our surroundings and where we are in the moment; become just a little more patient with ourselves, and those around us at home and at work, we can see more of the magnificence that life truly offers us each and every day. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting cause up in ourselves, our own drama or worse, other people’s drama, and we lose sight of what is truly important; what truly matters.
We worry more about what’s next, rather than focusing on what’s now.
So, the next time you give thanks, think of this story. Think of your rainbow. Do you see it? And if you do, are you giving thanks and taking the time to appreciate all the beauty that is in your life? If you can’t see it, look closer. It’s there, I promise you.
This is a time for us to stop and count our blessings as well as an opportunity to impact those around us. How many can you count? When was the last time you counted your blessings; those you can give as well as those you have right in front of you? Here’s a start.
- How many times do you focus on what you think you want without realizing that what you need is all around you?
- How many times do you say life goes by so fast without realizing this is what happens when you’re not paying attention and engaged in today?
- How many times do you treat spectacular conversations and the positive impact you have on others, as just another day at the office?
- How many times are you disappointed when other people don’t meet the expectations that you have placed on them, rather than come from a place of acceptance?
- When was the last time you called your parents, just to tell them you love them?
- How many times do you beat yourself down for not doing something rather than picking yourself up to recognize what it is you have achieved and the daily lessons that life teaches you, which will enable you to grow and become more of who you want to be?
- How many times do you truly, authentically enjoy the journey and the passage of time and not just tell yourself that you’re supposed to?
- How often do you turn to your spouse, look them in the eye and remember why you fell in love with them?
- How often do you take the time to appreciate who is in your life today before you realize it’s too late?
- How many times have you taken a walk and stopped just to enjoy the beauty of a flower, a sunset or a starry night?
- How many times do you deliver authentic, unconditional praise to someone, whether a direct report, co-worker, family member or friend, just because you know it would make them feel good about themselves?
- How often do you appreciate the smile of your child?
- How many times do you step over the magnificence of life today because you’re looking for something or someone else tomorrow?
Maybe if we start today, right now, we can understand how many blessings we truly have. We can always choose to live in a state of absence or a state of presence and deep gratitude. And those blessings, those daily miracles, we can start counting every day.
I want to thank you, my friends, who take the time to read my books and articles, which I pour my heart, passion, energy and soul into every time I put a word down on paper. Thank you for your emails, comments and positive recognition of my life’s work. It’s easy to forget why we do what we do, until someone reminds us, and that reminder can simply come as a, “Thank you.” And when I hear those thank you’s from you, it inspires and reminds me why I do what I do every day.
I hope you can experience that same feeling about what you do every day; as a friend, parent, spouse, daughter, son, business owner, manager, peer, co-worker, salesperson and all the other roles we play where we have the opportunity to impact other people’s lives and in turn, impact our own.
So, thank you for giving me my greatest gift, which is allowing me to contribute to you. I wish you and your family a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
With warm and gracious regards,
Photo Credit: Nikos Koutoulas