Thursday, October 28, 2010

Birthday Wishes and Personal Greatness

What happens on your birthday? Do friends, family and loved ones let you know how much you mean in their lives? Do you know by the end of the day that you matter to someone? Well, their wishes, or at least their presence in your life matter toward achieving your personal greatness.

October 28th is my birthday. Starting days earlier I celebrated with my partner, then on a different evening my business partner. On my birthday itself I received calls, cards, emails, and notices on Facebook from friends and family wishing me well. And it was on the train to Washington DC for work on my birthday that I realized the importance of all those well-wishers. I know I have a community that supports me because of who I am. Though it might be possible to achieve personal greatness alone without a supportive community, it is much more difficult.

Psychology has long understood the importance of the support of family and friends. Yet more and more we live in an isolating society that propels us away from our family and friends for the pursuit of our career. However, cut off from a supportive community, we lack the emotional and psychological backup if our resources are depleted. In other words, without a community it is difficult to always have the strength to be our best.

Positive relationships is one of the pillars to psychologically flourishing, according to Dr. Marty Seligman, and in Well Being, Tom Rath identifies it as one of the essential elements to well-being. Rath even states that we need six hours a day (that includes conversations, phone calls, texts and emails) of interaction with others to thrive in community well-being. Well-being and flourishing are essential to achieving personal greatness and a supportive community is a major factor in both of those psychological states.

Going it alone or rugged individualism hasn't stopped some individuals from achieving personal greatness, but I'm certain it didn't help them. So create a supportive community around you and watch what happens. The community doesn't have to be big, just supportive. Better yet, cultivate a community that both cherishes and challenges you to be at your best and you will see the results.

Perhaps birthdays aren't the best gauge of a healthy community of friends and family. But I know I can rely on them to support me when necessary and push me when appropriate. And at least one time a year, its nice to know they are all there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's In A Name?

Signing a credit card receipt on a recent business trip I realized I have reduced my name to a scribble. Though I've worked hard to be proud of my name I sign it as though it is not important at all. I wonder if my sloppiness hints at what I might think of my name, even of myself. Why is this so important? Because names and words not only identify us; words, because they clarify our goals, affect who we are and who we can become.

So, what's in a name? What's in our name? Simply, whatever we place there. Most of us had no choice in our name. We were named for a loved one, or a friend or something memorable. But think of why that name was chosen. It means the person naming us hoped we'd embody what that name meant to them. But now it is our turn. If someone thinks of our name differently after we've met them then somehow the example of our life changed the way they now hear the name. If our time with them was marked by energy, wonder, goodness, or a deep connection, each time they hear that name, whether directly referring to us or not, they will hold the name with respect and honor.

What if the life we've built leaves scant evidence of compassion or caring, good will or gratitude, struggle or success? Then our name will not expand the thoughts of those who use it nor find itself spoken with reverence.

Similarly the names by which we describe what we do, who we are, in part makes us. We become what we call ourselves. “Artist,” “poet,” “craftsman,” “home-maker,” “entrepreneur.” Some of the words we choose to describe ourselves we keep hidden knowing that is what we really believe about our life. “Loser,” “loner,” “drifter,” “subordinate.” And if the word we use to describe ourselves is less than what we really can attain, it is not the world that holds us back but our own lack of belief, desire or imagination. Though we sometimes rail against the fates it is we who follow the lead of our own words.

So, who are you at your finest moment? What are you at the best times you can remember? “Artisan,” “thinker,” “philosopher,” “philanthropist.” We become what we call ourselves. We move toward what we believe and hope ourselves to be.

Whatever we call ourselves, we will become. Be honest. Think of your strengths, gifts and desires. Cherish and polish the name given you in life and live fully the name you use to describe yourself.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Running Against the Wind

Running six miles when the wind is blowing 20 miles an hour (like this morning) is not easy, but then neither is striving to achieve your personal greatness. It's important to remember that neither of them is a sprint and so they share some principles that make it easier to keep going.

Do the tough stuff first. The first decision I encounter on a windy day is which way to go. I always turn into the wind, that way it's easier on the way back. Sometimes you can be tired even at the beginning of a day and thinking about greatness is the furthest thing from your mind. Completing a task early in the day gives a boost of energy to move you through the rest of the day. AND you might get more done than you think.

Shorten your strides. Any time I fight the wind I've learned to shorten my stride. My legs are not as strained when I take the shorter strides and I can still keep up a decent pace. Striving for personal greatness there are times we need to attempt less in a day. Smaller, achievable goals allow us to accomplish something without overstriving and completing nothing. Plus sometimes the smaller goals help us maintain our energy and morale when the going gets tough.

Alter your route. On a calm day I run a route that is wide open with few obstructions and a wide open vista. On a really windy day I change the route and use buildings, hedges and trees to block the wind for me as I make my way to the same end goal. Pursuing a goal you have a tendency to approach it the same way every day. Sometimes changing your approach, especially when it is not working, allows you to move beyond banging your head against a wall and though you are not taking your usual direct route, you are moving toward the same goal.

Enjoy the wind. Though running against a wind is challenging, like the 20 mph wind this morning, I've finally learned that I waste more energy cursing the wind and started accepting it. Learning to appreciate how it changes my run and the challenges it offers helps me maintain energy and learn in the process. When your movement toward personal greatness is challenged, stop for a second and see what you are learning. You might realize something significant about yourself, your goal, or about your opposition.

Let's be real, wind or opposition will always be around sometimes stronger than others. Learning how to deal with it make you able to deal with the challenging moments and still move toward your goal.