When reflecting on your life, do you ever ask yourself what really matters about your work? What’s it all for?
I found that looking backward not only sparks my gratitude, but looking at my zig-zaggy life journey also shines a light on the meaning of who I am still becoming.
Last week I spoke at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. My friend and podcaster extraordinaire, Halelly Azulay picked me up at the airport. As we searched for a place to park, I looked up at the cylindrical towers and remembered the last time I spoke there. It was 36 years ago.
I was completing my thesis for my masters in Broadcasting at San Francisco State University. I was studying how watching video tapes of yourself as you change and grow can help in the recovery of drug addicts and prison inmates. I was completing my research at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic.
The director of the clinic handed me an application to speak for the American Psychological Association. I resisted. He insisted, saying, “You are doing good work. It can’t hurt to apply.”
I complied and forgot about it until a letter came from the APA. My application was accepted! There would be 3 speakers in my session, each getting 20 minutes to share their research, but I was amazed they chose me at all.
A week before the conference, I received a phone call. A nasally, flat-lined female voice said, “Ms. Reynolds, there seems to be something missing from your application. Can you tell me where you received your doctorate?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Oh, well, hmmm…. Can you tell me where you received your master’s degree?”
“I’m close to having that, maybe next year.”
“Oh, well, hmm… Can you tell me you are working in a relevant field?”
After telling her my degree was in broadcasting, she said, “Oh, well, come if you like” and hung up the phone.
I had a choice. I could find a great excuse to back out, or do the presentation, giving 100% anyway. I chose the latter.
Shortly after midnight the day of the conference, I packed my videotape, my overhead transparencies (look it up if you don’t know what these are), and my well-rehearsed presentation into my green Karmann Ghia and drove to Los Angeles.
When I got to the Bonaventure Hotel, I thought I was in Oz. The round windows gleamed into the sky. When I checked in, they gave me a “Speaker Ribbon” to proudly wear.
I was too nervous to listen to the keynote. I found my room, rehearsed my speech in my head until hours later, the room filled up. After a blur of words from the first two speakers, I gathered my materials and started for the front of the room. Before I got there, I heard a familiar voice.
The woman who had called me addressed the room, “We are running late. I don’t want you to miss lunch. The next speaker is not fully prepared so you can leave if you like.”
Everyone left but one man in the middle of the room. He crossed his arms and legs and said, “I’m not that hungry, you go on ahead.”
I could let him go with the rest of the crowd, figuring he felt sorry for me. Or, I could give 100% to the one man in the room. I loaded my video, set up my transparencies, and give him the best presentation I could. He gave me a standing ovation, and handed me his card.
I didn’t know who he was, but the people who read my resume for the first job I applied for knew him. Based on his esteemed recommendation, I was hired as the AV coordinator, pushing video equipment and film projectors around a psychiatric hospital.
My boss was the training director. She decided to work on her doctorate and dumped all the leadership training in my lap. And so, my journey began.
Looking up at the hotel from Halelly’s car, a rush of gratitude filled my body. I had returned to speak as a world-renowned expert in coaching and using emotional intelligence to create powerful connections.
My road hasn’t been straight. There have been dark tunnels, hollow distractions, and dashed dreams. Yet, I always chose to give 100%. My restless desire for new challenges, to be recognized for my contribution, and to discover what I’m supposed to be doing in this life often led me to great achievements but also down side roads where I lost focus. Maybe I should have stayed in one place longer, making a bigger name for myself, but looking back that day left me with more pride than regret.
Did reflecting on my journey help me define my purpose? I know I have lifted other people up, helping them to act by their convictions regardless of the barriers they face. My clients always tell me they are inspired to give 100% while they help others feel heard, understood and valued.
My choices long ago define who I am still becoming. Reflecting helped me see the value of my existence, which gives my life meaning even if can’t articulate my purpose in a sound bite.
Take time for reflecting
Choose a pivotal moment in your life when you were young or just starting your career. Can you remember a moment you overcame a difficulty, made a life choice, or vowed to never repeat a mistake again? Ask yourself:
- What helped you be ready for that moment? What did you realize you could do that you hadn’t fully recognized before? How did your talents, gifts, or energy help shape who you are today?
- What did you learn? How did the lesson help you grow?
- What part of yourself did you give voice to? How has your foundation strengthened since then?
Now, reflecting on the present:
- Think of moments in your life now where you matter. How did that pivotal experience help you do good work today?
- What talents have you since fostered to reach the level of success or value you provide?
- Can you use your reflection to help define your next chapter?
Take stock of what you have achieved, what you have overcome, and what choices you are making now. Don’t dwell on decisions you should have made. Take a moment to reflect on the full, exciting, disappointing, happy, sad, and amazing life you have led. There are always things to celebrate and be grateful for.
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