Lesson four for those counting: Sobriety also taught me to :
“Find the lion inside yourself and learn how to be brave.”
Putting down the crutch of drugs and alcohol and giving up old friends in order to chart a new course in my life was hard. Really hard. I was so young, and most days I felt like a raw adolescent who never acquired the blueprint for living. But every day I met incredibly brave people, many who had sunk far lower than me. And they were putting their lives back together, one day at a time. I was especially moved by a woman who shared about how she went from a high school dropout living on the streets of NYC to eventually earning her law degree. So when I finally honed in on the goal of becoming a reporter, I mustered the courage to call an editor at a local weekly paper and ask him to let me sit in on community board meetings and write them up for free just so that I could collect some clippings. A year later, partly based on those clippings, I got my first full-time reporting gig, which then led to my career with a national wire service.
Each time I took a risk and it paid off, it gave me the courage to take more risks. Did I ever stumble? Of course I did. I applied for jobs I didn’t get. I missed important deadlines. I got passed over for promotions. But the bravest people I know learned how to bounce back from failures and gather the courage to take even more risks. One of my favorite quotes comes from Helen Keller, someone who knew a fair amount about courage.
In 1940 Keller published “Let Us Have Faith” and a chapter titled “Faith Fears Not” contained the following passage:
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
What challenges have you faced that taught you valuable lessons you can apply to your working life? I’d love to hear about them. Click here to contact me.
Once I stopped worrying about what other people thought about me (see last post), I was ready to move forward.
Lesson 2: “Be authentic and speak from your heart.”
Part of recovery is getting up in front of rooms filled with strangers and sharing your story of how you came to find sobriety. The first few times I did this, I was nearly paralyzed with fear. Fear that I would stumble, ramble or say something stupid. And ultimately the fear that if people really knew the “real” me, they would run screaming in the opposite direction. Well, they didn’t run. They identified with me. And they confided that my honesty helped them be more honest with themselves.
It works just as well in business. When I give a presentation, I always include a story from my life that helps illustrate whatever point I’m trying to make. And I’m honest about my stumbles along with my successes. Sharing such experiences doesn’t make you weak. It invites people to identify with you, to recognize you as human.
Lesson 3:“Learn how to ask for help.”
Being humble and asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a strength. When I asked a group of total strangers to help me stop ruining my life, they gladly did so without expecting anything in return. In the business world, I’ve found the same generosity of spirit. As a cub reporter, I was tasked with writing all the banking stories for a special business issue (even though I had no education or background in finance). Instead of trying to fake my way through it, I gamely called local bankers, admitted my ignorance and listened intently as they graciously gave me a crash course in finance so that I could write my stories.
Back in 1988, I made a decision that altered the course of my life. Sick and tired of my extended adolescence, a dead-end secretarial job and a passive existence centered around where my next drink or drug was coming from, I reached out for help, and at age 25 walked into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I credit that first step – admitting that I needed help and then actively seeking it – with laying the groundwork for all the business and personal success I have achieved in the nearly 30 years since.
You may be shocked that I’m revealing this information to a very public and business audience. Isn’t it Alcoholics “Anonymous” for a reason? And shouldn’t I be worried about trumpeting to the world that I once had a substance abuse problem? The short answer is no. Because one of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is the first one I’ll share with you:
Lesson 1: “What other people think about me is
none of my business.”
What’s that you say? Don’t we all need to care about how we’re perceived by our bosses, our co-workers, our clients in order to get ahead? Not exactly. What I’ve learned over time is that what’s most important to my success is how I act. Am I being honest with others? Do I get the job done? Do I offer creative responses that solve business problems? If I’m always trying to do the next right thing, that’s what is important, and invariably, the right people will notice.
Which is not to say that you won’t come across people in business who won’t like you, for whatever reason. When I say ‘what other people think about me is none of my business,’ what I really mean is that I don’t let how other people feel about me define me, or weigh me down. I just keep on keeping on, and so far, I’ve had a pretty good run. I’ve built two careers (journalism and marketing), got married, and am raising two fairly level-headed teenage girls. When I no longer exhausted myself looking around the room wondering how others perceived me, I started to breathe and be myself. Breathing is good.
Stay tuned for lessons 2,3 and 4.