What a friend’s lungs taught me about success

Originally published via LinkedIn Oct 12, 2015

Recently, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with  Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a progressive, destructive lung disease that strikes women, almost exclusively, in the prime of their lives. Based on research and studies of the disease, the prognosis is anywhere between 10-30 years. My friend’s children are five and eight. In 10-30 years they will be going to prom, graduating high school, starting college, moving into their first apartment, dealing with their first major heartache, getting married and raising children of their own. They will be experiencing life’s most awesome moments.  And these are the things she may not live to see.

Regardless of creed, color, ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference each and everyone one of us shares the common bond of having limited days on this earth.  All of us are aware we should live each of those days to the fullest, and yet how many of us do? We all know the cliché but find ourselves answering one more email instead of playing with our kids, staring at our phone instead of talking to our partner, taking that one last call instead of leaving early to meet a friend for a drink.  We let the stress of our work week eat away at us until I lash out at my husband because he can’t find the freaking BBQ sauce that could not possibly be any more in front of his face for the love of everything holy! Sorry. I digress.

Every night I lay awake staring at the ceiling and re-hash the day. Lately my thoughts drift to my friend and as is human nature, it leads me to questions. Do I live a full life? Have I been successful? Am I putting effort into the right things? I’ve thought about how I measure success and this is what I came up with.

How many days you wake up grateful. You know that meme “If Monday was a person”?  That’s me every morning. I am not a morning person. I am the most opposite thing there is to a morning person. If you woke up next to Medusa, you’d likely feel more comfortable than waking up next to me.

But if the mornings I wake up grateful to find that I am still breathing far outnumber the days I can hardly bring myself to face the world, I am succeeding.

What you have learned from managers. We all spend a lot of time at work.  If we’re going to spend 10-12 hours a day working, it better be worth it.  A paycheck is great, but what I find the most valuable is what I have learned.

I was fired once. The truth is I was miserable in that job. I disagreed vehemently with someone in leadership. I was sacrificing my weekends away from my young son. But I refused to quit.  My manager took that burden for me and she cried as she did it.  She taught me that sometimes a boss has to do tough things, but they need to be done because it is best for everyone.

The president of a previous company I worked for once asked our team, “What is a quality you value most in another person?” I don’t remember what I said, but I remember what he said. Humbleness. Since that day I have strived to be humble. When I’m praised for good work, I credit my team. When I’m told my children are well-behaved, I credit their ability to behave.  When I’m complimented for my appearance, I credit Neutrogena.

From yet another manager I was reminded about the importance of maintaining your personal brand. You are to others what your actions teach them to think of you. I learned this the hard way and it was a miserable lesson. (Thank you, alcohol!) But the point is, I learned it and thank you, universe, for new beginnings.

What you spend your money on. People often measure success by how much money they make. The more money you make, the more successful you are, right? But I’m not sure that’s true. I think how you spend your money, no matter how much you have, can be a better indication. To me to best thing money can buy is experiences.

Travel has been ingrained in my brain as a worthy if not necessary expense since I was a kid. I grew up a military brat.  If you know anything about the military life you know the pay is low but the experience is intense.  Not only did we move around a lot, but every chance we got my parents packed us up and hit the road in our used Toyota camper.

That wanderlust has never left me. We are currently saving for a trip to Germany. For a family of four on our income, the expense is significant, but to me, it’s worth it.  That experience will bring us more joy, more education, more awareness of all the world has to offer than any material thing.

Who you give your time to. Our time is the most valuable commodity we have.  It is not limitless. Just ask my friend.  I look back on the time I have given to crappy boyfriends, toxic friends, worthless co-workers, or complete strangers who were rude to me and I could just yak. What a waste. These days I keep a pretty tight circle of close friends and family. Folks are let in and out on a fairly strict basis.  We should all be this greedy with our time. Even at work. If you get 30 minutes on my calendar, you better show up on time and use every minute of it to teach me something, update me on a project, or take action items. And I expect to be held to the same standard.

The ultimate goal of course is to give the majority of your time to those who matter most. Likely that ain’t your boss, but if they’re a good one, they already taught you that.

To learn more about LAM, click here to visit The Lam Foundation.

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