Today I had a shock. I heard from a mother of a lovely young woman I had spoken with on the phone nearly three years ago about career coaching. I learned from her mother that this beautiful, vibrant young woman was gone. She had passed away in her home in June 2011, just one month after I spoke with her. And amazingly, the young woman was from my home town.
I was truly rocked by this news. I was so touched by the mother’s beautiful note to me (she hadn’t wanted to just “unsubscribe” her daughter from my newsletter, but wanted to explain, and share the sad news personally). I was rocked because I have beloved children myself who are so precious to me, and I can only glimpse of the pain a parent feels at losing her dearest child so young.
And finally, I was rocked at the idea that this young woman’s life and my own had intersected only for a brief moment in time, and I wondered how she would have experienced and remembered our interaction. I prayed she would have thought of it as helpful and caring. If not, I would deeply regret it.
That got me thinking. We strive so hard to live good lives, to be “happy,” to find our way, and to create success and joy, and share it with others. But I’ve realized lately that it’s just not that complicated. It’s very simple, in fact. Maybe living well, with happiness and without regret, is simply about demonstrating in physical reality five essential traits that help us leave this world a better place than we found it.
If it were truly this simple – just five essential behaviors — would we all do a better job of living without regret, of embracing and sharing joy and love with others, and feeling much better every moment of our existence? I think so.
What are these 5 traits that are essential to regret-free, joyful living? I believe they are:
Kindness is the sweetness of life. It’s a gentle hand when we’re down, a non-judging, listening ear when we have a problem, and it’s an unselfish act that puts the best interests of others first. It’s giving without looking for “what’s in it for me.”
I, like you perhaps, interact with hundreds of people each month, and I endeavor to be kind to each one, but sometimes I fail. When I’m tired, over-worked, stressed, frustrated – you name it – my kindness wanes.
Truthfully speaking, I can often get grumpy and agitated when strangers desperately want and demand something from me. But I have found that I can overcome that agitation, and I am more successful at that when I’m more “present” in my life. When I can step back from what’s at hand, take three deep breaths and remember what I’m doing here on this planet, and when I connect to a higher dimension of myself that isn’t so worn down from the obligations in front of me, my access to kindness opens. Then, I’m able recalibrate and re-energize, and find my heart again. It’s not hard – it just takes commitment and practice.
Kindness heals sorrow, binds broken relationships, and mends souls (our own and others’). So why then are we so unkind?
What takes you away for your kindness and what helps you restore it? Can you make a habit of rekindling your kindness each day?
To me, caring is about taking the time to give a hand to someone, to show that their issues and problems are important, and their worldview matters. Caring means that you validate the individual before you, and show that you understand who they are at their core, and love and respect that essence.
The opposite of caring is the snarky back-stabbing, gossiping, hateful behavior we see around us every day – online and in person. Making someone wrong and judging them mercilessly is a hallmark of it. This lack of caring reveals that you’ve forgotten one core truth – that everyone is inextricably connected, and each person is a facet of you. So if you’re hateful to another person, you’re hateful to yourself.
Are you as caring for those around you as you’d like to be? Are you caring to yourself in equal measure (that’s where most women fall down.) What holds you back from exhibiting more care and concern for yourself and for others?
Of all of these traits, I believe compassion is the most powerful to heal the world. Compassion represents the feeling of empathy for others, the emotion we feel in response to the suffering or experiences of others that inspires in us a desire to help. In my work as a therapist and coach, I’ve observed that those who were raised without compassion, without empathy – by parents who were narcissistic, cruel, distorted, and unable to feel compassion – are those who suffer the severest forms of pain, isolation, and suffering.
Is your compassion for others and the world somehow being strangled by your current struggles and your mindset? Can you find a new way to grow your compassion for yourself, and for others?
In working with women to move away from careers they dislike, there is inevitably a sense of meaning, purpose and helpfulness that is missing and that they long for. As Maria Nemeth shared in her powerful book The Energy of Money, we are all happiest when we’re demonstrating in physical reality what we know to be true about ourselves, when we’re giving form to our Life Intentions in ways that help others.
I know too many people who focus only of what they have in front of them – either their struggles and strife or, on the flip side, their wealth, achievements and outer “things” (toys, cars, houses, bank accounts) they are amassing — with no regard of how they can be of help in the world.
In the end, if you focus only on yourself and your tiny sphere of influence, you’ll be wasting your talents and your abilities, and losing a precious opportunity to make a real difference in the world. The result will be that, at the end of your life, you will experience deep sadness, regret and remorse that you wasted your precious time, energy and your life looking out for only yourself.
Who can you help today?
Finally, I’ve seen that people experience deep pain and suffering from the lies they’ve told – to themselves and to others. Lying reflects a deep-seated fear that we are not “enough” – not strong, smart, courageous, good or powerful enough – to deal with the real consequences of our true actions and beliefs, so we lie. But lying hurts. When you lie to yourself, you rob yourself of the chance to evaluate accurately and fully how best to move forward. And lying to others limits their ability to make the right choices and decisions for themselves. The bottom line: lying stops you and others from growing, living and loving life to the fullest.
The flip side – truthfulness – does indeed set you free. Truthfulness allows you to be free with and accepting of yourself, and lets others be themselves, and act with honesty, authenticity and transparency as well.
Where are you being false, and what truth can you share today that will change everything for you?
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These five traits can be viewed as agreements you make with yourself. If you commit to being to being more kind, caring, compassionate, helpful and truthful each day, I guarantee, without reservation, that your life experience will improve dramatically, and regrets will fade.
(For more on the power of giving, check out Adam Grant’s great new book Give and Take. For information on helping others and the world through your career and professional life, check out Breakdown, Breakthrough and the Amazing Career Project.)