Focus On What Matters

This afternoon I took the stage in front of 120 National Honor Society inductees and their parents and, as it would turn out, I was quite nervous. Since I don't do a lot of speaking locally, something about today made it a bit more challenging for me. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and I got there early enough to allow for a little prayer time. Maybe it's because there were so many parents in the audience, 'cause I took the mic from the podium and made a bee-line to where I'm most comfortable, in front of the kids. 

I told them that seeing them walk in with candles served as such a nice metaphor for the beacon of light in this dark world that they already are and that they've been called to be. I congratulated them for not only their academic scholarship, but their service, their leadership, and their character, also known as the soft success skills that will take them where they want to go. I told them I was proud of them and that even though there was a Packer game going on right then {I've learned to throw in a touch of humor to engage my audience and put them at ease!}that there was no place that I'd rather be than right there, celebrating with them. 

Anything is possible, I said, as I shared the story of how I ended up a Wisconsin farmer's daughter teaching Spanish at Friendswood High School some thirty years ago. I told them it took persistence and perseverance, maybe even a little begging, to even get an interview in a school district where everyone wanted to work. And, I told them, in the end, doors opened up because of my soft skills ... that, and the fact that I reminded that Principal of his daughter. Sometimes it's all about connections. In the end, I told them, it won't be that laminated NHS card that matters or sets them apart. In the end, it'll be relationships that matter.

Click graphic for source.

So, what's next? I asked, before suggesting that they answer these three questions as they diligently move toward their destination: 
Who am I? 
Where am I going? 
How will I get there? 
And then I reminded them that they get to choose who they are. Every day. And they get to decide where they're going. Every day. And since counselors are kind of like a GPS, I brought five key suggestions for a successful journey down life's highway. Here now, notes from the rest of my talk:

Character is about living life guided by your core values; it's who you are when nobody's looking and especially when life gets messy and hard. Michael Josephson suggests we think about what we want people to say at our funeral and live life backward. Here are five things that you might want to remember as you move forward down the road of life:
1. Unplug from that device and plug in to each other. You are living in a wonderful time of connectivity, but technology has a time and a place. It can be a blessing, but at the same time a burden. Please turn it off now and again and sharpen those soft skills with face-to-face interactions. Be present, in the moment. And please, please don't break up with someone or attempt other difficult conversations by text or email.
2. Listen to understand, not just to reply. Be an empathy hero, the kind of person that you need when life gets hard. Be the friend who gets it, who understands, who offers support, comfort, and unconditional love. Show up and befriend the new kid. Help someone who can't give you anything in return. Switch places with them, walk in their shoes. Try to figure out what you want or need if you were in their situation. Our strongest leaders lead 
with inspiration, empathy and enthusiasm.
3. Apologize and forgive. Ask yourself: How do I treat people when they mess up? I've heard it said that refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Life's too short to let that anger live rent-free in your heart. So when they apologize, please say, "I forgive you" or "I accept your apology." Steer clear of saying, "It's okay" because you don't want to send the wrong message that you condone that behavior. And when you're the one who has messed up, simply say, "I did it. I'm sorry. Please forgive me." Choices have consequences; take responsibility for your actions.
4. Show grace and gratitude. In all things. Rockin' gratitude is easy when things are going along smoothly. But when I was hit head-on two years ago yesterday, I learned the hard way that it was gratitude that would get me through a very dark and difficult time of healing and recovery. Gratitude picked me up off of Sunset, broken in three places physically and into a million tiny pieces emotionally and helped me keep going. Gratitude that it wasn't worse. So when life takes a detour or isn't quite working out as you'd hoped or planned, give thanks. Express your gratitude and remember to extend grace, unmerited favor, whenever possible. Oh, and it's always possible.
5. Live generously. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we'll celebrate next week, said it best when he reminded us, "Life's most urgent and persistent question is, "What am I doing for others?" Have a servant heart that stands ready to help. To serve. To live generously. Acts of service don't have to be great to be grand. Serve with a smile and enjoy that helper's high. Be the kind of leader that you would follow. Choose kindness. Choose service. Choose joy. And let your light shine. Congratulations again. Cape up, crusade on, and know that our world is better because you're in it. 
So today I'm feeing grateful to have had that opportunity.
I'm also happy to have found this clip, which puts an exclamation point on the idea that we need to focus on what matters.

1 comment:

  1. Much to think about Ms Gruener!!


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