Finishing Strong

In a few weeks 2013 will come to a close and a new year will begin. We are always encouraged to set new goals. But what about taking some time to reflect back on the past year. Did I finish stronger than when I started?

To help answer that question, there are four aspects of finishing strong we can examine.

1. Possessing a mindset to perform at an exceptional level.

Here, I automatically think about my professional life. As the President and CEO of a professional, people-based organization I must be a role model to all of its employees, stakeholders and colleagues. If I ask anything of this critical support network, I must first demonstrate that I will demand the same of myself.

I am a believer in life-long learning. Because of my birth date (December) I started school at the age of four and it seems I have been in school ever since. Just two weeks ago I wrote an exam on Business Research (BR3). It was no doubt the most difficult exam I’ve ever written but only because I wasn’t adequately prepared. I must confess I did not perform at an acceptable level, both according to my own standards or the standards I would expect of others. I’ve always been able to attack most subjects and tasks to achieve an exceptional performance grade. However, BR3 addressed subject matter I wasn’t familiar with either through prior readings and studies or years of work experience. Half of the course was focused on the topic I dread most, statistics, a subject area I was never able to master. Though I haven't received the final grade report I have a strong sense my performance was significantly less than exceptional.

I have to ask myself, why? And I have to admit it was my mindset that constrained me. I did not establish a disciplined approach to ensure I allowed myself the time to adequately study, absorb, test and prove I mastered the required exercises. I will no doubt pay the price after opening the envelope containing my exam results. As a result of an improper mindset, I robbed myself of the satisfaction of doing well.

2. Exhibiting courage in the face of adversity.

In this second instance I think about my health. I was told by my doctor that cancer had returned and occupied my body exactly one year ago. I kept this news to myself, only sharing it with a few required people at work, with my family and one or two close friends. I was able to schedule surgery just before the Christmas break and use the holidays as my recovery period. When I returned back to work in the New Year, no one knew any better and life went on.

But to be told only a year and a half after the first scary announcement that I had developed cancer and surgery was performed to correct it, I wasn’t quite sure I had the courage to face it again. Especially when between those two bouts with cancer, I also had to deal with open heart surgery to correct an undiscovered birth defect and a leaky valve. I believe it is courage that enables one to overcome these types of adversities. Courage is the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation (Wikipedia). Without courage, certain aspects of life will defeat us. We cannot and must not allow that to happen.

3. Refusing to accept mediocrity.

In the third instance I think about my self-worth. To accept mediocrity in my life is a statement of my self-worth. Self-worth and pride are not synonyms for each other. Self-worth is simply having respect for oneself. It is having the sense of one’s own value as a person. While pride can lead to an inflated sense of personal status, in a healthy context, it can arise from a level of satisfaction from personal achievements. If I have a high level of self-respect, I will never settle for mediocrity in my life. Everything will be done to either preserve a healthy sense of self-worth or to increase my self-worth.

Therefore, I must ask myself the critical question: Was 2013 a year of mediocrity or was it a year of personal growth and accomplishment? Even though I may not have succeeded at everything I set out to accomplish, through it all, 2013 was a year where I learned a lot about life, myself, and what was and is truly important. It was a year where my sense of self-worth was properly defined.

4. Adopting a philosophy of living a life with no regrets.

In this final instance, I think about my behaviour. Frank Sinatra once sang a famous song that featured the phrase, “Regrets, I’ve had a few.” Yes, like Frank, I have had a few regrets from this past year. I regret not having more time for my kids. I regret missing quarterly weekend retreats at the family camp with my four older brothers. I regret allowing work to interrupt vacations with my wife, Linda. I regret not exercising enough and eating too much. I regret not staying in contact with a few friends who have always been around to support me. I regret not calling or visiting my 84 year-old mother more. I regret not studying and applying myself as needed to do well on the BR3 exam. The list goes on.

But while we all have regrets, when assessing my behaviour, was their anything terrible or wrong that leaves me with an overwhelming sense of regret? When meeting people in the elevator, hallways or the PATH, the same question is always asked, “How are you doing?” If I answered that question based on a single point in time, I might do so negatively. But if I think about it over the long-term, my answer can only be positive: “I’m doing well, I have no regrets!” Such is 2013. I reflect on the past only to help me understand how to be more successful as I advance toward an undefined future.

No one knows what 2014 will bring. But with a positive mindset, great courage, a healthy sense of self-worth, and adopting a philosophy of living a life with no regrets, 2014 will be just fine for me and for you. Embrace it, enjoy it and take from it all that it has to provide. In the end, you will be in a position to simply say, "I finished stronger than when I started."