What a Difference a Year Makes
November 25th, 2012 started out as a happy day in a bright and sunny paradise. Then, one event took place that turned my entire world upside down and led me to step into the leadership role that I was destined to assume.
Around 11:00 am, as I lay on the warm white sand of a Hawaiian beach, my partner and our seven-year-old son could be seen snorkeling in the surf.
Suddenly, my proud gaze turned instantly to panic when I realized that my soul mate of fourteen years seemed to be in trouble. Even though I swam out as quickly as I could, he was already unconscious by the time that I reached him.
Four hours later, the love of my life quietly passed away.
In a nanosecond, I was alone. How could this happen? How could I have had breakfast with this wonderful, vibrant man that very same morning and, by dinnertime, need to come to terms with the fact that he was now dead?
How could I continue on? I felt like my life was over, yet as a father, I was totally conscious that my son needed his dad. The three of us used to joke that together we made “The Three Amigos”. Now, there were only two, and it was more than I could possibly understand.
Walking out on the hotel balcony, overlooking the cold ocean that had just swallowed our family whole, I was painfully aware of the reality that I had 100% of the bills to pay and only 50% of the income. I had to figure out how to bridge the gap and I wondered if I should give up then and there.
But I wasn’t willing to give up, so the only choice I had was to step into my power and manifest a new future. Embarking on scary, uncharted territory, I found the courage I needed to transform my life, as I knew it.
I realized that I no longer had time to avoid my life’s purpose. There were no more excuses, and there was no further room for compromising my or my son’s future.
What I learned during the previous twelve months I’ve come to understand is the underlying secret to truly Authentic Leadership. In its most powerful and potent form, Authentic Leadership boils down to five very simple principles. These principles still propel me forward today.
- Look into you heart and follow your purpose.
- Ask for help and accept it with gratitude.
- Cultivate your internal GPS.
- Attract people who support your vision.
- And always, always, always … be compassionate with yourself.
1. Look into Your Heart and Follow Your Purpose
I saw very clearly that I needed to support my family and that meant more money and less hours. It would seem that was an impossible goal, but actually when I started to value what I could bring to a client – 20 years of working with Fortune 500 companies on strategic human transformation – it became easy. Easy – when I stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight as an Authentic Leader.
2. Ask for Help and Accept It with Gratitude
In the past, I was happy to do everything myself. I worked on projects as a one-man-show and only occasionally brought in others to help out. Now, I realize that this approach doesn’t serve me anymore – not at work and not in my home life either.
Our family had not planned to cut its income in half. So, I was faced with paying for everything myself, from taxes on our home to the taxis at the airport. As I gave up trying to work it out and trusted in something bigger – things began to flow. Out of the blue, a dear friend sent me $1000. Another time, a friend said she had a tax refund she didn’t need, so she sent the money to me instead. Yet another time, a virtual stranger brought me dinner when I needed the support most. Incredibly, and thankfully, loss often brings the best out in our communities and ourselves.
3. Cultivate Your Internal GPS
I didn’t understand why this had happened to me or to my son. I had intended to grow old with my best friend. We finished each other sentences. We envisioned our retirement in Portugal – one of our favorite places in the world. Yet over time, I began to see that his passing was all part of a plan. And somewhere, there was an old manuscript or an Excel spreadsheet, which explained why this loss had to happen.
As I began to accept that hard truth, I began to follow the “guided route” as the Navigation System in a car might call it. I became more sensitive to when I should say “No” to things that were keeping me small and weren’t valuing who I was. I also saw when I should say “Yes” more often.
4. Attract People Who Support Your Vision
Over this last year, I have begun to find more people who believe in me and in what I am doing. As I stand up to become more of the leader that I am, people feel drawn to join me in my mission.
Recently, I sat next to someone in a class and found out that we had both worked for the same company at one time. Interestingly enough, we then came to discover that we’d both been let go in the same dramatic and painful fashion. Hearing this, we bonded deeply over that tough time that we both faced, and one year later she has become my good friend and trusted business partner.
Those kinds of coincidences became part of my daily life and are a valuable component of my ongoing business plan!
5. Always, Always, Always, … Be Compassionate with Yourself
I am now running a successful company with all that that entails: dozens of employees and workers comp policies, numerous clients and marketing strategies, and myriad products and services to fulfill. I am also a busy single dad shuttling my son to soccer practice, volunteering at his school, and drawing up plans for great-big tree houses. Sometimes, it’s a lot to juggle, but when I take a minute to step back and look at all that I’ve accomplished in a year, I have to pat myself on the back and say: “You’re doing fine. You’re OK. Be kind to yourself as you continue walking your path.“
To this day, I still don’t understand death, but what I do understand is that this loss was also a gift that has enabled me to step into my authentic journey as the leader I am on November 25th, 2013.
- David Couper
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