Everything is Temporary
Once I was traveling with a coworker from Miami to Tampa, when we saw a homeless person carrying all his worldly possessions. Disheveled, hurting, cold, dragging himself with his last bit of strength, you could not help but feel sorry for this person. My coworker said, “There but for the grace of God.” I had never heard this expression and I asked him what it meant. “That could be one of us,” he said. It is an old Southern expression.
My father-in-law had a similar favorite saying that went something like this, “As I see you today, I once saw myself and as you see me, you will see yourself one day.” An old lady had heard him complain about his mom who would always lecture him when he went out with his buddies. He never forgot the old lady nor the refrain. Fifty years later, he would repeat it to us often. One day while visiting a cemetery in New Orleans, I could not believe my eyes when we found the same saying engraved in a tombstone from the 1700s. This maxim is similar to the one that teaches us that to know how someone feels and why they do things, you have to walk a mile in their shoes. Otherwise, how can you know?
There is a wise story that teaches us to not let having a position of power get to you as if you were so powerful that you could hang from “God’s beard.” The moral of the story reminds us that at any time God can shake his head and there you go tumbling down. This is another way of saying the higher you go, the further you fall. And you know what happened to poor Icarus, who drunk with the power to fly, got too close to the sun and fried his wings.
All of these proverbs, old sayings, universal stories teach us an important lesson. A lesson especially important to people just starting out in their careers. When you get your first break to move into a management position, after you get over the shock that you have been selected from among your peers to lead a group, if you start to believe you are special and deserving of all the credit for getting where you are, take a pause. Stop and reflect. Your talent, ambition, and skills got you to where you are but time, place and luck also played a role. There were others who came before as teachers, mentors or promoters who helped open doors. There will be others behind you that you can shape and influence in a positive way.
Whether you are leading a corporation or starting out in an entry level job at a company, remember everything is temporary and subject to change in an instant. Fortunes shift, events happen, things change. Having empathy for others and humility in your actions grounds you. Don't ever believe you have done it or will ever be able to do it all on your own. Be grateful for the opportunities you've been given or that you've created for yourself. Be humble to never stop learning. Be courageous and never get so comfortable where you are that you stop reaching for the next opportunity. Be present and mindful of your actions so you can enjoy what you accomplish. Lastly, be a mentor and a champion for those coming behind you.