Posted on Tue, Jul. 31, 2012
There are about 70 of us crowding onto the dance floor, trying to squeeze together for a group photo. It seems almost as quickly as the flash that follows that 30 years have gone by. High school reunions are one of those milestones in life that cause you to take stock of who you have become and what you’ve done with your life.
Are you happy? Have you taken care of yourself? Did you make the most out of your career opportunities? It is the ultimate work-life balance reality check.
My Miami Coral Park Senior High graduating class of more than 700 has had its fair share of success stories — big name baseball players, top surgeons, corporate executives, grade school principals. We’ve seen our share of deaths, sickness and divorce. Many of us, from humble upbringings and immigrant parents, have gone on to seek higher education or made our way through the school of hard knocks to earn a good living and raise families.
We have gone from high school grads to mid-career professionals. Talking to my former classmates made me reflect on my changing priorities over three decades. Heading to college and into my career, I had no intention of having a family and considered being a writer my top priority. I had done that, until I realized I wanted more in my life.
I wonder how many times in my former classmates’ lives they have taken stock at work and home and hit the refresh button. Until a crisis hits, many of us never really confront the critical issues of life. We get too busy to ask ourselves if we’re fulfilled and balanced. What I realized from this opportunity to reflect is that all of us should regularly evaluate. We all feel challenged day to day about the best use of our time. But are the things that matter most getting the time you want to give them? If not, do something about it.
Coincidentally, just days before the reunion, I was discussing Stephen Covey’s book First Things First with several dozen female professionals at a book club meeting of Women Executive Leadership. Covey, an organizational guru who recently died at age 79, was a big believer that everyone should craft a personal mission statement to guide them through life. To make it empowering, the statement should encompass a lifetime balance of personal, family, work and community. The mission statement, he says in his book, becomes the primary factor that influences every moment of choice.
When discussing First Things First, we debated whether a mission statement needs to be updated throughout life. One woman felt strongly that it should. The 40-something staffing professional shared that she recently hit the refresh button on her priorities. She loves her job but it requires long hours. She has become painfully aware that her days with her teenage son at home are dwindling. But her focus on those roles had been preventing her from giving attention to her health and she had gained weight over many years. Recently, she began to wake up at 5 a.m. and exercise before the start of the day. She is losing weight and has more energy.
At the reunion, I heard lots of talk about making it a new priority to look and feel good. One friend told me he began seeing a company-sponsored nutritionist six months ago and already had lost 40 pounds. Another told me he had refocused on his health and changed jobs after suffering heart concerns from work-related stress.
Along with encouraging balance and priorities, Covey believes in leaving a legacy. Of course, each of us has a personal interpretation of what that means.
Thirty years after high school, many in my class, including myself, are beginning to ponder whether we’ve made the contribution we want to make at home, work and in our community. We are beginning to figure out that legacy is what gives meaning to what we do every day and energizes us. It’s what we might want to consider when we’re caught up in our Inbox at all hours doing the urgent but not necessarily the important.
As a mother of teenagers, I now know my legacy isn’t only my contribution, it’s about rising above my daily to-do list and influencing my children to create their legacy, too.
It’s the personal aspect of our lives that really struck me in the conversations with my former classmates. While the career paths they took hold some interest, the conversation almost always centers on where we live, who we keep in touch with, and what kind of person we’ve become.
When the flashes stopped and the group photo was captured for posterity, the 70 of us rather reluctantly walked away from the dance floor, back to the smaller gatherings around the room, and eventually back to our harried lives. I wonder how our priorities will have reshuffled when we all meet again.