Finishing the fourth cycle

A bit late, but last month I celebrated my fourth-cycle birthday. For those who may not know, a “cycle” refers to the twelve years in the Chinese calendar*, each represented by a different animal. With any luck, this fourth cycle represents the mid-point of my life and has served as an opportunity to reflect on what I have accomplished so far and what I can hope to accomplish with the time that remains.


One lesson I learned from my great-grandfather, is that we are each responsible to reach our full potential. I also learned from my family that we are called to help others reach their full potential, too. My family is full of teachers, nurses, soldiers and others called to serve the communities around them in their own ways.

For the 32 years I have worked, regardless of what my job role has been, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow and to help others learn and grow, too.

The lessons learned thus far could fill a book (and, I hope, one day will) and started even before my first real job, when I worked a newspaper delivery route in the mornings before school. Understanding how to manage my time, throw papers so they were easy for customers to retrieve, and make collections at month’s end as painless as possible, were early lessons that have proved valuable countless times.

The opportunities to help others grow have been abundant, too: from teaching new ushers the proper way to quickly clean a theatre before the next show began, to having to manage two people who had wanted the first managerial job I was promoted to, to guiding “new generation leaders” as a leadership development consultant, I have found fulfillment in helping others grow and, with modesty, hope that I have had some success.

It may sound corny, but I do have a strong sense of purpose in my life: to help others reach their full potential and, in doing so, to reach my own potential. One commitment I made to myself, is that I will regularly assess whether my current circumstance is allowing me to progress on both halves of my purpose. If not, it will be time for a change.

Looking at the lives of my great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents – as well as so many mentors, colleagues, and friends – I have an abundance of role models whose examples I can follow.

And this is an important element of my purpose. You see, I seek to fulfill this purpose because it is part of a larger, longer legacy than myself. And it is something that, I hope, will run through me and live on in the lives and actions of others.

If four cycles are all I have, I am satisfied that I have lived my purpose. I hope, though, that I have many more cycles left because I don’t feel nearly finished.

*Also celebrated in many other East Asian cultures

Are You the Best Version of Yourself?

hamill_tabloidcity_custom While lying in a massage parlor a few blocks from home, letting someone with strong forearms unknead the knots in my back muscles, I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with author Pete Hamill.  A journalist and columnist starting back in the 1960s, Hamill also wrote novels.  He was on the show speaking about his most recent book, Tabloid City, a thriller that takes place in an old-school tabloid newsroom that is struggling to deal with the digital era.

During the discussion, interviewer Dave Davies asked Hamill about a previous book he wrote, A Drinking Life, and his own struggles with drinking, which he eventually gave up cold turkey.  It was Hamill’s response to the question, “What did your drinking take away from you?” that caught my attention and got me thinking.

Here’s his answer with my own added emphasis:

I was [a] very prolific journalist because I could always squeeze enough from my talent to get a newspaper piece done.  What it took away from me was the courage to test the extent of whatever my talent was.

… From a professional and personal standpoint a lot of it was about trying to find out what was there as a writer.  Because my ambition was not to be better than Faulkner or Hemingway or anything like that.  It was to be the best version of myself that I could conceivably be.

This resonates with me because my own upbringing was very much along these lines.  Both sides of my family, but particularly my mother’s side, really emphasized the idea that each of us has a responsibility to live up to our fullest potential in life.

Unlike many of my friends, whose parents expected them to follow a specific career – doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc., my parents emphasized success by pushing me to be the very best I could be, regardless of what field I chose.

To this day, when I look at my own performance I can be very critical of myself in areas where I recognize I’m not being the absolute best version of myself I could be.  And, likewise, I can be very critical of others when I see that they are not making full use of their potential.

What about you?  What does it mean to you, to be the best version of yourself that you could conceivably be?