Very few things in life are as correct as that old saying, “there is nothing like experience.” It also reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics of the late folk singer Harry Chapin, “old friends are the best friends because they know who you are and know where you’ve been.” Events and experiences in your life shape the person you become. Reflecting back on them gives you a self-awareness and helps you know yourself and why you are who you are.
Armed with this knowledge, you can learn from the past and plan for the future. It’s essential for every leader, every teacher, to know who they are and where they’ve been. It allows you to leverage your experiences to help you grow even more. That’s why one of my favorite leadership tools is the “Lifeline Exercise,” found in Lead2Feed Lesson 1. You basically plot the major events in your life on a horizontal axis and highlight all the positives above the line and all the negatives, of course, below the line.
For example, I was born October 30, 1952, the son of Charles and Jean Novak. I tell everyone this was my biggest break because I could not imagine having more supportive and encouraging parents. They taught me how to be there when you’re needed and how to be a great coach.
On the other hand, one of my low points in my life was when my wife of now 42 years fractured a vertebra in her neck by falling into a wall after slipping on a towel. She was almost paralyzed and the doctors all told me she was lucky to survive. It taught me that in a bat of an eye your life can change, so be grateful for every day. With time and physical therapy, Wendy has recovered and is back to living a relatively normal life. Her perseverance, faith and positive energy taught me how to handle adversity with grace and gratitude.
And then after 63 years of near perfect health, I was put to the test. In February 2016 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is extremely rare in men. Believe it or not, I put having cancer and going through chemotherapy and radiation both below and above the line.
It was below the line for the obvious reasons.
- Your mortality is staring you in the face
- The side effects make you nauseous and very tired
- And if you like having a full head of hair, you have to get used to being bald which reminds you everyday you are actually in a fight for your life
Conversely, having cancer also turned out to be big blessing for me. With cancer, you don’t get hit by a bus. You have the gift of time. You have the time to tell all those you love, you love them deeply. This works both ways with the people closest to you which was wonderful. What’s more, I had all kinds of people go out of their way to thank me for the impact I’d had on their life, pray for my recovery and lend all kinds of support. Thank the good Lord, I’m recovering well and am cancer-free after a year. I value each day I live even more and have a profound gratitude for the opportunity to live the life I enjoy.
This makes me want to give back even more by
- Making Lead2Feed even more successful
- Starting OGO Enterprises, the first inspiration and recognition brand for the amazing people in your life
- Readying to a new initiative for public launch later this spring
- And pursuing many other philanthropic initiatives that are aligned with our family’s passions
As I say in my book, Taking People With You, knowledge doesn’t spring out of nowhere, and the Lifeline Exercise will give you a better picture of who and what have helped you learn. It’s a great way to step back and ask yourself “what’s next?” I encourage you to complete the Lifeline Exercise for yourself and with your students. Who knows, it might become a life changing experience!!!