“If I don’t see you again, have a good life” was how a participant on global leadership programme in Guangzhou ended a conversation with me as we parted. The comment immediately resonated especially as it had been said with a sincerity that made it seem as though it wasn’t something said without much thought or meaning as is often the case with most conventional greetings.
“If I don’t see you again…”. How easy it is to take our tomorrow’s for granted. The assumption of another meeting, of a ‘next time’ underpins the majority of our lives and schedules. When we might realize that there won’t be a ‘next time’ it immediately deepens the moment and significance. Things come into sharper focus, what really matters shoves out the insignificant distractions and we become alert and absorb all there is to in the time we have as we realize the passing of the moment or occasion.
Of course we cannot live in this intensity 24/7 but I wonder how much richer would be our appreciation, our presence, were we able to at least cultivate such an awareness more deliberately?
Being intentional is an important leadership trait and it is something that ought to extend beyond the ‘important things’ leaders do to ‘everything’ you do as a leader. It starts with a curiosity about others and a style of approach and inquiry that acknowledges those around you. We have all met people who are dismissive and talk to you without seeing you. They are the kind of interactions that can be soul destroying and are usually built on false or shallow understandings of status, position and power.
The other ‘lesson’ for leaders to take from, “If I don’t see you again” is the importance of ‘presence’. The discipline of being fully engaged, attentive – aware of both oneself and of the ‘other’ at the time of being together. I have often witnessed leaders engaging in work avoidance in the face of a difficult or unexpected situation. In other words, avoiding the real work that the situation requires and in so doing, failing to be truly present. There are times when they would not even be conscious of their disengagement and the impact that it has on others. Being present is a discipline that savvy leaders intentionally cultivate to the point where it simply governs all their interactions, be that with the Chairman of the Board, the janitor or a little child.
“…have a good life” – simple words that cut across boundaries of class, culture, gender and generations. Simple words that can be understood, owned and that can serve to both guide and evaluate. In a memorable closing scene in the movie, ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Ryan, as an old man, visits the grave of the soldier to whom he owns his life and who, before he died charged him to live a good life. Overcome with emotion, Ryan turns to his wife standing beside him, and imploringly asks if indeed he had been a ‘good man’. There would be many ways to interpret what having a ‘good life’ means but it would have to be one that extends beyond a serve-serving orientation and motivation. A ‘good life’ is one lived in service of others; a life underpinned by meaning and purpose; a life that finds joy but that also brings joy to others.
Great leaders have defined what a ‘good life’ looks like in the context of their leadership practice; great people have done so in the context of their life as a whole. Whatever your picture of a ‘good life’ it will serve as a compass; it will sound as a definitive voice in the thicket of life’s journey when ambiguity and doubt cloud the light.
How will you review a life lived should you ever be afforded the opportunity for such self-appraisal? Will you be able to declare your journey a ‘good life’?
“If I don’t see you again, have a good life”…as it turns out I did bump into my friend again before departing the hotel. I mentioned that his greeting had struck a chord and had led to a blog – one I would send to him. I am grateful for some well-chosen words that gave pause to reflect. I hope my Friend that you continue to use such words in the knowledge of the gift that they have been to me…and now perhaps, in some small way, to others too.
If I don’t see you again, have a good life.