The 365-Days-a-Year Thanksgiving

There are things you’re thankful for having or experiencing, and there are things you’re thankful for avoiding. This post is about both.

We live in a society that tends to take the high-water mark for expectations moving forward. If you batted .400 playing baseball, you expect to bat .400 or better moving forward. Date the Prom Queen/King in high school, you expect to marry her/his corollary down the road. If you have a mortgage at 4.6%, that number or south is what you expect forever – though 4.57% is the lowest rate since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in the 1971 and the only rates lower were in the 1950’s when mortgage terms were typically 20 or 25 years.

You get the picture. Trade up, not trade down. Moving sideways, unless it’s at the high-water mark, is best avoided.

My spouse and I will celebrate Thanksgiving with Greg and Louisa Ritter next week as we have for over 15 years. We met the couple when vacationing in Hana years ago; the only foursome under age 70, we soon found that connections went beyond simply being from San Francisco and were  (“You knew the bride for that over-the-top wedding in Midland? I was the best man.”) everywhere.

Big world meet small town.

The connection that did not exist was kids. As Greg and Louisa had children they encouraged me to consider parenthood. While my spouse and his gang of therapist colleagues pounded on me to break down (me to spouse, “I just don’t see it happening in my lifetime”) and relent, Greg and Louisa were nudging and encouraging in a way that worked.

Like being dragged into parenthood, I had to be kicked into my own practice. A string of colleagues through the years along with a couple of freebie visits to one astrologer and one psychic all said the same thing; you should have your own practice advising and coaching people – work I now do coaching execs and working with leadership and start-up teams. No burning bush, but it got close enough to make me start looking for bent spoons.

I don’t know, like any entrepreneur,  if my practice will continue to serve me well for the next couple of decades. The reviews – such as one earlier this month from a CEO and COO who said the work I did was the best they’d seen in 25 years – suggest promise.

On the flip side of life, like many men of a certain age who are gay, I lost count years ago of the people I personally knew, including a partner of 8 years, who have died from AIDS. Not one or two deaths but tens upon and tens of people. And it could have just as easily have been my name on a tombstone or on a pharmacist’s roster of patients receiving HIV drugs.

On the job front, with the exception on one brief 97-day stint at a firm in Novato,  I have managed to miss out on senior roles for which I was recruited with firms that have blown up. Marcromedia? Tanked to be turned around, and later acquired. Netscape? Savaged by Microsoft into AOL oblivion. Incyte Pharmaceuticals? Crashed, repurposed, and moved from Palo Alto to Wilmington, Delaware. And there are two or three more.

So next week on Thanksgiving, as well as every other day in the year, I remember two sets of types for which I’m blessed.

I’m thankful for being a parent of a son named Traylor – something that is easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m thankful for the encouragement to be a parent from Greg and Louisa; no nudging and perhaps Traylor never comes into my life.  I’m thankful for being able to have a consulting practice doing something that I’m good at and enjoy, with the prospect of doing similar work for years to come. And thankful for a spouse that has helped to make both things happen.

I’m also thankful for avoiding contracting HIV/AIDS, and for mostly being lucky about not taking jobs with firms that were going to blow up with me holding part of the helm. Both types of things can be lingering if not deadly disasters.

So while I aspire for the high-water marks in life, I’m mindful of the low-water marks as well.

You can also take the opportunity to celebrate the things you’ve done or have, and the realistic things you’ve avoided.

You too can make it a 365-days-a-year Thanksgiving.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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