44. Celebrate Success

I was playing golf on Sunday. The stakes were high and the competitors were menacing. I reached the long par four 13th in regulation and was settling in for my birdie putt. My nerves were steady. The putt was about 25’ with a strong slope down and to the right. I picked my line, practiced my pace and set in to stoke the putt. That’s when the horns started blowing. Hundreds of horns. Unfortunately for me, the horns started just before I putted the ball. My legs jumped at the cacophony of horns and I pushed the ball more than ten feet past the hole. I was furious. The match was tight and I just gave the hole away to the other team. I turned to see the commotion behind me. Ready to scream curses at the perpetrators. Instead, I dropped my putter and started clapping. I started clapping for the cars and whistling at them.

The East Providence High School graduation procession was driving by and today was their day to shine!

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

Many events were altered by the COVID Chaos and high school graduations were one of them. Relegated to drive thru services, like they were picking up a Big Mac and some fries, these high school seniors and their parents seized the opportunity to celebrate this wonderful rite of passage. The sides of cars had pictures of the graduates, the year, some had floats each more ostentatious than the next. And they honked. They honked and they honked and they tooted and they blared their horns until you couldn’t distinguish one car from the next. Rather, it was one long glorious stretch of sweet, bone rattling noise.

As the procession turned into a large field, a woman started calling names over the field’s microphone system. She called each name as their car passed by. The names of the graduates of the class of 2020. The class who will never be forgotten. People say that this year’s seniors were robbed of their graduation. In thirty years’ time, people will reminisce about their high school graduations. Everyone will know this class. Everyone will say, “oh, you were in that year.” They are they year of the most not-average graduation ceremony of all time.
Graduations are important milestones in our lives. They mark the passage of time and coming of age, for both the graduate and for the parents. Changing jobs, receiving promotions, getting married, having children these are all memorable milestones in our lives.

Retirement. Retirement is a great milestone. Did you ever wonder why people received a gold watch for retirement? So did I. It was a tradition started in the 1940s by Pepsi. They gave started giving gold watches to people who retired with 25 or 30 years of seniority. The watch’s inscription read, “You gave us your time, now we are giving you ours.” A sweet way to recognize loyalty in the workforce. Unfortunately, I expect that tradition to fade rapidly from our culture. First, not many people work thirty years for the same company any more. And second, who wears watches? Maybe Apple watches, but that doesn’t seem the same at a 70-year old’s retirement party.
Slight change of topic. Have you ever felt jealous about someone else’s success? Have you ever thought, “Why did they get the promotion instead of me? They don’t work as hard as I do.” Sure. It’s ingrained in all of us – the feeling of insecurity. It exists because all through our childhood and formative years, we were constantly measured against other people. We fought hard for our parent’s and teacher’s attention.

What if I told you that jealously isn’t bad? In fact, what if I told you it was good. Do you believe me? Try this? Think of the last time you were jealous of someone. Got it in your mind? Can to identify exactly what you were jealous of? More money, better car, better job, smarter, more love – this list can go on. When you’ve identified that item, I want you to focus yourself on how you can close the gap. Don’t resent the success of people because you are jealous. Rather work towards closing the gap between you. When that person buys a new boat, or a new car, or is on the cover of a magazine I want you to think about what you need to do to get into that position.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on accomplishments. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Celebrate Success. You heard it. Celebrate success.
The theory is simple here’s how it works. A decade ago, I was asked to call the names of the graduates for the business school at Johnson & Wales. I was honored. The ceremony was held annually at the Providence Performing Arts Center, a 1920s posh movie theater that is now the cultural center for large scales musicals and productions. Johnson & Wales had a diverse student body demonstrated by the parade of nations. A representative from each country with a student would carry their nation’s flag in the opening procession. In some years, you might get 50 or 60 flags. The international students in many cases would bring their parents to the graduation. In some cases, it was the first time that the parents traveled to America. This was a special day.

The challenge for me was pronouncing the names properly. The students would hand you a card with their name on it and instantly you had to read it with the correct emphasis on the proper syllable, which is not easy to do with Thai and Chinese names. Regardless, I boomed out each name with such vigor and enthusiasm you’d have thought they won a brand new car on a game show. Bo Ram Lee, Xiang Liu, Sachin Phutanae Ouomprakash come on down! You’re the next contest…sorry. It got away from me a little.

A couple of years into reading the names I was approached by the dean with a request to tone it down a little this year. The Board of Trustees wanted to keep the event more stoic, more respectful of the institution. To me, the Board was a little tone deaf. This was a time to celebrate success. Earning a master’s degree, while working a full time job, or coming from a different country is a major achievement. Plus, their family and friends were in the audience to help celebrate this night. So, you know exactly what I did…I turned the dial up to 11. I belted out the names like I was trying to get an amen. The students smiled and laughed. The families cheered. The icing on the cake was that one gentleman had his name called, turned around to the woman behind him, bent on one knee and proposed. I took the microphone and broadcast the proposal for all to hear and followed with, “She said, ‘yes!’”
You can already imagine that I wasn’t invited back next year.

Developing resilient leaders – cheer other people’s success. Applaud their accomplishments. Let any feelings of jealously go and congratulate others. Show respect for their work and acknowledge it promptly. I utilize LinkedIn to keep track of job promotions or changes. Connect with your network. Send a note of appreciation for their effort. And when you finished congratulating them on their success – start working on your own. Use the jealousy to focus on what you need to achieve. Focus on what you want to accomplish and soon enough people will be celebrating your success.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.
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