Leading Best With Zest (For Life)

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By Lauren Costella

If I’ve learned anything this quarter, it’s that keeping a positive attitude and building resilience is everything. I should know this by now, after all, I was an elite athlete for 17 years of my life. And, from my experience, if you can’t find optimism amidst the hard times, you’re in for a rough athletic career for sure. That said, and I suppose with anything in life, sometimes we lose faith; we lose perspective; and with it, we lose our positivity and optimism. The past month and a half has been that for me.

In our careers, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the pressure. You have metrics to hit, deadlines to meet, projects to deliver and customers, investors, your team, and other departments relying on your performance. And everyone has an opinion on how things should work. When I think about my biggest “fear” it’s disappointing others. I don’t want to be the person to let folks down: I want to kick butt!

This quarter, I lost a bit of that perspective. A few things occurred: my team was behind on our priorities and metrics; we needed to restructure to better serve customers; and then I had various changes occur in my personal life. At times, all of these “issues” can be overwhelming. All I saw, at the time, were the problems, and it was disheartening. And once that emotional cycle kicked off, it kept going. I would carry the negativity, sadness, and frustration back into the meeting room and that spilled over into all of my interactions (business and personal), and it became very destructive. But one person really helped keep things in perspective for me, and he’s my brother Sean.

To provide some context, exactly two years ago, my brother was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation. It’s a rare disease that causes a large blood clot. This blood clot was located in his brainstem, and it started bleeding. My brother was rushed into the ER because he had lost feeling in everything below his neck. They did a brain scan and found the bleed, but the Reno hospitals told him it was inoperable. They said this clot could bleed again, and next time, it would likely kill him. He, from their perspective, was a “ticking time bomb” and could go off any moment. He was only 28 years only, newly married (a little over a year) with a six month old daughter.

The news couldn’t have been more devastating to me and my family, but then Stanford Hospital reached out, and said they could do the surgery. He was flown to California for the procedure. There were many, many risks, and the least of which being paralysis and the inability to talk, but it was also his only chance to live. He had the surgery, and miraculously, he survived. Within 3 days, he was home, within 8 weeks he was working full time, and within 2 years, he’s learned to adapt to his new reality. He still has residual effects like double vision, numbness, and his arms feel like they weigh thirty pounds; however, if you speak with him (despite these new challenges and believe me, they are challenges), he is happy, smiling and thankful to be alive. He’s living every day and every moment with zest, and thankful for the journey.

I share this story because sometimes we forget to have perspective; we forget how lucky we are to just be living each and every day healthy and alive, and instead, we get lost in the minutiae of everyday small dramas and setbacks. As I was going through some of these rough patches this past quarter, Sean reminded me, not only how lucky I am, but also to be thankful for the journey, even the tough parts. He reminded me to keep my optimism and redirect negativity to other outlets; ones that wouldn’t keep this cycle of destruction going. And I thought I would share how I go about doing those things with you today, because I get it; the world can feel like it’s on your shoulders, but the trick is not to let it squash you.

Redirecting Energy & Embracing the Chance to Build Resilience

Life is made up of moments. Each moment is a chance to be present, to listen, to learn, to feel and/or to act and have impact. And more importantly, any moment can change the course of your life in an instant (just like my brother). I recently listened to a podcast by Sheryl Sandberg and she talked about her life changing in a split second, when her husband died. If there’s one thing really stuck out to me when I listened, it was her perspective on resilience. And it’s something all of us need to continuously learn and practice.

Going through hard moments is just that, hard. It’s really easy to get caught up and wrapped up in sadness, anger and the emotion. It’s understandable, and it’s okay to feel. But you have to feel and deal. And the dealing is what leads us to resilience. It’s the dealing that builds our strength, our perspective, and our ability to move forward.

But dealing can be its own challenge. I personally need to talk about what I’m feeling. I try to direct that to people I trust, and I really try (though this is admittedly still a work in progress) to put a limit on the discussion. It’s easy for me to spin forever on a topic, but at some point, talking and reliving just breeds more emotion. So, I curb this by setting a time limit rule on myself. I let myself talk/grieve for a set time (sometimes it’s 30 min, sometimes a few hours, sometimes days), but I set a limit. I am not always perfect in meeting that limit, but saying to myself, “Okay, I’m done with that topic” empowers me to move forward.

I also channel my emotional energy into activity. I run, play tennis, do yoga, and get my blood moving. By doing these things, I find both my mind and body have the chance to “let go” and underneath the rocky spots is fresh soil. And with fresh soil, you can cultivate a new garden of life. It may not have the same plants as before, but it’s a new garden of opportunity. And that is exciting, which leads me to my next point.

Keeping My Optimism with Positive Affirmations, Smiles, and Laughter

Pity parties are just that, pity parties. Staying stuck in the negative is a real drag. And if I bring one superpower to the table it’s this: my energy and optimism is infectious. It can light up a room and breathe life into everyone. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I can also suck the life right back out. Optimism and positivity, then, is an essential ingredient for my person. Each and every day, I do two things: I give myself a positive affirmation, and I laugh and/or smile at least once.

I know it sounds a little cheesy, but it’s so important to remind yourself that you are doing great; you are powerful; you are worthy, and you are your own superhero. When I wake up in the morning, I read a daily positive affirmation, and I say it out loud. This starts me on the right track of reminding myself that I am me and that me is awesome! And today, not matter what it brings, will be the absolute best day of my life! It’s incredible how something so small can make such a big difference in your attitude and energy. I challenge you to do it right now! Give yourself a positive affirmation! Tell yourself you are incredible and amazing. Try writing it down! It works; I promise. And the more often you do it, the more you’ll believe it.

The other thing I do is smile. Even when I’m not feeling like it, I make a point to smile at one person each and every day. Just the act of smiling bring energy and life to me (and others). And when I have life and energy, I can solve problems. I can approach issues from a place of inspiration and hope, not helplessness and and despair.

We all can get caught up in the craziness that is our daily lives, but the attitude in which you approach the tough stuff matters. Ask yourself: how do you approach your own life? How do you approach your job? How do you approach your relationships? You can dwell in everything that went wrong or you can celebrate what went right! And you can look at every tough moment as a burden or you can view it as a journey. And each moment is one to be thankful for because whether it’s building resilience or creating joy, it can change in an instant. And given that, well, I don’t know about you, but I know I lead best with zest for life!

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers both a Leadership Training Program and one-on-one coaching. Let us help you learn and grow as a success professional and leader. Please visit our website for more information. TheSuccessLeague.io

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor for The Success League, a board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active in the Bay Area.