Create a meaningful soul tapestry by using what you learn from clients.
On a hot July day last summer I quickly checked my voice mail at lunch before hurrying off to my afternoon appointments. The message I heard was “Kay, I’m sorry to have to leave this on your voice mail, but Laurie passed away yesterday.” Feeling sad and regretful, I realized it had been 3 months since I’d last e-mailed Laurie and had not heard back. The last time I had seen her was at her Christmas party the year before. Then my thoughts flew back to 1993 when Laurie, then a 10-year survivor of cancer, first hired me to train her in-home 3 days per week. Although her cancer returned in 2002 and our formal training relationship ended, we continued to meet for lunch a few times per year to stay close and discuss life. In all my years of business, the death of a client like Laurie, who had become a dear friend, was a new experience for me.
The weekend of visitation at the funeral home, memorial service and dinner with her family and friends was almost surreal. In those 2 long days my mind was flooded with memories of our time together over 15 years—birthdays, Christmases, weddings and all the workout sessions to lose weight, be fit and feel good. Little did I know in 1993 that Laurie would prove to be one of many unique threads woven together with my life and the lives of other clients to create a beautiful tapestry of life, business and relationships.
In his book First Things First (Simon & Schuster 1994), Stephen Covey outlines four needs that are fundamental to human fulfillment: to live, to learn, to love and to leave a legacy. Laurie found fulfillment physically, socially, mentally and spiritually, leaving a legacy for the friends and family she left behind. This article is for her and the many other special clients I have had throughout the past 21 years. They have modeled 13 important principles of human fulfillment that have helped me—and may help you in your professional and personal life.
The first fundamental need is to live. This idea represents our basic physical needs for food, clothing, shelter, financial means and personal health.
Live With Beauty. Many of my clients have been great role models in this area, but Marie especially stands out. In the decade plus that I have known her, she has created a beautiful abode full of the colors, textures, things and music that she loves. Every time I visit her house, I admire its tasteful, traditional decor. Her home is a haven for her family and friends. She has an innate sense of style and invests in clothes that look fantastic on her. She is one of a handful of women I know who always looks her best when in public. She takes pride in her home and clothes, and they give her comfort, confidence, inspiration and security. She is a living example of Principle #1: Surround yourself with beauty.
Live Within Your Means. Susie is an old pro at living extravagantly yet frugally. In her mind, there is no sense going broke when you can have quality and peace of mind for less. With her excellent sense of style and conservative mindset, she has helped dozens of friends decorate by choosing reasonably priced fabrics, furniture and decor even if they could have afforded to pay more. She buys the best she can with what she can comfortably pay cash for.
Extravagance is the essence of living richly with what you have, but it also means leaving a comfortable distance between you and debt. Determine that comfortable space, in which you can breathe easily, and then purchase the best equipment, furnishings and apparel that you can. Go for timeless quality, not trendy quantity. Susie has taught me Principle #2: Live extravagantly within your means.
Live Cheerfully Even When in Pain. Ruth, one of my longtime favorite clients, always shows up for her sessions with a smile on her face and a positive attitude. Although she is in excellent physical condition, she has various aches and pains from the natural results of aging. Ruth perfectly models that it is how you handle your pain, rather than the pain itself, that defines you.
My clients have experienced breast, ovarian and skin cancer; arthritis; heart failure and coronary bypass surgery; hip and knee surgery; fractured bones; pulled muscles; diabetes; migraine headaches; and more. Most have been great role models of aging with grace. They smile, are grateful for their lives and continue to move forward without whining, complaining or wallowing in self-pity. What have I learned from Ruth and others? Principle #3: Pain is inevitable; make the best of it.
The second fundamental need is to love. This idea represents our social need to connect with other people, to love others and to be loved in return.
Love Through Action. As I have learned through the years, love is best communicated through action. Catherine, Rebecca, Susie and Ruth are all about love in action. They reinforce the importance of actively demonstrating that you care. They have made personal gifts for me, whipped up homemade soup when I was sick, called me on my birthday, brought my favorite coffee drink to their workout sessions and repeatedly invested their time and energy helping their friends and family through the challenges of life. For example, Rebecca made a clean sweep of the home of a friend in need, doing the painting and decorating herself! The small things add up to one big care package. Thanks to these four people I have seen love in action or Principle #4: Demonstrate that you care.
Love Through Generosity. Janet, Laurie and Gary are three of the most generous people I have known. They give to dozens of people and organizations in need. When they give gifts to people they love, they find exactly what is needed or wanted. They don’t just dash to the store for any old gift. Their gifts are truly personal—they listen to you, know you and find much happiness in pleasing you. From them, I have learned to give from my heart. And when that gift requires much more time, money or effort than normal, I find a way to do it if I can. Even with the economy the way it is and my own beliefs about using a detailed budget, love should be generous. If you always measure what you do for others based on what they have done for you, you are missing out on one of the huge joys of life—real generosity. From these big givers I have learned Principle #5: Be generous.
Love Through Celebrations. It is so easy in the rush and stress of life to get lazy about birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other holidays. But if you want to keep close relationships, you must make the effort to create special celebrations. Laurie, Susie and Gary are masters at creating memorable occasions. They like planning special trips and gatherings to bring people together and express their love and appreciation to them. I have attended many of their celebrations, and they were so much fun! Memories last forever, whereas gifts will not. I would much rather spend my time enjoying experiences that build relationships than receive inanimate gifts. Love in action requires Principle #6: Make occasions special.
Love Through Shared Time. The older you get, the more you realize that time = love. People want you, not your money or little scraps of your time. From most of my clients, I have learned that your time is the most generous gift you can offer. They generously give me their time, and I give them mine. Involved in that gift is focused listening. Offer your clients and family undivided, quality attention when you are with them (no multitasking), and you’ll find you are providing the most valuable gift you possess. Because time is so precious, become selective about whom you share it with. I decided long ago that I don’t want to spend work hours with clients who drain me. I would rather earn less than spend time with people who make me miserable. When it comes to the best gift I can give, I have learned Principle #7: Time = love.
The third fundamental need is to learn. This idea represents our mental need to continually grow, develop and mature as an individual. When learning ceases, life becomes dull and monotonous. How can you keep yourself stimulated, developing and interested in the world?
Do New Things. Catherine knows herself well enough to understand that she must continually challenge herself to stay motivated. She has been a wonderful role model to help me continue to grow and challenge myself personally. She makes quarterly goals of traveling to new places, trying new activities and experiencing new restaurants or museums to keep herself stimulated. She has found that stepping out of her comfort zone can make the journey of life much more interesting! With her joyful sense of humor and fun, Catherine has taught me Principle #8: Maintain your childlike wonder.
Get in the Zone. Rebecca and Susie know how to get in the “zone”—by doing what they love. Rebecca loves to create. She makes gifts and decor for craft shows and absolutely loves the process. Susie adores painting and loses all sense of time and self in the process. I love training and coaching clients. When I am doing these things, my day flies by.
Getting in the zone is not only about doing what you love; it’s also about doing what you are talented at. If you discover an activity that is both, you’ll find that flow state in which your skills and the challenge are matched and you lose all sense of self-consciousness and time. When you do what you love and are great at, it doesn’t feel like a “job.” I am blessed with living Principle #9: Do what you love.
Live for the Now. In observing my clients over the years, it is apparent that some people live today while others are just going through the daily drudgery waiting for life to happen, or living for “later.” Some people are so used to doing for others that they are too drained to make the time to do the things they most yearn for. Others have such a “work-work-work” ethic that they feel guilty taking time off for themselves to enjoy hobbies or travel. Mary, a client I had many years ago, told me to travel while I was young. Why? She said I might think I’d travel when I was older and had more money, but people often find they can’t because of health, family problems or death. I took her advice. I reduced my workload in 1999 and since then have continued to make travel and off-time a priority. I plan for the future while simultaneously living a satisfying life now. Mary taught me Principle #10: Live today.
The fourth, and last, fundamental need is to leave a legacy. This idea represents the spiritual side of our lives, and it is our deepest and most enduring need to fill. It is the need to contribute and be led and motivated by a force greater than ourselves. We require personal meaning and purpose to drive us to live. To find this satisfaction, our values must be congruent with what is truly most important to us.
Don’t Make Everything Personal. How do you meet this spiritual need? You come to the same realization that Janet did that “life is not all about me.” Quit taking everything personally. The world was not created to serve you and make you happy. Take care of yourself, take responsibility and quit being a black hole of need, want and demand. You cannot have it all, and you can’t make everything in your life perfect. Choose “good enough” over perfection and you will be a lot easier to be around. Each person carries his or her unique burdens. Lighten the load by making the world a better place for your clients, staff and those you love. When you get over yourself, life is so much easier! Janet humbly lives Principle #11: Move self out of the way.
Help Others by Using Your Talents. Gary has owned his company for decades. He views his business as one that offers quality and honest, dependable work and provides a good living for those who work for him. His company has an unblemished reputation in the building industry because it means more than just work for him. It is something he wants to, and does, excel at. Susie is the most talented, artistic woman I know. She creates beautiful things: floral arrangements, bedding, food—almost anything she can make with her own hands. She shares her creations with family and friends. Gary and Susie will leave a legacy because of what they emulate so well, Principle #12: Use your talent as a ministry.
Do Not Let Personal Profit Dictate Your Actions. Let doing what is right direct what you do. I’ve relaxed my hard-nosed policies at times over the years because I knew it was the right thing to do in the situation. Follow your heart in both business and personal matters, and live your life with as few regrets as possible. In every situation, allow yourself ample space to respond and ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do here?” Sometimes that involves making less money, saying no, increasing your workload or swallowing your pride. The hard-working business owners I have worked with have built their businesses and practices on Principle #13: Do what is right, regardless.
This article does not even scratch the surface of all I have learned by observing my clients’ lives. For, in my personal quest to inspire my clients to wellness, they have unknowingly inspired me to be a better woman, wife, family member, friend, personal trainer and coach. I mistakenly thought my life was compartmentalized into completely separate areas: work—personal life—family relationships—friendships—and then clients. But I learned that in reality it all artfully runs together, one thread after another, to form the tapestry of my life. Only in looking back do I see how individuals have deeply impacted my life and how we have developed special relationships with each other because of our connection.
Every relationship and interaction throughout the years has taught me something—positive or negative—about my physical, social, mental and spiritual needs. The most valuable of those relationships have been transformational for each of us. Special clients such as Laurie, Ruth, Susie, Marie, Rebecca, Gary, Janet, Mary and Catherine have influenced my life by showing me by their living example how to live, love, learn and leave a legacy. I have learned that the important things in your life will always cost you something. Is your life and business transforming the world or just transacting with it? May you allow your clients to inspire you to wellness as much as you inspire them.