All of us have disappointed ourselves, fallen short of a goal or made a promise we didn’t keep. While we all need to do our best to walk in integrity, sometimes we are too slow to let go of our failures. Too slow to set them down and carry only the lessons learned from our mistakes. When we choose to leave behind the past and shift our thinking to focus on the truths we learned, that’s when we grow, both in ourselves and in our capacity to help others.
Here’s a story of how that lesson played out in my own life … how a missed opportunity turned into an important lesson, decades in the making.
About 25 years ago, my friend, Michele, mentioned an article in the newspaper about Deepak Chopra. I read the story and found him very inspiring. I told Michele, “I’m going to meet that guy someday.”
The statement just sort of hung in the air for a moment, then we laughed, and the conversation moved on. Four years later, I received a very special birthday gift: front row tickets to see Deepak Chopra. I’d read a couple of his books, and I found his way of thinking transformational, so I was excited to hear what he might say live. He talked about quantum physics and the ‘way of the wizard’ … fascinating stuff. At one point, Deepak walked to the edge of the stage, right above me. In that moment, the conversation with Michele – and my promise – all came rushing back.
I knew Deepak was doing a book signing after the show, so I had my opportunity to meet ‘that guy’. Only one problem: I was so impressed with his knowledge and his wisdom, that, honestly, the idea of meeting Deepak Chopra freaked me out. I was intimidated to engage this famous person, this mesmerizing leader who had spoken to me through his books and, now, in person. Still, here I was, and I was determined not to miss this opportunity.
I went out into the lobby and got in the book signing line, eager to meet Deepak and keep my promise to myself. The longer we waited, the more I thought about it… I found myself letting other people ahead of me in line, again and again, until I was all the way in the back. I didn’t think about it then, but when I look back at that now, it’s a clear picture of how we can allow fear in the face of opportunity to lead to self-sabotage.
Eventually, my turn came. I stood there, facing this man, speechless. What happened next, I will never forget. Deepak took my hand in both of his, looked me in the eyes and asked, “How may I serve you?”
What a powerful question! Walls crumbled, fear vanished, and I said, “Would you be my friend?”
His eyes lit up: “I would love to be your friend.” Deepak wrote down his cell number, “Call me any time.”
I stood there frozen, star struck, so completely mesmerized I actually forgot to get my books signed.
I went home from that conference fundamentally changed. Deepak had shifted my expectations of what a person in his position could do and be. He was not some famous face in a newspaper. He was my friend.
Years passed. I held onto that card, but I never called. Maybe I was just too chicken…too worried about what to say, I never followed through.
At some point in the next two decades, I lost his number, but I never lost the story … or the lesson. Whenever I shared about missed opportunities, I would tell the story of my friend Deepak, and the missed opportunity to build a friendship with him.
I made myself another promise: if I ever had another opportunity to connect with him, I would take it.
About a year ago, I was telling that story in a group of friends and business colleagues. One of those colleagues said, “I know Deepak, but not well enough to connect you.”
The next day, Paul, an inner-circle friend from back home in Michigan, called. After a bit of small talk, he asked, “Aren’t you friends with Deepak Chopra?” He needed a connection to Deepak for a project he was working on. He remembered my story of meeting Deepak, but he had forgotten my lack of follow through. I was quiet for a moment, processing … and I decided, regardless of my past mistakes, I would try to make that connection happen.
I surfed over to Deepak’s website and, to my amazement, discovered, he was speaking in four days just a few hours from my home. I signed up for the VIP event, backstage access … where I would be able, 20 years later, to reconnect with my “almost friend” Deepak.
Before I left for the event, we wrote a letter on Paul’s behalf, hoping to initiate a connection. Heading up to the conference, there was no fear, only excitement. By focusing on how my choices would help Paul, I was able to stay totally focused on positive thoughts and invested in a positive outcome. The first time I met Deepak, I was so hampered by negative thoughts — I didn’t believe anyone at that level would want to be my friend — I nearly missed out on my opportunity to make a friend … and I failed to follow through on that gift of friendship.
If I had freed myself from negative thinking earlier, I could have reconnected years ago, increasing the opportunities for Deepak to speak into my life, while also increasing my capacity to help my friend Paul beyond a brief note delivered many years later. There’s a powerful lesson there.
Personal growth creates greater opportunities. When we choose to stretch ourselves, to move past our fears and embrace these opportunities, we increase our capacity to grow. This is a gift we give ourselves. As leaders, those gifts multiply when we share them with others.
What opportunities will you embrace today?