Since Stephen Covey's death on July 16, 2012, I have been rereading some of his works and thinking about how his words actually changed my life.
I came to read my first Stephen Covey book as part of a workshop, but it came along at a time when I, like many people, was juggling multiple personal as well as professional roles. His writings guided me through a reflection process that asks over and over again "Is this the person I am choosing to be"? Because of his "Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, he planted seeds, in me, that changed how I went about my job but also changed my parenting skills.
He Spoke To Me!
You know how there are just some topics that grab your attention immediately? I think that's partially because it fits so nicely with what you already believe and partially it hits you at a time when you are searching for answers.
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was published in 1989 and First Things First in 1994. It was during this time period that I was in the middle of my own life change. I didn't know it at the time, mind you. I was just busily running around with my two preteen daughters, working full time as a teacher, working part time at my husband's retail store, completing my Master's Degree in Learning Disabilities and getting frustrated and exhausted. Some would say that I was too busy to pay attention to Stephen Covey right then and they would be right. I didn't!
It wasn't until things started falling apart that I had my first encounter with Seven Habits. It was when I was feeling overwhelmed and trapped by what felt like a dead end job and a demanding husband that I was given Covey's book and attended my first Stephen Covey workshop. The timing was just right! I still have my copy of that first book and I open it now and see that I had underlined the following:
"I borrowed strength from my position and authority and forced her to do what I wanted her to do. But borrowing strength builds weakness. It builds weakness in the person forced to acquiesce...and it builds weakness in the relationship. Fear replaces cooperation and both people involved become arbitrary and defensive"
I don't know, now but I bet that this scared me to death. I worried often about becoming like my mother! I had been struggling with my existing role(s). It was that battle between my upbringing that basically said "be thankful for what you have" and "when you marry, you marry for life...better or worse, etc." But this is exactly what had made my mother an angry, hurtful person. I did not want to become that person!
And then I underlined:
"We want to be in control of our lives but we are not in control! We can only control our choices!"
The chapter went on to tell how to break out of old paradigms, how to be my own creator, how to write my own script. Seven Habits came alive for me at that moment. In an attempt to be a great parent, I needed to focus on me!
Habit Number One: "You are the creator."
I have had a long history of fighting for a vision of what I wanted my life to be like. Although I had achieved goals and reached the vision that I could see as a younger person, I now felt a familiar sense of being trapped in someone else's vision! I was losing the drive to be successful. I was unhappy, and increasingly critical of others. I was ready to rescript my future. It was time for a new vision.
I was determined to change my reactive language ("There's nothing I can do about this.") to proactive language ("What are my options?"). Sometimes, to create a new vision, you have to tear things down. Unfortunately/fortunately, I chose to end my marriage. Although there were some consequences of this choice that still haunt me to this day, it was because of this action that I was able to reinvent myself and set a course for a different future for me and my daughters.
Begin With The End In Mind
Habit Number Two: "Imagine your first creation."
In the workshop as in the book, we were invited to close our eyes and visualize our own funeral (morbid as that sounds) and visualize four specific speakers invited to share their thoughts of me and what I meant in their life - one is family, one is a friend, one is a co-worker, and one is from my service community. I was asked to think about what each member would say about me at this celebration of my life. In the end, what I imagined came close to a summary of what I hoped my legacy would be. It encompassed what I truly valued in my life.
This helped me identify
- what I wanted to be,
- what I wanted to do and,
- on which values or principles my being and doing would be based.
Putting First Things First
Habit Number Three: Bring Life to Your Imagined Creation
Sometimes, in life and in work, you can just tell when it's time for a change. People may even work through exercises to envision what they want life, after the change, to look like. It's often the next step where it stalls.
In my personal journey, I had been proactive. I acknowledged the fact that something in my life needed to change. Things couldn't stay as they were. So, I made a choice to end my marriage. I had a partial vision of where I was going next but I actually had to begin at the beginning again.That included reestablishing a solid secure base as a family. We all needed to reestablish our roles and I needed especially to share responsibility with my daughters so we could become more interdependent.
Building True Independence
According to Covey, there are no easy ways to "jump into effective relationships without maturity and the strength of character to maintain them...you can't be successful with other people if you haven't paid the price of success with yourself". I needed to truly believe in myself so that I could be the parent that I wanted to be for my daughters. As a family, we became stronger. We built our "emotional bank account" by working to understand each other, paying attention to little things, keeping our commitments, clarifying and re-clarifying expectations, building trust, and being willing to apologize. Over the years, my daughters and I built on each other's strengths to each become strong and independent people in our own right. It was because we had worked together to build true independence that we were all able to move to the next level.
Covey spoke of different philosophies of interaction: Win/Win, Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, Win, No Deal
In short, anything but a Win/Win leaves someone feeling less than valued and less loved. Over the course of our years together, my daughters and I learned how to talk and listen, how to support each other, compromise when necessary. Were there times when one of us had to lose so the other could win? Sure. But in the end, typically it was a choice and balanced out later. No hard and fast accounts were kept. We just always found a way to work things out. WIN/WIN!
Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
Habit Number Five
Once my youngest daughter said "Mom, I want to join Show Choir, ok?" She was already taking three dance classes plus she competed on a Dance Team. Instead of spending one second to talk about it, I instantly just said "No! You are already doing all this other stuff. Your grades will drop. You won't get your homework done. No!"
Her response was "When have I not gotten my homework done? What's wrong with my grades right now? How can you just say "No" without letting me talk about it?" I, of course, left in a huff intent on winning this battle.
After sleeping on it, I came back to her and said "You were right. I didn't listen first. I have no proof that you will not get your homework done or that your grades will drop. You have a right to try to do this. I'm sorry." Then she said, "I knew that if you had some time to think about it, you would say "Yes". That's just how it is with you!" Hmmm. I needed to work on this. Seek first to understand.
Habit Number Six: "The exercise of all the other habits prepares us for the habit of synergy".
By focusing on Win/Win and communication through our toughest challenges, my daughters and I created a "new alternative". Synergy is the active co-mingling of the parts to build a new future.
Covey described it as a creative process but then went on to say:
"it is the most terrifying part because you don't know exactly what's going to happen or where it is going to lead. You don't know what new dangers and challenges you'll find. It takes an enormous amout of internal security to being with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without a doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness."
This was and still is life with my daughters. We have figured out how to synergistically communicate. It actually feels like we learn from each other on a regular basis. We work through projects and issues that come from each of our individual lives by listening and brainstorming together. I have to admit, sometimes, we have come up with some pretty creative solutions!
Sharpen the Saw
Habit Number Seven: Renewal
My daughters are now fully grown, with lives of their own. but this spring, we traveled to Sedona. I am, once again, facing a changing vision and life mission. This journey tested my physical strength but also my beliefs in myself. It was the support of my daughters that gave me the strength and determination to push on. And through the help of our guides during the four day journey, all three of us "sharpened our saws". We renewed our promises to take care of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves. We also learned things about how to "hold space" for each other's issues without feeling like we have to solve another's problems. And we committed to hold sacred our unconditional love.
Thank You, Stephen Covey
You planted the seeds at just the right time. You guided me through a hard time with just the right words. You provided self guiding activities that took me long past that initial workshop. It's been over twenty years. I have moved from home to home and still...in an instant, I could put my fingers on your books. They will travel with me forever.
Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on July 29, 2012:
Awesome. Simply awesome. Voted up.
susiebrown48 from Clearwater, FL on July 28, 2012:
I too love Stephen Covey and he will be sorely missed. I love how you related his writing and put it to good use in your life. I'm also incredibly impressed that you've written 12 hubs in 12 days, inspiring!