This month I will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alamo Branch, Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The award is being given to me in recognition of my career in Clinical Social Work.
I must admit that it was a nice surprise to hear about receiving this award. It is always nice to know that your work is recognized and valued by your peers. But this also got me thinking about what is the meaning of lifetime achievement? When you hear that someone is going to win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy Of Motion Picture Sciences, it usually means that they are retired and are ready to go out to pasture. One of my dearest friends heard that I was getting this award and he observed," Careful, Peter, don't let them think you are retiring. Remember your Navy days, you've only begun to fight!"
I do agree with my friend's sentiments, but still I wonder how to you honor a lifetime?
Traditionally, success in our western male, patriarchal dominated culture has all been about success and money. The quest has been striving to get into the best and right school, jockeying for the most prestigious and influential internships and positions within firms and organizations. There's been plenty of commentary with regard to how this kind of struggle affects the lives of men. We are now hearing also how this kind of struggle affects the lives of women. Recent findings have indicated a forty percent increase in heart attacks for women, sixty percent increase in Diabetes.
Arianna Huffington in her insightful May 2013 Smith College Commencement Address frames the argument this way
Traditionally success has been defined by power and money. As time goes on people can discover that they get to a point where there is time famine, or as Dr. Seuss would put it "How did it get late so soon ?" I'm advocating the we add some more supports to the stool of success meaning that we focus on well-being, wonder and wisdom and the ability to give back "
I resonate with Arianna's wise observations. If you want to celebrate the lifetime achievement of someone, even your own life, then it has to be more than what you accomplished at work. A sign that I saw in a Clinical Social Worker's office said it all
"On my death bed, I'm not going to be thinking that I should have spent more time at the office."
I am suggesting that we need to reframe the importance of celebrating a lifetime from the focus of the struggle to achievement to the focus of experiencing grace in living. Yes, I want to be recognized as a productive worker. But my achievement in life is also defined by my ability to be an effective family member and friend. The importance of my life is also characterized to my commitment to integrity, morality, spirituality and enlightenment.
This is not some easy feat, to say the least.
Arianna Huffington recalls that when she use to go and talk to her mother and share a bad or scary experience, her mother would say
"Don't replay the scary movie, change the channel."
Indeed, I have said the same thing many times to my patients, but I need to say it more often to myself as well.
Arianna Huffington suggested that we need to develop a GPS for the soul, in so doing perhaps use technology to begin to disconnect from technology, at times in order, to save our sanity and to save our very souls. The Mount Angel Abbey Preparatory High School in Mount Angel, Or did this years ago when they instituted Friday as being an internet free day in their curriculum. Students were encouraged to paint, sculpt, write poetry, further develop their right brain and in so doing maybe open a window to their souls.
Celebrating a lifetime achievement can be celebrating a lifetime of grace. We can reflect upon what we have achieved career wise, but we can remember those people who touched our lives and who gave us meaning. We can also remember those times when we have had the courage to do the right thing, to do heroic things in the service of others.
Grace can also be marked by how we perceive God or the divine, however known, being present in our lives. One way that I know that is helpful in experiencing grace is to cultivate more empathy and compassion in your life. The more we can generate empathy and compassion for others, the more we can experience the transformative power of grace in our lives. As Rumi would observe "trust grace, everything is rigged in our favor. "
When I receive this award I want to recognize the life time achievement, but I really want to focus more on well-being, wonder and wisdom and the ability to give back.
That I think can make the world better not only for me but hopefully for all of us now and always.