How Great Role Models Educate Our Souls
News of bright lights passing is sad. But, for the ones that live in the light, gratitude quickly follows for their lives, which have given us nothing less than literacy of the soul.
I never met Elijah Cummings, but every time he stood up, I could see a man of such fierce integrity that he became a treasured role model. As I sit here this morning, letting in the news of his passing, my mind goes to others who impacted me in much the same way.
Years ago, a friend named Peggy Albrecht called me and asked if I would join her for dinner. I was quite fond of Peggy. She was brilliant, compassionate, driven, and kind. Many years later, I would look at back Peggy as my first client.
I knew that Peggy was a hard-charging executive in the petroleum industry. But, I could see she was in turmoil.
I asked, “What’s going on with you, Peggy?”
She responded, “I have a great job and could work at this company until I retire. But, as I progress spiritually, I’m becoming more unsettled about my work. I don’t find it is meaningful.”
“What is most meaningful in your life?”
She sat for a moment pondering how to tell what appeared to be a secret.
“I most love helping other women get sober.”
I suggested, “Find a way to make a living from that.”
We went back and forth on the practical side of helping women get sober. So many of us voice what we could do that is meaningful but immediately get stuck with how we are going to make a living. But, the God of my understanding doesn’t give us our career DNA just for irritation. When we have clarity on our right path, there is always a way to turn that vision into practical reality.
Some of us assume there is an ideal role for us, a unique gift, and a form of meaning that speaks perfectly to our souls. We do whatever it takes to find and grow into that purpose. Peggy was unstoppable.
We regularly spoke that year about her options. One day, she invited me to dinner again. She had been asked to interview for a position as Director for Friendly House. Bea Jorgenson had founded a home in Hancock Park for women who were suffering from alcoholism. This brave leader opened the house in 1951, and at least 10,000 women had walked through those doors. Bea’s health was failing. They needed someone with the capacity to lead clinicians, mentor a wide variety of patients, develop volunteers as well as generate robust fundraising.
As the two of us prepared for her interview, I saw a light in Peggy’s eyes. Much of our dinner centered on strategizing. Then, I suggested that once it was established, there could be a match, tell the hiring committee why this opportunity was so close to her heart.
For the next 34 years, Peggy led and grew Friendly House into a beacon of light. Celebrities, business leaders, and politicians became fans of Friendly House. During an era that saw the rise of profit-driven recovery, hers was a center that didn’t turn women away. She welcomed them with open arms. Whenever I looked into Peggy’s eyes, the light was stronger. One day, I realized that fire contained the body of her work.
This is what she had in common with Elijah Cummings. Both of them were spiritually ambitious individuals who were restless until they found their purpose and their path. In so doing, they removed themselves from the mediocrity of clocking in and clocking out. The greatest way that we can honor their legacy is to study them and use their examples as inspiration for developing our purpose.
I don’t know if there is a heaven. But, if whatever comes next includes heaven, it would have to have dachshunds and dinner parties.
I would host a dinner party with Peggy and Elijah. Kathryn Graham, the housewife who took over the Washington Post after her husband’s suicide? Watergate? A no brainer. Let’s have Nelson Mandella and Mahatma Gandhi sit together. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The list could go on forever.
Just what is the point?
On this sad day, it is good to recognize that where we give our attention is what we become. We are being force-fed national turmoil. Every day, we can sit for hours witnessing vulgarity, senselessness, and contempt.
But, we learn nothing of value by studying dysfunction. I find that when I obsess on the darkness of our adverse circumstances, I become less kind, less courageous, and distracted from my own sense of right and wrong.
It is probably wise to remember there is a shitstorm out there. But, don’t fall in! Our worst reality shows go away if we don’t watch.
If anything, the likes of Peggy and Elijah are the folks we ought to study. These are the role models that demonstrate life matters. All of them were imperfect, but none of them waited. The problem they were meant to solve was growing every single day.
We can learn everything there is to learn from about 10 minutes of the news. If we want to lead better lives, turn the channel and study someone whose life has made a difference. These are the people that can influence our children and us to the profound opportunity life offers everyone.
During one of Peggy’s last public appearances, she said,
“So many women come to us at the end of their plight, there is nothing left, including their dignity. We start with their dignity. We put women back into our community as inspired citizens.”
Peggy Albrecht and Elijah Cummings were not here to surprise us with their light. They were here to help us find our lights.
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