Tragedy Strikes –
It was Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015, in San Bernardino, California.
Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, opened fire at a holiday party for the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center.
14 dead. 22 injured. Millions stunned.
The entire North American continent felt the reverberations of the act of terror. How? Why?—we all wondered.
Does the media have the habit of sensationalizing things? Unquestionably, yes. Yet, this story needed no help from the media to affect deeply. It grabbed us by the throat, leaving us helplessly heartbroken as we watched the story unfold.
As a dad, I’m still haunted by the image of a father weeping on the street after receiving a text from his daughter who had fled into hiding inside the facility center and whom he had not heard from since. Clearly, the horror that followed for the victims, families and friends of the victims and the surrounding community is beyond what we, as headline spectators, can imagine.
A Sobering Realization
The day after the tragedy, it suddenly dawned on me that I was about to be even more impacted by this situation than I imagined.
I remembered that I had been hired to deliver a keynote in California for an approaching event. Checking my contract, I saw that this particular meeting happened to be in the very same area as the recent tragedy… and for a sister division of the very same organization. The San Diego Regional Center.
The Habit of Imagining the Worst
While authorities and law enforcement officials scrambled for motives and suspects and ways to keep the public safe, the rest of the world was left to wonder where tragedy might strike next. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine that another regional center holiday party, in close proximity to the first attack, might not be the safest place a person could decide to go.
I called and left a respectful message for the center contact who had hired me for the event, explaining that I had heard of the extenuating circumstances and had no problem releasing them from their contract should they feel the need to cancel their event.
A few hours later a message was returned, informing me that an emergency leadership meeting had convened to discuss the issue and that the event would proceed as planned.
Honestly, part of me was imagining the worst and hoping the event would not proceed. The staff of San Diego Regional Center, however, had evidently been practicing a good habit I didn’t have.
The habit of expecting the best.
Working with My Own Mind
Experiencing some personal anxiety about the event I was somewhat surprised they had decided to proceed. I even wondered whether I needed to draw a line myself about my participation. It gave me reason to reflect on my own commitments, to what extent I wanted the presence of fear to inform my decisions, and what my habits really were when confronted with a challenging circumstance.
After a conversation at home, I decided to follow through with my appearance and packed for the trip.
It was very instructive to see the difference between the fears that wanted to dominate my attention and the reality of being in San Diego and making my way to the center.
Now that I was in motion there wasn’t a moment of feeling any imminent danger. If I had followed my habit to imagine the worst, however, I might have stayed home with my fearful version of the situation intact.
Who Is Inspiring Whom?
Finding my event contact at the center, I asked if there were any changes I needed to know about. I was told that 500 staff members had been invited, but they had no idea how many would actually show. I was asked to go with the flow and adjust accordingly if the audience were smaller—maybe much smaller—than planned.
I completed my setup and sat out of the way to watch the guests arrive.
Not only did they arrive, they arrived early. They arrived in throngs. And they kept coming. They hugged, put on silly hats to have their pictures taken together in the photo booth, talked, laughed, and celebrated.
The event included an awards ceremony to honor those who had been loyally serving the center for 15, 20, 30 and 40 years. Each person was introduced by a colleague who had known them well and who regaled the crowd with stories of the honoree’s dedication, perseverance and performance.
There was a lineup of dedicated staff being honored for their consistent and reliable contributions to the organization. For their habit of service.
A bus driver who hadn’t missed a single day of work in 30 years. A manager who had been with the center for 40 years, showing up, day after day, to serve the needs of the developmentally disabled in San Diego.
The Good Habit of Showing Up
It struck me, watching the awards ceremony, how irreplaceable the habit of showing up is to a life of happiness and freedom.
Habits, by their nature, are strengthened and fortified by consistency. Consistency is achieved by a vision. And a vision is the work of a committed team: communicating, collaborating and living their gratitude for being able to serve a cause they believe in.
This department obviously had a habit of showing up, both as individuals and as an organization. Examining their behavior and their culture led me to an insight about the nature of good habits: the elements that allow us to show up for our best life, our most heartfelt desires and our strongest commitments.
- Acknowledge your challenges.
- Deeply connect to your why.
- Invest in process and routine.
What would good habits—built on these principles—mean for you in your life? Where do you have them? Where are they lacking?
What keeps you going when your mind has a million reasons to stop, whether it’s fear, tragedy, or your own inner voices?
What gets you in motion, acting on those habits that can help you achieve your vision, even when part of you wants to stay comfortable?
Perhaps it just takes one heart-filled purpose to offset those reasons to stay home, to quit, to give up, to play it safe and wait for the perfect conditions to participate.
I had been hired to provide a message of inspiration to this group of employees, but I was the one being lifted up by the culture of this organization, and I walked away wondering how I might be able to share it.
It took me some time to see the valuable hidden lesson about powerful habits: they have to have a beating heart.
Lead Yourself toward Habits That Matter
We have a free short course that provides a step-by-step means of building optimal habits that rest on the foundation of a powerful “why.”
If you’re a member, it’s yours to dive into.
If you’re not yet a free member, just sign up and you’ll be one step closer to giving your own habit life the kind of heart and soul that I experienced in San Diego.
With gratitude to the San Diego Regional Center.