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An Excerpt From "This Is The Moment!"

by Walter Green


The following excerpt is taken from the book This Is the Moment! How One Man's Yearlong Journey Captured the Power of Extraordinary Gratitude by Walter Green. It is published by Hay House (October 2010) and is available at all bookstores or online at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1401928080/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d1_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1JV2R4577JWGC2BRE60Y&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846 

Chapter One

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

— Albert Schweitzer

Looking back on my life, I recognize that it’s been filled with many gratifying high points. This is especially so considering my difficult early start. Upon hearing my story in subsequent chapters, you might be tempted to see it as a typical rags-to-riches tale about a self-made man. But what I’ve come to learn as a result of this past year is that it’s anything but that.

Once I became really conscious, I realized that although I’ve worked hard and been lucky, I’m the furthest thing from self-made. On the contrary, I’ve been “made” to a large extent by the quality of some of the people I’ve known and the profound influence they’ve had on my life. This process made me marvel at how I could have ever achieved what I did without them: My heartfelt assessment is that I couldn’t. I’m not being modest; I’m calling it like it is, and it’s been a very humbling experience.

It wasn’t just humbling but also very satisfying to know that I had the good fortune to have these individuals play the role they did in my life. Candidly, though, I didn’t always think about all the ways they had impacted me. It was not a conscious part of my remembrance of them.

In his book Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Robert Emmons, Ph.D., writes: “We can be proud of our accomplishments yet simultaneously realize they would have been impossible without help from others. This realization is the soil that permits gratitude to germinate.”

My plan, then, was to revisit those influential men and women and express, in an uncommon way, my profound appreciation to them. By “uncommon,” I mean going beyond the customary “Thank you” that we routinely utter after an act of kindness, a favor, or a nice dinner spent together; or what I call “episodic” gratitude. It’s entirely different to look back on our lives and articulate how aware we are of the way someone has impacted it and let him or her know. I refer to this as “systemic” gratitude.

You might think of this as the difference between the Oscars and the Kennedy Center Honors. At the former, winners are singled out for excellence in a specific piece of work; that is, an Academy Award represents a onetime expression of appreciation. At the latter, honorees are celebrated by a succession of their peers who have been influenced, inspired, motivated, enriched, and even sent down a new path by these artists or their work. The Kennedy Center Honors ceremony often features moving tributes by colleagues who make it very clear how the honorees’ lifetime contribution to the arts has mattered to them personally.

Also, uncommon and explicit expressions of gratitude are something quite distinct from what I call “living tributes” and eulogies.

Living tributes tend to be situational and specific. We make them at events such as weddings, retirements, or award ceremonies; or after some heroic deed has been performed. Living tributes are often public and quite short, and they’re usually inadequate when it comes to conveying deep appreciation for those contributions that have made a long-term difference in our lives.

When it comes to eulogies, these occasions do serve the purpose of acknowledging individuals in the company of others. When we speak so eloquently about those who have died, we often feel that we’re speaking to them; saying what we always wanted to say and having them actually listen. But since we’re only speaking about them, this missed opportunity can cause us pain and regret. Additionally, only a small number of family members and friends get the honor of speaking, and more than 95 percent of people who knew the deceased don’t have an opportunity to say anything. Plus, most eulogies are short, maybe five minutes at most.

Gratitude Is More Than Attitude

I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject of gratitude before, during, and after my yearlong journey. For a long time, I’ve regularly expressed appreciation for how our lives are made easy by everyday conveniences. Each morning, for instance, I marvel that I can turn a piece of metal in the shower and out comes clean water; and by adjusting that lever, I can make the water warmer or cooler! That’s pretty amazing when you think about it, and what a great way to become awake and aware every day. When I got down to writing this book, I was grateful that I live in a time when I could do it on a computer and not have to labor with a pen and paper.

More important, I’m grateful to just be alive. My first thought every morning when I open my eyes is, Thank You, God, for another day; another day to do good things. My father died when he was 53, and I’ve always thought that living beyond that age would be an extraordinary achievement. Now that I have, I’m finding every additional day a real gift. Right behind that is my level of fitness, which allows me to take pleasure in those activities I enjoy. I’m also so thankful for the love I have for my wife, Lola, and our sons. In fact, my entire extended family and my community of friends are central to my being, and I’ve always worked hard at nurturing and maintaining those relationships.

By investing decades in a demanding job and encountering some good fortune and good people along the way, I now have the resources to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle that I fully appreciate. But more than that, after years of focusing thoughtfully on my life, I am very clear about what speaks to me, and am profoundly grateful for the fact that I’m able to spend most of my time on matters that are really important to me. My activities are very much in alignment with my life’s purpose. What more could I ask for?

The idea of “counting your blessings” is a cornerstone of many faiths. It’s also been covered in books and the media and has even been the subject of academic research. We’re urged to develop an “attitude of gratitude” and keep note of it in our journals. I refer to these types of practices as internally directed gratitude: they’re all about us. Using an anatomical metaphor, it’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised in order for us to get full benefits.

Externally focused gratitude—expressed directly to others—is another muscle that needs to be exercised as well. One of the many lessons I learned is that the more you exercise that external gratitude muscle by telling others how you feel about them, the more benefits you and they get.

Yet although we often express appreciation for certain people in our journals, or even speak to others about them, we don’t tend to express it to the person in question. It’s like the father who tells his buddies how wonderful his son is, but never shares this directly with the young man. So everybody else knows how proud the father feels, but the son has little idea and might even have a totally erroneous view of his father’s opinion of him. In too many cases, these stories are shared with the son by others after the father has died.

I believe that situations like this are not only unfortunate, but they’re missed opportunities, too. I hope that as you read on, you’ll awaken to your own opportunities and not let them pass by.

***

Although I’d always placed a high value on my own relationships, amazingly, I’d never specifically articulated to these individuals what each of them meant to me. These conversations I now planned were a chance for me to communicate explicit and genuine expressions of appreciation to those who have enriched my life in so many ways. This truly was going to be an out-of-the-ordinary experience.

Deep and heartfelt conversation has always been an essential element of my interactions with people. In other words, while we might enjoy a round of golf or traveling together, the time we spent was as much about the high-quality conversations after the game or during the trip. Nevertheless, there were still important things left unsaid.

During the planning stages of my gratitude journey, I began to affectionately refer to this project as my “victory lap” because it had all the connotations of celebration and appreciation. I was reminded of basketball icon Michael Jordan, who visited all the arenas where he’d played as a gesture to thank his fans upon his retirement. Not that I’m in any way retiring from life (I feel as good today as I ever have and probably am in better shape), nor do I consider the people on my victory lap to be “fans.” What our journeys have in common, though, is the profound appreciation we share for those who supported our life to date and without whom we couldn’t have done what we did.

My own journey would actually include several trips, in which I’d deliver my gratitude while I still had the energy and before it was too late and the opportunity was lost. I didn’t want to wait until any of our lives were compromised by ill health or imminent death. So I figured that I should tell these people how much they mattered to me long—hopefully, very long—before that happened and I was left with regrets.

The Idea Is Born

Like all viable ideas, the recipe for this one had many ingredients. The first ones I can identify are my parents’ health crises. My mother had two bouts with breast cancer, the first when I was just 9; and my father had a heart attack when I was 11 that he survived, but subsequently had a fatal one when I was 17. These were lessons that awakened me to how short and precious life can be. What a bittersweet gift.

As an adult, I became fascinated with learning about life from studying death, and I’m still drawn to books on these subjects. Among those that got me thinking about my gratitude journey are: Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, which I read several years ago; and, more recently, Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture and Eugene O’Kelly’s Chasing Daylight.

An imperative to express unsaid thoughts and feelings before time ran out was a common thread in all three books. In the case of Tuesdays with Morrie, the title character was aged and in poor health; in the other two, the authors were far younger but had received diagnoses that left them facing impending death. These books drove home the point that when time gets short, conversations become real, and messages that we want to leave to those we care about—be they our spouse, children, family, friends, or colleagues—take on critical importance. So it occurred to me that if these conversations are so crucial at the end, why not have them earlier? Why not have them now? And that was the idea that gave birth to the title of my book: This Is the Moment!

Another thing that affected me related to this subject was the sudden death of NBC political commentator Tim Russert. Only 58 years old and clearly respected in his profession, he received tributes from presidents and politicians, colleagues and comedians, and even rock stars. His death was so fast and unexpected that those who were greatly indebted to him and loved him for all he’d done were cheated out of being able to tell him what he’d meant to them. What a shame that the impact of the extraordinary tributes at his funeral was offset by the awareness that he would never hear the difference he’d made in so many people’s lives.

I’m not suggesting that Tim Russert had such a powerful ego that he needed to hear all of these tributes, but I do believe that most of us receive value from acknowledgment by others. In fact, I’ve long been conscious of the power of gratitude. I’ve also had a commitment to leading a meaningful life and an appreciation of the central role that relationships have played in creating that meaning.

Foreshadowing this current journey, some years ago on my birthday I made a short list of close friends whom I felt had deeply influenced me. I invited them to a weekend event and publicly thanked them for adding richness to all areas of my life: intellectual, emotional, physical, and financial. Another time, I kept a log for three months of my acts of kindness and began to pay attention to their impact.

Unfortunately, however, the two people who brought me into this world have passed away, and I missed my opportunity to be explicit with either of them about what they had meant to me. I was greatly affected by this and wanted to be sure that there would be no further regrets in this regard.

My hope was that by the end of this yearlong journey, the people who were so special to me would be aware of why I loved them and why I so appreciated them. If I were to pass away unexpectedly after the last conversation, no one would have to worry about what I would have said to or about them, or what they would have said to or about me.

The Plan Takes Shape

It was an ambitious plan, and implementing it required my wife’s blessing and support. When I first brought up the idea, Lola was truly concerned about how I was going to fit all these visits into my whirlwind life of mentoring, coaching, and philanthropic endeavors; splitting time between two homes; a disciplined exercise program; and extensive travel. It wasn’t until I assured her that I’d do it over the course of a year that she enthusiastically championed the cause and told me that she’d do whatever it took to help me make it work.

A lot of thought went into the planning of my year. First, I had to make a list of the individuals I wanted to visit. There have been many men and women who have been important in my life and who mattered, but for this purpose, I was specifically thinking about the “life-changers” who’d had an effect on me in meaningful ways.

I looked back over the years and realized that they came from all walks of life: business associates; medical, health, and financial advisors; mentees; colleagues in the nonprofit world; members of organizations I belonged to; and of course, dear friends and family members. These were the people who have been with me through tough times; those who have steered me on a different course; and the professionals who have given me peace of mind in different areas of my life.

When I focused on it, there turned out to be 44 names on my list, which surprised even me (but I’ve probably been around longer than many of you!). They came from vastly diverse backgrounds. Some had very simple lifestyles, two were billionaires, and there was everything in between. They ranged in age from 35 to 87. There were more men than women. While some were members of my family, most were not.

Based on responses from those I’ve talked to about my journey, I know you might also be thinking, I don’t have 44 people; nothing close. That’s okay. Even if just one person immediately comes to mind, you’ll find value in reading further. Expressing profound gratitude to that one human being will likely enrich your life and the lives of others as well. I promise by the end of this book, you’ll be giving thought to more people.

Next, I had to determine what I was going to say to these 44 individuals. I was very clear about the outcomes I intended for these conversations and decided that in order to achieve them, I wanted to touch four bases:

First, we’d start out by reflecting on when we’d first met. I’ve known the participants on my journey an average of just over a quarter of a century, which is particularly remarkable in light of the fact that the only person who knew me before the age of 17 was my older brother, Ray. Some of these relationships went back 40 years, almost all were a decade or more long, and nobody went back less than 5 years. I couldn’t actually remember how I’d met some of my old friends, but I knew that one or the other of us would recall the details and we’d piece it together. I figured that beginning in this way would provide an easy entrée into the conversation.

Second, I wanted to evoke some of the memorable life experiences and activities that we’d shared. As we began to reminisce, I’d allow the conversation to go wherever it went. It was not my intention to impose a rigid structure. I anticipated that these trips down memory lane would be a real pleasure. It was also a way of “setting the table” for the next part of our conversation.

Third, this was what the meeting was really all about: my opportunity to say, “You’ve had a profound effect on me, and I want to be abundantly clear with you about how you’ve influenced my life, and to explicitly express my gratitude to you for what you’ve meant to me.” While that was the crux of the conversation, every expression of appreciation was to be crafted specifically for each individual. Going through this process for all 44 people on my list required me to be very conscious and deliberate. When I heard the concept that gratitude is like turning on a flashlight in a dark room—everything was in there already, it just had to be illuminated—I could truly relate to that.

Fourth, for my self-enlightenment, I’d give each person a minute or two to present his or her perceptions of me. Put together, their perspectives would form a composite view of me that clearly would be more accurate than a self-portrait. I envisioned it as everyone placing a piece in a mosaic that made up the complete picture of who I am. If they wanted to share any feelings about me, that would be special as well.

***

I invited these people, either in person or by way of a phone call, to join me on this journey. They were scattered around the country, and in some instances we’d gotten together infrequently over the years, although that didn’t influence how close I felt to them. Taking the time to travel wherever they were to meet them clearly established that this visit was very important to me.

After someone heard what I wanted to do, it was quite common for the person to ask, “Are you okay?” Even after I responded that I was, he or she would ask, “Are you sure?” My friends’ reference point, as it is for our society in general, is that conversations like these are usually initiated when someone is close to death. I had to reassure them this was not the case with me.

As part of the preparation for our meetings, I sent each person an e-mail describing the four bases I wanted to cover. From my years working in the conference business, I know that people always want to be prepared for what they’re going to be talking about at meetings. I knew that my friends were a little surprised by my call, and I felt that I needed to send them something in writing so they’d have a better idea of what was going to happen, and to give them time to think about our conversation in advance of the day.

When it came time to set up the meetings, I tried to choose a quiet, private location for the conversation. Some took place in the person’s own home, others in hotel rooms or private offices including my own, and some in a quiet corner of a club one or the other of us belonged to. I wanted the day to include other informal time together after each of these focused dialogues. So if we’d played golf in the past, that would follow our talk. At a minimum, we’d have lunch or dinner.

Prior to the meetings, my preparations included making notes of my recollections of when we met and some of the highlights of our relationship over the years. But most important, I made a bullet-pointed list of answers to this question: “What difference did this person make in my life?” I went through this process with all of the people on my list, and I did refer to the notes during the meetings. It was not intrusive in the least and served me well in making sure that I didn’t forget anything I wanted to say, which is easy to do when you get caught up in reminiscing and enjoying the moment. (Some people had done their own preparation as well. For example, one guy actually brought his laptop with his preparatory notes on it.)

I didn’t want to take notes during these interactions so that I could stay fully engaged and savor every moment. A friend suggested that I make an audio recording of each conversation. I hadn’t thought about doing so, but once it was mentioned, I realized what a great idea it was. These were going to be emotionally rich conversations, and there was no way that I’d be able to absorb and remember all of the substance and subtlety contained in them.

In advance of each conversation, I did, of course, confirm that the person would be okay with my recording him or her. There was some hesitancy from only one individual when I first raised the subject of an audio recording, but in the end he was fine with it. I bought an inconspicuous 1" x 3" digital recorder for the purpose.

Finally, I decided to bring my camera and have a photograph taken with each person as a pictorial reminder of our special time together.

***

I cannot fully put into words how incredible this journey turned out to be for me. I did anticipate that a certain level of satisfaction would be achieved when I embarked upon it, but I could never have known the full extent of what it would mean in my life. Nor could I have foreseen the profound and unexpected results, which were above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.


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