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Lisa Earle McLeod: Finding grace in the moment

Ten years ago, I had an “aha” that helped me become happier, and more effective at work.

It happened when I was in Chicago to run a seminar. From the moment I came onstage, I could tell that the attendees didn’t want to be there. As their boss introduced me, the rolling eyes and annoyed looks indicated that this was going to be tough. After 20 years as a consultant, this was an all too familiar scenario.

Management wants to improve sales, so they hire a consultant (in this case me) to run a program for employees who resent having to attend a training program they don’t think they need.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are three kinds of meeting attendees: Prisoners, Passives and Passionates. This group of people was definitely Prisoners.

Senior management hadn’t done anything to explain the purpose of the meeting. So about 50 people showed up, not knowing what to expect. To make matters worse, 5 minutes before I went on, the vice president informed me that everyone was in a foul mood because the CEO had just announced that they were cutting bonuses.

To make matters worse, the audiovisual guy informed me there weren’t any wireless microphones. So to use a mic, I was going to have to try to be engaging and interactive from behind a huge lectern that came up to my chin.

There I stood, facing a ballroom of imprisoned people who would probably rather make cold calls than sit through a seminar with me. I struggled through the first hour using up my entire repertoire of witty jokes and then gave them (and me) a 15-minute break.

I had always thought of myself as a positively motivated person. But at this moment, weeks of being on the road had taken their toll. Every time I turned around, it was more of the same: unrealistic management expectations, cheap clients and poorly managed logistics. I was tired, frustrated and angry.

So I did what many professional women do, but very few admit to: I headed for the restroom, locked myself in the stall and began to cry.

Then it dawned on me: I couldn’t change what was going on inside their company or that they weren’t getting bonuses. I had been given the chance to touch the lives of 50 people, and I was missing an opportunity by bellyaching. I finally got it: I can’t control the universe, all I can do is make the most of the part I’ve been given.

That was 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve decided to infuse love and spirit into my work, and to bring the best of what I have into every situation, no matter how challenging. I don’t master it every time. But when I do, it’s powerful.

I ran across a prayer a few years ago that gives my aspirations for my work. I repeat it when I’m in a challenging situation:

I pray that when the time comes, and all eyes and ears turn my way, that somehow – despite my shortcomings – I become an instrument of grace. Let the light flow through me.

Things don’t have to be perfect for you to make your moment wonderful. When they go badly, the universe is giving you a chance to let your grace shine through.

Sometimes, just shifting your perspective makes all the difference in the world. Rather than waiting for circumstances to change, you can change your perception, and you may find that your circumstances improve.