By: Sonya Ware
Growing up in the mid-1970s, it wasn’t unusual to have family gatherings on holidays and special occasions. In fact, it was the norm. As a kid these gatherings were fun. You could literally lose your mind running around playing with cousins because your parents were indifferent at these gatherings; more relaxed and at ease enjoying the company of family. This was a stark contrast to the daily life of blue collar work, small paychecks, big bills and robbing Peter to pay Paul.
My Uncle Cleveland always stood out at the family gathering – at least to me. He was a tall man with a pot belly who wore dress pants that revealed ankles wrapped in lily white socks. He looked like the kind-of-guy that would come up to you and lock you in a loving bear hug. But he wasn’t that guy. He was more of an intellectual. He was college educated in a time when most of the other family members weren’t. Having a college education was special in the African American community. Uncle Cleveland had earned his badge of honor. He had done his homework, so to speak. So there he sat in the front room of the house sometimes spewing out wisdom and other times telling jokes that made us laugh out loud!
But this particular day his humor was displaced and he was ruminating. You see, he had spent most of his adult life with ONE company, doing ONE job, for ONE reason. And ONE day the company decided that Mr. Cleveland was no longer relevant.
As he spoke, his booming voice reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr. “There are 3 things that I want for my children. I want them to know their African American history, to be college educated and to know how to take $1 and turn it into $2!”
Uncle Cleveland was clinging to this mantra with every fiber of his being. He believed with all of his heart that this would protect his children from one day feeling the pain he felt inside, the disappointment of living a life and making a contribution that someone else deemed irrelevant. He didn’t want his children to suffer the loss of relevance. Who knew that family gatherings would be the birthplace for my first lessons in personal leadership and the wisdom to stay relevant?
Twenty years have passed since those days spent at family gatherings and many things have changed. Today, we can expect to work for more than one company and by the time we retire, we will have had a minimum of 7-8 different careers. The baby boomer generation is living to the ripe old age of 100 years old and will not likely retire at age 65. Though many things have changed, one thing remains the same: our need to be relevant; relevant in our homes, relevant to the corporate agenda, relevant in our communities, relevant in our faith and relevant in our lives.
What does it take to be relevant these days? How can we persevere? Like Uncle Cleveland, I have come to a place in my life where my experiences in working for Fortune 100 companies with leaders all over the world including the United States, Malaysia and the Netherlands have come full circle. I have led regional teams, coached and consulted with senior leadership teams, served as an executive coach to director level+ decision makers, and groomed emerging leaders. I have had the opportunity to work with some extraordinary leaders and others not so much.
As an executive coach, my noble work is helping leaders actualize potential, be present to the moment, lead fearlessly and stay relevant.