August 11, 2008

Good day, team,

The title of this challenge could be “atttitude is everything.” I continue to be amazed at how our attitude has everything to do with how we feel about ourselves and our lives. Here are some examples of friends whose lives have changed recently and how the changes have altered their attitude.

My friend Kimberlee realized her lifelong dream this past year by buying a home in France. Ever since she was a young child, she has dreamed of this event. After working full time through most of her adult life, she now lives in France in her new home. But having just moved there, she’s living without furniture till it arrives. She’s also living in a construction zone while the house is being renovated. When I last read her blog, she had written, “First off, imagine undertaking home repairs and renovation with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Extraordinary patience, especially—cough, cough—for a male… [smiles]. Not only that, I am sleeping on a ‘mattelasse’ he has loaned me until my bed arrives and using a one-burner camping stove for coffee and such.”

Kimberlee was very successful in her career. She had grown quite accustomed to living in comfortable surroundings, be it her home, beach house, or nice hotel rooms (having traveled a lot for business over the years). In her American life, she never would have put up with sleeping on a mattress and making coffee on a hotplate each morning. But she’s now living her dream come true, and that’s made her quite willing and happy to endure whatever hardships she encounters, knowing that someday she will have the home she has always envisioned. Her attitude toward creature comforts has changed, and what would normally be intolerable circumstances are more than bearable in light of this change.

One of my previous clients works for Morgan Stanley. Two years ago, he sent me an e-mail with a picture attached of his new multimillion-dollar condominium in New York City. He was overjoyed to have finally reached the kind of financial success that allowed him to live the kind of life in New York that he had always desired. He dined at the best restaurants, had his shirts and suits hand-tailored, had season tickets to Knicks games, and frequently went to the best Broadway plays and nightclubs. I began to worry about him raising his standard for quality of life too high when he complained that because his local dry cleaners had gone green, he could no longer get his shirts cleaned in 24 hours. He was becoming incredibly spoiled, by my view, but he felt entitled to his lifestyle, particularly since most of his co-workers were experiencing the same success and had similar attitudes.

Today, he’s lucky to still have a job. His salary is a quarter of what it was, his condominium sold for quite a bit less than what he paid, and he’s living in an apartment that’s much smaller than anyplace he’s ever lived. I reminded him the other day about his disgruntled attitude about the green dry cleaners, and he replied, “Now I feel lucky when I come upon an unoccupied machine in the laundry room at the apartment building and I have enough quarters at the same time.” His sudden change in fortune has changed his attitude dramatically. Two years ago he felt entitled to immediate service and was angry when it didn’t happened. Today, he’s grateful to be able to accomplish his chores himself.

Your challenge this week? Take a look at your attitude about your life and the way you live it. Have you lost your ability to be grateful for some of the simplest things? Have you been forced to adjust your living standards, given current economic pressures, and struggle with old attitudes that cause you to resent your current circumstances? Do you believe that because of your title at work, you’re entitled to certain privileges and perks that you don’t really need, but have grown accustomed to?

Instead, try cultivating an attitude that serves your current situation. Experiment with changing your circumstances so that you can change your attitude. I used to think I couldn’t cut my use of electricity. So I experimented by stringing a clothes line and hanging my laundry. My electricity bill went down. More important, my attitude changed about doing my laundry. It was nice to go outside to hang it, it folded better when it was dry, and my sheets smelled incredibly good when I made the bed. (I even found that my clothes lasted longer: Dryers are hard on clothes.)

Whenever I feel disgruntled and ungrateful, I try to remember this story.

A Buddhist monk once traveled to the next village to help his brothers. While he was gone, his small home burned to the ground. As it was burning, a friend from the village found the monk and told him what was happening. They ran to the home site and arrived as the last few bits of wood turned to embers. The monk’s friend looked at him with tears in his eyes and exclaimed how sorry he was that the monk had lost his home. The monk stood in silence for a moment and then, as he gazed up at the sky, proclaimed, “Ah, now I have a much better view of the moon.”

Take a hint from the Buddhist monk: It’s all in your attitude!

Have a great week!