Lessons from a Life: Awareness


Lesson #3: Learn from the past.

I was raised to have a long to do list and cross off as many items as I could each day. Through the retracing of my history, I have learned I need much more time to reflect  in order to be happier, to make better decisions, and do my best work.

My mother loves to tell me the story of how she named me because Laurel means accomplishment and I was hers. Keeping busy and “not resting on your laurels” is highly valued in my family.

When my father retired in his 60’s, he had a chart on the back of his office door that tracked how many holes of golf he was playing, which at that time, averaged about a round and a half a day.  Even though, he currently takes a cart at the age of 86, he was walking the course upon retirement.

As a child I had a lot of hobbies that included gymnastics, swimming, singing, cooking, and crafting. I started cooking at four and with my mother’s help my first dish was scrambled eggs. By the time I was twelve, I was cooking meals for my family and reading cookbooks – memorizing the recipes before I went to sleep. When I was fourteen, I had my first small business, making homemade soft pretzels in my mother’s tiny kitchen and selling them at farmer’s markets and local fairs.

I am the grandchild of two hard-working men who supported their families. My mother’s father was a plumber and later, a plumbing contractor. My paternal grandfather was a teamster who delivered meat from horse-drawn wagons during the Great Depression.  In his twenties, my father worked his way out of a blue collar existence, eventually becoming an engineer at IBM for over 40 years.

The most influential of my family members, was my “Uncle” Ray.  Uncle Ray was a curmudgeon who always made me feel like I was intelligent and special. He was my father’s best friend and my godfather.  When Uncle Ray was younger, he worked as a professional golf instructor, becoming  the patriarch of the family business: Rip Van Winkle Country Club in Palenville, NY. One of my sweetest memories is a younger Laurel, sitting at the country club’s bar, drinking Shirley Temples. It was here that I began to fall in love with the idea of ruling my very own empire of work.

Learning from your past can arm you with vital insights. By embracing the functional parts of your history, you can realize what needs to be left behind.  In truth, there have been many times that my accomplishments have turned into anxiety and constant self-criticism.  I’ve had to get a lot of help to battle these things that when left unchecked, can be really destructive.

I remember being in kindergarten and worrying that first grade might be too hard. In junior high and high school, I developed an eating disorder and in college I struggled with depression and abused alcohol. In my twenties, I (barely) balanced my addictions with working compulsively. In my early 30s, propelled by a broken heart, I found a therapist, who directed me to 12-step programs, yoga, and guided me to search for a more authentic life and slower pace.

For example, I have learned that  being inventive or creative often takes practice–  spending periods of time “doing nothing” as part of the process. This is so contrary to my upbringing that I have to continue to work really hard at adding extra unscheduled time to my week when I am challenged to do creative work.

Whatever your history, you can learn more about who you are and what you want to become from delving deeply into it and not letting the past scare you. Learning from your history must include retracing your steps, and then choosing what you want to embrace, and then be willing to change those patterns, habits and ways of being that no longer serve you. This process is one of 12 tenets in the career development programs I’ve designed.

In all cases, I highly recommend you do this exploration with the support of a close friend, a spiritual guide, counselor, coach or therapist. In my own journey, that continues to this day, I’ve had many helpers including my soul brother and business collaborator, Darryl Brown, who is directing this series.

Thank you Darryl!

You may also want to consider signing up for our Virtual Career Masters Small Group Program that begins on October 14th, 2014.

Laurel Donnellan

CEO and Founder, Bright Livelihoods

Laurel’s mission is to help people find their home in the world of work. She has 30 years of experience as a leader, educator and coach and has degrees from Cornell and Columbia.  To request a private half-hour coaching session with Laurel, e-mail us at info@brightlivelihoods.com.

© 2014, brightlivelihoods. All rights reserved.

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