Having traveled for business much of the month of November and December, followed by preparations for the holidays, it was not until after Christmas that I found the mental space to do some reflection on 2019.

I was reading John Maxwell’s phenomenal book, The 15 Irrefutable Laws of Growth. A practice John has kept for many years is to set aside an afternoon during the holidays to reflect on his past year. He makes note of the clients he has worked with and how he might become better in serving them in the future. He also reviews every business relationship to evaluate if it is a project he should continue, renew or refresh.

This week, I began this year-end review and discovered that there were so many amazing opportunities that came my way in 2019. I am truly grateful for all the companies that invited me to speak and add value to their organizations. As I thought through each client and my work, I realized where I had made impact and where despite my best efforts, I fell short. I realized there are some business relationships that must end and others that offer incredible, new and more challenging opportunities.  Those growth relationships excite me and focus my energy toward the New Year.

Through reflection, I gained new insight about myself. I know that my personal development will precede all other advances, whether professional or personal. And so, I will share just a few of the insights I gained through this process in the hope it will spur you on to reflect and grow personally.

  • The Benefit of Asking for Feedback. Earlier this year, I asked for feedback from a meeting planner after my speech. She shared my message was timely, however, there was a lot of text on my presentations. Going forward, I began to delete a lot of words and instead worked harder at knowing my speeches cold. Later in the year, I sought mentoring from a world-renowned speaker. He analyzed my recorded speeches and I taught me to become more conversational rather than instructional in my keynotes. I took his feedback and spent hours preparing for my speeches.  And although, I still have a long way to go, I am becoming better. Focusing on the audience, keeps me relaxed as I speak, and I feel energized rather than depleted after each presentation. I believe the mentoring I received also led to my first standing ovation. In the coming year, I intend to further develop my communication proficiency.

  • It Pays to Not Get Paid. Some of the most meaningful events this last year were not for audiences that could afford to pay my speaking fee. At first, I tried to limit these events, thinking they did not make good business sense. What I discovered is that those opportunities were often the most personally fulfilling. I tested out new material while developing my conversational messaging. Moreover, I grew more through the act of serving others. In particular, having the opportunity to speak to women in prison was one of the highlights of my year. Yes, they were a “captive” audience, yet, those incarcerated women were hungry. They sat on the edges of their seats and took notes and responded to my questions. I was able to connect in ways I had not with any other audience.  I grew as a leader by giving more of myself. I now look forward to donating 10% of my time to organizations that align with my desire to lift and encourage others.

  • When God Whispers Take Action. As a person of faith, I am coming to believe that God created us with infinite abilities and creativity. When an idea forms in our minds, I think of it as a “God whisper”. He simply wants us to act on that idea and then He supplies the resources and abilities to achieve that idea.  That is the “work” of faith. About this time last year, I had purchased some jewelry that went along with the branding of my book, West Point Woman. The exquisite jewelry of Freida Rothman captured the strength and beauty of a West Point Woman.  Shortly thereafter, an idea formed in my mind – approach Freida about creating a line of jewelry for West Point Women. Initially, I dismissed the “whisper”.  I reasoned that Freida is much too successful to want to speak with me.  Then, she came to Louisville and with my husband’s encouragement, I met her. I gave Freida a copy of my book and shared my idea for a jewelry line for West Point women. I found this woman entrepreneur approachable and fascinated with the idea.  With some help from my classmate, Kathy Loper, and Seneca Vaughn, USMA ’05, in a matter of weeks, we held two Strength, Grit and Glamour Events introducing her line to women cadets, women faculty and graduates. We are now forming a design committee with the idea of launching the line in 2020, which coincides with the 40th year of women having graduated from West Point. This experience taught me more about faith than all the books I might have read on the subject. So, I encourage you when an idea, no matter how outlandish forms in your mind, first take the logical next step and quickly follow with the next and the next. You will be amazed where He takes you.

  • Relationships Matter. As I reviewed my year, I realized how much I benefited from several relationships. Two of my West Point classmates, Anthony Macchiavelli and Bruce Babbitt promoted my name within their respective companies, resulting in two phenomenal speaking engagements. The President of the local chapter of National Speakers Association, Jeff Nally and Past President, Cathy Fyock also recommended me to other organizations that led to additional engagements. These good people just love to connect and promote others. Their actions taught me the power of promoting others – something I hope to do more of in 2020. I also reflected on ways I might have handled some of the interactions with colleagues and clients and how I might better approach a conflict or a pressing need in more effective ways. As a naturally driven person, I may not be putting the time into my some of my relationships. My son-in-law, Leo is from Brazil. He is quite good at building relationships. His approach with people is not transactional but, relational and that is why he has become so successful. He invests in people without expecting a return. For example, for the last four years, he meets with a successful businessman and University Professor. He comes prepared with a series of questions and listens.  In time, he has benefited from the elder’s wisdom and wealth of connections that have also benefited his wife (my daughter). To become more like Leo, I must discipline myself to make time for people. I should prepare for these meetings and spend more time listening than speaking. In this way, I hope to grow in my ability to form deeper relationships with clients and colleagues.

I found this time of deep reflection both humbling and insightful. I recommend it as an incredibly healthy exercise. It helps us gain clarity around our clients, projects and our plans for the future year.  Moreover, it helps us identify our strengths and where we need to improve. It helps us begin to form plans for personal growth so that our families and businesses may prosper. Reflection ultimately makes us better for the year to come. With that, I wish you and yours a rich and wonderful 2020!