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John Chappelear


By John Chappelear

Small consistent changes make the most difference in one’s life, but the hardest part is beginning to make these changes.

In the winter of 1991, I was given the gift of desperation. While it was a painful and unwanted gift at the time, it has created a change of focus for me during the past ten years, which has allowed me to rebuild a the kind of life I never dreamed possible.

I knew from the time I was a kid that I was both a leader and an entrepreneur. I had grown up in the office products industry in the Washington DC area. At the age of 30, I started by own office products business, which was the realization of my childhood dream. After several years of working my way up the career ladder, I wanted to be the one who created a vision for an organization and the one responsible for its achievement. I also wanted to have more time for my family. For the first few years, as I grew my business, I was able to create a good balance between my work and family life.

Later, my business really took off, and I began to reap the rewards of success. For the first time in my life, concerns about having enough money were gone, and the power of running a successful organization was a feeling like none I had ever experienced. It was truly a rush. I began to fill my days with more work and my evenings with business gatherings, receptions and other networking activities. As a result, I was missing my children’s soccer games, evenings with my wife, and other family activities that I thought could be put on hold until I reached that perfect place in my career.

Within a couple of years, I was divorced, had alienated my children and was living as a bachelor in the Guest Quarters. I consoled myself with knowing that I had built lucrative business relationships, no longer had to make family compromises, and was getting closer to achieving the success I had always envisioned for myself. Once I reached that pinnacle of my career, I believed I would gain a sense of completeness, wholeness, and significance, and all the pieces of my personal life would fall into place.

By the summer of 1989, I began paying the price for the rapid growth of my business. For the first time, I realized how lonely and difficult the job of a CEO could be. Cash flows were eroding, and I realized that that I had to make deep cuts and tough business decisions just to survive. During this time, the two elements of my life that I had essentially ignored were there to get me through one of the roughest times of my life: My family and my staff.

Two years later, my career, power and prestige were gone in what seems like a moment’s time. All the achievements I had gained, the material things I had amassed, and the business relationships I had established over the past decade suddenly lost their worth.
I had to tell 250 staff, many of whom had worked for me more than ten years, that their jobs were gone. These people had worked with me to the very last minute to try to save the business, and I had taken their loyalty for granted until this crisis occurred.

When I arrived home that evening, my three-year-old son from my second marriage was waiting for me with the same amount of zeal and excitement he always had for my evening return from work. He wanted to play his favorite game. When I told him I needed quiet time, he wasn’t to be deterred. He cajoled and persisted, having no ability to understand that this was one of the worst days in my life. I eventually gave in, and we were soon chasing each other through the house, and his laughter and joy of the moment worked on my sadness like a powerful healing potion.

It was in the midst of playing with my son that night when I realized I had been working and waiting for my life to get perfect, and it was never going to be perfect. I realized that I needed to learn to live the life that was in front of me and not the one I had always dreamed of. With the help of several unlikely mentors, I was able to start the process of changing the focus of my life.

In order to help clients change their focus, I have developed a “Six-Step plan for Daily Living” to create a positive outlook each day. These steps are something you can do without the assistance of a Zen master, learning to sit in the Lotus position or burning incense in what used to be your ashtray. However, by taking these steps you can stop waiting for your life to get perfect to be happy.

Daily Quiet Time: Mornings work best for me, but each person needs to find his or her best time. You may want to create this time during a lunch break. Take a walk and try to clear your mind from work for ten or 15 minutes. You may want to take this time to meditate, write down a few personal thoughts or read, but make sure the reading material is not worked-related. Whatever you do should help you reach a peaceful place in yourself that you can return to when things begin to get hectic during the day.

Willingness to change and to appreciate a new perspective; to view your life at its deepest level with honesty; and to eliminate harsh judgments and unreasonable expectations of yourself and others. This means that you begin to let go of the unrealistic expectations you have or yourself and others. When you find that knot forming in your stomach, begin to look realistically at what resources you have available, how much effort you can invest without sacrificing your quality of life, and then, accept the outcomes you can achieve within these limitations. Once you do this with yourself, you will be able to do it with your staff and others.

Action: You don’t need more knowledge to make changes; you need action to change. Don’t wait for the right time -- now is the time to begin. Don’t fall into the same traps we all set for ourselves with promises to family and with New Year’s resolutions. Remember that all you need to do is make one small change and then follow it with another. There is no timeline and there is no one to answer to except yourself. There is no failure unless you don’t try to change for fear of failure. If you don’t start making changes one day, try the next day. If you begin these changes and then get caught up in your old ways again, you can pick up where you left off. You don’t have to start over.

Service to Others: No effort is too small. Let someone go ahead of you in traffic, hold the elevator door open for a straggler, call your spouse during the day just to say hello, spend a few minutes each week getting to know a little more about a member of your staff.

Love and Forgiveness: People can’t read your mind – don’t assume they know you love, appreciate, or respect them. Tell them so. And, when situations go badly or someone makes a mistake, forgive them. When you express positive feelings, they will be returned in some fashion. When you practice forgiveness, it will bring you peace.

Gratitude: Be grateful for all things, even the painful or stressful situations that bring change to your life. Instead of viewing life’s events as good or bad, or right or wrong, see them as opportunities to change your life’s focus.

John Chappelear’s company, Changing the Focus, is a motivational speaking, executive coaching, and experiential retreat business. He relies on his experiences of the past 25 years to create an exciting and inspirational message about changing the focus within the lives of leaders and to coach them to their peak performance. You can reach via e-mail here. Or visit his Web site here.