It is often said that we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. I am certain that we have all personally experienced that feeling at one point or another in our life. I know that I have on more than a few occasions. It is for that reason that I started counting the days long ago. I don’t count down the days until something is going to end or begin; I count up the days that I have been enjoying certain aspects of my life. For example, I have been married for 8,295 days and I have been leading in my current capacity for 171 days. It’s my way of reminding myself to make every day count. Though I am quick to count up, I don’t count down because I don’t want to fall victim┬áto wishing time away, and, quite honestly, I acknowledge that we often don’t know when something is going to end until it does. Last week, my wife and I took a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida to witness our son’s swim meet. We were so pleased to have been there as he had a wonderful meet filled with best times, a team record, many medals, and even more smiles. He was the reason for the trip and as much fun as it was to watch him in his element, my memories of his experience is only part of what I will remember.

For various reasons, I was able to relax and let go of work in a way that I haven’t been able to for 171 days. I wasn’t able to appreciate just how stressed I have been, how much pressure I put on myself, and yes, how impactful the depression I feel when I assess myself to fall short in my commitment to my teammates and our mission until those feelings left me two days into the vacation. I can’t put my finger on exactly why those feelings left me, but I most certainly appreciate the fact that they are gone.

Two months ago, my wife and I went to a friend’s home for dinner. Liz happens to be a best-selling author and highly sought public speaker on the topic of leadership, as well as a fantastic human being. One of the reasons for the evening we shared was to talk about how I might make the most of my time left in the Navy so that I am ready for a Career 2.0 upon retirement. Given that I intend to enter into a world similar to the one in which she thrives, I asked her about credentials I might work toward, content I might begin creating, and networks I ought to be more deliberate about building so that I am ready the day after I shed the uniform. Pen and notepad in hand I was ready to take notes so my wife and I could begin charting our course on the drive home. Liz thought about my predicament, my adventure to date, and my values for a good minute and simply said (paraphrased), “Sean, if you really want to get into this line of work I suggest that you use this time to take more walks with your wife, attend more of your son’s swim meets, and lead your team just as you have been. Keep doing what you are doing. You have vast leadership experience, you have a strong body of work, and you have an amazing network already working with and for you.” Not exactly what I expected to hear, but exactly what I needed to hear. No push to go back to a formal classroom, moonlight with a consulting firm, or start writing that book. Deep down, I think it’s also what I wanted to hear.

Just like Cougar in Top Gun, I am known to hold on a little too tight and I have been for far too long. Whether it’s my commitment to the present, my constant preparation to seize the next opportunity, or my continual self-assessment of how I can be better next time, I finally appreciate the fact that there can be a dark side to all of that. Characteristics that I have personally celebrated, and in all honesty the foundational reasons the teams of which I have been a part are so successful, can negatively impact life. I didn’t appreciate the fact that I have been in a downward spiral until I wasn’t. I don’t know what exactly happened during our visit to the Sunshine State that allowed the cloudy skies to clear, but as I think more about the advice my friend gave me during that dinner, the more obvious the connection becomes. Sometimes it isn’t until that something is gone that we appreciate the weight we were unknowingly carrying.

  • What part of your current reality do you not fully appreciate exists?
  • What feelings would you like to see gone?
  • Who is helping you see what you are unable to see on your own?