The 100 Year Lesson

My extended family recently gathered to wish my great grandmother a 100th birthday. Armed with masks, and instructed in very certain terms by my Great Aunt Sherry to socially distance and use “air hugs”, we stayed outdoors and endured August’s swelter to pay tribute to the one woman who connects us all.

After nearly three hours, I finally managed to get some time with her towards the end of the party.  At 100 tomorrow is rarely guaranteed, so I took the chance to ask for a little bit of wisdom.

She reminded me of what I already knew, but needed to hear again, especially in 2020.

Stick It Out

“So, Grandmother,” I said as loudly as I could through my mask, “what have you learned in 100 years of life?”

“Well Mitchell” (she’s one of the few people who get to call me by my full name) “there’s still a lot I don’t understand. I don’t know why I’ve lived so long when so many others have passed. I don’t always know why we suffer or why life is sometimes hard. I’ve lived through the Great Depression and I’ve gone hungry. I still don’t understand why.  What I do know is that life isn’t always hard. Things are good, then they aren’t, and eventually they get good again.”

We were interrupted shortly after that, but she made her point.

If you stick it out long enough, things get better.

I Want to Quit 2020

It is a simple message, I know, but it is easy to forget, especially this year. 2020 has presented us all with new challenges. A global pandemic, a heated national election, and heightened awareness of racial justice have redefined how we work and how we relate to each other. Those of us in leadership roles have found ourselves in impossible positions. We have made hard choices, rarely to universal acceptance, and sometimes to sharp criticism.

A personal example: I’ve wanted to quit leading my neighborhood association more than once. I have faced more challenges as the president of a voluntary neighborhood board in the last three months than I have in the last three years. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort, especially when the complaints are louder than the compliments. I needed Grandmother’s reminder that it won’t always be this hard. As the adage goes: this too shall pass.

Yes, this year is hard. Yes, leading makes it even harder. However there is satisfaction in doing hard things. There is reward in persistence. These are the times when leadership matters most.

My great-grandmother’s reminder that life brings us peaks and valleys, provides both relief and inspiration. Relief that things will get better and inspiration to keep moving forward.

After 100 years maybe the simplest wisdom is the best.


About the author:

Mitch Isaacs was named Shafer Leadership Academy’s Executive Director in May 2015. In this role, he works closely with the organization’s board of directors to fulfill the mission of the organization. He is responsible for creating vision, connecting with stakeholders, administering program offerings and leading the organization in meaningful ways.