W.R. is one of my husband’s cousins. He was born with Down Syndrome and later developed a type of Alzheimer’s disease. W.R. passed away recently as an adult and we went to a gathering this week to celebrate his life.
It was a full house at the brunch gathering where many people started the day by joining the Alzheimer’s Walk 2018. Lots of pictures of W.R. from various stages of his life - all with a warm and innocent smile that I remember him by.
W.R.’s cognitive capabilities were severely constrained by his condition ever since he was born.
W.R. never seemed to have been bothered by his limitations. He was always smiley and friendly. He worked at a grocery store. Everyone loved him and loved his hugs - he was known for his hugs. To me, it’s his signature smile that defined who he is - always positive, hopeful, loving, and wholeheartedly engaged.
One may think that W.R. had little success in his life, in traditional metrics of job titles and earnings. But for all those people in the room, W.R. achieved something far greater.
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has achieved in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
- Brooker T. Washington
So often we focus on what we have not done, where we are not good enough, and stress about how far we have to go and how daunting the road may be. We tend to focus on the negative.
In neuroscience, this is referred to as “Negativity Bias”, which means that our brain tends to focus more on negative things than neutral or positive things. While this is a natural tendency, it does not necessarily create a condition for us to realize our highest potential.
W.R. cherished every interaction he had in his life, he offered his full heart with every hug he gave. He focused on the positive. With that attitude, he overcame the insurmountable and he shined like a beacon of light that inspired many others every day.
What can be learned from W.R.’s life?
In the spirit of looking at accomplishments by what’s been overcome, what have YOU been able to overcome that defines who you are?
How can that perspective of “what I have overcome” allow you to take on “what’s ahead” with further conviction?
How can that perspective of “what they have overcome” help you gain further empathy and effectiveness as you lead your team, organization, family, and community?
The room is full, full of tearing and cheering.
W.R. is smiling at everyone from pictures on the memory wall. Ever so warmly, and innocently.