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Main Street: Why we celebrate our victories

September 12, 2018

Recently, I was asked to help organize my Bishop McNamara Catholic High School 40th class reunion to be held next year. As we were reviewing the options for the festivities, it occurred to me it was not so much about what we would do, rather, it was about the “why” we were having this celebration.

While others were concerned about what type of events we should promote, I was tasked with the overarching theme of celebration with classmates, many of whom I have not seen in 40 years.

In this spirit of celebration, I came across an interesting quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel, who eloquently stated, “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating, we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state — it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle. ... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”

Consistently, organizational culture is a living organism in every organization. It centers on what we do around here, and more importantly, we value what we reward. Taken a step further, we, as leaders, must not be entertainers of our direct reports and peers, rather we must celebrate through an expression of reverence and appreciation of those who work so hard.

Likewise, the root word of celebration is “celeber,” which loosely translates to being honored. Thus, a celebration is about honoring others in the organization or even our classmates at our class reunions. It is an honored event and does not rest on the passive ability to be entertained.

Not surprisingly, a celebration is an occurrence of something to be honored or valued. One of my favorite quotes comes from the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” in which the captured German commander in addressing his troops said, “Men, it’s been a long war; it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond, that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

Advancing this to the next level in the organization, even though we might not have suffered through the horrors of war, we certainly have been through organizational combat of bad leaders, self-serving peers and ungrateful customers. Keeping this in mind, however, we can transcend the inability of others who act irrationally or misbehave and instill our professionalism and ethics in everything we do.

In a sense, we model the behavior we want others to follow.

Logic suggests we bond with those with whom we go through adverse or horrific experiences. As a high school freshman in 1975, I was horrified by the unknown. Would I be good enough to compete in sports, would I have that first date to the homecoming dance? Would I be smart enough to compete in the classroom?

I soon realized every other freshman had the same anxieties as I did. We were all in the same boat so to speak. As we travailed through the years to reach senior status, we were on top of the world. I was part of the 1978 Class 3A football team that finished runner-up in the state championship.

I attended several high school dances, and yes, I was accepted to Purdue University to play baseball and graduated with a business degree.

I say all of this to show that we all are scared at points of our lives. We are especially afraid of the unknown (a future column I will write), and sometimes, we fail when we have unrealistic expectations of our talents or are depending on the talents of others to move us to the next level.

Broadly, we need to celebrate the victories and contemplate the failures in our lives. If we never fail, we have never lived. It is stepping out in faith and recognizing that we are doing what others have done before us, trust yourself and your abilities. The only person holding you back is you.

In the end, unfortunately, life sometimes derails our aspirations. However, we need to endeavor to persevere and give it our best shot. From a scared high school freshman in 1975 to a doctoral professor today, I have experienced the highs and lows of life.

I choose to celebrate the victories not passively, but actively with my band of brothers and sisters whom we shared that ever so special bond with beginning in ’75.

This article is dedicated to my four classmates who have passed away and will not be able to celebrate our 40th reunion. May they rest in eternal peace. You will never be forgotten, my friends.

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