I hope everyone is having an excellent holiday season and getting ready for a fantastic 2015!!!
December is definitely my favorite month of the year. Why? You may guess it is because of the wonderful holidays and family time. Indeed, they are very important, but they are not the real reason. For me, December is very special because it is when I go on my annual three-day silent retreat at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, about five miles from St. Paul.
People immediately respond:
“What?!?!?!?!! Three days of silence on a spiritual retreat! You must be kidding. Harry cannot keep quiet for three minutes, and you expect me to believe he keeps SILENT for THREE DAYS?! And even if that were possible, why would he want to do it?!”
I admit that it sounds a little bizarre. So let me explain what I do and why: For the past 30 years, no matter where I am in the world, I fly to Minnesota and meet my father-in-law, Tom Jansen, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport the first Thursday in December, and we travel to the Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Elmo. For the next three days, we do not speak a word to anyone, not even to each other. The reason for this relates directly to what I describe in my leadership classes at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management as the first principle of values-based leadership: SELF-REFLECTION. My observation is that most of us run around non-stop so much with our multiple “to do lists” that we totally confuse “activity” and “productivity.” We are VERY active, but are we actually productive? Could it be that we are running around so much that we have no idea if we are productive?
Therefore, I believe the first, and most important thing, that leaders must do is take the time to turn off all of the gadgets and noise, get away by themselves, remain quiet, and reflect on some basic questions:
–What are my values?
–What do I believe?
–What do I stand for?
–What is my purpose?
–What kind of leader do I want to be?
–What example do I want to set for the people with whom I interact?
Many of us take the time to plan for our companies and work activities, so why wouldn’t we want to plan our own lives? It is difficult to reflect on these critical questions if you are involved in a flurry of non-stop activities and constantly talking.
The thought process behind these silent retreats that I attend was started by St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order of Catholic priests 500 years ago. He called this process the “Spiritual Exercises”, that is, taking the time to “examine” your life, and asking yourself the questions you know you should be thinking about:
–Who am I really?
–What do I believe and why?
–What kind of father or mother, or son or daughter, do I want to be?
Here’s a question on which I love to reflect on during my retreats: If a doctor examined me today and told me that I definitely had only five days left to live, how would I react? Would I immediately go into “hyper-drive” and run around like crazy with all of my “unfinished business”? Or would I be at peace, reflecting on what I definitely know to be true, which is that everyone at some point has only five days – we just don’t know when? So why not live my life, and treat everyone with whom I come in contact with the realization that this could be my last five days? For me, it really puts things in perspective and helps me focus on what I believe is really important in my life.
Regardless of your personal spirituality and beliefs, taking the time for personal self-reflection may help you to become a better person and leader. I certainly don’t expect everyone to go on a three-day silent retreat every year, but how about starting the process by taking 10 or 15 minutes a day? And do let me know how it works for you!
Happy New Year from the entire “Kraemer Gang”!!!!
Happy Holidays from the Kraemer Gang!
Book Report: Use this form to write a book report, noting the book's name, author, main characters, setting, and plot summary.
A Friend: Write about what being a friend means to you. Describe what friends do and how they behave with each other and with other people. What happens when friends disagree?
Movie Review: Review a movie. Include a description of the characters, the story, the scenery, and what you liked the most and the least about the movie.
Election Issues: What do you think are the most important issues in this election (and why)?
Improve the World: What you would do to improve the world? Think of actions you could take to help make the world a better place. June 23 is United Nations Public Service Day.
How to Learn From Others : How can you learn from other people? Give an example of something you learned from someone else and explain why and how you learned it.
Something I Learned from a Bad Experience: Think about something bad that happened to you, but taught you something. Write about this experience and what you learned from it. Do you think that this knowledge will help you later in life?
A Veteran's Story: Write a page about a relative or friend who was in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or National Guard. Who was this person (what is their relationship to you), when did this person serve, was it during a war (if so, which one), what did that person do during their service, and what are their recollections of their service?
I Wonder Why: Think of something you have wondered about and write about it.
Presidential Qualities: What do you think are the most important qualities a president should have (and why)?
Living in Space: Do you think people will ever live in space? If not, why not? If so, where will they live and how will they do it?
Write About a Number: Pick a number, then write about it.
Tell a Joke: Write a funny joke that you know. Why did you pick this joke? Why is it so funny?
Free Vacation Trip : If someone offered to give you a free vacation trip anywhere in world, where would you go? Why do you want to go to this place? What would you do when you got there?
A New Olympic Sport: Invent a new Olympic sport. There are many unusual Olympic sports, like skeleton (running and then sledding), biathlon (skiing plus shooting), and curling (using brooms to propel an object over ice). Make up a new sport that would be fun to watch and play.
A New Website: If you could put up a new website on any topic at all, what would it be? Write about why you chose this topic, what the website would contain, and who else you think might be interested in going to your site.
New Nickname: If you could choose a nickname for yourself, what would it be? Why did you pick this nickname? How do you think your classmates would react to this nickname?
An Invention I'd Like: Think about an invention that you'd like to have or make. Write about what this new device would do and why you'd like to use it.
Invent an Animal: Invent a new animal -- describe what it looks like, what it sounds like, how it moves, and what it eats. Is it scary or cuddly or something else altogether? Would it be a pet or live in the wild (or in a zoo)?
An Imaginary Pet: Draw and describe an imaginary pet that you would like (or not like) to have.
Invent a New Holiday: Invent a new holiday. What would this holiday celebrate? How would you celebrate it? Would there be any special food or symbols for your holiday?
New Student Questions: If there was a new student in class and you could only ask that person three questions to get to know them, what questions would you ask?
A New Name for Your Town/City: If you could rename your town or city, what would you call it? Why did you pick this name? How would it change things in your town?
My Superpower: If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Write a page explaining what the superpower is, why you would like to have it, and what you would do with this new power. How would your life change if you had this superpower?
If I Could Be a Different Age...: If you could be any age at all, how old would you be (older or younger)? Write about why you would like to be this age and what you would do.
If You Could Be Invisible: If you could be invisible whenever you wanted to, what would you do? Why would you want to do this particular thing?
If You Could Fly: If you could fly whenever you wanted to, what would you do? Why would you want to do this particular thing?
A Magical Spell: A Magic Spell. If you could devise a magical spell, what would it be and what would it do? Write about why you chose this new spell and how you would use it.
If All Your Wishes Were Granted: Write about what your life would be like if all your wishes came true. How would it change your life? What you would do?
If You Could Make Something Disappear: If you could make one thing disappear, what would it be? Write about what would happen once it disappeared. How would it change things? What you would do?
If I Could Change a School Rule: If you could change one rule at your school, which rule would it be and what would you change it to? Why did you choose that rule? Why is your rule better than the old rule?
Stranded on an Island: If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island and could take three items with you, what three items would you take and why? The three items have to fit in an ordinary backpack. Describe each item fully and tell why you want each one.
Message in a Bottle: If you were stranded on a deserted island and could send out one message in a bottle, what would you write in that message, and why would you write those particular things?
A Space Adventure: If you could travel anywhere in space, where would you go and why? What do you think it would be like there?
Go Back in Time: If you could go back in time and re-experience an event in your life, what would it be. Would you go back to change an event that happened or to re-experience a happy time? Or something else?
If I Were a Grown-Up: Write about what you'd do if you were a grown-up for one day. What exactly would you like to do and why would you do it?
If I Were a Teacher: Write a page on what you would do if you were a teacher for a day. What subjects would you teach and how would you teach them?
If I Were the President: Write a page on what you'd do if you were the President. How would you change the world?
If I Had a Hundred Dollars: Write a page on what you'd do if you had one hundred dollars.
The Story of Your Name: Why did your parents give you your name -- what is the story of your name? Are you named after someone or some place? If you don't know why you have your name, make up a story.
If I Had a New Name: If you could give yourself a new name, what would it be? Write about why you chose this new name and how it might change your life.
If I Turned into an Animal: If you had to turn into a different animal for a single day, what animal would you choose to become? Why did you choose that animal? What would do when you became that animal, and where would you go? How do you think you would feel when you were that animal? How would people treat you? How would other animals treat you?
Talk to an Animal: If you could talk to an animal, what animal would you talk to and what would you talk about? Why did you choose that animal? What questions would you ask that animal?
Scariest Animal: Which animal frightens you the most? Describe the animal. What is it about this animal that makes it so terrifying? Is this animal actually dangerous or does it just disturb you?
My Special Day: If you had a day all for yourself and could do whatever you wanted to, what would you do? Start with waking up and describe the entire day. Include things like what you'd eat, who you'd see, where you'd go, and what you'd do.
An Adventure I'd like to have:If you could have any type of adventure at all, what would it be? Write a page on an adventure that you'd like to experience. Think of the wildest adventure you can imagine.
World Record: If you could hold a world record in something, what would it be? How would you go about attaining this world record? How would it feel being a world record holder?
My Favorite Game: What is your favorite game? Describe the game and how it is played. Explain the rules so that someone could learn how to play the game.
My Favorite Holiday: What is your favorite holiday? Describe what you like to do on this holiday, who you like to be with at that time, and why you enjoy it so much.
My Favorite Time of Year: What is your favorite time of year? Why do you like it so much? Describe what you like to do during this time, and why do you enjoy it so much.
My Favorite Sport: What is your favorite sport? Why do you like it, and what do you like best about it?
My Favorite Movie: What is your favorite movie? Describe the characters, the story, and what you like best about the movie.
The Best Thing That Happened This Year: What is the best thing that happened to you this year? What was it and what effect did it have on your life? How did it make you feel and how did it change you?
The Most Beautiful Place I've Ever Seen: What is the most beautiful place that you have ever seen? Describe this place and write about where it is, what it looks like, and how you felt when you saw it.
The Best Thing I've Learned in School: Write about the most valuable thing you ever learned in school. What made it so useful for you?
What I Like Best in School: What is your favorite part of the school day? Write a page on what you like the best in school.
My Best Birthday Ever: Write a page on the best birthday you ever had. Describe what made it so special.
The Best Gift You Gave: Write about the best gift you ever gave. Who did you give it to and why did you give it to them? What made it a great gift?
The Best Gift You Received: Write about the best gift you ever received. What was it and why did you like it so much? What made it so special?
The Best Food You've Ever Eaten: Write about the best food you ever had. What was it and why did you like it so much? Have you had it again?
The Worst Food You've Ever Eaten: Write about the most horrible food you ever had. What was it and why did you dislike it so much? Have you had it again?
Craziest Meal: What is the craziest meal you can think of? What foods would be in it? Who would make the food and where would it be served? Who would eat it? Who would like it?
My Best Vacation Ever: Write a page on the best vacation or trip that you ever had. Describe where you went, who you went with, what you did, and why you enjoyed it.
Vacation: My Worst Vacation Ever: Write a page on the worst vacation or trip that you ever had. Describe where you went, who you went with, what you did, and why you enjoyed it.
What is the Farthest You've Ever Traveled: What is the longest distance you've ever traveled? Where did you go, who did you go with, and what did you do when you got there? What was the highlight of the trip?
Fastest You've Ever Traveled: What is the Fastest You've Ever Traveled? What is the fastest speed at which you've moved? What type of vehicle were you in? Where were you and where did you go? Who were you with, and why were you traveling
The Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen or Heard: What is the funniest thing that you've ever seen or heard? Maybe it was a joke that a friend told you, a comedy routine, or a scene in a movie. Describe this amusing event and tell why you thought it was funny.
The Scariest Thing That Ever Happened To Me: What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you? Describe this event and write about why it scared you.
What I Worry About: What do you worry about? Describe something that worries you. Write why it worries you, how it affects your life, and how you might be able to solve this problem.
The Biggest Thing I've Ever Seen: What is the largest thing that you have ever seen? Describe this huge object and write about when you saw it, where it was, and how you felt when you saw it.
The Most Annoying Things: Write about the most irritating, bothersome things in your life.
A Good Personality Trait: Think of a person you really like or admire. Think of a personality trait that makes them so special. Write about this good trait and why you like it.
A Bad Personality Trait: Think of a person you really dislike. Think of a personality trait that makes them so unpleasant. Write about this bad trait and why you dislike it.
The Hardest Part of Being a Kid: What do you think is the hardest part of being a kid? How could you make this difficult part of your life easier?
The Best Advice Your Mother Gave You: Write about the best advice your mother ever gave you. What was it and why was it important to you? How has it affected your life?
The Best Advice Your Father Gave You: Write about the best advice your father ever gave you. What was it and why was it important to you? How has it affected your life?
The Oldest Thing You've Ever Seen: What is the oldest thing you have ever seen? Write about what it was and how old it was. Where did you see it? What did it make you think
The Most Fascinating Thing You've Ever Seen in the Sky: What is the most interesting thing you have ever seen in the sky? Write about what it was and what it looked like. Where did you see it? What did you think about it?
Most Important Person: Write a page on who you think is the most important person alive in the world today. Describe this person and write about why they are so important. How could you be more like this person?
A Personal Accomplishment: Write about something that you worked hard to accomplish. How did you go about succeeding? Why did you want to accomplish this particular thing? How do you feel about your accomplishment? What other things do you want to accomplish?
Autobiography: Write the story of your life. Start with your birth and continue the adventure up to the present.
How Are You Different?: Write about what makes you different from other people you know. How do you think this will affect your life?
Self-Portrait: Draw a self-portrait, and describe yourself in writing.
Three Words Describing Yourself: If you had to describe yourself using only three words, what would words would you use and why?
My Family: Write about the members of your family. Describe each person and what they mean to you.
My Town: If an out-of-town visitor was coming to visit, where would you take your visitor? Describe the best places around your town and why they are so interesting. Write about parks, museums, lakes, stores, restaurants, and other places you enjoy.
What I Want To Do When I Grow Up: Write a page on what you want to do when you grow up. What career do you want and what do you want to accomplish?
An Act of Kindness: Write a page on something nice that you did for someone, or on something nice that someone did for you for no reason.
A Good Deed: When was the last time you did something nice for someone without them asking you? Write about what it was that you did and why you did it. How did the other person react, and how did you feel about your good deed? What about next time?
A Dream I've Had: Describe a dream that you've had. How did the dream make you feel?
The Best Thing I've Learned in School: Write about the most valuable thing you ever learned in school. What made it so useful for you?
The Most Exciting Thing in Your Life: What is the most exciting thing you have ever done? Write about what it was, when it occurred, and where. Has it changed your life
I'm an Expert: Everyone is great at something - write about what you do best. It could be a hobby, a sport, reading, playing chess, or anything else you excel at.
What's Bugging You?: Think about something that annoys or bothers you. Write about what it is and why it bothers you. What can you do to make it less irritating?
My Earliest Memory: What is the first memory you have of your life? Write about what you remember, how old you were at the time, and why you think you remember this event in particular. What do you think of this event now?
Giving Thanks: Write a page on what are you most thankful for in life.
My Personal Hero: Who is your personal hero? Write a page on your hero's accomplishments and what makes that person a hero. If you don't have a personal hero, describe the characteristics that someone would have to possess to be your personal hero.
A Person You Admire : Who do you admire the most? Why do you respect this person so much; what have they done to deserve your respect
My April Fool Joke: Who would you like to play an April Fool's Day joke on? Why would you like to do this, and what would you like to do?
When I'm Eighty: Write an essay as though you were 80 years old, looking back at your life. What have you accomplished, what are you proudest of, what is the world like, and do you have any regrets?
How Are You Like Your Mother?: Write about how you are like your mother. Do you look at all like her? Do you have any traits in common? What parts of your personality are like hers?
How Are You Like Your Father?: Write about how you are like your father. Do you look at all like him? Do you have any traits in common? What parts of your personality are like his?
When I Look in the Mirror I ...: What do you see when you look in the mirror? Describe what you see, how you feel about your own reflection, and what it prompts you to do.
Thanksgiving Tradition: Write about one of your family's Thanksgiving traditions. Describe it in detail, tell how you feel about it and what it means to you.
Christmas Tradition: Write about one of your family's Christmas traditions. Describe it in detail, tell how you feel about it and what it means to you.
Bad Day Solutions : When you are having a bad day, what do you do to make yourself feel better? Does it always work?