Ever notice how full of contradictions the holiday season seems to be? On the one hand, it’s a time filled with all manner of warm, fuzzy, happy things: family togetherness, gift giving, delicious food … and the list goes on. But on the other hand it’s the end of a year, after all. And as arbitrary as that milestone may be in the larger scheme of our lives, most of us just can’t resist a bit of self-assessment. Did we get that promotion or raise? Lose those 20 pounds? Take the next step in a relationship? (And if the answer is “no,” well, that’s when the “self-assessment” can turn into “self-criticism.”)
 
While I’m certainly not immune to that sort of self-destructive thinking, I do try to keep it positive by thinking not about how I’ve fallen short this year, but about how I’ve grown.
 
The experiences that help me grow professionally and personally are sometimes expected, like a great book or TED Talk. But I’ve also noticed that some of my most beneficial learning experiences take me by surprise, like a conference speaker from a field seemingly unrelated to my own who nevertheless has something totally relevant to say. The bottom line is that profound wisdom can come from anywhere; it’s all about what gets you out of your comfort zone and gives you a new perspective on something you thought you knew.
 
Take a look at these five memorable experiences that significantly contributed to my growth this year, and you’ll see what I mean:
 
  1. “10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation” by Celeste Headlee. Perhaps because conversation is a routine part of most people’s day, we forget that it’s a skill we need to work at. This TED Talk explains that we don’t become truly skilled listeners until we begin going into conversations—no matter how seemingly mundane—with the expectation that we have something to learn from everyone. As Headlee puts it, “I’m always prepared to be amazed, and I’m never disappointed.” Adopting this mindset in my everyday life has helped me improve relationships with colleagues, friends, and family.
 
  1. The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. One of the books that’s influenced me most in business isn’t really a business book at all. The book argues that the key to achieving freedom and happiness is to replace your ongoing, self-deprecating thoughts with just four principles (or agreements) that help you be the best version of yourself and live life with a more positive outlook. The longer I practice following the agreements in my everyday life, the better I become at treating myself and others with empathy, understanding, and kindness—a valuable lesson for business and life.
 
  1. Billie Jean King’s speech at an EY conference. I’m just as surprised as you probably are that a speech from a tennis star had a profound impact on my growth as a business leader. But that’s my point exactly—it’s not about that famous tennis match at all. Billie Jean King worked to achieve gender pay equality in her sport, and her efforts helped establish Title IX, enabling women to receive sports scholarships. The cleaning products industry isn’t much like tennis in most ways, but I sure am inspired by Billie Jean King’s fearlessness in a male-dominated field.
 
  1. “Everyday Leadership” by Drew Dudley. Ever wonder if we sometimes make the idea of “leadership” bigger, broader, and more intimidating than it needs to be? That’s exactly what Drew Dudley explains in this TED Talk, which demonstrates that no one has to solve all the world’s problems in order to be an effective leader at their organization. The truth is that just about everyone has made someone’s life better with the simplest words or actions, and we should all remember that we have more power than we realize to do good.
 
  1. Winning Entrepreneur of the Year. This year I had the incredible honor of receiving the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Award in the Midwest in the family business category. It was special enough to be acknowledged for my own accomplishments as a business leader, but to receive the award during the same year that Jelmar celebrated its 50th anniversary of Tarn-X® Tarnish Remover turned it into something so much bigger than that. The award came to symbolize not just my achievements, but those of my father and grandfather before me. Without them, Jelmar wouldn’t be the great success it is today—and I could say the same about myself. The unexpected reminder that I’m part of an amazing legacy inspires me every day.
 
When you’re in a leadership role, with seemingly endless demands on your attention, it can be tough to devote precious time and energy to anything other than the tasks that are right in front of you. But I’ve been inspired by the growth opportunities I’ve had when I’ve taken the time to look around at the world beyond my day-to-day routine, learn something new—and often, be changed for the better in large and small ways.