I grew up knowing him best as Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly. I was a fan of Family Ties and even bigger fan of Back to the Future. Full disclosure: I’ll still stop and watch it any time I stumble across it on TV. Hey, what can I say, I was a child of the 80s and that was one of the movies that defined my childhood. What I never could have anticipated watching Michael J. Fox in the mid-80s is that I would have the opportunity to hear and see him speak live thirty some years later. And not only would I have that opportunity, but that it would be one of the most genuine and inspiring keynotes I’d experience to date, centering on a story that I’m sure even he could have never anticipated back then.
Michael J. Fox had the entire crowd at WorkHuman on last Wednesday morning completely captivated. In a keynote that was more like watching a conversation in someone’s living room, he chatted with Globoforce’s Julie Zadow and shared his journey that began when he failed drama class and dropped out of high school, but yet still chased his dreams and the future he knew he wanted by moving to Hollywood to pursue his acting career. He guided us through his journey of his Parkinson’s diagnosis and how he came to terms with it. He left many without dry eyes, and all walked away realizing what an outstanding human being with which we had the honor of sharing an hour of our lives.
Michael touched on a number of topics and ideas and he took us through his journey, but a few really stood out to me.
Change Happens Quickly, But…
Michael talked about how quickly his life changed once he got his big break. The Family Ties and Back to the Future roles came around the same time, and propelled him into the fame that would shape much of the rest of his career. But they didn’t come without a heck of a lot of hard work, preparation, and struggle leading up to them. And he certainly didn’t stop working hard when they did come around – he filmed Family Ties during the day and Back to the Future at night so that he was able to take advantage of both opportunities. The lesson here: keeping plugging along and pushing through the struggles, because you never know when the opportunity to propel you to your own version of stardom may come along and change your life forever.
Choice & Resilience
Life is all about circumstance and choice: you find yourself in a circumstance, and you have a choice how to react to it. You can accept it, or try to deny or ignore it. Accepting something does not mean you are resigned to it; what it means when you accept something is that it become a truth that you can now manage. And when you accept that truth it begins to take up a very finite space in your world, allowing you to deal with it and move on. When you refuse to accept a truth, it takes on a life of its own and can begin to infiltrate your entire life, making it much more difficult to manage. Michael has accepted his Parkinson’s diagnosis as a finite truth in his life, something he can manage, does not fear, and has used for the greater good in his activism and work with his foundation.
One of the final ideas Michael left us with was, “Just love life and be grateful.” So simple, yet so powerful. We all have struggles we deal with in our lives. We all have our ups and downs. But we are here, we are living, we have the ability to contribute to life and the world. We have a choice – to focus on the negatives we deal with and dwell on what we don’t have, or to embrace all of the positives and to be grateful and love what we do have.
Lessons for HR Leaders?
How do these ideas apply to our roles as HR professionals and leaders? I’d say if we want to lead effectively, and if we want to build great workplaces that encourage the best in our people, we can’t do it without embracing these ideas. We have the ability to create great changes, but it can’t happen without the leg work behind it. We will inevitably face challenges and struggles, and we have a choice how to react to them and a responsibility to be role models for choice and resiliency. And we are certainly never going to nurture great workplaces without a culture of gratitude – for each other, our teams, and the hard work and accomplishments we achieve.
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has almost two decades of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, learning & development, and employee communications, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.