“Don’t complain about the world; instead, create the world you want to see.”
Sean Ilenrey is a big believer in this philosophy. He knows that his courage and vulnerability provide him with a unique opportunity to create the world he wants to see.
I met Sean in 2018 when he was interviewing for a job at Comcast. We were lucky to have him for a few years early in his career. Since then, Sean has gone on to develop other leaders with increasing responsibility, become a professional speaker, and write a book.
What recaptured my attention since our first meeting was a practice Sean recently began last December. He calls it Flowers on Friday, and quite simply, it’s a brief video of gratitude for the impact someone has in his life.
But don’t let the simplicity of the gesture fool you into thinking it lacked impact. I was the subject of a recent episode, and I was so moved by his powerful message that I felt compelled to shine the light on his fight. Like many of us, Sean discovered his fight in the midst of adversity.
Sean battled self-doubt and his high school grades despite being a smart student, so he eventually dropped out and experienced homelessness. But by the time he was 19 years old, Sean was working three retail jobs and eventually made the transition to a call center position where he flourished in an environment that offered coaching and upward mobility.
While Sean’s friends attended college, he made it his life’s mission to become a student of leadership, consuming books, videos, and anything he could get his hands on. By the time Sean was 28, he became a director, and at 29, he earned the title of vice president.
But Sean will tell you that becoming a manager and relocating to Hermosillo, Mexico, with his company not only changed him as a leader, but it also transformed his perspective on life. Until then, he hid his missteps with high school. The shame he felt about homelessness kept him from opening up with others.
In his new role as coach and mentor, peers and employees shared their personal and professional struggles with him. One employee we’ll call Miguel had a wife and three children and, due to circumstances out of his control, had to move into a small building in the back of his aunt’s property.
“Miguel had me over for dinner, and he wasn’t ashamed of his humble situation. That’s when it hit me. We all have setbacks in life, and it’s okay to be honest about them. I’m never going to complain again; instead, I’m going to create the world I want to see.”
I’m reminded of a quote by Shakespeare that my wife’s grandfather loved to paraphrase. He said, “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Sean began reciprocating vulnerability with his peers and employees, and people responded with overwhelming positivity and support.
Sean began to make it his mission to tell his story and show others what’s possible if you persevere. He believes that we all have something we’ve gone through. Setbacks can make you stronger.
When I asked Sean how he got comfortable with vulnerability and these gratitude videos, he said, “It comes down to perspective and loss. Am I going to regret telling Steve how I felt in that episode or that I didn’t tell him? Am I doing the right thing? That’s all that matters.”
Speaking of what matters, when I asked Sean about his daily habits, he fired off these four essential practices to focus on, develop, and nurture your purpose:
- Feed your mind. Choose five virtual mentors and watch their podcasts; read their content. Meditate and reflect on them.
- Start your day with focus. Get a handle on what’s in store. Set goals, prepare mentally, and prioritize what’s essential to complete. Don’t forgo this time; otherwise you’ll be reactive, and we tend to lose our soft skills and patience when that happens.
- Schedule checkpoints or breaks. Ask yourself, “Did I get the outcome I wanted? Do I need to switch gears? Does someone need attention on my team or in my sphere?”
- Leave 20 percent. Set aside 20 percent of your day so you can deal with ad hoc issues. If a colleague or friend needs you, it doesn’t derail your day. This time allows for flexibility and reduces anxiety.
It’s easy to fall into familiar traps, procrastinate, and replay old tapes that cast you as the victim. The truth is that everyone has been marginalized in some way. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is that successful people use these experiences as fuel to manifest change.
Sean points out that one of the ways he fuels change is through the hiring decisions he makes. As a leader, Sean says, “Leadership provides us with an opportunity to make change effectively and intentionally bring diverse thoughts into the room. I’m 100 percent confident that my team is far stronger because of our differences and not our similarities.”
Sean channels his experiences to fuel change and live his why. What about his story inspires you to do the same? What is your purpose, and how might you make different decisions to live it? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s keep shining a light on why it’s important to find your fight.
Live your why,
P.S. For more leadership tips, check out my recent appearance on The Wow Factor Podcast, where I discuss strategies for leading high-performance teams. After listening to the podcast, download my free leadership workbook to put those insights into practice.