I was so saddened to hear of the death of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book was the first personal development-type book I ever read and I still regard it as one of the finest books in its genre of all time. The only book that ever had more eye-opening impact on my thinking was The Bible.
I picked up the book a lot of years ago, when I was working as a legal secretary in downtown Baltimore City. I wandered into a bookstore on my lunch hour, spotted the book and was intrigued. I still recall how revolutionary the very first habit appeared to my early-20’s young self. Habit One is “Be Proactive.” Stop acting as though everything and everybody else directs your life. You direct your own life. It seems very elementary now, but at the time, that was a complete lightbulb moment. Maybe when you’re only 2o years old, you’re still so used to childhood where most things depended on somebody else that some of us are a little late to this epiphany. That was me – late to the epiphany. But at least I had one!
I truly began to see that a large amount of what happened in my life was inside of my “circle of influence”; they were things I had power to change. Covey says, “The Circle of Influence is filled with the be’s – I can be more patient, be wise, be loving. It’s the character focus” (Covey, 1990, p.89). I was in a not-terribly-healthy relationship in my late teens. Covey’s book revealed to me that it wasn’t just how I was treated by That Guy, but how I was allowing That Guy to treat me. My demeanor, my responses, my permission – I invited the behavior I did not like.* I wish I hadn’t wasted that part of my life, but I’m glad I learned a better way pretty early on.
The other six habits are certainly worth learning, too. I re-read that book from time to time. One would do well to live with integrity through the additional six habits – Begin with the End in Mind, Put First Things First, Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand, Synergize and Sharpen the Saw.
Goodbye Covey. You were an outstanding example of a life well-lived.
*Don’t misunderstand this as though I am saying battered women “ask for it.” I was not physically abused by That Guy. But there is an element worth considering here if you’re in a relationship that is unfair and imbalanced.