Relationships Are The Currency of Life

By Dorothy Dowling

Thursday April 21, 2016
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The best inward journeys are the ones that lead to those around you.

That is one of the big lessons I’ve learned since Dec. 23, when I began recovering from bilateral total knee replacement. It has been one of the toughest challenges of my life, but it has been exceptionally meaningful and worthwhile as well.

When something life-changing happens, most people don’t have the luxury to plan for it. The surgery had been in the back of my mind for over 11 years, after my doctor told me I had the knees of an 85 year-old during a routine physical. I tried nearly everything to prevent undergoing invasive surgery, like plasma and hyaluronic acid treatments, but arthritis is a progressive, degenerative problem. It was only a matter of time.

Long before the surgery, I began preparing myself as best as I could. I knew what the surgeon would be doing and what to expect during my recovery. My doctor said it’d be at least six months before I’d feel like I had right before surgery and a full year until my knees would be at their best.

Deep down, I felt very motivated to beat those recovery times. At first, I thought my biggest hurdle was overcoming the pain and soreness. If I could manage to push through that, I’d be able to make enough progress to shorten my rehabilitation. Unfortunately, there was no way to comprehend the full extent of my recovery until after the surgery, and once my anesthesia wore off, I had a few surprising realizations in store.

The one thing you can’t overcome is a lack of stamina. When you undergo major surgery, so much is disrupted internally. Your body’s complete focus is directed towards the healing process, which requires a tremendous amount of energy. Even if I hadn’t done much physical exertion, I’d find myself utterly exhausted by about 2:00 p.m. You can’t beat tiredness; it’s simply out of your control.

Something else I didn’t fully grasp until I started recovering was the almost complete loss of independence. I’ve always prided myself on being the type of person that’s self-reliant. However, when you can’t stay on your feet for very long, you’re forced to rely heavily on others. I needed help constantly, and without my husband, it would have been impossible to recover from home.

Recovering from double-knee replacement surgery also changes the way you think. Tasks that were once so simple and required very little thought or effort became difficult and exhausting. There were days when getting up, showered and dressed made me want to climb back into bed before I had even left the house.

Despite all the pain, fatigue and lack of independence, this life-changing experience has been extremely meaningful and worthwhile. Before my surgery, I was completely focused on literally getting back on my feet, but now I see that so many extraordinary people – my family, close friends, colleagues, my boss and my team – were thinking about and making adjustments around my recovery, too. Every day, they showed me such remarkable devotion and patience. I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that, even in almost three months’ time, I still haven’t come up with the right words to convey my appreciation to all the people that have touched my soul and fueled my spirit.

Soon after my operation, and not too far into my recovery, my team was preparing for Best Western’s Annual International Sales & Marketing Meeting (ISSM). It’s an important meeting for our team members and partners because it helps build alignment and commitment to our business plan. In previous years, I’ve played a major role in the preparation of this meeting. So, while I was still able to provide some feedback via email, it was up to my leadership team to be the backbone of this year’s meeting in setting strategy, delivering content, and ensuring logistics ran smoothly.

After the meeting concluded, my inbox was flooded with emails from international meeting attendees, all very complimentary and extremely positive. Many even said it was the best meeting we’ve had to date. It made me incredibly proud of my team, and it made me think back to when, years ago, a former boss told me, “Your leadership is only really appreciated when you’re not there.”

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Author Patrick Lencioni wrote that the foundation of winning teams is built on trust. Trust allows us to be vulnerable, to show our co-workers that we’re human. I’ve always understood Lencioni’s point of view, but my personal experience in the past few months has provided ample evidence about the correlation between trust and vulnerability. Not only did I trust my team to deliver for ISSM, but they each instinctively knew when and how to step up to fill in the gaps created by my absence. I’m blessed to have such talented, dedicated people on my team. They’ve become exceptional leaders in their own right and, best of all, they have such bright futures ahead of them.

I am also grateful for my boss David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western® Hotels & Resorts. I’ve worked in many organizations and for an even greater number of bosses, but very few have been as special as David. He certainly expects you to drive business outcomes, but your personal well-being is just as high of a priority to him. Great bosses like David are very hard to find, but they are vital to any thriving business. It is their responsibility to build a great team, and nothing makes work more satisfying than working with the right people.

Finally, the most recent lesson I’ve learned on my journey is that setbacks are part of the recovery process. Just as I was beginning to feel that the finish line was in sight, I learned that I had a fracture in my femur. For now, I have to slow down a bit and be very careful not to aggravate the fracture and allow it time to heal. If that doesn’t work, I’ll require another surgery to have a plate inserted near the fracture. Even so, I remain optimistic. I find constant strength from those around me, whether it’s from my terrific surgeon, my unwavering husband, my lifelong friends, my wonderful boss, my terrific colleagues, or my exceptional leadership team.

Throughout my life, I have always believed that relationships are the currency of life. Yes, this has been a difficult recovery at times, but that is overshadowed by how blessed I feel. I am rich in the currency that matters most. I feel truly fortunate, and I’m equally as glad that I still have the chance to cherish its value and return the gift to those who have so generously shared with me.