MY "I STORY"

by Diana Thomas


I have been married to my best friend for more than 30 years.  I am blessed with two wonderful daughters who tell me they love me every time we talk. I am an active member of my church and community.  I am currently living my lifelong dream of being an independent executive coach and advisor. I worked for McDonald’s for 35 years; as an Executive Officer I was honored to lead a fabulous team of talented, high-performing people. Along the way I earned BS, MA, and MBA degrees.  I’ve already shared My Personal Mission (on the Beliefs & Passions page) and as I said,  it wasn’t always like that.

Eighteen years ago, I was your prime example of a person living an unbalanced life.  I was a department manager, and one of the only women leaders in the region.  I was too absorbed in my career, overly stressed, exhausted and felt guilty for neglecting my family – I had a 3- and a 5-year-old, and a very frustrated husband who expected more from our marriage. 

I wanted and needed to help provide for my family and be successful in my career, but McDonald’s required so much of my time and energy.  After all, people succeed by giving 110% … and then some.  By the time I got home at night I felt drained and exhausted, but there was even more work waiting for me.  I had neither energy nor time to give to my family.  They needed me and I needed to be with them.

What is quality of life if it isn’t spending time with the people you love the most?  And I couldn’t even begin to assume other desired roles:  I wanted to be a good neighbor … an active member of the PTA … involved with our community church … and I wanted to further my education by pursuing an advanced degree.  I also needed some time to exercise, to read, and to “just think in peace.”  I felt I was being pulled in so many directions, and they were all important.  How could I possibly do it all?  That was me!

My Wake-Up Call

The result of this all-around unhealthy lifestyle was that I became critically ill with a severe kidney infection.  I had e-coli and my body was so weak that I wasn’t responding to antibiotics.  It took quite a long time to fully recover - I was in the hospital for two weeks, on morphine due to the severe pain, off work for three months, and it took nearly a year before I could walk up a flight of stairs without being completely winded.

To this day, I vividly remember one of the most impactful conversations I have ever had.  A good friend and co-worker visited me while in the hospital, and said, “Diana, if you died today, McDonald’s would be just fine … but Jerry and the girls would be devastated.”  That really put my life in perspective ... that was my turning point.  I truly believe it was God’s way of sending me a wake-up call.  Suddenly, it became crystal clear what was important to me - my “first things” really were my health and my family.  When I returned to work, I attended a Covey Time Management, “First Things First” workshop.

As I began to truly understand the Covey principles, I realized that I was the individual that had to be changed and here were the tools available to me.  Life at McDonald’s was very fast-paced, always changing, and filled with new challenges.  It’s a terrific company, but to individuals like me - high achievers - it was consuming.

My Turning Point

As I sat through my first class, I was inspired to not only change my ways, but to learn and apply better "life guiding principles" at a level where I felt comfortable teaching these needed concepts/principles to others.  I made a commitment to myself, and verbally to others, that I would not teach the class until I felt I was truly living the concepts and principles.  It took me a year to be able to apply the concepts at a high enough level to feel credible teaching them.  I truly believe applying the principles is a never-ending journey – you can always take it a step further and continuously improve.  As I tell others, there are some areas I am still striving to improve on my personal application.

Today

By applying the “First Things First” concepts, I can confidently say I am living a far more balanced life.  I am happier, healthier, and more effective than the person I was 18 years ago – a person trying to squeeze her family into her life.  I have identified my own “first things” and my activities are tied into my personal Mission and principles.  I faithfully use a planning process weekly – first, by re-reading my Mission, then by reviewing my Game Plan and identifying or reviewing my large rocks, and planning out the week.  Throughout the week, I strive to stay true to my plan by implementing it with integrity, reviewing and evaluating the past week, and learning from any “mistakes.”

Diana celebrating completion of 2011 Chicago Marathon!

Diana celebrating completion of 2011 Chicago Marathon!

Many people believe you have to live through experiences personally before you can “buy into” the need for changed behaviors.  I share my personal “I Story” in the hope that you may learn from my experiences, and not have to go through a stressful “wake-up call” yourself.

Though still not perfect, I am much happier and more productive in both my personal and work life, and believe anyone can achieve the same benefits.