Discover more from Striking the Balance a newsletter by Wendy Wollner
A Thank You to President Zelensky
I’m not usually at a loss for words. But as I was typing the words below, I found myself wondering exactly what I wanted to express:
Dear President Zelensky:
Watching the real-life David and Goliath story unfold in Ukraine, I wanted to thank you for—
But what did I want to thank Volodymyr Zelensky for? I admire his endurance, his dedication, and his tenacity in the face of what looks like insurmountable odds. I’m amazed that even though he had the opportunity to flee the country when Russia invaded, he had the strength to hang on. Since then, he’s reportedly survived several assassination attempts. We’re all riveted by the news these days, hopeful that he and his people are going to wind up triumphant.
I realized that what I was feeling was more personal than that. I was impressed by his leadership skills. The way he delivers a speech is masterful — even the nonverbal messages he gets across, such as the little wink he added at the end of one address.
"We will fight to the end," Zelensky said this week, echoing a speech by Winston Churchill from World War II. "We will not give up and we will not lose. We will fight until the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost." His words fill all of us with courage and confidence. I wish I could say the same for any leadership we’ve had here in America.
For more than a decade, I have taught a three-day leadership class for post-MBA executives. The hardest part for me is deciding who to put forward as a role model. I think about it long and hard. Who do I admire? Who influences me? Who really inspires me?
There is a quote from National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman that I include in every one of my speeches: “We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”
Do we all believe as strongly as Gorman does? When she read her poem during President Joe Biden inauguration in 2020, I remember feeling inspired in a way that I hadn’t in so long.
But inspiration doesn’t mean much unless you follow through. I’ve been trying to make sure that I always have a call to action. It’s not always easy. Overshadowed by a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and international conflict, the last two years have been tough on everyone. When it comes to work, I’ve experienced a 30% turnover in the company that I founded, Balancing Life’s Issues. No big deal. We’ll eventually get through it.
On a personal level, it’s been so long since my entire family has been able to get together (not even at Thanksgiving, which anyone who knows me understands it’s my favorite holiday). I haven’t been able to see my older son, a surgeon, for the past 18 months. My daughter’s wedding — finally a happy event we could all share — had to be canceled. My mom has had some serious health issues, the list goes on, but what keeps me going is knowing that we’ll all see each other sometime soon.
On top of all of that, I’m recovering from shoulder surgery. I’m still struggling with immense pain, and my range of motion is so limited that I can’t even put my hair up by myself. I wake up every day remembering that a lot of people count on me. I think no matter how bad I look or how much weight I’ve gained, I have to be the best version of myself, no matter what.
This month, I will speak to 30,000 people about leadership. I know that I can’t change everyone, but if I can make just 1% of them believe that they can be a better version of themselves, I’ve succeeded. It reminds me of this quote from Eric Schmidt, the former CEO Google: “I believe that the future of the world is completely determined by whether we can get the best potential out of everybody.”
So I finally figured out what I wanted to write in my letter. He may never read it, but just writing it makes me understand the impact he’s had on my life.
Dear President Zelensky:
I want to say thank you for showing and teaching me the true definition of a leader. I’m so impressed that you can be so many different things at one time. You are:
A multi-dimensional leader.
A Jewish man.
A man of action.
A man of values.
A man that inspires all of us through and through.
My heart aches for what you are being called on to handle. I’m thankful that you are able to rise to the occasion. I’m humbled to be able to watch your strength in action and I’m grateful to have a role model to learn so much from.