I’ve never been one to read “the end” of a book first.  I’m much more wired to start at the very beginning – as they sing, it’s a very good place to start. This makes me a very unlikely candidate to write a book where it might make sense to read the end first.

Yet, reflecting back on a discussion in the most recent Circle of Integrity cohort, I started wondering if reading the “Closing Thoughts” of Return On Integrity: The Individual’s Journey to the One Essential Thing would be the perfect place to start. The fact that I didn’t plan it that way, may very well make some sense too – especially considering those very closing thoughts are a story about an ending that was never planned.

What I love (with somewhat of a pun intended) is that you could read only that part of the book and substantially change your life.  I’m certain it would change how you experienced all of the content in the book that preceded it. With that thought in mind, and no spoiler alert necessary, it might be worth sharing those brief closing thoughts here:

 I was in front of a room of thirteen hundred accounting and finance majors. The title the conference organizers had suggested for my closing general session was “Unleashing Authentic Relationships.” Integrity and intentionally knowing and living your core values were at the heart of the presentation. The closing I had planned, however, was never delivered. The night before, a question grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

As I came to the closing of my presentation, I took a deep breath and said: “Now, I hope a few things I shared will stir your thinking and inspire your action to unleash authentic relationships. Yet, I would gladly trade all of that if you would regularly do just one thing every night — lay your head on your pillow and simply ask yourself one question: How loving was I today?

The silence in the room was deafening. I took another deep breath and slowly continued: “We have corrupted what love is. We have romanticized it, sexualized it, and manipulated it in a lot of ways. I challenge you to rediscover it. If you want to unleash authentic relationships, authentic leadership, and meaningful success, love is all you need. And the process to unleash that love starts and continues with that nightly question: How loving was I today?”

I somewhat trusted that this analytical audience would sense a bit of accountability in this otherwise very soft question.

Numerous students gathered around me after the presentation. They wanted to talk about one thing—the final question of an unplanned closing.

Beyond authenticity, I am certain, it’s the only question that ultimately nurtures greatness. And it is intentionally digging for our core values and living them personally and organizationally that will fuel a rich answer to that question each night.

These values will also empower you to love what you do and love who you get to do it with. You might say this love is your greatest return on integrity. That is an ROI worth investing in.

We are always looking for shiny new sophisticated answers to what seems like an ever-increasingly complex and dangerous world.

The answer is not so complex.

I was reminded of this, most recently, at the wedding of Tim and Lauren.  I had watched Tim grow-up from his very youngest years.  I was honored when Tim and Lauren asked me if I would do a reading at their wedding – a reading I had heard hundreds of times.  Yet, I had never delivered 1 Corinthians 13 – at a wedding or anywhere.  As I prepared, and for many days afterward, the words of verses 4-8 rang in my head.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It is not jealous, is not pompous,

it is not inflated, it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things,

hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Religious or not, you have likely heard these words many times.  Most likely at a wedding. While they are perfect words for any wedding, what is interesting is that the author of these words wasn’t writing them for a wedding at all.

He was writing them for life.

Imagine the incredible changes that could evolve at work and at home – all over the world — if we would slowly read these words, each and every morning, when we first awoke.

And then, as we put our head back on our pillow each night, what if we asked ourselves: How loving was I today?

Shortly after the book was published, I was having coffee with my buddy Al when he suggested an insightful companion question: How was I loved today?

Wow, I sure could have used that question for the unplanned ending of that keynote!  Two powerful questions – wherever you end or start.

After all, love never fails.

As always, I’d love for you to share your thoughts – of course, in loving way!