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“The secret is to be awake.To be awake is everything.” 
– Gustave Meyrink 

What is key to real success in work and in life?

In a most unlikely place, with an unlikely teacher, I received some sage advice on both what real success is, and what ultimately leads to it.

SSM is a billion dollar, multi-state, health care organization based in St. Louis. Having the pleasure of speaking to their staff, I had the honor to meet the leaders that built the system: a group of gritty, faithful, aging nuns who live in a small community.

I went room by room with my friend, Sr. Kathy. Near the end of our visit I met an amazing bed-ridden woman named Sr. Gertrude. 

Entering her room she immediately asked me to sit and make myself at home. She asked for my hand, took it in hers, looked into my eyes and asked me about myself. She wanted to learn about my work, my faith life and my family.

During our time together, Sr. Gertrude demanded that I be less focused on myself and pour more of my efforts and time into my family. She told me (several times!) that I needed to wake up and realize why I am here – and how badly my wife and kids need me to lead and love them forward.

She was opinionated, firm and tough while still holding onto remarkable compassion, sweetness and a childlike playfulness. She had been in that bed for the last several years, but was still very much alive and present. She was, I would later find out, doing pretty darn good considering she was 104 years old!

Our visit was a significant moment for me. What I remember the most is the boldness with which she kept telling me to “wake up.”

My friends, during the month of July I focused my Monday Motivation blog on sharing with you stories and advice to be fully awake in life. It’s advice that great spiritual teachers show as being the most critical to real success, vibrancy and life.

The name Buddha means “awakened” or “I am awake.” Many of the Buddhist teachings are centered on peace, forgiveness, love and vibrancy through contemplation and by being fully awake.

One of the most common challenges from the foundation of my faith, Jesus, offers to his friends and followers is to wake up, to keep watch, to be alert, to be on ready. Some of the last words He spoke in the Garden of Gethsemane center around staying awake.

My friends, don’t confuse being out of bed with being awake. Don’t confuse being super busy with being actually effective. And don’t confuse not being dead with being fully alive. [Tweet this.]

The key to real success in work and in life is to be fully awake. The gift of being awake can’t be open while regretting yesterday. Your possibility can’t be unleashed while anxiously awaiting tomorrow. The great potential for life is fully discovered in choosing to actively, passionately live today.

So wake up! And know that the best is yet to come.

Sr. Gertrude was one of my role models that encouraged me to be fully awake. Who is a role model in your life who has shown you the value of being fully awake? Share in the comments below.

0 replies on “Wake the Heck Up!”

This was a fantastic teaching! Sr G is quite right! See? She is still of use to our great and glorious God! Wake up! I walked the Garden of Gethsemane and many other places in Israel in 2010. It is the best encouragement of my whole life!

Your words remind me of my favorite piece of non-fiction, a book of speeches delivered by Jesuit priest Anthony de Melo, SJ called “Awareness”.

As far as my “wake-up” call, my Sr. Gertrude came in the form of another Jesuit priest, Fr. Chris Pinne — what a man!

Thanks for your inspiring reflections, John!


A vibrant, young yet very wise, courageous priest in Indiana, Fr. John Hollowell. He encourages people to wake up and do something for the better. 🙂
Thank you for sharing Sr. Gertrude’s messages with us!
Nuns ROCK!

WOW ~ thank you for this message today. I don’t know that I recognized a role model in my life who tried to show me the value of being fully awake. But today, You definitely got through to me. Thank you for this, and your 21 Day Challenge.

Wow John; That is powerful and a real wake up call. I will think about this all day and focus on some very serious changes in my life.

Mark — WAKE UP! 🙂 Best of luck in living this message today — and beyond — you absolutely can. Thx for ALL you do and continue boldly! J

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