Rare is the man or woman who can walk with graceful indifference to their career. I once had a music teacher advise me to learn all the theory I could, and then forget it.
Be the best you can be in your craft and then let it go. Really.
Identity and career are two parts of life that should never meet. If they do, it can be lethal, and very difficult to separate. A career can take over and leave true identity on life support. I speak from experience. It takes a long time to regain, or replace, what you lose.
I’ve found these dangers in the mixing of identity and career:
Quiet resignation. This occurs when we get older or have been at something for a while. The lie we tell ourselves is “we’re in too deep, and it could be worse.”
The high. It feels good in the moment, so we desire the thrill. We enjoy being seduced by flattery and accomplishment. Nothing quite like being the one to watch.
The ghost of our father. This one is so subtle. We watched a man, or a woman, toss away life for not much in the end. That script then becomes our own.
The payback. Somewhere we got wounded and the chip appeared. This is the closet sociopath coming out to wreck the place.
The false obligation. We pull out all the noble reasons for staying. “I have a mortgage, I have my kid’s college education.” It’s as if we think we’ll be excused for our fear in the end.
The choice is mine, the choice is yours. We have to remember that career is a great dance when the identity is kept separate. The challenge is found in living in a culture that values the opposite.
Most organizations, these days, are speaking the language of happiness. For some entities it’s just talk, for others a striving everyday.
Employee happiness and engagement are connected. Maybe it’s obvious for you. I come from a view that says your company is not responsible for your happiness. Only you can own that. Whether it’s changing roles, transferring geographically or firing your boss with your feet, it still comes back to you.
Why are so many employees unhappy?
Employees make choices that lead to unhappiness. On the whole, we live unbalanced and incongruent lives. The unbalance is found in our willingness to pour mind, body and soul into one area of life, while ignoring another. See the work versus family civil war, many are fighting right now. As someone who used to value my work over my family, it is a civil war. The incongruent part is the BS we tell the world. For example, “family is number one for me.” Nobody is perfect, but if you know you haven’t lived this out in over two years, you’re living incongruently. These are the recipes for unhappiness.
Employers foster unhappiness by the conditions their employees work under. Here’s the deal, if you are a CEO and you expect an employee to get excited about the stock price or last quarter’s earnings, you need a straight-jacket. Happiness and engagement happen when there is a great mission to achieve, something beautiful to create or a dangerous problem to solve. Without those, most will leave, or worse, die and stay.
Employees have defined happiness incorrectly. For me, happiness is fluid. It’s not a genie to be captured in a bottle. If you would have looked at my life yesterday, I would have been 90% happy and 10% unhappy. Those numbers don’t make me special, I just chose to be happy 90% of the day. I chose to be unhappy too. I think many are too fixated on happiness. Like life, happiness is not an arrival point. If we look at happiness as fluid, we’ll be better able to handle the stuff of life. Maybe we’ll find that moments of unhappiness are not the end of the world.
Employers are living in the past. Organizing your company like the industrial revolution happened last year is a disaster. Most employees live life in and around the 21st century. It frustrates the hell out of them when they’re treated like an assembly line worker or treated as if they’re a 4th grader.
In the end, every employer has an agenda. It may be a fit for you, or not. Either way happiness is your animal to wrestle with.
I admire the organizations that are structured around encouraging strong wellbeing for their people. It’s rare, but important in so many ways. Kinda makes sense that a growing organization would want employees who are sharp mentally, physically and spiritually. Only trouble is the rest of the sample size makes up the majority. They’re representative of organizations who may market themselves as a “best place” to work or a “healthy employer,” but the reality is far from it.
Call me the Upsetter of the apple cart. I’m not alone, you know?
One thing must be made clear; it is not the responsibility of the organization to make sure you have great wellbeing, that’s a you-responsibility. I certainly feel that many employees are bound and determined to kill themselves. The blame for the diabetes problem in the U.S. does not lie at the foot of H-P or BofA. Most of the blame is ours to accept.
Some time ago I observed the perfect storm of the organization versus the health of the employee. I was doing a project, unrelated to my work in wellbeing, I felt my senses and passion for the wellbeing of people come alive in the engagement. It would safe for me to write that as the organization was making great strides to move forward, financial results and such, the wellbeing of the employees was moving backwards. I can’t say if that reality kept the senior leaders up at night. One thing is for sure, as I look back, it should have.
So what are employees to do? They’re bombarded by messages telling them to save for a retirement that often seems like an impossibility, raise perfect kids that get scholarships to the best colleges, trust in an economy that never seems to be as good as reported, and the list goes on. I have a few ideas, not silver bullets, just some things to consider/try:
Make wellbeing a priority. This post could be a starting point for reference.
Don’t ignore your wounds. These are the emotional disappointments and failures you’ve never looked fully in the eye. Trouble always hangs around wounds not dealt with. Healing leads to breakthroughs.
Leave the organization that refuses to create conditions for good wellbeing. Make this decision with thought and care. Don’t wake up tomorrow and make an emotional jump. However, the problem must be dealt with.
Get a coach/advisor/wise-man/woman. This is not a time to go it alone.
Look at your bad habits and take responsibility. Like wounds, these need to be dealt with.
Health is undefeated in the game of life-good outcome or bad.
Considering where we’re at in America (the world too) today, I felt moved to put this post from 2010 out again. I’m still learning…
I’ve been thinking lately about what we value and what we don’t. This is important because our values do define our lives.
For example, if your career is what you value most, then everything (I mean everything) will be second to that. I’m not writing to judge, just stating a reality. It’s ironic how little values are considered in our current age.
The above brings me to why men (significant numbers) don’t value their women. I know this post might generate some scathing comments, but I speak as a recovering jerk in the area of valuing my wife and her motherhood.
I worked, as many readers/subscribers know, in corporate America for many years. The majority of that was at a senior level. And yes, I drank the kool-aid, participated in the rah, rah sessions and terminated the employment of people who were deemed disposable. I was paid well and thought (at times) my path was only going to get better.
During this time my wife gave up her career to raise our two children. This decision was mutually agreed upon. The idea of her being the primary care-giver seemed like the right thing to do. To this day, I would say our children are the better for this decision.
But along the way I began to see our roles as separate and equal. She took care of things at home and I took care of things career related. There were times when we’d share the burdens, but I thought little about her struggles and work load. After all, I saw it as her role/job. The “taking things for granted” process settled in.
Many times she would call me at the office to vent or seek affirmation. I gave her words, but not my heart. Life went on, money was made and security (perceived) became the normal. We lived this way for almost ten years, and then things changed. My wife went back to work and corporate America said goodbye to me. I became a man who did many different things (author, consultant and stay-at-home dad). All of sudden the world looked strange. For example, work on the book manuscript and make sure my son got to preschool. Ironically, after about six months, I found myself longing for affirmation and encouragement from my wife for all of my hard work at home. I felt like a man exposed by his ghosts.
I don’t claim that my experiences are unique or more important than other men. But here are the reasons why many men don’t value their wives or motherhood:
As men we are taught early on that money makes the world go round and you’d better work hard to get it. Therefore, making money becomes part of our root system. Like a tenacious weed.
We assign roles without understanding or caring. I made so many assumptions without taking the time to understand my wife’s greatest needs.
We’re too busy (cop-out) to give the attention where it’s needed. We decide that our wives are fine in our mind, and then we just move on.
We don’t evaluate the magnitude of motherhood. We don’t consider what our wives went through to carry and birth a child, let alone be the primary caregiver.
Being a wife and mother doesn’t, in form, produce money. Assigning value becomes tough and we just take it for granted. If wives and mothers started being paid for what they deal with, we’d probably stand-up and take notice. But it would be too late to applaud then.
The Eric that walked the halls of corporate America is dead. The post-corporate America Eric is learning how to live and has been given a chance to be remade. It’s very difficult to live differently. But I have found a life worth living-Epic if I may so.
September 11 is only a couple of days away. For those living in America (and beyond), it is a sacred day. As well it should be.
I remember much about that day 10 years ago. It still shapes much of my thinking as a context for the life I lead now. The events left me exposed. In the sense that I was trying to find my way with the wrong compass.
I heard the stories of mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who would never come home again. I felt sad. But there I was, taking for granted so much in my life. I was a little lost and wandering what my role (the real one) was to play. It took some years after 9/11 to get to the following place:
I am no longer in the business of taking things for granted.
At some point events converged and I began to see my life as a whole and not just parts. And again, it took me time to understand it and live it. Twists in the road made for much sickness. It was a process that I worked (still do) and committed to. I didn’t want to be that person who woke one day to find he’d never really lived.
An odd thing occurred last week at a talk I attended. I was asked what my greatest fear was. The answer:
Not doing meaningful work, paid or otherwise.
For me it was a gut check on what I believe, what I value and whether I was willing to see my mission through until the end. I know this post won’t bring anyone back or heal a broken heart, but it’s worth noting I am no longer in the business of taking things for granted. Maybe that’s the best tribute I can give.
In my last post I outlined the importance of embracing the 90/10 rule. Today I have something to share from my own experience relating to the 10% part of the rule. You can definitely apply this to your career and many other areas of life.
My wife and I moved our 8 year-old daughter to a new school back in December. I won't elaborate on our reasons, but in the end we thought it better for her to be at a different school. We prayed, we researched and we took action.
It was my thought that my daughter would transition well. My main reason for thinking this way was her personality (social animal who has never met a stranger) wiring. I felt she would make friends, rise to the occasion and the rest would be history.
Now here's what I didn't expect: a little girl that desperately wants everyone to like her. I know those of you out there who are counselors would remind me that I didn't prepare her for the inevitable rejection she would encounter. Fair enough.
My main point here is that-smart or dumb-I really didn't expect this challenge. And I am discovering things about my daughter that I didn't know before. Fortunately, I have a wife who carries much wisdom and I am being sensitive to my daughter's movement through a big change.
So what if I denied that my daughter was experiencing this? What if I ignored it? You know what the results would be.
Here are some specific insights for dealing with the 10%:
You don't have to like what happens, you just have to tackle it head on (delicately in the case of my daughter).
Don't expect things to be easy (change is a process, not an event).
You will make mistakes in your dealing with the 10%. Just ask my daughter on this one:).
Sometimes you're gonna be powerless to do anything. That's OK, you don't have control over everything in life.
There's a reason the 10% could be considered the land of the crucible. Fire makes impurities rise to the surface. We need to get rid of those, and that can be painful.
Have you reached that point in your life when you suddenly
realize that there are more days behind you than there are ahead of you? If you
have, then you may find yourself wondering “was it all worth it?” or maybe
even, “is this all there is?”
The midpoint of life, under normal circumstances, is an intense
transitional experience. These are not normal circumstances. The current
economic, social, political, physical and spiritual environments seem to be
more turbulent than at any other time in recent memory.
Some of us may be facing involuntary career changes. Many of us
are watching the retirement funds we so carefully and painfully saved over a
lifetime, evaporate right before our eyes.
We may have once dreamed of retiring, but now a body that arises
each day with the discovery of new aches and pains, is joined by a mind that
awakens to the reality that the rest it had been promising itself for so many
years continues to linger, like a desert mirage, just on the horizon ahead.
This is suppose to be a time when everything we have labored for
comes together for our own good as we triumphantly live into the sunset of our
legacy. Yet, as we stand on the edge of own “Legacy Cliff”, it is so easy to
think, “I can’t get there from here.”
For some, the second half of life ushers in a melancholy moment
of despair. This is because society celebrates youth and encourages us to
tightly hang on and celebrate it with the utmost zeal for as long as we
possibly can. Yet the longer we hang on the more fearful we become. For when we
live by the light of our greatest hits, we find ourselves increasingly unable
to do what we “use to could” do.
This can be a very confusing time because the first half of life
naturally calls us to define ourselves by what we do. The future calls us to
examine who we are, and who we want to be; which can be a very scary thing
Living into the future affords us the opportunity of regaining
and maintaining our energy. We must be willing to leave behind everything we
have done for the sake of living into who we are supposed to be. To be clear,
the only way we can survive the trip over the “Legacy Cliff” is to let go of
the past and live into the future.
That sounds harder to do than it is. All that is required is an
evaluation of who we want to be. To live into this defining moment we must be
willing to see who it is that we want to be before we cross the finish line of
life. Then we must allow this vision of potential to permeate our being. By
that I mean that we allow this vision to purposefully guide every thing we do.
It isn’t that we no longer do; rather we insure that our doing is
connected to who we want to be. As we look to the future we realize that we can
no longer sacrifice what really matters to the demands of what merely
The first half of life is filled with dreams. The second half of
life is filled with aspirations. Dreaming means to listen to our desires and
invent an image of the future. Aspiring means to breathe life into the deepest
desires of our heart.
As we spend our most productive moments contributing value at
work, we often tell ourselves that the day will come when we can live into our
own aspirations. That day only comes for those who go over the cliff without
any thought of looking back.
Happiness comes to those who realize that they no longer need to
worry about what they are losing as they age. Instead they see and understand
the gains that come from growing whole.
To me, growing whole means becoming the person that I was always
meant to be. It means reaching for my personal potential. It invites greater
levels of self-awareness. To become whole, I must be willing to examine every
aspect of my life. I must be willing to embrace being who I am over doing what
I do. I must be willing to learn and grow.
Wholeness inspires a constant focus on reaching for the next
level. Our eyes must always be looking to a promising and fulfilling future.
When we stop reaching for the next level, we start feeling out of focus,
disconnected, and even burnt out.
Sometimes, legacy is incorrectly defined by what we leave behind.
While most of us are strongly connected to that idea, I have come to appreciate
the probability that legacy also yields a forward-facing and future outcome.
Only a portion of our legacy is bestowed upon those who follow us. The other
portion is carried on with us as we move toward our own potential.
In fact, the etymology of the word legacy presents a convincing
argument that it was never intended to be about what we leave behind. Instead
it suggests that it denoted the continual shaping and reshaping of a future
Thus, living into our legacy inspires multiple directions. What
we leave behind is important but the purpose of this life is to learn and grow
through our own experiences. This means we be willing to live into a bright
future. To do otherwise is to grow old and die. Yes we will cross the finish
line someday, but the notable energy levels of one who crosses in wholeness
compared to those who cross in oldness is quite remarkable.
Normally, this is the space where you get to hear all of the
suggestions an author has for you, some sort of numbered step by step list for
you to live into the things being prescribed. But this wouldn’t be your list,
so it wouldn’t be very meaningful.
Instead, I want you the reader to be the coauthor of this
article. In fact, I want you to write the ending all by yourself. It is my hope
that you will take a moment to reflect on the following questions and come up
with your our list. I am certain that doing so will allow you to fly right over
the Legacy Cliff as you identify the person you want to be. Are you ready?
Who do you want to be when you grow whole?
As soon as you get a clear picture of who you want to be in your
mind, please capture your the actions you must take to become that person. What
Now, before you leave this space please decide if you are
committed to doing those actions so that you may become that person. Be honest
with yourself. If you are not, then go back to step one and redefine who it is
you want to be.
If you gave this your full attention, then you are now free to
let go of the past by living into your future. It’s your legacy. Reach for it.
I wrote the following post almost 5 years ago. In some ways timeless. I'm convinced everyday that I don't "have time." A great sadness that many live everyday thinking they do.
I'm all for finishing strong/well. However, the myth of your best years being found in some future day is insane. I say that due to the importance of the choices you make now and how they will determine those years-taking for granted that you'll see them. Forever now!
I can't think of a more fitting place than our career to illustrate how this type of logic reigns. It's subltle and deceptive all at the same time. If a leader doesn't see his or her life as a whole, then a incongruent outcome is almost always certain.
As leaders seek to navigate a career and a life, I would suggest the following:
Think long and hard about value. Specifically, the value you're creating over time. In many ways it's like starring in your own motion picture. Create Epic Value for all those playing a part in your story. Keep in mind, there are no do-overs. You will either create value or you won't.
Before you read that next journal, newspaper or marketing pitch take a step back and question the motives of the messengers. For example, many marketers are dying on the vine, so selling is job 1. What they're selling might be designed to move you in a direction that isn't aligned with your destiny.
Stop thinking you have time. We're all terminal, its just that some know and some don't. Don't mean to go morbid here, but seeing life as a limited time offer should inspire you to stop screwing around with small desires (titles, money, fame, and power).
Be Authentic! Let the world see who you really are! If you don't like who you are or think that who you are has no value, then contact me and I can prove that you have a reason to be who you are.
Place more value on people than math, no matter how much the numbers say to do otherwise. Besides, if you're in a position where numbers matter more than people, be afraid, be very afraid.
"The accident happened on June 19 1999. King was strolling alongside Route 5 near his home in Bangor and looking forward to seeing a film with his family later that evening. As he walked, a Dodge truck barreled towards him. It was driven by Bryan Smith, a drug user with multiple driving convictions. A Rottweiler called Bullet was loose in the truck and had jumped on to a seat where there was a cooler of hamburger meat Smith had bought for a barbecue. Smith became distracted by his dog, swerved across the highway and hit King. The writer managed to turn his head a little before impact and thus missed being struck by a steel support post on the truck that would probably have killed him.
King's head left a many-tentacled crack in the windscreen. He broke his right hip joint, four ribs and his right leg in nine places. His spine was damaged in eight places. "The accident gave me a real sense of mortality, a sense of hurry that I didn't have before. Not immediately, but about a year after the accident I was able to say: 'That guy nearly killed me.'" Smith died of an overdose 15 months later on September 21, King's birthday."