You’re A Failure If You Aren’t Doing What You Absolutely Love. Or Are You?
Author Brianna West recently wrote in Medium Daily Digest “We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate between what they really love and what they love “the idea of”.
In doing so, she reminded me of the diversity of purposes for work among my clients and the courage it takes to pursue the right fit whether it’s what they love or not.
Doing, of course, can be a huge, sort of collective verb. It can mean anything from professional activity to avocational experiences to caring for others to stealing time for yourself and doing absolutely nothing with it if that’s your intention. Having to love what you do as a condition of validation can be such a burden!
For purposes of this blog, I’m going to confine myself to Professional Activity as the designated form of doing. And I’m going to tell three short stories.
Bella is 59 and involuntarily retired 6 years ago when her job was eliminated. Her husband, Bob, died last year and when he did she lost the medical insurance benefits that went with his employment. She qualified for Cobra, but it was nearly beyond her means. Her solution: take a lower paying, ¾ time job that would be accompanied by health care benefits until she qualifies at 65 for Medicare. She had already had a high pressure retail career. She didn’t want that again. In the years since her involuntary retirement Bella had grown used to having discretionary time and was loathe to return to having none. She had interests but was leery of passions because every earlier time in her life she had pursued them they ended up owning her instead of the other way around. Instead, she wanted to sell what she wanted to offer: experience, maturity, reliability, good critical thinking skills, and the ability to get along with all kinds of people.
As Bella and I created her vocational search action plan together, we were both clear that she wanted “Right Fit Employment” that would meet her needs but NOT look or feel like her next, all consuming career. This meant her story would be different, her networking would be different, and her resume(s) would have to be tailored to the opportunities she discovered. In the end she discovered 3 job opportunities that met all of her needs and she knew she could have a fine time at any of them. She chose the best one, free of the burden of failing or having made a bad choice if she didn’t absolutely LOVE her work. She – and her new employer – had made a fine, best-fit-work job.
Kevin, 47, was the “survivor” of several different high tech jobs. His wife, Lisa, was too. Between them they had amassed a fair amount of savings. They were both hard working professionals with absolutely no expectation of permanent employment. And they thought they needed to take a year off regularly, maybe not the same year for both of them. In our work together to create a dual vocational plan, we discovered that they both wanted “shorter term” jobs of 2 years max followed by a year off followed by another couple of years of work. They weren’t worried about not being able to re-enter the workplace and they also weren’t worried about whether or not they totally loved their work. Their network was full of younger people not confined by the old employment rules. Instead they were, frankly, motivated by money and the opportunity to participate in something that could be built and sold. Their passion was focused on the end, transition state of the game, not the 2 years it would take to get there. In fact, they were incredulous about the notion that they should LOVE their work. Being good at it plus the financial end state were what motivated them. And they really liked the idea that they would have different years off so that whoever wasn’t working could be home with the kids, maintaining their home, and being supportive of the working one.
In the end we developed a model of “right fit” employment that rotated, allowing each of them to work and then take time off from work. And they weren’t driven by the total love of their work. This was true for their friends and colleagues, too, one of the possible freedoms of high tech and entrepreneurial lives.
Rhia, 60, is a family law attorney. She thought making Partner in a big firm would be the epitome of success and she could coast from there. She would love her life. That was 18 years ago. What she knows now is that loving her work isn’t the primary metric. Instead the primary metrics are 1. Building/being in control of her own calendar and work load, 2. Having her clients write her performance review through referrals rather than the Managing Partner doing it, and 3. Finding some greater work/life balance than she was experiencing.
When we did the vocational work together, we were not particularly surprised to discover that she had lost her need to love or dislike her work, as if those were the only two categories. Instead she wanted “best fit” work that matched her primary metrics. She was tired of other attorneys asking her if she was burned out. She no longer needed to love or hate it. Instead she wanted it to be a match for her now.
In the end Rhia chose to leave the partnership and join a national online law firm. Kind of like a private practice with colleagues and referral systems. It has turned out to be a great solution for her.
If you LOVE your work that’s great. We are all happy for you. If you like it but don’t want to measure that part of your life by the LOVE Standard, you won’t be alone. You have lots of options.
What role does LOVE serve in your professional life and how is it a benefit or a burden? If it isn’t love, what are the best metrics for you now in your work life?
Quality of Life? Start the New Year with this easy survey!
There she stood just inside our front door with her hands on her hips. “You keep writing about other people’s After 50 stories.”, she said, “Mine is different and it deserves telling, too”. Pushing past me she settled into a chair in our living room, said, “OK. Help me.”
“OK. I’ll play.”, I said sitting down opposite Coleen. “Who are you?” Her answer: “I’m Coleen White. I recently met you and your wife, Linda, at one of our fundraising parties for childrens’ charities. I’m 67, recently divorced, a retired nurse, not very connected to my grandchildren, far from wealthy but ok, not religious, still like men and romance, smart, funny, and a bit bored. I like where I’m living. I’m finding it difficult to get my thoughts organized enough around my Quality of Life.”
“What does Quality of Life mean to you?” I asked. Her answer: “Your writing provoked my interest in Becoming After 50. Most people don’t seem to get that After 50 is a prime time for personal becoming. I get it. I was married to a physician for years. When he left he liberated both of us – I can see now – from a terrible inertia. I’m a new kind of free. I like it. Quality of Life is suddenly the key for me. I don’t want just more of the same. I don’t need to solve problems from my past. I don’t need therapy. I want Quality of Life to be an everyday thing, not some place I visit on special trips and vacations. I need a way to evaluate and prioritize. I want to create myself and my future. So here I am.”
I sat back in my chair. “Quality of Life”, I said, “is a very personal thing. It changes periodically, being made up of moving components. If it were easily measured it would be called Quantity of Life but that’s not what you’re talking about is it?” “No”, she said, “I’m talking about Quality of Life that I can create and adjust as my life progresses. I want clarity. I’ll need to be adaptable, too.”
“Would it help if I gave you a Quality of Life Survey as a starting place?”, I asked. “Are you kidding? Of course!”, she replied.
So I gave her the following survey.
As she left I reminded Coleen that not every component can or should be a 10 all the time. “Don’t worry. I’ll remember”, she said, “and I’ll be back soon. Finally, a framework I can work with for my Quality of Life. World, get out of my way!”
Coleen went on to do the work of exploring her answers to the questionnaire and building a very successful action plan as a result.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to give the questionnaire to you as a New Years gift. So I am doing just that.
What are you most interested in exploring about yourself and your life today?
Inspiration Might Be Sitting On Your Left
I’ve just come back to the office from a deeply inspiring lunch meeting. For all our important work with “Seniors” and the services many of them need, I think we tend to carelessly lump then together, regularly falling into the trap of no longer seeing them as individuals and very, very bright people with full biographies. The fact is lots of “Seniors” are still trucking along admirably with significant humor, vigor, and insightful thinking. Chronological age is clearly not the primary determinant of much of anything.
I am fortunate enough to belong to an almost 70-year-old professional media and journalism-oriented organization. It is made up of retired print and broadcast executives and professionals, along with the rest of us still working in several forms of journalism and media.
These older men and women were heavy hitters with long careers in exciting times for their industry, complete with opportunities that are now unlikely if not impossible. It’s always a revelation to occasionally experience myself as one of the youngest people in a room full of really articulate, experienced, passionate people. How often do my peers and I get that chance for inspiration?
Essentially, the organization is a luncheon club where we come together at a common table with microphones available to review and discuss a wide variety of topics from journalism and media perspectives. We discuss current issues of local, national, and international importance (political positions and religion are not permitted). This isn’t a bunch of geezers telling war stories and reminiscing. This is a group of thoughtful, experienced minds coming together for highly informed discussions. About 45 of us gather each time, both men and women. The membership is larger than that, so the attendance is slightly different at each meeting.
What did I find inspiring today, you ask? I’m glad you inquired.
A woman in her late 70s (an unrepentant thespian) played her instrument-studded washboard and sang everything from Jazz to Rap as warmup entertainment. She remarked on her pig tails and wrinkles, and then announced that all it took was moderate musical prowess and, blessedly – no longer having much sense of shame – an increased capacity for joy. She knew how to seize a point and get it across, grabbing our attention without doing or being anyone we would usually expect. And all the while her significant dignity shone through. How many of us can do that well, I ask you?
The gentleman on my left, 93, remarked about having written a piece with his daughter announcing his wife’s recent death for posting on his Facebook page.
Two men in their early eighties got into a heated debate about where journalism ends and media begins. Journalism and media, although we often mash them together, are not synonymous as we all know.
Today there was a general discussion about the November 13 letter to New York Times readers from the Publisher and the Senior Editor reflecting on issues with their campaign and election coverage. Full article HERE .
A famous elections polling analyst/scientist and journalist, easily in his late 70s, talked about the intelligent limits of polling and how they can miss what’s really going on.
I’m not some voyeur at these lunches. When it was my turn, I talked about my notion that we had all been prisoners of the images and language of local/regional/identity politics and, therefore, unwilling and unable to think and behave otherwise. It’s my opinion that we, as a nation, HAVE AN EXCESS OF LANGUAGES AND IMAGES THAT SEPARATE US AND are missing the ALTERNATIVE language and images to understand commonly shared pain and hope, without which we have little opportunity to actually create an inclusive dialogue. I’d like us to do a journalistic investigation of this without having to have another September 11 to pull us all together again.
The lady to my right, in her middle 70’s, is so alert and attentive that her eyes sparkle. She worked with Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, among others, and clearly understood the historic nuances in all of the remarks.
It’s my experience that many of us suffer from absence of intelligent intergenerational engagement and the inspiration that can accompany it. My grandchildren regularly teach me important information I might otherwise miss entirely. When I say intergenerational engagement, I’m not talking about 3 or 4 generations showing up for a big holiday meal and watching sports on television rather than actually interacting. I’m talking about seizing the opportunity to look to my right and my left and observe the wisdom and perspective each generation brings from the lives they have led, regardless of age.
I’m inspired and this came from accomplished professionals senior to me.
What do you do for inspiration in your own life, especially multigenerational inspiration?
I Do Therefore I Am With My Apologies to “The Reader”
Even for us it has been an extremely busy summer: My wife Linda’s work. My work. One to four granddaughters living with us over the course of six weeks. The new book in publisher review. Travel. Staying current with what’s being written in my field. Sogetsu Ikebana. TV appearances. Attending to my own becoming which, as a human development expert, is as much a part of my daily integrity as physical workouts would be for an Exercise Physiologist. The normal demands of home ownership and being in society. Coursework. My ongoing writings, including these blogs. Watching, slack jawed, national political campaigns unfold. Guests and dinners. Beginning the all-new new book project.
Yesterday morning my friend Eric and his bike appeared as scheduled at 6:30 am in our driveway. He rides every day and can leave me in the dust, but slows down for companionship rides with me once or twice a week. Rick knows I can always ride our 16-20 miles, punctuated by a stop at Coffee World at around the 14 mile mark. He also knows that I can’t (and don’t want to) go as fast as he can.
Which brings me to the crème colored leather chair in our family room that looks out onto the lake. Stick with me here. I promise to pull all of this together.
After returning home from the bike ride with Eric, I showered, dressed and sat down in the chair intending to bounce right back up and get to work. Instead I spent the day sitting there. Admittedly I took client calls, did my email and eventually cooked dinner for Linda and me, but for the most part I read. No music. No tv. Just our wonderfully silent house and that pile of reading I had been looking forward to.
As I sat there reflecting, all of this brought two experiences to my mind.
First was an encounter with the man I still think of as “The Reader”. We met him only once, several years ago, at a local party. I’ve long since forgotten his name or what he looks like, but he made quite an impression on me. He was in his late 60’s and had been retired for a few years. When I asked him how he spent his time he said his life was a circuit between his best reading chair and his favorite used book store. He’d buy a few books, go home and read them, and then go buy more books so he could go home and read some more. For variety he would sit and read outdoors instead of inside. He was serious and his wife verified it. I was quietly flabbergasted. How could a grown man not exercise his gifts in some contributory way? I can see now that I owe The Reader a quiet apology. His lifestyle wouldn’t work for me, but he was and is free to choose for himself.
Second was a Nextel ad campaign selling cell phone services. Plastered on city buses and billboards with bright yellow backgrounds and black print were the words: “I do. Therefore I am.” I was not so quietly outraged. Did they actually mean to suggest that existence depended upon being in motion? Had we lost our right to NOT do and still be? Existentially it stunk and I wasn’t happy about it. It was easier to suck me in then than it is now. And I still think the campaign was designed by young savants with little life understanding or interest beyond new and motion.
Which brings me back to the crème colored chair; my repository as it were for the day. It was only one day and it isn’t a pattern, but I do think being able to sit there for a day and mostly read is a step forward for me. It’s a pleasurable After 50 gift I could not have unwrapped or appreciated much earlier in my life. And I’m looking forward to another such day eventually. Just knowing I can do it is comforting and I may, like many of us, have to get better at it when I am much, much older.
What are you discovering about your own After 50 gifts that you couldn’t have appreciated or enjoyed much earlier in your life?
Ode to Joy
I keep thinking about a conversation I had with my friend Kathy. We’ve been friends, metaphorically speaking, since Jefferson was President. There isn’t much we don’t know about each other. Every few weeks we get on the phone and catch up about our kids, her mother (the only survivor among our parents), our work and our lives. During our last call, after proudly listing all the things I am involved with, Kathy said, “But what about fun and joy?”
Ten years ago this question would have stumped me. I believed then in “work/life balance” and other binary viewpoints which supposed that the two things were separate and even mutually exclusive. Work apparently was where you performed and earned money. Life apparently was where you experienced joys and freedoms.
I no longer think that way. Of course, I have the luxury of being self-employed. The way my life is constructed now, work and play are integrated into one other. The proportions change, but I ensure that both make an appearance every day. It’s come to the point that I frequently don’t know what day it is because it doesn’t matter. Kids’ school vacations and weekends and work/life balance and vacations aren’t relevant to me anymore.
So, back to Kathy’s question, “What about fun and joy?” She’s still in a job that isn’t a great fit for her, looks forward to weekends and freedom, is responsible for her very difficult/out of control/elderly mother, and, consequently, worries about her own aging. Integrating fun and joy for her is much more of a struggle than it is for me. I think that’s true for most people, too.
Not that I’m perfect at that integration myself. It’s still alarmingly easy for me to worry about what might be as opposed to find the joy that’s in front of me in any given moment. The best I can do is live up to the haiku master Matsuo Bashō’s poem:
I am one
Who eats his breakfast,
Gazing at the morning-glories
So, let me ask you: Where are your fun and joy coming from?
What have you created that allows (and even requires) fun and joy to be integrated into your days rather than stopping or finishing what you are doing to look for them? Please leave your answers in Comments.
In Praise of Traveling with Granddaughters
SFO Airport/San Francisco. 3:00 am PDT. Three of my granddaughters (ages 7, 11, 14) and I are flying to the East Coast. Their 17-year-old sister is already at our house. Accustomed to flying together, the girls and I are a moving combination of jocular and somnambulant. We have a 5:00 a.m. departure with a connection to make in Denver. Ever mindful of the many reminder messages to be at the airport at least two hours in advance of departure, we have arrived on time. The United check-in kiosks say, in effect, “Not operational outside of regular business hours.” The girls and I sit patiently.
SFO 3:50 am PDT. The very nice airport police stop to answer my question. United check-in staff usually doesn’t come on duty until 4:30 a.m. And TSA won’t open for a while either. The kiosks are still not operating. The girls are fine. I am not so much.
SFO. 4:20 am PDT. The kiosks have come online and I have obtained our boarding passes. Somewhere the luggage tags have printed out. We are now standing at the front of a United Preferred Service line with about 25 people behind us. Many of them are on our flight and are wondering out loud whether someone at the airline simply can’t do the time math. The girls are fine. I am not.
SFO. 4:25 am PDT. The first of the United staff arrives and very crossly demands to know why we are all standing there instead of having checked ourselves in and proceeded on to TSA. “Because we don’t have access to the luggage tags and the luggage belt isn’t running. How would you suggest we solve that?” I say. “Oh” Is her reply. The girls are fine. I am irritated and also relieved to finally be moving ahead.
SFO. 5:15 am PDT. We have passed through the TSA screening process, have boarded, and are now in our seats. The pilot announces that we have a small mechanical problem, something to do with fuel. A mechanic is coming to check it out and fix it. Shouldn’t be long. I decide I don’t care because we’re all in our seats. It’s only a question of time. What can go wrong? I’m sitting with the 7-year-old asleep leaning on my right shoulder. The other girls are fine, too.
SFO. 7:15 am PDT. We have now been through pilot announcements about the fuel problem, checking to see if the part is available, thanks us for our patience, the part is found, the repair is made, whoops we have lost our cabin crew and are awaiting a new one, and it won’t be long. I’m meditating with only partial success. The girls are fine but a bit restless.
Denver/DEN Airport. 10:15 am MDT. The Customer Service agent (who deserves combat pay; if he had been a waiter I’d have tipped him big time for courtesy and calmness under fire) deftly points out to me that we have missed the only flight to our Tampa destination on Saturdays and that 1) He can book us through Dulles but we can’t get to our destination until 12:30 am tomorrow, or, 2) We might want to stay over in Denver for the night, and 3) It’s not only difficult to get four rerouted tickets but I also want to be sitting next to my 7-year-old which makes it even trickier. I do not want to spend the night in Denver. He will do his best. And he does. Four tickets to Tampa via Dulles. I am doing my Blood Pressure Go Down chant silently. The girls are hungry, tired, bored and well behaved. I drown my sorrows by having my shoes shined, one of the little joys of my life. Denver Airport has one of the best airport shoeshine stands anywhere: Executive Shine. Try it out sometime! The girls wait for me and then we go and eat large meals.
IAD/Dulles Airport. 6:00 pm EDT. Our flight leaves at 10:30 p.m. Only 4 ½ hours to kill. I am feeling tired. The girls are, too, but continue to be total troopers. I find myself admiring them more and more. Our gregarious and articulate 14-year-old strikes up a conversation with two women whose tales of getting from Rome to home somewhere in New York state have stalled at IAD. Not only were the ladies sweet with the girls, their travel stories made all of us feel much better about our own experiences of the day. We finally find a Concourse D ersatz French restaurant and eat more big meals, and return to our gate to wait.
We reminisce and talk about our memories of traveling together. Do you remember the time we spent part of the night at Newark Airport and United gave us dark blue blankets to keep us warm in the terminal? Do you remember the time our flight was four hours late leaving SFO? That was way worse than this time. How about the time I took the girls to the Night Zoo in Singapore and the then-youngest, now 11, who usually wouldn’t hold my hand for more than two seconds, suddenly wouldn’t release her mace-like grip on my fingers as we rode the zoo jitney through the nocturnal animal exhibits?
IAD. 10:30 pm EDT. The 14-year-old has taken (at my insistence) my courtesy upgrade to first class. She was “willing to suffer with it,” she told me, tongue firmly in cheek. The 11-year-old has an aisle seat two rows ahead of us where I can see her, and she proudly pretends she is on her own. The 7-year-old and I are in a window and center seat, respectively, and lean into each other like exhausted beanbags. The girls are just fine, thank you very much, and have been much more patient than their father and their uncle, my sons, might have been under similar circumstances. I have now forgotten my name and only know that I am somehow related to the little blonde girl on my right who is sleeping softly with her forehead pressed into my upper arm.
TPA/Tampa Airport. 12:30 am EDT. We stumble off the airplane, retrieve our luggage, take the shuttle to Economy parking, and begin the 50-minute drive home. My wife Linda worries that I will fall asleep at the wheel. Not a chance. I am wired again on adrenaline and couldn’t sleep if I wanted to. Linda keeps calling to see if I’m OK at the wheel. I am fine.
Once home, after lots of hugs, the girls all go to bed and instantly fall asleep. I, however, am still wired, and it’s well after 3 am before I can finally drift off. In the interim I reflect on how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to travel with these granddaughters of mine.
Travelling may not always go smoothly but we get great stories and memories out of it anyway. I can just imagine how we’ll reminisce about the time we ate in that fake French restaurant at IAD and how the girls guessed at what the faux French words meant on that grungy menu.
Have any grandchildren travel stories you’d like to share with my other readers? If so, please leave them in Comments.
Breaking (in) the Code
I admit it: I can’t write code. I studied it a long time ago, back when computers weren’t portable and the Internet did not exist. But I dearly need a refresher course.
Why is knowing how to code important for me, and for everyone who expects to be employed at some point in the future? It’s because understanding the logic underlying code is fundamental to being a modern worker and citizen.
An article in Fast Company got me thinking about this. Writing code is rapidly becoming a kind of literacy. Yet few teachers can do it, much less teach it, even though having this skill is at the same level of importance as being able to read and do math.
We’re already experiencing a sea change in teaching fundamentals. Take writing. First we learned block letters, then we printed, then we learned cursive writing. That’s not how writing is being taught now. I know really smart, highly educated teenagers today – in fact I am related to some of them – who can’t write a cursive sentence.
At first I was aghast. Then I sat down and got real. How often do I actually write in longhand any more? I don’t. I type on my various electronic devices. How often to I receive written communications in longhand any more? Not very darned often. My grandmother, whose stock in trade was graceful Thank You notes written on good stationery (preferably engraved with her initials) might struggle with the decline of cursive writing. On the other hand, she was the major proponent of liberation (without giving up manners) during my childhood. She might very well say “Oh, get over it. Let’s learn to code together.”
And she would have a point. Name one modern device or process that isn’t somehow computer-based or connected. Your car? Your hearing aids? Your cell phone? Your microwave? Your home? Your passing through security at airports? Your tickets to sports and entertainment events? Your grocery checkout process? For me, not understanding anything about coding means being illiterate several times a day in the conduct of my normal life.
Multiply the implications of that ignorance by a factor of M (mucho) in the workplace. If you’re an employer and a job applicant doesn’t understand the mechanism behind the tasks and processes that are key to the success of your business, do you want to hire him/her? If that person is already an employee, can you afford to keep him/her on payroll long term?
Back to teachers. If educators can drop teaching cursive writing, they can certainly add code writing and other basic computer science skills. If they don’t, the next generations of students will be ill-equipped for their lives and for employment.
This is a shocking notion to me. What about you?
Read the full Fast Company article HERE
Not everyone really loves cars, of course. Young techies seem to prefer a combination of the latest tech devices, their dogs and their bicycles. Older people tend to view cars in a more utilitarian way, something that will get them to where they need to be, giving them mobility at an age when their parents might have been housebound.
As for me, I grew up in a time of Corvettes and tail fins, endless chrome and a new model every year. New colors, silhouettes and especially gadgets. Imagine a car that will automatically turn on and off the high beams! When we were old enough to drive, cars gave us a new and exalted sense of freedom and independence, albeit briefly. Somehow masculinity and cars were bound together, even if the cars we were driving were our mothers’.
I distinctly remember my grandmother (who raised daughters and was astounded to find herself with grandsons; she was really a good sport about it when she wasn’t trying to instill some culture into us), taking me, age 12, to the Seattle Auto Show. The Pontiac salesman (who didn’t call her Little Lady but just about) was touting the advantages of its wide track and pointing out that whenever she drove down a dirt road, she would have greater stability. I burst out, “Dirt road? My grandmother, the fashion plate? She’ll never drive down anything unpaved. Ever.” My grandmother, ever the lady, shushed me for interrupting an adult.
Cars inspired a lot of passion in me then, and still do.
So how could I not be excited to go to the North American International Auto Show in chilly Detroit a few weeks ago? I went with a product manager from one of my organizational consulting clients, a manufacturer of car components. I got to see the show through his eyes as well as my own, sussing out the competition, looking for quality and innovations. He pointed to a part of a car (the same one he had disdainfully dismissed on other cars) and said, “Take a look at that. It’s mine and it’s good.”
I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down visibly, but the kid in me definitely emerged as we toured the show floor. I suddenly remembered lying on my stomach on the living room floor on a rainy Seattle Sunday, a kid pouring through car magazines and automotive want ads. The stuff of dreams.
I now live in an area where you’ve never seen so many Corvettes, new ones and beautifully restored vintage ones. All of those men who yearned for a Corvette for all those years and, now that their kids are all raised and gone, finally can afford one. Many of them are in my age group, still big boys who grew up dreaming of cars as so much more than transportation.