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Three Things I Know About You

Without knowing you, there are already three things I know about you. Why? Because there is more that makes us similar than different. Now don’t get me wrong; we are all unique individuals with a number of factors differentiating us, such as upbringing, education, culture, and language, just to name a few.

But there are a number of characteristics that we all share as humans. Understanding these things about ourselves can aid and advance our personal and professional growth.

 You are your own worst enemy. You have a tendency to play the blame game or you shoot yourself in the foot sometimes, don’t you. Why? Because you’re wired for it. Without getting deep into the physiology or psychology of it let’s just cut to the chase and say that your brain is wired for the negative. It’s a preservation thing. An artifact of our hunter–gatherer days. Don’t believe me? Why do you have to work so hard on that positive affirmation thing, then? ’Cause you’re not hardwired for the positive. You’re hardwired for the negative.

Because you’re wired this way your tendency is to focus on your faults and shortcomings. You’re always comparing yourself to others and find yourself coming up short. Sure, it’s nice once in a while to weigh the scales and find yourself on top, but more often you’re looking at the qualities that you lack. You want to know who’s going to beat you—because you expect to be beaten.

Don’t sweat it. It’s natural. The key here is to relax and accept it. Acknowledging that this is the case is halfway to overcoming it. We’re all doing it. Constantly. So, as with any mindful practice, notice when you’re doing it and make a change. Because you’re not the worst at everything. You may be weak in some areas (everyone is ignorant of something) but you are definitely strong in others. This gets easier as you find your place in life and work and hone those skills that you really enjoy exercising. Obviously, the implication here is that age helps.

You are creative. You might not think so, but you are. How do I know that? Because you have a brain and an imagination. These two tools are prerequisite to creativity. And since everyone has these tools, we are all creative. Now, somewhere along the way you may have convinced yourself that you’re not—but notice that that was a turning point in history.  What were you before that turning point? Pablo Picasso once said, “We’re all born artists. The problem is trying to remain an artist as we grow up.”

Most likely early on in life you compared yourself to someone who was a “classical” artist (painter, writer, singer), decided you weren’t any of those and, therefore, you’re not creative. If you didn’t go through that particular mental process and still feel that you’re not creative it’s most likely because someone else told you and you let it stick (yes, you let it stick; remember, you’re your own worst enemy). It could have been a parent, teacher, or any other person with influence in your life.

So, maybe you’re not “classically” creative but you have solved some problems in your life, right? You have produced, designed, built, or constructed some things that other people didn’t. Something has come out of you that didn’t come out of anyone else. (I’ve always believed that there’s at least one good book inside each one of us. And many writers have proved me right. Remember, I said one.) That’s creativity. And if you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Paul, I’m not writing any symphonies,” there’s that comparison thing again. I will never write a symphony. Why? Because I’m not focusing my creative energies on that task and (news flash) I’ve never studied music! Get really real about your creativity because you’ll find it’s a primary motivator for any new thing you do, any direction you change, any solution you come up with. And it needs to be cultivated or it atrophies.

You want to belong. If not physically then ideologically. Again, how I know this is that you’re hardwired for it. We’re social creatures. Dependent beings. Don’t let your rugged individualism get the best of you. You want to belong and you know it. Resistance is futile.

Now, you may be saying, “This is where I disagree with you, Paul. I don’t like being around people!” This one usually comes with age, too. And you may not particularly like being in crowds, socializing, talking up a storm, especially if you’re on the introverted side of the spectrum. But we’re not talking about time with people specifically here. We’re talking about identifying with others; that’s what belonging is. You don’t have to spend time with people to identify with them, although we often do.

Think about it: You like people who are like you. You like to identify with people who think the same, care about the same things, and even participate in the same activities as you. That process creates a sense of belonging without which you’d be lost, adrift among your fellow human beings, isolated. Who was it that said, “no man is an island”? No, really, who said that? I have Simon and Garfunkel (I am a rock, I am an island) in my head and I can’t get there from here.

We’d all probably go crazy after about a week on a desert island without anyone to interact with. Our talking to ourselves proves we crave someone to hear, respond, engage. Just watch Tom Hanks in Cast Away; it’s not a silent movie. Does “Wilson!” ring any bells?

In a day and age where we all feel so divided let’s remember that in our core being, at a soul level, there is more that makes us similar than makes us different. We’ve got to learn to live on this planet together a bit longer (at least until SpaceX starts building that condo on Mars) so let’s work at enjoying real differences and championing real similarities.

Why Your Work Is Killing You

Work. We all do it. It’s what occupies the majority of our waking hours. And it’s killing us.

Now, before you go running off to the doctor for an anti-work prescription, hold on. Let me explain why I think your work may be killing you and what you can do about it.

First let me explain that I’m a big fan of work. I’m doing it right now! I don’t think that the ideal life is one in which we don’t have to work or where we look for ways to minimize our work.

Our work, if done effectively, should bring us purpose and meaning. It’s not the only thing that does that, but it makes a large and, I would suggest, overwhelming contribution in bringing purpose and meaning into our lives. The fact that it may not be doing that for you right now is why it may be killing you.

Let me outline four reasons why I think your work may be killing you and what you can do to get healthy again.

The number one reason some of you are being killed by your work is that it’s not your work. It’s someone else’s. Someone else suggested that this career path you’re on would be good for you. You took it and ran with it. A few years out—and it’s killing you. Who was this person? And what was their motive in making that suggestion? Most likely it was someone you looked up to, some authority figure or role model you admired at the time. Parents, teachers, influencers all come to mind.

The more important question is, what was their motivation? Parents, for example, are notorious for putting security and safety for their children above all else, so their suggestions may err on the conservative side. Few parents push their kids to take risks, try new things, venture into unchartered waters. This could be the reason you feel a lack of passion for your work. It doesn’t ignite that spark within that motivates and inspires you to do your best. It’s just safe and comfortable and provides a good living. And it’s killing you. It’s killing your energy, passion, creativity, and identity. It’s not your work.

Another reason your work may be killing you could be that you’re not currently doing what you set out to do. You got sidetracked along the way. I find this reason common among middle-managers. You liked the industry you started in. Saw yourself contributing to some meaningful projects that aligned with your passions. Wanted to fit in with your colleagues. But things were different once you were inside. But you went with the flow, accepted some promotions, and now find yourself on a completely different track. Now you’re managing people, writing reports, and maintaining quotas. You got sidetracked.

Another reason your work may be killing you is a quite natural one: You’ve changed, grown. That thing that sparked your passion at 24 doesn’t quite do it for you at 34. It sounded good at the time and maybe you were a bit idealistic, but now that you’ve learned a few things about yourself, you’re not sure it’s a good fit. Everyone says hang in there, but it’s killing you.

There’s a fourth reason your work may be killing you, and it has nothing to do with your industry but everything to do with your career. Your work is killing you because every day you have this nagging thought in the back of your head that you could do it better on your own. This corporate thing is sucking the life out of you. You spend more time in meetings and less time in creative. You spend more time in the back office and less time communicating with clients about your innovative ideas. Your entrepreneurial spirit is trapped in a corporate body, and it’s killing you. You could do it better on your own, and you know it.

Since work is the one thing we spend most of our waking hours doing, it should be something that brings meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to our lives. It should strengthen our confidence that we have something tremendous to contribute to this world. It should satisfy us right down to our soul.

We’re living at a time when career change has never been easier. The resources and tools we have available to make those changes are literally at our fingertips. It does take some effort, though. It also takes some faith–faith in yourself, in your abilities, your gifts, and your talents.

More than that, it takes vision. Vision to see what life will look like if you were doing the work you are called to do. Vision that sees you working with passion and purpose. Vision that pictures you doing work that has meaning.

Work doesn’t have to kill you. You can make changes in your career so that you thrive in the work you were designed to do. 

Fueling the Corporate Renaissance: Autonomy and Authenticity

A ladder leading up to an escape hatch. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.

There’s a renaissance going on in business globally. A shift is taking place in our workforce. Management and labor are coming to an awareness that the current culture within our corporations needs to change if we want to continue to be productive.

What’s interesting about this renaissance is that it’s coming from both directions. Leadership and workers, for different reasons, are coming to the conclusion that they both need something more satisfying from their work environment.

Workers are demanding more autonomy. If they’re going to produce in the 21st century they are going to need the freedom to move creatively within their sphere. They’re going to need the freedom to access resources without going through some lengthy protocol that saps them of motivation.

With this change in the workforce, leaders are seeing that they need to lead with more authenticity. Command and control doesn’t cut it. Understanding their true place on the team, the contribution they make, is essential. Making a deeper connection with the whole worker is more productive and healthier.

This renaissance is just beginning. The terms of this new contract are still being hammered out. Many are adjusting, slowly. That’s fine. Change comes best in two-degree increments. Just understanding each other better is a step in the right direction. Discovering the part we play on a team with a clear objective is helpful. Coming to an appreciation of who we are as coworkers, and what we want from this effort that takes the majority of our waking hours is instructive, gratifying, and enlightening.

The Neglected Leadership Art Of Vision Casting

One of the traps that I see many managers fall into is the belief that people don’t change. Often they fall into this when they feel they’ve tried everything to motivate and engage their team without success. A cynical attitude sets in followed by a commensurate reduction in expectation. The next step is a decrease in productivity, and the downward spiral begins.

But people do change. Even if the specific evidence around us says otherwise. Subjectively you may tell yourself that people don’t change but science tells us that they do. As a matter of fact the very definition of life is the ability to change. Anything that isn’t changing is dead (a lesson for business).

The science behind motivation shows that people will change when they’ve been motivated properly. The problem is that we often use extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivators because they’re easier to apply.

We’re at a place in our business history where leadership and management are experiencing diminishing returns on their extrinsic investments. Incremental pay raises and fringe benefits aren’t producing the commensurate increase in productivity that we were looking for. And it’s getting harder and harder to retain great talent. Many employees aren’t that interested in more external rewards if it means just doing more of the same work.

Something or someone needs to tap a nerve in the worker that will generate an internal vibe that motivates them intrinsically. This can be done. This must be done if we’re ever going to turn the tide of waning employee engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible, but only if we commit to giving our teams a greater vision. For too long we’ve had our head down and plowed, only looking up to check the bottom line. It’s time to lift our heads to see the big picture, to inspire our teams with the whole vision.

We’re growing as a nation of workers. We’re seeking new motivations for doing what we spend most of our waking hours doing. We want to use all of our skills and talents. We’re looking deeper into the purpose of our work and trying to find meaning.

This is a challenge for leadership and management because it demands that they dig deeper, too. Seeking intrinsic motivators means we have to find ways to inspire our teams to do great work. It may mean some reorganization within the team. It may mean some fine-tuning of our structure. It probably requires deeper understanding and communication on both ends. It certainly means casting a larger more inspiring vision.