27 Years – What Did I Learn?
The life I lead began 27 years ago today.
That morning opened with a drive down Pacific Coast Highway to the Loews Beach Hotel. Walking through the lobby, each step felt like a jump out of a plane without a parachute. But, an inner voice suggested I would find my wings and fly. It was 1990 and I was 37. Thirty-six people were waiting in a room drawn by the promise of defining and finding the lives they were meant to have. We also promised they would transform their entire relationship towards work.
I knew we had a bold curriculum but absolutely no idea how it would actually turn out. A tumultuous year had painted me into what appeared to be a very big a corner. A long relationship had ended and I was broken-hearted about that. So, I threw myself into work optimistic it would lead to fulfilled dreams. I was a staffing executive by day and a jazz musician at night. I did both so I could live in Malibu until I got the cherished record contract. The deal actually happened. Then, my producer dropped dead of a heart attack. In that one moment, I realized that not only was my brief recording career over but that I had been putting off my happiness for many years. In fact, I knew nothing of value in how to build sustainable happiness in my life.
Socrates believed that you could bring people to truth by asking them the right questions. So, I sat on the beach with a notepad and wrote my way out of what some would characterize as a severe mid-life crisis. My answers led to an awareness that in our culture work is the biggest relationship that we have. That means that if we are in love with our work, we tend to be in love with our lives. But, our culture, especially our industrial culture sold work as a source of predictability and survival. Characteristics such as joy, meaning, creativity, legacy, purpose, were quickly cast aside for survival and predictability. Along with the very people we served, I did it myself. At the time, this was the norm.
In the midst of answering questions, I realized that questioning everything we have been told is the true act of revolution. For almost three hundred years, we were given the legacy of fitting in. If we were a little more intelligent than the rest, we were told to become, for example, a doctor. That is what had happened in my home. It didn’t matter that I passed out whenever it was time to dissect a bug, a mouse, or a cadaver. When I ran a staffing business, it was clear that most people gave lip service to happiness, but quickly settled for the predictability and survival offered by fitting in one more time.
The door to the ballroom was open and as I looked at each participant, I was reminded of my expression when the call came in that my producer had passed. Everyone had a workbook. I explained that we would cover one aspect of our lives and our work at a time. In the first hour, someone stood up and announced a major career change. By lunch, it seemed that everyone was in some sort of revolution with her or his life. That night, I sat on the beach with my two dachshunds. There was moonlight on the water and a storm had created fresh waves. I pondered, “What have I done to my life?” Everything was new. These were the same themes of our participants. When the program was over, I sat in the parking garage unable to move. I was enthralled and I was terrified. What happened over the course of those two days changed everyone’s life and became a turning point. Years later, some of them were irritated to learn it was the first program and that I was going through the very same issues they were going through.
I turned my resignation into my boss. Gail was one of the most fearsome and seemingly fearless women I have ever known. We had lunch two years ago. I had not seen her since the day that I left. Gail sold the company and has become a celebrated artist. Her first words to me were, “What is it like for you to wake-up in the morning? What is it like to have changed so many lives?” I laughed, “All that I really did was change my own life. That is how real change works. No one does it for you.” She pushed, “Yes. But, who knows what would have happened if you had continued on the same path?”
In 1990, I believed that anyone could have a great relationship towards work. Today, I know this is true. Today, I know that all of us have a unique purpose and that until we find and define that purpose, we suffer. Today, I know that all of us can do the work that we love and that finding that sweet spot is just as practical as it is spiritually rewarding. To know this makes me one of the most fortunate and blessed individuals on earth.
(C) Copyright, 2017, David Harder – (All Rights Reserved)
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