Does Your Tribe Own You or Support You?
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
– Richard Bach
Over the years, we have helped thousands of people define their best professional options, the work they were born to do, as well as the work they most want to do – now. And, like the Farmer’s Insurance spokesperson, Academy Award Winner J.K. Simmons, “We’ve learned a thing or two.”
Americans like to think of themselves as fiercely independent, tribes play highly influential roles in all of our lives. Tribes have rigid rituals and expectations. When we break ’em, there are repercussions. Tribal types include, of course, families, religions, employers, sports teams, private clubs, political parties, and more.
We launched Inspired Work to help people define and find the work that would bring them a deep sense of purpose, fulfillment, and meaning. We came into the venture with a commitment to include practical success as well. At the time (1990), it was a tall order. To develop an effective curriculum, we had to identify everything that influences our decisions about careers, places to work, entrepreneur or job, etc.
Personal change almost always produces discomfort. When we commit to the work we were born to do or the work that we find most meaningful, the road from that moment to practical success includes 4 steps. Each one tends to be more frightening than the last and the fear shows up as a message.
Here are two examples.
From almost the time we are born, we learn healthy as well as unhealthy behavior. The easiest way to avoid all discomfort is to simply not get on the road. “What do you want to do with your life?” We end any progress at all by responding, “I don’t know.” As long as this is an acceptable answer, nothing is going to change.
The Greek philosopher Socrates believed that people come to their own truth by asking the right questions. He also stated, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I choose to be a bit more gentle, “Until we examine our lives, we are living someone else’s life.”
Hence, a return to the issue of tribes.
When we make a commitment to change our lives, what happens next?
Many people would respond with tasks, work harder, conduct research, and more. But, don’t we have to tell someone?
Nothing of value happens in this world without collaboration. You are alive because two people collaborated. So, we go home and tell our spouse, “You know that 6 figure job I can do in a trance. Well, I’m leaving and am going to start a new business. In fact, I’m going to start a business that promotes good in the world.”
How, pray tell, does the spouse respond?
Usually with some form of, “You’re crazy.”
This reaction happens in all types of settings. We launched our leadership program with one of the nation’s most iconic brands. Rather than using fictional business stories, we base the program on the business challenges that exist within the client organization. The first programs were launched about 3 months after 9/11. Previously, the client company had truckloads of money to throw at any problems. But, consumer spending in their category had an enormous drop. Our executive participants came into the program to produce a business revolution.
By the time we were finished, the executives returned to their business units prepared to announce their bold plans to lead a revolution without the previous resources. They were prepared for “you’re crazy” at a whole new level.
Let’s take a sidebar. Human beings are capable of thinking about something other than themselves for a maximum of 15-seconds. That means that telling people what to do doesn’t improve engagement, motivation is shattered. In another example, many people who are making a watershed career change go to their tribe with righteous anger. “You are my family, you are supposed to support me.” The 15-second rule also shatters the old sales models. Quite simply, pitch-selling usually irritates people. Today’s effective leader motivates talent by accessing the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. Families will not respond to pitches and righteousness.
We had a program where a group of men came back to the program with a state of laughter. It turned out they were all Jewish professionals. They had discussed the Jewish Mother’s Hierarchy of Acceptable Career Choices. The value was determined by how much one mother’s eyebrows moved when the other revealed what her son did for a living. Minor rise? CPA. Middle of the forehead? Attorney. To the hairline? Doctor, and a specialty produced a natural facelift. One of those very men was an attorney and he had disliked the work since he began. In a week he was going to Thanksgiving dinner and would be telling them he was buying a florist shop and changing his life.
One of those men left the practice of law to buy a florist shop. At the holiday dinner, he made the announcement. When the drama subsided, he spoke more directly to their needs and expectations. He reminded them of the years he spent at family dinners complaining about his work and often coming to the table with negative energy. He said, “I want to bring happiness to our get-togethers. I want to add rather than detract from the energy when we see each other. He asked that they give him a year to see what he could do with the business. Today, he has 8 locations and sends flowers to his mother every single week.
Defining how we want to live our lives is one of the most basic steps underneath positive and successful change. Becoming adept at negotiating with our tribes opens the door to greater freedom.
Sometimes, it is necessary to change tribes. There is an old quote, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
If we want to become successful in the film industry, don’t hang out with starving actors. Find someone who is successful to help you.
There has never been a more important time to define the work that we love, the work that is meaningful to us, the work that matters.
Remember that old chestnut phrase, “Think outside of the box?”
Well, if we have been doing black and white work, how do we think outside of the box? How do we carve a pathway to the kind of work that is so perfect for us, that we no longer think of as work?
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