Tired of Mediocre Outcomes? The New Standard
In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy urged Americans to think about how we measure what makes a country great in new ways. He said the Gross National Product doesn’t measure the health of our children, the beauty of our poetry, our courage, our wisdom, or our compassion. He said, “It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Mr. Kennedy made these suggestions during the height of the industrial revolution. The irony is that the standards of how we judged and selected work were in direct opposition to his suggestions. We continue to be haunted by the standards that began over 300 years ago. The industrial revolution promised workers a life of predictability and survival. These standards were passed down through generations of many families. Our educational system wasn’t about honoring our unique DNA, it prepared us to fit into workstations, cubicles and professional designations. Stepping out of this machine usually required rebellion, a glamorous talent or unusually visionary parents.
Shortly before launching Inspired Work in 1990, I was sitting on the beach trying to dig my way out of a career crisis. I had left an executive position in staffing to take a recording contract as a jazz pianist and composer. Just a few weeks into the project, my producer dropped dead of a heart attack. He was 37 years old. Brushes with mortality tend to push many of us into exploring the meaning of life. That tragic event gave me this moment of crystalline clarity. I didn’t know anything of value of leading a life that was based on happiness in the present. I was always working towards a goal that represented happiness.
In terms of happiness, work was the biggest suspect. For 12 years, I worked in staffing so that I could live in a nice home at the beach. But, I didn’t find much that was meaningful about it. This statement isn’t about putting down the many staffing executives that we work with, it is how it felt to me. We moved people around for a fee. For most of our organizational clients and candidates, happiness was optional equipment. During my journaling, I realized that the vast majority of our culture pursues two standards in work that trump all other values. We look for survival and predictability. That wasn’t a big surprise. This was the recruitment pitch from the industrial revolution. The two standards, upon close examination, are fairly mediocre. But many of us protect those two with a vengeance. We talk about happiness and embedded cynicism, perhaps even contempt, shoots down the idea of the word that could transform our lives.
One morning, I was digging the heels of my feet into the sand and trying to come up with an antidote to the very standards of work that haunt us today. Two words came up. Irrevocable Happiness.
What would my life look like if I was sentenced to happiness? The answer changed everything. It also became clear that every single person’s response to this new standard would be unique. Writing my definition of Irrevocable Happiness revealed what I really wanted to do with my life. Here are a few examples. “I will only work with brilliant and loving people.” There was nothing in my work history that indicated this was possible. But, it became a new standard. “I would touch people’s lives in meaningful and lasting ways.” That sentenced indicated that I might want to do something outside of music. Musicians transport people into their world but their role isn’t to change lives. Over the next few days, I continued writing answers to this new standard. The definition became the foundation of all that I do today. I even threw in the weird stuff. I am a lifelong over-the-top crazy person for Dachshunds. These short, stubborn, crafty, and willful little dogs refuse to be trained. At the time, my dogs spent long days alone and I missed them. Right now, one is sleeping at my feet.
That summer, I developed The Inspired Work Program. While we began with Irrevocable Happiness, the curriculum is about taking the beginnings of that definition and defining down to the detail how to live that every day. For 27 years, we have been focused on helping people define the work that will bring joy into their lives. For every single person, the definition is unique. The solution for succeeding is also unique. I had been to human potential programs that pushed people to elevate their vision and then gave them nothing to help them realize how to bring it all together. I believe there is nothing crueler than to love someone for their potential. As a result, our curriculum became a rigorous experience that leads to very real and right-sized success.
What is life like today? In 1990, I wrote down that I would live at a four-mile strip of beach that begins with Santa Monica and ends with Malibu. There was a lengthy period of time where I turned my back on that value and moved away. I pined and missed my neighborhood every single day. We’re back. I write all of the time. Not just to contribute but because I have fallen in love with the craft of writing. I look out at the ocean. I work with people that I want to work with. Last week, my partner threw a birthday party and as I looked around the room, it dawned on me that half of my closest friends came from our program. The others are all doing something meaningful and purposeful with their lives.
I have learned that living the lives we are meant to lead requires courage. But, the payoff exceeds any discomfort we may have on the way to success. I have learned that touching the lives of others is what makes my work intoxicating. I have learned that all of us have a place, a purpose, a sweet spot, where work and values converge, where the work that matters drives us to grow as never before.
When I was a kid, John and Robert Kennedy were two of my favorite people. At the time, I was too young to intellectually grasp the full meaning of their words. But, I could feel their optimism. My perception of them was more about how they made me feel. They suggested personal responsibility. They proposed that we becoming better people. They held up aspirations that were as real for anyone that listened as they are for me today.
Base our lives on happiness. Run our lives with meaning. Everything else is learnable.
Hear David talk about The Inspired Work Program
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