We all make choices each day, choosing one thing over another based on how we feel. Some things carry more weight and thus direct our daily choices. I spent nearly 25 years in corporate America pursuing activities which others valued: money, travel, status, office size, group size etc. External rewards can often mask the pain of not following one’s internal dreams. The more people hide from their true vocation; the more they seek to drown out their dreams with external rewards and approval. The workplace is great at helping here. Most organizations are concerned with productivity and short-term results while motivating people to want more of what the organization wants. This is in contrast to helping people find more meaning and fulfillment in their vocational lives.
I can remember just before I left corporate America, I was in the last stages of a third interview for one of those senior management six figure jobs that offered great perks, pay and status. The hiring manager said to me in that last interview, ‘’Craig, you are going to love it here’’ At that point, you know you have ‘’ the job’’. She went on to tell me that she valued balance in her staff. I thought to myself, this story ought to be good, since I already knew the job was going to be one of those where I kissed my family goodbye on Sunday night and returned drained the following Friday.
She went on to tell me that she expected her staff to always be home for anniversaries and birthdays! I mumbled something like, ‘’ Wow, that’s great’’. Inside, I started to die. I felt like I was being led away in a straight jacket. Any moment, I expected to see the corporate HR police come in, shoot my picture give me my box of pencils.
My mind’s eye quickly saw the opportunity to enjoy my daughter’s track meets, my youngest son’s pre-school Halloween parties, my middle son’s play performances, and those cozy evenings on the couch talking about the day’s challenges with my wife, disappear. No spur of the moment trips for ice cream, no help with homework and no lying around the family room with the kids playing Candy Land. Yes, my life was being taken away, or at least it felt like it was. This job also came at a time when I was under much pressure to get a high paying position. We were just recovering from losing most of our life savings from a dot com venture where I had been a founding member. I had been out of work for over six months. Sadly, my middle child was ill and we were facing the hard decision of sending him out of state for treatment. My relationship of 20 years with my wife was as strained as one could possibly imagine and personally I felt I had no choice but to accept this death sentence of a job. As the manager was going on and on describing the other benefits of the job like the free laptop, credit union, Friday beer bash and other equally useless corporate activities, I suddenly remembered something my middle child had said to me recently. One morning over breakfast as I was telling my wife how much I didn’t want to go back to a corporate job, my son said to me, ‘’Dad, what’s the use of making all that money if you aren’t here to spend it with us?’’
All of a sudden, my next steps became quite clear. I abruptly stood up and told the hiring manager that I was sorry but this job did not align with what was most important to me. I told her that I couldn’t accept the position.
I wish I could have taken a picture of the hiring manager’s reaction. She was shocked that someone would actually turn down a great position during the poor economic situation we were experiencing at that time.. Yes, I faced another set of weeks accepting three hundred dollar a week unemployment checks, but this time it was me who was smiling. You see, I made this decision based on what I considered was most important to me or what I like to refer as my prize possessions. As I started to accept this position, I saw the devastating impact it would have on the things I prized most: family, health, helpfulness, creativity and intellectual growth. So, I refused the job. To this day, I never looked back. It was the right decision. What are the things you prize the most in life?
How do you know when you are staying true to the things you prize and when you are not? Its one thing to actually write down what’s most important to you but the next critical step is to actually figure out how you know when you are following what you prize and when you are not.
If you prize something in your life, it is quite easy to think of a few behaviors that align with what you prize and a few which don’t.. For example, let’s assume you prize being healthy. Healthy behaviors include daily exercise, a strict diet, good social relationships and a day filled with activities which you love to do. I would bet if other people followed these behaviors, they would have a good chance of being healthy as well. Now, look at your list of behaviors for being unhealthy. You don’t exercise, eat poorly, get little sleep, gobble junk food late at night, have few friends to share with, and hate getting up in the morning to go to work. Do you think if other people tried this, they would have a good chance at being unhealthy? You bet!
Figuring out what you prize the most takes internal work. No one is going to walk up to you and ask you how your plans are aligning with what’s most important to you. Often it is far easier to find assistance in moving away from what one prizes, then it is to find help in moving toward what one wants.
For many people, their daily vocational activities are not in alignment with what they currently do. This causes tension in the human system. Some people recognize this and as a result move towards more of what they want to close the gap. It is a conscious effort. Sadly, for many it is easier to leave the gap open and move away from what they want in their vocational life. They often succumb to pressure from others; particularly the ones who profess to love them. This can result in many other symptoms such as illness, relationship and family problems and a general sense of wondering whether this is all there is to life.
Are you at a job today that you know in your gut has nothing to do with what you prize the most? Most of us will spend half our lives, close to forty years, working. That’s a lot of time doing what you don’t love. Look at your current to-do list for next week. Now, how much of this aligns to what you prize most in your life?
I think in fact, discussing with others what you love to do is sort of a taboo in our society. It’s sort of like sex; everyone thinks about it but no one talks about it!
How many of you are working in jobs on a daily basis, 40 hours a week that have nothing to do with what you prize the most?
Nancy, A friend of mine has always wanted to be a musician. She prizes creativity and expresses it by writing and performing music. But what is she doing at her job? Supervising a rental car agency! Nancy's thinks, Boy I would love to be a musician but I can't afford to make a change. Well, how would Nancy know if she never really sat down and thought about it? She just assumed doing what she loved was impossible. Are you like Nancy?