Is the pursuit of a significant life getting in the way of being productive? A recent blog post on HBR.org by Umair Haque provided another reminder of the importance of pursuing a life of significance. It even provided some helpful tips to achieve that. But as I read it, I wondered if such pursuits get in the way of my productivity at work. Can I have both? Can I achieve significance and be productive? Can I keep my eyes toward the stars while logging my time? Can I dissect the monthly financial reports while contemplating our company’s vision?
But to do so, we need to consider productive activity and significant pursuits on a continuum. Let’s put productive actions on the left side of the continuum and significant pursuits on the right. Place a mark somewhere on the continuum that represents where you typically operate for each principle.
Are you more skewed to the productive life or the significant life? I hope your continuum doesn’t always line up on either extreme. The key is to have your marks move across each continuum at certain times. Sometimes you should follow societal order, but not always. Change often calls for challenging our sacred tenets. Always pursuing our desires would be counterproductive. But never pursuing them leaves us stale and boring, not inspiring. So I hope your marks are at various places on each of these lines. And I hope the next time you take this simple assessment, your marks have changed locations. Don’t always be on one side or the other. To be productive and achieve significance, you should move back and forth along each of the continuums at various times in your life.
Can a leader who protects their vulnerability be effective? Strong leadership requires that people feel comfortable communicating their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and where they need to grow. How well can others be led by a leader who has armor on? The fact is that many of the most powerful leaders have gone through challenging life experiences that helped them grow dramatically. Those experiences hold important lessons that others can learn from and be encouraged by.
My own story started as the loser kid growing up…with bad grades, fights, and often alone on the playground. At an early age, I was beginning to accept my inevitable lifelong journey through Loserville. But something happened my junior year in high school. I learned the game of acting like everyone else acts. Just mimic those people who you want to become so badly. So I joined a sport, improved my appearance and painted on a confident smile day in and day out.
And it worked…really well.
It worked well in my professional life also. But there was a consequence to all of this “acting”. Faking everyone out and hiding behind a false image was hard and tiring work. Unauthentic living was down right exhausting. That exhaustion finally caught up with me. I was completely out of gas and started showing physical signs from the stress including anxiety and high blood pressure.
My body was telling me that I couldn’t play the game anymore. It told me that I had to learn to be who I was, and to truly accept myself. I had to stop the performance and live genuinely.
This was a scary growth process for me, because I knew who I was when I wasn’t performing. I was alone and unaccepted. My transition to authenticity meant that I had to embrace my inner ragamuffin nature. I would have to be ok with myself and gain a sense of personal value and worth even when I felt inadequate. I started to let people in to my life more – my authentic life, not my “presentation” life. I’m more open with my fears. I don’t pretend to have all the answers anymore. I could go on here, but hopefully you get the point.
So how has this whole new vulnerability / transparency thing worked out? I have a better perspective of life – knowing that I’m not really that big of a deal… and, thank God, I don’t have to be. I don’t feel quite as much pressure as I once did. I learned to empathize with others more and I’m more interested in them than I used to be. I am more engaged with life, feeling more and bigger emotions. I have more joy and I’m less anxious about things.
As leaders, we often live with intense pressure. Eventually that pressure will bubble up and explode – maybe causing a personal collapse. Trust from others is so important for leaders. And people trust leaders who are authentic. Those who lead from a guarded state will be exposed and eventually trust will fall.
To grow as leaders, we need to learn to be more vulnerable and authentic. As we are more authentic, we also direct our energies in productive ways as opposed to putting a drain on ourselves trying to keep up a front. The more authentic we are and the more we are willing to let others see our humanity, the greater trust we build. It also allows us to truly impact others so that they can learn from our mistakes and life lessons and become future leaders.
Also, check out this video from TED featuring Brene Brown. She has some very valuable words of wisdom that support this idea. I hope your journey toward authenticity is a valuable one. Onward!
The meaning of life is to live fully with ultimate hope.
Let the debate begin. I know I’m not wise enough to nail this. I don’t think any of us are…but we sure seem to spend a lot of time in pursuit of identifying and understanding the meaning of life—especially around this time of year—the New Year. This is the time when I seem to rest the most, play the most, and wrestle philosophically the most. The turn of a new year for me is a time to consider the personal question of “what do I want to be this year” in pursuit of the meaningful life.
This consideration always comes back to purpose. So in the transition to 2009, I found myself, yet again considering … well, me. And I found some things I liked and some things I didn’t like. These were some of the questions I considered.
For me, in ‘09 I’ll make a greater commitment to my spiritual growth, new adventures with my family, and business growth. What about you?
Emotional energy is low, lifestyle challenges are high. And few people are escaping the negative impacts of our times. Life got harder.
So, how have you adjusted?
Hopefully, you’ve adjusted like Americans have throughout history. You aren’t waiting to be saved, bailed out, or granted immunity. You’ve replaced finger pointing and anger with a personal and strong sense of urgency. These aren’t the times for hope, but rather, action. It’s time to bring your intensity to every single day. According to John Kotter, it’s time to elevate your sense of urgency.
…true urgency is a set of emotions, a gut-level feeling that we need to get up every single day with total determination to do something to deal with those hazards and opportunities and make some progress, no matter how modest, and do so today.
A contributor to this blog, Bryan, reminded me today of something I know well, but don’t think about often enough. If I love something so much that it becomes a personal mission of mine, it will demand personal sacrifice.
Bryan left a lucrative career for the mission field. I left easy money for a “wrestle to the mat” in people development. My brother’s wife, Jayme sacrificed life balance (impossible) for her music career.
Seth Godin has an interesting read on how difficult it is to make great money doing something you love. I hope that’s not true. But this is for sure – doing what you love will demand greater sacrifice than playing it safe.