For the last 28 years, my company has orchestrated the success of thousands of individuals in stepping into uniquely personalized careers. We have also helped a wide variety of organizations become far better places to work. My own journey into finding what I was born to do was far more difficult and heartbreaking than most of our clients. This is because I was the first client. Before my professional turning point, I had two careers. During the day, I was a staffing executive with a rich book of business and an array of talent recruiters. At night, I was a jazz musician, composer, and orchestrator. I went into the staffing business so that I could live in Malibu until I attained the holy grail of a record contract.
The truth of being human is there isn’t meaning to life. Whatever meaning we find in life is what we apply to our lives.
About a year before I launched Inspired Work, I received a call from a well-known record producer. He was launching a new label that would be distributed by Warner Brothers and he wanted me to become their first artist. I left the staffing industry so quickly you could see the skid marks behind me! But, six weeks later, my producer dropped dead of a heart attack, gone in an instant. Often, when we have a brush with mortality one of the most common reactions is to question the meaning of life. The truth of being human is there isn’t meaning to life. Whatever meaning we find in life is what we apply to our lives.
Each and every one of us has the option to define what is meaningful to us. There has never been a more opportune or important time in history to do just that. Some of us do that the easy way, I did it the hard way. In the hours after that horrible call, I realized that I had constructed my life so that I would be happy in the future. It dawned on me that I knew nothing of value in leading a fulfilling and happy life in the here and now. For the next six months, I spent most of my waking hours studying happiness and fulfillment. In fact, I felt a sense of urgency, perhaps even desperation to find a life that mattered.
During this inquiry, it hit me that in the 13 years I worked in staffing, most of the people who came to us for work were not pursuing meaning and fulfillment. Most of the themes centered around the recruitment promise from the industrial revolution: Predictability and Survival. For 300 years, government, education, and employers worked together in producing millions of categorized workers that fit into work stations and settle into security. You almost had to be a full-blown outsider to escape that. When children were in their most imaginative period of growth their imaginative ideas were often greeted with pushback from their parents and other adults upholding the predictability and survival.
The thing is, work, for most of us, represents our single biggest relationship. We spend most of our waking hours in activities related to work. However, our educational system doesn’t teach people how to have a great relationship with their work. They don’t teach us that everyone has a unique purpose and that finding that purpose is one of the greatest opportunities to lead richly rewarding lives. They don’t teach wealth, connectivity, sales, presentation, influence or making a difference.
I began working on a model that would identify the work that comes most naturally to each and every one of us. It had to produce unique results. We piloted the first day at a university and the results were so good, I continued with the design.
One of our longtime contributors is Robert Maurer. Bob is the head of behavioral science at UCLA Medical School. He has devoted much of his life to studying and teaching behavior that leads to successful lives. He once said, “There is nothing crueler than to love someone for their potential.” Having great relationships towards work requires more than simply finding the work that is meaningful and fulfilling. How can we be fulfilled if we are doing what we love and failing financially? This tends to be the questions that stop many of us. How do we take spiritual development, no matter how we define that, and marry it to a strong business outcome?
The answers to that question also signifies the first chapter of thriving in the midst of the biggest restructuring of work in world history. Time and time again, I discover that somewhere in the midst of a person’s heart, mind, and soul, the truth exists. If that truth is to coalesce into a sustainable income, there are certain life skills and mindsets that allow us to pull it together fairly quickly.
I’m often asked by business owners and employers to help select the right candidate from a few finalists. I always suggest that my clients hire the finalist who is grateful. This is the biggest indicator that a person is, at the very least, headed towards their right path. When someone is doing what they were born to do, they are grateful. To settle for work that doesn’t inspire real gratitude is to settle for life without dessert.
Another sign we are on the right path is that we never tire of the outcome from our work.
In the last few years of his life, I became friends with Dr. Howard House, the founder of the House Ear Institute. It is the world’s most influential source of hearing restoration. In his 90s, Howard still showed up at the Institute virtually every day. I asked him why he did it. He smiled and said, “I want to see our patient’s faces when they hear for the first time.”
28 years ago, I walked into the ballroom of the Loew’s Beach Hotel in Santa Monica. 36 people had shown up to do our first program. I knew the curriculum was going to impact them but I was quaking in my Ferragamo slip-ons. That weekend became a turning point for all of us. I have never tired of watching someone who claimed they would never find that right path suddenly have the Gestalt, the whole picture, the full story in how they will find they work they love and become successful with that path.
We are in the midst of a great deal of turmoil. This is what happens when masses of people believe there isn’t enough for all of us. It is a mistake to believe that someone else is going to fix it for us. Right now, half of our country’s workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.” This is what happens when we hang on to work or industries that are shrinking. There has never been a better time to make a career change or to reinvent oneself within their life’s work. Many are viewing accelerating technology as a sinister threat to their work. Some of us are hanging on to promises that someone will fix it. But only we can transform ourselves. Only we can make the decision to change. Only we can make the commitment to find the work that is meaningful and rich and spiritually fulfilling.
The payoffs are enormous. For example, I find that most of our graduates are far too busy changing the world to engage in the culture of outrage.
Find your purpose.
Develop the skills to succeed, no matter what you choose to do with your life.
Find the role models that will show the way.
Take the high road and look for new friends that walk by your side.
Because life is short.