Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Are Baby Boomers to blame for our leadership crisis?

As I watched the debt ceiling crisis unfold in Washington I kept thinking back to the what Tammy Erickson said about baby boomers in her book “What’s Next Gen X?”  In short, one of the key features of a baby boomer is they are driven to win, for winning’s sake.  Our congress is full of baby boomers who were elected by baby boomers with one purpose: winning. 

I believe this is creating a leadership crisis not only in our government but in our organizations as well.  Why?  Well, winning is a matter of perception.  Who won in the debt ceiling crisis?  The country?  Current economic indicators say no.  Republicans? Democrats?  It depends on who you talk to.  I believe that in our two party system “winning” is starting to mean keeping the other side from getting what it wants.

This is true in our corporate culture as well.  Listen to a baby boomer leader talk and you will almost always hear success indicators that are based on a fundamental idea of winning, even when the “win” has no value in real terms to the organization.  To the baby boomer leader the “win” is more important than the result.  The current, on going, recession was fueled by this drive to win by baby boomer lead organizations who lead the way in making it possible to purchase homes we can’t afford on credit we have no business obtaining all for one purpose: finding new ways to say we’ve won, even when we really haven't. 

This emperor-has-no-clothes approach is a plague and if generational researchers are right the baby boomers have no intention of giving up any of their influence anytime soon.  That would be, after all, losing.   As baby boomers stay in jobs longer than their predecessors, push down wages of those beneath them so they can earn more and continue to make decisions based on short term wins in lieu of long-term victories we will only see them bail out when they feel like doing so is a win for them. 

I believe the only way to reverse this dangerous trend is to change the terms. Like most other messes that baby boomers have made, this one is going to be left to under paid, under positioned Gen X leaders to clean up.  We have to do the one thing we are good at: change the conversation and alter perspectives.

As Gen X leaders we must play a crucial part in helping the Baby Boomers turn their drive to win at all costs away from meaningless accomplishments they will often choose in order to be able to declare success and point it towards accomplishments of substance.  We do this by asking simple questions like: “How is this a good thing for our organization?”  “How does this benefit our team?”  “What effect will this have on our future?”  While we may get met with some frustration from our boomer bosses and risk being seen as party poopers, they will appreciate the focus in the long run.

I saw this first hand when I was hired as a program coordinator in my organization.  Senior directors in my organization were in the habit of drawing attention to large contracts or big revenue programs they were in charge of.  I started asking a simple question, “what is the net on that deal?”  What we found was that many of these big contracts and programs were consuming almost all if not more than the revenue they brought in.  That’s not a winner, that’s a leach.  We were able to change our view of winning from the size of contract to the margin we were going to make on the contract.  When we did those victory driven baby boomers then changed their approach. 

We often hear about how Gen Y and the Baby Boomers get along so well at work and Gen X can get left out of the conversation.  When Gen X stands up and asks hard questions about what their boomer leaders are calling a win Gen Y listens.  While Gen Y and Boomers share a lot, Gen Y and X have a strong-shared belief in being good citizens and making a better world. 

Gen X has the potential to fill a pivotal roll in helping our baby boomer leaders focus their desire to win on things that matter and helping Gen Y learn how to have that conversation.  If you are a baby boomer stop and think about what each win means, not just for you, but for everyone and be sure you communicate that with your team.  Look to your Gen X mangers to help you.  They have a unique perspective and help you create richer and more engaging goals and substance based wins.  

Monday, August 9, 2010

My letter to UHCE's clients

Every year I write a letter to our corporate training clients.  I'd like to share this year's letter here.

Surf over to your favorite news website or tune your television or radio to a news channel and you are bound to hear something about the state of our economy.  Are we on the upswing?  Will there be another dip?  Among the cacophony of wild speculation about the future and stories of our present situation there is a much quieter discussion going on.  It is the discussion of what our workplace looks like now and will look like as we move forward and beyond this current downturn.  Articles are popping up in scholarly journals and other publications on leadership and organizational development.  Read any of them and you will most likely see one word over and over again: flattening.

While most of what we know about the future of our economy is wild speculation we do know that organizations are flattening and will continue to do so regardless of the economic circumstances.  This flattening is creating a dynamic shift in the traditional career path.  I’m reminded of the book Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dal.  In the end our hero Charlie, his Grandfather step into an elevator only to find that instead of just going up, this elevator goes sideways, forwards and backwards as well.  This is similar to what has happened to career paths. Instead of straight up we have career paths that go all different directions. 

This has left many training professionals scratching their heads and employees frustrated with a company culture that grooms everyone for the next step up only to find the next step has been eliminated, collapsed, or never vacated.  This challenge is only going to grow as we enter a period of recovery. 

I believe the key for training professionals within organizations is to begin working to develop a more holistic training plan that is geared not to prepare someone for a promotion but to create a well rounded and agile employee group that is prepared to work in all types of situations, teams and projects.  This belief is supported by a recent study by Forbes and IBM where they asked executives from top global companies what they felt their greatest organization need was.  The top of the list: the need to create organizations that value and allow innovation and the need for greater organizational agility.  These traits are not the product of heavily managed organizations.  They are the product of organizations that value the core principal of leadership: self-knowledge.  By developing leaders at all levels organizations will be better able to deal with flattening and the demands of any economic climate.

University of Houston Continuing Education is here to help you.  We have faculty members who are on the forefront of this organization shift.  As your trusted training partner we are proud to not only offer you training but also our expertise and knowledge about our current and future workplace.  I hope that you find the attached brochure informative and I look forward to contacting you very soon about how U of H can help you and your organization.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Your Gen X Employee: How to Make Winning Matter

A donkey is a powerful animal.  They are able to pull a lot of weight and mostly do it with little complaint.  However, there are times when a donkey will sit down and not budge.  They start braying loudly and just sit.  It is unexplainable.  To many Boomers and GenY folks this is exactly what seems to happen to their GenXer colleagues.  In this blog series I hope to help shed some light on why we GenXers appear to do this and what you can do to keep your GenX workforce  moving forward.

How to Make Winning Matter

I sat in a staff appreciation breakfast listening to the Chancellor of my university speak.  I was so full of angst I almost didn’t have an appetite.  Things have been tough here as budget cuts have affected me directly in a lot of crappy ways.  I was looking for her to acknowledge that she was asking a lot of us, that she wants to treat us better, that it wont be this way forever.  She said nothing of the sort.  All she said was, “I realize there are challenges, I’m not blind to them.”  Hard to believe. 

What did she talk about?  Winning.  Her message was “we are winning.”  She implored us to talk positively about the university in the community, to tell people all the things we are doing that make us winners and to be proud.  By this point you could look around the room and identify the GenXers.  They were either leaving or turned back to their tables talking and eating.  Meanwhile all the baby boomers are looking at the stage beaming.  Why?  Do GenXers not care about winning?  The answer is, no, not for winning’s sake.

If you work with GenXers and you’re scratching your head as to why they don’t seem to give a damn like you do listen up.  We can care.  We will care if you help us.  As I listened to the chancellor talk about all the ways we were winning and how important it was the only question I had was “so what?”  I should work to make her a winner so she can get an extra $100,000.00 a year at her next job she’s going to head off to as soon as she can?  How does that help me?   If you can answer that question for your GenXer employees they’ll go to the moon and back for you with a smile on their face.  

Baby boomers all believe that one day they'll be CEO too.  It's Ronald Reagan's promise: if you let the rich people get richer then think of how rich you'll get once you make it to.  You won't all be CEOs.  We know this, we've accepted it.  If you find yourself talking about winning and you see a GenXer crossing their arms and staring at the ceiling don’t start drawing conclusions.  Understand that we are stuck behind a blockade of baby boomers, we’re earning less than you did, and we are expected to do more.  Cut us some slack and take a minute to show us how meeting these goals will benefit us.  Be as specific as possible and, this is very important, do not make promises you can’t keep.  Once you break our trust you’ve proven that you're just another corporate laky.  We'll forgive you but we'll never trust you.  

We want to win too, but not just for winning's sake.  You need to tie organizational success to our own.  Tell us what will be different for us.  Avoid the boomer mentality of "when you become vice president you'll have x."  We don't see that as a possibility because you're never going to retire.  The workplace for us is not what it was for you.  We know this and you know it.  Admit it.  Don't be ambigous.  "I'll see what I can do for you" or "there is a possibility" are not going to do it.  Finally, if you can't do anything for us or are not willing to then just be honest about it.  We'll respect you.   

I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how having a winning football team will benefit me.   Because they don't I assume they can't.  

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Case For Professional Development

A few years ago I came across two authors, Julie Coats and William Draves.  They have a book called “Nine-Shift”, in it they discuss the end of the post industrial era and a shift into an “electronic age” of sorts.  One of the things they talk about is how the work force will change dramatically between 2005 and 2015.  So far they have been right, the workforce is changing dramatically in many ways.  Prior to the recession the change was gradual, however, economic slow downs have a way of greatly accelerating changes in the work place, I believe this is true with the most recent recession.  As the economy begins to slowly improve we continue to hear the words “job-less” recovery.  Basically what that means is that the jobs that were lost as the labor market contracted in the last recession will mostly not be replaced.  Why?  The way we work is changing and, I would argue on the back side of this recession it has changed dramatically.  No one is really talking about it just yet.  To understand this change we must first look at the labor market prior to the recession.
Even before the recession began we were seeing shifts in the way people worked.  Things like “flex time” and “telecommuting” were being widely adopted by organizations (albeit in a very narrowly applied way).  By and large we were operating in the same work structure as our great grandparents did at the turn of the century;  9-5 (then 8 to 5) with an hour for lunch.  We had very clear and consistent lines of authority.  This structure provides a very clear pathway for personal career growth.  This has served us well in a manufacturing-based economy.  Yet as we move away from a manufacturing based economy it is slowly becoming irrelevant.  The process of learning the work, then slowly acquiring more and more responsibility until you ultimately reached the executive office or hit retirement age is no longer working.  As we move from an economy that manufactures thing to an economy of ideas and knowledge that are then manufactured by labor forces in other countries  the way we work and how we progress down our career paths has changed as well.  
Demographics are also playing a significant roll in changing the way we work.  Our organizations are basically choking on high earning baby boomers who have been promoted mostly under the old work structure.  Years of service and social promotion have played a large roll in creating this highly inflated upper management structure.  Beneath these baby boomers is a much smaller group called Generation X.  These 30-40 year olds are stuck behind the baby boomers who are staying in the work force longer and are, in many ways occupying unnecessary positions.  Many of the X’ers have entered the workforce under the old structure as well.  They are also the greatest force for the changes coming in the way we work.
Beneath the X’ers is another large group of workers called Generation Y.  They get along swimmingly with the baby boomers and many of them will be promoted along side or past the Gen  X’er’s as boomers eventually retire from the work force, especially in organizations that try to retain their old work structure.  They have a high degree of respect for the boomers and while they are not averse to new working arrangements they also see value in the “old ways” that the X’er does not.  
Prior to the recession we heard stories of Gen Xers bailing out of the corporate world feeling as if they had no place or did not want to wait in line behind a bunch of boomers whose conspicuous consumption lifestyles were going to prevent them from retiring. It is often a key indicator of major shifts in the way work when the middle generation, those who feel they are ready to take on leadership begin to strike out on their own endeavors and Gen Xer’s have done so in many ways with great success.  Companies like Amazon, Zappos, Google are all thriving even in the downturn.  Corporations suddenly woke up to the fact that there was going to be an experience deficit in their organization as boomers left their roles for the smaller Gen X cohort.  To answer this organizations have instituted development programs for their younger work forces (mostly Gen Y) while still ultimately suppressing the wages of everyone that was not a baby boomer and had not “earned it” yet.  The silver lining lay in the belief that over-promoted ranks of baby boomers were going leave open and vacant a lot of necessary positions and as organizations work to fill in those positions individuals with the skill sets to fill them will have amazing leverage.  That was until the recession.  The recession combined with a work structure that is not sustainable in a non-manufacturing economy has lead to lay offs in the highest ranks of our organizations.  By and large these positions will not be filled again.  The old work structure isn’t gone, but the change has accelerated.  The charred remains of the post-war social promotion structure are still being clung to by many organizations.  However, many organizations have moved on to greener pastures and ultimately any organization that wishes to survive is going to have to give up the old castle.  Even after our economic downturn lead to a large contraction there is still going to be a severe skill deficit in the workplace.  We are already hearing a lot about the post recession work place.  Organizations are “flattening” in order to shift more functional responsibility to their bloated management ranks in order to keep those positions relevant as a matter of self preservation. This flattening also creates a need for new skills at the lower levels and almost eliminates the traditional paths of advancement.  
The old work place model could be imagined as a pyramid.   At the top is the CEO at the narrowest point then the model expands through ranks of executive, senior, mid-level, frontline managers and finally front line employees with the front line being the largest group.  If you were to take each level and divide their required skills into two groups: technical expertise and people expertise you'd see that most of the work groups require technical expertise.  It is only at the executive level the "people expertise" begins to play a significant role.  Thus, "people skills" were the purview of the executive suite.  In the old work model the cultivation and expansion of technical expertise was the key to upward movement.  It was only the highest ranks of the organization that technical expertise was not a key requirement.  This supports an experiential or time model of promotion and is a left over of the days when an individual entered the workforce in one organization and stayed there for an entire career.  
What I believe the workforce is trending towards and, in-fact, already looks like in many organizations is a diamond.  Most organizations have a huge (and mostly irrelevant) chunk of baby boomers in upper management.  We are seeing this chunk of people reduced somewhat.  In the future as baby boomers leave the workforce or change the way that they work this area will begin to shrink, as it does the organization will begin to collapse duties and this collapsing will lead to flattening.  What does this mean for those people looking for movement?  It’s not going to happen the way it used to.  As our workforce flattens the distance between the functional workforce and the C-suite will decrease as the over swollen management ranks are cleared out.  For those who entered the workforce and are expecting the old path to a high paying leadership position it just is not going to happen.  
With the old pathways no longer viable (or at best, a slim margin of success) how does the mid-career and entry level professional achieve the position and earning potential of their predecessors?  I believe the answer lies in re-orienting our professional development priorities.  The potential of promotion through technical expertise has always been finite.  I believe today that the potential is fully realized much earlier than ever before. Now it is essential for professionals to develop their people skills earlier and to a greater degree than before.  As organizations flatten and re-orient their workforce around projects and knowledge centers it is the people who can work in the most diverse range circumstances and the largest range of group dynamics that will be of the highest perceived value and therefore a priority to retain by the organization.  Ability to work with, motivate, and lead in a variety of work groups and circumstances is not a technical skill.  And, until recently, it was learned on the job over long periods of time.  This luxury is no longer available in a flat organization.  Technical expertise is enough to carry you forward professionally for a few years, maybe a decade.  I would argue that in this new work place the mediocre technician with highly effective people skills will go farther and acquire more than the most talented technician with no people skills.  Understanding how people work, how to lead them, motivate them and achieve results is no longer the purview of the executive suite.  In the flat organization it is a task everyone must master.  
When we set out the create the EmPower Leadership Program at U of H our team knew that we had to create a program that met these needs.  Leadership programs, in general, still primarily serve the old workforce model.  How to get your boss to agree with you so they’ll approve the things you want and how to get your employees to work from 8-5 and all do the same thing.  That world, though still prevalent, is steadily losing ground.  Leadership now is much more about helping individuals, teams, and, at some level the organization, tie internal motivators to organizational objectives.   Individuals who not only understand this but are effective practitioners can, I believe, expect to go very far.  For this reason, development of people skills and social intelligence based leadership training must play a significant role in career development.  
At an organizational level we have already seen the companies that get this starting to take a lion’s share of the talent.  This trend will only continue especially as experience hiring begins to pick up as post recession growth begins to occur.  Articles about “recruitment hit-lists” are starting to pop up in literature on organizational development as a major threat to retention at organizations who have not yet realized the need for re-orienting their workforce focus.  As Tamara Erickson says in her book “What’s Next Gen X”: “Bodies and hands are just not enough; hearts and minds are essential too.”  

Friday, October 9, 2009

What do you want?

“What do you want?”

I sat for a minute contemplating that question. I was sitting in front of 7 other people, most of them strangers on the first night of a Coaching Tools for Leaders class I had signed up for. I wanted to know what coaching was so I could more effectively market the program. I had volunteered to be coached the first night. I was now regretting that decision. "What do you want?" was a tough question because it was asked in such an unbounded way. It was not: “what do you want for dinner?” or “what do you want to do about the credit card bill?” or even “what do you want for your birthday?” it was open ended. “What do you want?”

My thoughts raced around. I felt as though I was trying to grab each thought off of a fast moving merry-go-round and I couldn’t move fast enough to get them articulated before they flew away only to be replaced by something else. As I started to clumsily list things I thought I wanted the instructor/coach begin giving me feedback. In a matter of minutes I had achieved something called “clarity.” Out of everything that bubbled up and over in response to that question we had identified one thing that was very important. Even though the session was ended prematurely I had a new understanding about myself. I had uncovered a need.

Over the coming weeks I coached and was coached in the class and I found myself asking “what do I want?” Is this the life I want? As I contemplated that question I came up with an interesting illustration that describes my life right now. Imagine there is a train. You really want to get on the train and to get a ticket you must do a certain thing. You complete this task or reach the goal and are allowed on the train, in the very back car. You are thrilled. You’re on the train. Sure it’s just the back car, but who cares? Turns out, you do. You go up to the front of that rearmost car and peer through the window into the next car and you see the next car up is even nicer than the one you are in now. It’s so much better in there. You decide you want in that car. The conductor tells you what you must do to get into the next car. And you set off working thinking that you will be happy once you’re in the next car without realizing that in front of the next car is an even better car and you’re stuck in a viscous cycle of sacrificing your ability to enjoy life in the present for the possibility of enjoying life in the future.

Six years ago I met a man who has become one of my dear friends at a coffee gathering. Shortly after I met him his life began to reorganize. At first the pace was almost glacial. As the years progressed this process of reorganization began to pick up momentum. Until he packed everything he could in his car and headed out across the country in what I could only call a pilgrimage. Those were dark days. He was mired in uncertainty and experiencing the pain of seeing the things he held as important ripped away. In the end he was left with an opportunity to start from scratch.

Now his life is almost unrecognizable from what it once was. Through his journey he was able to find what is most important to him and let the rest go. He is now pursuing the life that is far more rewarding. What’s different? I think he has organized his life around things that are actually rewarding and fulfilling to him, as opposed to an idea that he thinks will be rewarding.

You see, I believe that if we are not following our passion then at some point we reach a barrier. We go as far as we can go on our quest to pursue something we’re not passionate about and then, in a last ditch effort we over extend ourselves and we end up putting enormous amounts of energy into maintaining a lifestyle that just is not worth it.

At some point we run out of energy and like a plane that is flying too high and too slow, we stall out and begin to fall back to the ground. The fall is scary. Often times we crash leaving our life in a heap of wreckage. In that moment of destruction we are given an amazing gift: the opportunity to start from scratch. And like my friend we are able to pay close attention to the things that bring us joy and the things that do not. We have the chance to only bring those things into our lives that are enjoyable.

What if we caught ourselves before we stalled? What if we recognized the indicators early? Pilots are trained to recognize the early signs of a stall (the moment when the weight of the plane exceeds the amount of lift provided by the wings and the plane begins to lose altitude). In order to recover they point the nose down. As the plane loses altitude it picks up speed and as it picks up speed it regains lift and the pilot is able to recover without crashing.

What are the warning signs of an impending stall? For me my number one indicator is lack of motivation to do things I do not want to do. If I am living a life that is rewarding I can handle doing things I do not want to do to a certain extent. Yet if my life is not rewarding then those things I do not want to do become impossible tasks. When I get to this point I know it’s time to start taking a look at my life.

Don’t wait until you’re life is a heap of burning wreckage. If you feel like the effort required to get what you think you want exceeds the possible enjoyment it’s time to step back. Look at each piece of your life and ask yourself, “does this add value?” If it doesn’t you need to make a strong case to keep it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pillow Talk

This story has been told many different ways. I’m going to tell it the way I know it:

A mother found that her daughter was engaging in gossip with her friends and other family members. She decided to teach her daughter a lesson. One day she gave the daughter a feather pillow and said, “take this feather pillow, rip it open and pour all the feathers out of the second floor window of the house. When you’re done come and see me.”

The daughter went upstairs, ripped open the feather pillow and shook out the feathers from the second floor window of her house. She told her mother she had done as instructed. The mother then said, “now go and collect all of the feathers and stuff them back into the pillow.”

The daughter searched for hours trying to find each and every feather. She came back to her mother and said, “I tried to collect them all but I can not.” The mother sent the daughter back out telling her she must find every feather. The daughter searched until it grew dark and came in with tears in her eyes and said, “I just can’t find them all, I have tried and tried they just scattered to far.” The mother looked at the daughter with her half full pillow and she said, “every time you gossip it is like cutting open a feather pillow and shaking it in the wind.”

I love the way this story illustrates one of the truths about gossip. Gossip is a virus and once you speak it into existence it takes on a life of its own. It is also the first step on the road to becoming a subversive employee. Subversive employees are a serious issue in any organization. They are not just underperforming they are recruiting others to their way of thinking. When it comes to preventing subversion keeping gossip from taking a foothold is the ounce of prevention that will save you a pound of cure.

So how do you stop gossip in its tracks? Do not worry, it does not involve having staff members cut open feather pillows and then scrounging around trying to pick the feathers up all day. There is a much easier method that can be employed by anyone, regardless of whether you are a front-line with no direct reports or the CEO.

Each of us has a powerful tool at our disposal that we can wield to affect the behavior of others around us. It’s called “validation.” We do it all the time in our relations with others. Validation is a powerful motivation of human behavior. As social creatures we want to see that we are operating within the social norms of the groups we interact with. When we get validated we gain input on how our behavior is perceived. Validation, in this context, is attention in the form of feedback. When someone laughs at a joke you tell or tells you that your point of view is not correct you are being validated. You are receiving feedback. Gossip thrives on validation and is often engaged in by people as a means of receiving validation (hint hint).

Validation, as a feedback mechanism not only sends powerful messages when it is received, it also sends powerful messages when it withheld. I would imagine that many of us do not realize when we are withholding validation, yet we do it all the time. When someone says something to you and you just shrug it off and move on in the conversation you are withholding validation. Becoming conscious of when you validate and do not validate is a powerful tool that can be used to affect people’s behavior.

Withholding validation is the most effective way to kill gossip. If you recognize gossip and refuse to give it your attention the gossip will stop coming to you. In a leadership position this can send a powerful message to your group. If you are not in a leadership position it can send a powerful message to those around you that are. Either way you are affecting the environment around you in a positive way.

This is easy to do when the gossip isn’t about you or someone you know. When you’re being told something about yourself, it can be very hard not to validate it. I still say withholding validation is the most effective tool, yet if you must validate do so wisely.

To deal with gossip wisely you have to attempt to extract the element that makes something gossip, hearsay. Questions like, “what happened specifically?” or “Did you see this for yourself?” are powerful tools for removing hearsay from a story, especially when followed up with “what are you hoping will happen by telling me about this?”

There are times when simply ignoring gossip will not stop it. There are times when leaders must give the problem attention. The first step most organizations take is having a meeting with the senior leadership and talking about how they must squash the gossip coming from their departments. This leads to sharply worded “zero tolerance” memos which are about as effective as trying to put air in a tire with a ceiling fan. There is a much easier way. Tune in next week to find out how to kill gossip at the organizational level.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

iPod Intervention

First, I am sorry that my weekly blog entries stopped without notice or explanation. I have recently started the journey back from the land of I Should Know Better; more on that later.

Along with my doing something I knew I shouldn’t mid-July to the beginning of September are always very intense times in our offices. The fiscal year is closing, the final performance numbers for our adult education programs come in for the year, we’re pushing to get fall marketing started and we find out what the budget for the next fiscal year is going to look like. This year the forces of lower revenues due to lack luster attendance, a re-alignment of the budget priorities of the university and some projects that grossly exceeded their deadlines and budget all combined to create a perfect storm. In the midst of which, I began to hate my job.

I chose the word hate with a full grasp of its true meaning. As the summer wore on the things I enjoyed about my job slowly eroded away. I found myself stuck in the milieu of a project that seemed destined to drag on for eternity. Getting students into our classes was like up-rooting trees, by hand. Finally, we were given the news that there would be no raises, even for those who were found to have exceeded their measurable targets for the year. However, a small one-time bonus would be awarded to employees making under a certain amount a year (it smarts to even type that). So pretty much the message is “your performance doesn’t matter.” I found myself sitting at my desk wondering why I spent my summer pouring my life into this job and driving my team to do the same.

Then came an unexpected intervention from an unlikely source, my iPod. I was driving to my parent’s farm to help my mother set up a Facebook account. I had my iPod on “shuffle” and was just letting it roam through the songs without skipping forward (as I usually do.) Out of some dark corner this song popped up:

Look, I know it’s dorky and cheesy and it has been played ad nauseum at senior talent shows while power points slides with pictures of all the seniors as babies rolled by with star-wipe transitions, but hear me out. I sort-of listened to it. Then this morning I was jogging and it popped up again.

This time I listened. And yes, while I must again admit that the song is cheesy it lead me to a realization: hating my job is my problem. Holy crap! I realized I had broken one of my own rules: work is what you do after you take care of all the important stuff. What’s the important stuff? For me the list is pretty short:
1. Not waking up to an alarm clock
2. Getting in my daily exercise (jogging and weight lifting)
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff (everything at work is small stuff) and don’t pet the sweaty stuff
4. Eating right
5. Being there for the people who are important to me

I used to hold that list in a sacred position in my life. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I went to the gym before going to work, if that meant I couldn’t make a morning meeting, so-be-it. I didn’t sweat the small stuff (and everything at work is small). That’s not to say that I didn’t care about my job or want to do good work. I tried my hardest and then accepted that the results of that effort may be affected by forces beyond my control. I did not let work stress me out. I ate right and I was there for the people who are important to me.

However, starting in January of this year I slowly started to let go of items on my list and by default, they were replaced with other work related items. In the end, I was expecting the same reward I get from taking care of myself first and work later. Instead the reward for that switch in priorities was nothing that ultimately matters to me.

I don’t know about you, but in my case, hating my job was my fault. I found myself seeking something I should generate internally from external sources and that will always leave one thirsty.

Do you have a list? Are you making the things that are truly rewarding to you a priority?