Your career or job shouldn’t be your identity. Characterizing ourselves as such assigns too much value to an external and temporary source. If I identify with being a school teacher, I am confined by the rules that govern it. I am someone who teaches children in a school setting. A firefighter fights fire, a chef cooks, a leader motivates, an accountant reconciles accounts. Most jobs are quite literal in what they do and our self-worth can be strongly tied to it. When we leave, we feel like we’re losing a bit of ourselves too.
True identity lies not in the what but the why. The emotional stimulus elicited from performing said job is the underlying persona of who we want to be. You find fulfillment in educating the next generation and because of that, your job is a school teacher. You find satisfaction in creating delightful food and because of that, your job is a chef. My passion is to inspire others to Show Up and because of that, my job is a leader.
Aristotle told us “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” So the next time someone asks “What do you do?” Tell them your why, not the what. The more we say it, the more we remind ourselves, the more we live it out.
I spent a couple days last week not enjoying them. I contracted the common cold and I, being a man, turned into a snot-nosed, drawly zombie who’s thirst is quenched only by at least 64oz of orange juice. Three days later I returned to being human. Women seem to have this resilience to work through colds or for them, more aptly named inconveniences. They somehow shrug them off while the germs slowly decay over time all while maintaining their fullest dignity. Conversely my dignity is reduced to carrying a tissue box as an accessory. This isn’t however, a comparison between sexes. It’s about another affliction entirely that befell me during those two arduous days. Time Warp.
Time is Fleeting
When I went down, gravity inexplicably increased on the sands of time. What was but a short morning felt like weeks. Weeks I had wasted, not moving forward on long-term goals while my body fought back it’s attacker. Where the day prior I was no closer to these goals, yet the next, I was three steps back. The world moved on without me and as I lay, humidifier on full blast, I wondered if this sudden mental shift is a shared experience.
Madness Takes its Toll
Getting sick is involuntary. No one wants that. So when a force beyond your control causes you to slow down, it amps up the emotions or feelings we might have had prior but did not take heed in listening to. This notion reminds me of when I was in college during finals week each semester. The best nights of sleep came after my last final. It wasn’t because that day alone was exhausting, it was that the last two weeks had been. My focus had been on studying and not sleeping so my mind postponed that feeling. Our drive to get things done can overpower what our body is physically telling us and it only catches up when we give it the chance.
During my second day of sniffles, I considered what emotions I might have been putting off. I realized the largest was procrastination. I had been weighing a couple lifestyle changes I wanted to make but hadn’t been committed to the research. Layering on top of this, a few outstanding tasks that were gnawing at my ankles. Previous weeks, I was telling myself I’ll do it all tomorrow or save it for the weekend. Now, getting a cold removed those options and I was left facing my own reality. I could no longer say I just didn’t want to today, it became I couldn’t and that put me over the edge. Outwardly, I expressed frustration and pointed it merely at not feeling well and being bored but that was a cover up. What I really felt was disappointment and regret of my own inactions. All those days of not doing and postponing finally caught up. Time Warp achieved.
But Listen Closely
When we’re handed moments of stillness, it can help us reset by gaining clarity and alignment on what emotions we’re feeling or what our bodies need. Finding time to practice this regularly can help tremendously in avoiding a shock to the system. Even fifteen minutes a week can help. I think this is why so many people look to meditation. Maybe I need to add this to my list of lifestyle changes. However you do it, try not to be me and wait till you’re forced to by an invasion of germs. If you do, it’ll hit you harder than a zombie horde banging down your door. Though, you may find one not looking for brains but Vick’s Vapor Rub. Please toss it to him. He needs it to sleep.
The desire to lead came about four years ago. A responsibility of mine was mentoring an entry-level person on the same team. We were around the same age and got along great and our relationship deepened when they expressed interest in the next level. Side note: I rebuke the phrase “I don’t have time to train you.” It makes me cringe even writing it. It’s a flawed assumption with zero gain. Knowing this, I jumped at the chance to support someone else’s goals. Over the next few weeks we worked out what’s been working, what can be learned, and the steps for each. Soon we had an action plan that was quickly approved and implemented.
A few months later, they got the promotion. Impressed at the “stretch” work they have accomplished and the proven collaboration between us gained high marks in their interview. As I celebrated with them, there was a profound feeling of success and inspiration. What I found in myself was the intrinsic value of knowing our relationship and efforts together made an impact was better than anything tangible.
After that first step I’ve kept climbing – absorbing, listening, practicing. In that experience though I was not the leader. I was a product of leadership just willing to go along with it. They showed courage by asking for what they needed and from it amazing things occurred. I owe it to this person who showed me what leadership can be.
I believe leading isn’t directing, it’s guiding. It does not require understanding all the facts but understanding perspectives. Leaders ask questions like “What does support from me look like?” and “How can I help?” When you start the conversation and follow through on what you say, you build trust. People tend to follow those they trust. Leadership isn’t about us, it’s about who follows.