August 2008

My apologies to Pink Floyd for stealing their title, but I think a lot of people are “comfortably numb” when it comes to their careers.  I remember early in my career how I would let it get to me whenever I had to deal with problem employees or if I got into a heated debate with a coworker.  Eventually, those situations became easier as I learned not to let them affect me personally.  In the business world, that is our way of coping.  We look past the emotion and focus on the business.  Sadly, I can’t even tell you how many people I had to terminate during my corporate career.  I can’t remember all their names, faces, or offenses.  Sure, I remember a few, but for the most part I guess I tried to be like Pilate – “look, no blood on my hands!”


I know that when it comes to personnel issues at work, you have to be a little detached at times or you would go insane.  However, we sometimes let this detachment carry over into our perception of our careers.  Maybe there is something that is really burning us – time away from family, purgatorial meetings, or the sense that our lives were meant for more than diligently working ourselves into the ground so that a CEO somewhere can make $30 million a year only to steal from the company.


Rather than confront the issues that are bothering us and make a career change, we often choose to be a good little worker and press our noses harder against the grindstone.  That’s why it’s called “work” right?  It’s not supposed to be easy and it pays the bills.


What if we did our work because we have a passion for what we do?  What if we spent our time utilizing our talents rather than tolerating our career?  What if our jobs were energizing us instead of dragging us down?  Well, all these things can happen.  But they’re not going to happen as long as we continue to surrender to the our societal default mission of achieving success for the sake of being successful.


I recently rummaged through my kitchen junk drawer in search of a stamp so I could send off the editing fee for my book (just trying to tie this post into the purpose of the blog).  I found rubber bands, birthday cake candles, and a host of random-sized batteries.  None of the batteries were in their packaging, so I can only assume that these were the ones that did not have enough juice left for whatever device they were formerly in, but still had enough potential left that I just couldn’t bring myself to give up on them.  Instead of trashing them, I must have put them in the junk drawer thinking they would make a comeback. 


Eventually, I found some of those “forever” stamps with the Liberty Bell on them.  Being the tightwad that I am, my first thought was, “cool, these stamps are now worth 1 cent more than they were when I bought them.”  If you’re not familiar with these, the forever stamps can be purchased at whatever the going postage rate is and be used at any time, no matter how much the postage rate increases.  This eliminates the need to buy those annoying 1 cent and 2 cent stamps to supplement your postage when the price goes up.


Later that day, I got my quarterly 401(k) statement.  If you get one of these, do yourself a favor and don’t even look at it – this has been a brutal year for investments.  The YTD return on my portfolio was NEGATIVE 12%.  That’s when the stroke of genius hit me.  Hey, I can start investing in stamps.  They may not have huge returns, but at least they won’t lose value.  Take a look at the price history since May 2002 of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 below.

Contrast that with the price of stamps.

Rising cost of United States Postage by spudart. 

Not only does the price of stamps consistently climb, but there are no capital gains taxes when you use your high-value stamps that you purchased at rock-bottom prices.  Sinced I am pioneering this investment option, I think I’ll give myself a title like “Stamp Acquisition Advisor” and charge people a fee for advising them about the best time to buy and use their stamps.

Things are moving along with my book, so I wanted to give you an update. My editor just sent me the clean edited version of the book that I am currently reading through and making the final changes on, the cover artist is finalizing the cover design and should have the finished product in a week or so, and I sent out some copies to be read and (hopefully) endorsed.  We’re still on target for a mid-September publishing date.


 This has been a great experience and a little scary too.  With this book, I’m putting my thoughts out there to be openly criticized by the general public.  Not everyone will like it, some will be offended, and some just won’t get it; but that is really what the book is all about.  I’ve been in the trenches with people who have become disgusted with their careers and I made the decision to get out and share my story with others so that they can see that it is possible to deny success and seek significance.  For me, I felt that my mission was to put my experience on paper so that others could read it and decide for themselves whether they were doing what they should be with their lives.


I have a stoic personality and this is some pretty sappy stuff for me.  Despite my stoic personality; however, I am passionate about helping people transform their lives to seek out their purpose.  That is what the book is all about – putting your pride and ego on hold so that you can pour yourself into the things that you are passionate about.


It’s still a battle.  As the publishing date draws near, I find myself yearning for it to be successful and sell a bunch of copies.  I have to check my emotions and focus on the purpose of this book.  If just a handful of people read this book and it leads to some sort transformation in their lives, I will consider it a success.  By redefining success, I take the focus off myself (as an author) and toward the readers.  As you will see in the book, this redefinition of success is what leads to fulfillment.

Beijing Olympic organizers say their opening-ceremony fireworks were enhanced by prerecorded footage.

If you watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you were probably in awe of the entire event.  At its culmination, the cauldron was lit and amazing fireworks went off all around the “Bird’s Nest” – the main stadium.  I remember thinking that the fireworks were very impressive, but what else would you expect?  This was China, the innovator of early pyrotechnics, and everything that had happened so far that night led us to believe that China was out to surpass anyone’s expectations. 


On Tuesday of last week, CNN came out with story that informed us that some of the footage of the fireworks was previously recorded and some of the televised images were computer enhanced (I checked and no, George Lucas was not involved).  Isn’t that just typical of our times?  Whether it’s the opening ceremonies, professional athletes, glamorous models, or corporate income statements, it seems everything we think is incredible ends up being artificially enhanced.  It’s like following the yellow brick road in search of the wizard only to find an old man behind a curtain.


As frustrating as this may be, we have made it acceptable.  We don’t care if our heroes are artificial as long as they are spectacular.  I’m not just talking about the Olympic artistic directors pulling a Milli Vanilli on us.  We even accept artificial superlatives in our own lives.  Whether it’s a degree, a promotion, or some kind of recognition or reward, we have a tendency to make the apparent result more important than the mission we originally set out to accomplish.


Think about it.  Have you ever undertaken a project not because you truly believed in the need for the work to be done, but because it would give you an opportunity to use your boss’s favorite buzzwords?  Have you ever done charitable work and focused more on being recognized for your humanitarian efforts than the people you were helping?  At your job, have you ever worked to create your own personal fireworks show in the absence of real passion for your work? 


Whether we admit it or not, we are all sort of guilty of digitally enhancing how others perceive our lives.  In my opinion, this can only mean that we are not content with who we are.  This discontentment is a result of our failure to do what is really important to us and to follow our passions.  If we would just surrender to our mission, the fireworks would be a natural outflow of our work and not the object of it.

Have you ever misspelled a word so badly that Spell Check had no idea what you were trying to say?  I did that on the last post with “silhouettes”.  What is that, French?  No word should have three vowels in row!  I’ve had this happen to me before, but I can usually change a few letters and manage to get close enough to where the computer figures out what I’m trying to say.  Not this time… I tried about 7 or 8 alternative spellings and ended up with something that looked nothing like “silhouettes”.  This must be what happened to Brett Favre’s great grandfather when he immigrated to the US. 


I finally gave up and had to dig out Webster.  No, I do not have Emmanuel Lewis buried in my yard.  I had to get a real dictionary with pages made out of paper.  After blowing off a layer of dust, the binding creaked and popped as I opened it.  Upon opening the dictionary, I was relieved to find that it was not written entirely in Greek and Aramaic.  Needless to say, I found the correct spelling and while searching, I learned that silex is finely ground tripoli used as an inert paint filler.  Note:  my spell check has no idea what the words silex and tripoli are either.  Moral of the story:  don’t get lazy and become over reliant on technology or you will miss opportunities to learn about “siliceous substances, as rottenstone and infusorial earth, used chiefly in polishing” that have the same name as the capital seaport of Libya.


Over the 4th of July weekend, I traveled up to Tennessee from Georgia to visit my family.  It was a typical interstate experience – especially for a holiday weekend in the Atlanta area.  You know the routine:  jockeying for position to get around the 18 wheeler going 0.0025 mph faster than the other 18 wheeler it was passing, inferno-like frustration with people driving under the speed limit in the left-hand lanes, and a constant state of fear of the 18 year-old who is more interested in her cell phone conversation than the 4,000 pound hunk of metal that she is driving at 70 mph.  You know how self-wise we become within the confines of our own vehicle.  We believe that we are the best driver in the world, anyone going 1 mph faster than us is a maniac with a “No Fear” sticker on their back glass, and anyone going 1 mph slower than us is an idiot complete with Billy Bob teeth and an AARP bumper sticker right next to the one that says “Mondale/Ferraro ‘84”.

The sense of angst amongst the fellow drivers is palpable.  I am white-knuckling my way through the traffic and just about to clear it when my wife informed that she needed a bathroom stop.  In all fairness, we were traveling with our 2 year old, my wife was 7 months pregnant, and we hadn’t stopped in probably 3 hours.  Furthermore, between my pregnant wife, my 2 year old, and myself, I have the smallest bladder.


We stopped at the next rest stop and an amazing thing happened.  Those same people who were cutting each other off and giving each other menacing stares and less than appropriate gestures were now holding doors open for each other, smiling as they acknowledged each other’s presence, and using words like, “excuse me” and “thank you”.  What a difference human-to-human interaction makes!  These were no longer unknown silhouettes devising evil plans to encroach on our vehicular personal space, but real live people weary from travel with full (or recently emptied) bladders.


The sad part about all of this is that our interaction with the vast majority of people is rarely occurring face-to-face at the rest stops.  We are more prone to stay in our vehicle and offer ill-tempered glares to the vehicles around us.  This metaphorical vehicle may be a job title, market segment, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religious belief.  We only see the vehicle, not the people inside it and are content to criticize those people as we interact only with the occupants of our own vehicle.

First off, let me take care of some logistics.  I will attempt to put up new postings every Tuesday and Friday.  Yes, I realize it is Thursday, but this will serve as Friday’s posting this week.  Between postings, I am relying on your comments to keep the blog active.  If you have any thoughts you would like to share, please leave a comment.  I don’t mind if you disagree with me… honestly.  I think healthy debate is what makes a blog worth reading.  Just keep the discussion civil and respect all fellow bloggers (even if it is obvious that they are out of their mind). 


Today’s topic is a continuation of the Significance vs. Success discussion.  How do we define success?  In my book, I propose that our societal view of success is based on the perception of money, power, and recognition.  Probably the greatest of these is money.  Whether we admit it or not, we have a tendency to perceive an individual’s level of success based on their apparent wealth.  Furthermore, we often measure our own success by how much money we earn.  The interesting thing here is that it may not be the money itself that motivates us, but our need for others to perceive that we have it and are, therefore, successful. 


I think this is a reason why credit card debt runs so rampant in our society.  WARNING – If you have credit card debt this may offend you – stop reading and do some online shopping.  Do we really need all the junk that we buy?  Do people willingly pay double-digit interest rates simply for the joy of owning new patio furniture?  If the debt is not racked up in order to enjoy the utility of the products we are buying, then why do people go so deep into consumer debt?  My belief is that people think they can just “buy” success.  If perceived wealth is an indicator of success, then all of our “stuff” is the measuring stick we think others will use to judge our worth as contributors to society. 


How does this relate to significance?  I can tell you my experience.  I had a job that paid very well but did not line up with my passions or my life mission (those touchy-feely words from Part 1).  My job frustrated me incredibly and I felt that I was simply not doing what I was meant to do.  The problem was, my job was somewhat high-profile and it paid well.  I felt that if I gave it up and did something that did not pay as well but offered a shot at significance, I would be less successful.  I was choosing perceived success over significance.  How do you let perceived success get in the way of your mission?

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