career


The CEO of our company was in on Monday and I took part in a dinner and reception to meet with him.  First of all, it is nice to be able to meet the CEO of a large organization and talk to them like anyone else.  This is a stark contrast from my former employer – the only time we heard about the CEO was during news reports on how he used two million dollars of company money to fund his wife’s birthday party on a private yacht with Jimmy Buffet as the entertainer.

The difference between my professional life and family life became quite evident; however, following the dinner when I called to let everyone know I was on my way home.  Within a matter of minutes my conversation went from talking business strategy with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to this:

I call Sara’s cell phone and Olivia answers, “Hey daddy!”

“Hey baby, I’m on my way home so I’ll see you before your bedtime.”

“Ok… hey daddy, Amelia has poop stuck in her booty and it won’t come out.”

“Really?”

“Yep, and she’s crying a lot.  Do you want to talk to her?”

“Umm… ok.”

Seconds later, I hear Amelia in a pitiful voice.

“Daddy, my booty hurts!”

“I’m sorry honey, what’s wrong.”

“I can’t poop.  I think it’s stuck.”

“I wish I could help you, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do right now.”

“Ok… here’s Olivia.”

“I told you her booty hurt, daddy.  Love you.”

…and she hung up.

I’m finding my late thirties to be a very odd time in life.  The diversity of problems, challenges, and opportunities is pretty amazing.  When else do you go from having a business discussion with a CEO to a poop discussion with a seven year-old and four year-old in a five minute span?

This will be a brief posting because my right hand is killing me.  I did some work over the weekend and noticed some pain in the back of my right hand when I went to bed Saturday night.  I tried my typical treatment – ignore it and hope it goes away.  It did not.  My WebMD diagnosis was a ganglion cyst.  My medically trained wife did not concur.  She thinks it is a tendon strain and she is probably right.

The pain isn’t terrible; maybe a four or five on a scale to ten, but it is constant.  I almost wish it hurt worse intermittently.  At least then the pain would go away and I could avoid activities that I know would irritate it.  Now, it’s just a persistent pain.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a coworker years ago.  This coworker was a veteran of three different conflicts in the US Army and he was having a hard time dealing with the stress of our workplace (previous employer with a lot of politics).  I thought this was odd and asked him how he could go through the life or death situation of war and be stressed out by work.

His answer was enlightening.  He said that while the stress of battle was severe, it came in very short blasts.  When you’re in battle, you don’t have time to think about it and become stressed by it.  Work, on the other hand, carries with it an unrelenting stress.  It is not as severe as a life or death situation, but it never really lets up. 

My response to him then was the same as the belief I have today.  Work doesn’t cause stress… our reaction to it does.  Worry, anxiety, fear… these are all responses that we choose.  Don’t get me wrong – I get stressed about work plenty, but I also have the gift of perception that comes from serving in a third world country.  Trust me – that will change your perspective.

I don’t know the source of your stress today, but do I know that there is a very good chance that you won’t remember it in five years.  You may not even be stressed by it next week.  So instead of worrying about it, do something.  I’ve found action to be the best cure for stress.

If you have been following me very long, you know that I left Corporate America about seven years ago after getting fed up with the proverbial rat race.  I spent some time out of the corporate world to cleanse my palate, then jumped back in a little over two years ago.

My goal was to enter the corporate world not for my own advancement, but to help others find significance at work.  While this is a difficult task, it is not impossible.  Shortly after rejoining the corporate ranks, I was asked to be the chairperson of the local council for our charitable foundation. 

This afforded me the opportunity to work with several non-profits and even take a trip to Nicaragua, a country that I am also working in through another non-profit.  As I write this, I am sitting at my company’s corporate headquarters preparing to go to the board room… as the newest trustee on our national foundation’s board.

This is exactly what I set out to do when I reentered the corporate world and am very excited to have this opportunity.  I write this not to boast, but to encourage you that there is a way to combine work and your own personal mission.

 I am back from my Nicaragua trip and will give everyone a more detailed update once I collect pictures from our team members.  In the meantime, I’d like to let you see the letter I wrote our national foundation upon returning.  My company is a large Fortune 500 corporation.  So often, we relate large corporations to greed, politics, and red tape.  It is refreshing to work for an organization that sees the benefit of arranging for its associates to perform humanitarian work in a third world country.  Here’s my letter:

I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for the opportunity to represent our company on the Global Giving trip to Nicaragua.  When I accepted my position at United Stationers, I was actually deciding between starting up a non-profit to aid the people of Nicaragua versus being the Continuous Improvement Manager at the Suwanee facility.

 

Strange as it may sound, I felt called to accept the position with United Stationers.  On the surface this seemed to limit my ability to engage in humanitarian efforts; nevertheless, I felt assured that it was the right thing to do.  Within my first week of employment, Rob Hutt asked me to consider becoming the chairperson of the Atlanta Council.  This afforded me the opportunity to work with several non-profits and get a true sense of significance from my work.  When the announcement came out about the Nicaragua trip, I was tremendously excited. 

 

Every day of last week, I thought about what a great company I work for.  We don’t do everything perfectly – no company does, but the culture our Foundation has developed of giving our time, talent, and treasure through the Foundation is something we get very right.  I know that there was a substantial cost involved with this trip.  While it is impossible to quantify, there is also an immeasurable benefit.  First, I personally experienced a level of significance that I have never felt through any other employer.  I will pass this on to my coworkers and anyone else who will listen to me talk about this trip.  Secondly, I experienced a level of camaraderie and teambuilding unparalleled by any other “work team” of which I have been a part.  I will do anything within my power to help my Global Giving teammates and I know that they will instantly reciprocate if I have any needs they can meet.  Finally, and most importantly, I got to be part of a team that made a real difference in the lives of countless people who are in need.

 

I learned a lot about myself, my coworkers, and my company in the past few days.  This experience was amazing and again, I am truly thankful and humbled to a part of this team.

 

Thank you,

 

Jason Barr

Continuous Improvement Manager

United Stationers Atlanta

While driving to work, I saw one of those signs that drive me crazy.  You’ve seen them:  the ones on the back of dump trucks that say, “Not responsible for windshield damage.”  Really?  So if the truck going down I-85 north of Atlanta… during rush hour… throwing rocks all over the interstate and the hundreds of cars behind it isn’t responsible for windshield damage, who is?  That’s like a rabid squirrel in a park wearing a sign around its neck stating, “Not responsible for infecting humans.”

That seems to be our position these days:  Not responsible for outstanding debt… not responsible for the actions of my children… not responsible for my health… not responsible for making my life count.  In fact, if you look to the people who really have it together you may notice a common trend.  They’re not necessarily smarter or blessed with better genes; they simply take responsibility for who they are, who they should be, and what they need to do to get there.

I’m in week 10 of P90X and at almost 37 years old, I think I’m in the best shape of my life.  The other day I was in the break room at work filling up my water bottle and a co-worker asked me about how it was going.  We talked about fitness in general for a moment and they complimented me on my commitment.  Their closing I’m not responsible comment was, “I just don’t think I could find the time to get in shape.”  They made this declaration while chewing on a donut.  I’m thinking, “How much time does it take to not eat a donut?”  Well if they can’t find the time to get in shape, I guess they’ll just have to find the time to get sick and be lethargic because that’s what happens when you don’t tend to your health.

Then there are finances.  People complain about bills piling up.  Did they not know they spent the money?  I have no sympathy for people who suffer with consumer debt.  If you spend more than you make, you can’t pay your bills – it’s that simple.  I know there are some unexpected expenses that come up, but that’s why you save and have a buffer for such occasions – you take responsibility.  “But what about the unexpected medical bills?” you ask.   See the paragraph above.

I know, I know… I’m on another rant.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do take responsibility for what I do, what I say, and who I am.  I challenge you to consider that area of life where you are struggling.  Are you really taking responsibility?  Do you own that struggle or are you playing the victim role?  If you aren’t actively doing something about it, then you may as well be running down the interstate with a sign on your car that says, “Not responsible for failures of the driver.”

I’ve decided to jump back into the ring.  Beginning in December, I will be working for a large logistics and distribution company.  Those of you who have my book might be wondering why I would do such a thing… there are a few reasons.

First, this company does not seem to have the same political atmosphere that I grew weary of at my former employer.  Second, and most importantly, my focus has changed since I had the opportunity to write a book that discusses the true meaning of success.  I once thought of my career as a means to wealth and power.  I now view it as tool to help me use my time and talents to improve the lives of others by meeting their needs and providing leadership.

I am still planning my trip to Nicaragua.  I hope to come back from that trip with a strategy for getting others involved by using their time, talents, and treasure helping those who are in desperate need.  For a while, I was contemplating focusing my efforts on Nicaragua and other mission fields on a full-time basis.  I wasn’t exactly sure what that would look like, but I felt drawn to the people of Nicaragua.

When this career opportunity came up, I was afraid it would interfere with my ability to serve those in need but I soon realized that it could actually be a platform, allowing me to influence others positively.  I believe my mission is to help others find their mission.  In doing so, I can multiply my efforts by effectively leading others to serve and find fulfillment in their work.

Of course, this will be a challenge… especially in the first few months.  I still have one more semester before I complete my MBA.  A demanding career, rigorous coursework, and a young family will be difficult to balance, but I feel this is where I need to be right now.  I’ll keep writing and (hopefully) will be able to find the time keep my postings up to date.  I think this blog is a good way for me to ensure that I continue to keep my focus on others rather than my own advancement.

I occasionally get messages from previous coworkers seeking counsel for their careers.  One such message came last week and the individual was struggling to discover their life mission.  I know “life mission” sounds a little corny to the uninitiated.  I write about the importance of a life mission extensively in my book, and want to spend some time discussing it here.  The reason is simple.  If you don’t know your life mission, you will not be able to make decisions that allow you to fulfill that mission.  If you don’t make decisions that allow you to fulfill your mission, your life will be a stressful, discontent mess.  Here is what I wrote to the individual…

Bottom line – Think about your gifts… not just your skills.  Many people share the same skills, but gifts are those things that put you in the top percentile and make you unique.  Now think about how you can put those gifts to use to meet the needs of others.  Sounds simple, but this is challenging.  Finally, figure out what you can do to apply your gifts to meet those needs.

 

Here’s the catch… if you can do this and find something that offers you a career, great!  Go for it!  If not, you can find ways of pursuing your mission outside your career.  Remember, you don’t have to let your career define you.  Your career may simply be one of the tools you use to pursue your mission. 

 

I have a toolbox in the basement.  It has various tools in it.  Whenever I need to work on something, I find the appropriate tool.  If I reached for a screwdriver every time I needed to cut a board, hammer a nail, tighten a screw, or sharpen a blade, I would be frustrated 75% of the time.  We sometimes think that a career should be the tool that we can go to 100% of the time to pursue our mission, but this just isn’t the case and we end up frustrated most of the time.

 

Discover your mission, use your career to facilitate the achievement of that mission when appropriate, but don’t be afraid to explore other avenues of achieving your mission.  Some of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my life have had nothing to do with my career.

I just wanted to share this with the rest of you because I feel it is an important lesson.  One of which I have to constantly remind myself.  I have felt an incredible sense of accomplishment while teaching English in Belarus (not career related), by offering free tutoring to struggling students (kind of career related, but not something I got paid to do), and resolving conflicts in non-career related activities.  If I had ignored these opportunities and instead sought to fulfill my mission solely with my career, I would have missed out on a great deal of fulfillment.

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