A December Reflection

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All of a sudden it’s the holiday season! The ground is frozen and white. The skies are dark before the day is over; I feel like I must have taken a long autumn nap and missed the onramp to the holidays this year.

In part, I have been far too busy with work. I usually don’t consider this a problem. It is a priceless gift to like what you do. When your job doesn’t feel like “work,” it’s easy to throw yourself into it. But I am deeply sad that I am missing out on this festive season.

I have not been present of late, and I pledge to do better in 2024. My mind has been so occupied by my work life that it has scant space for other concerns. But this, too, is a kind of gift. It’s a wonderful problem to have!

I woke from a dream the other morning in which I was being asked to give advice to young people contemplating what field of work to enter. What major should they study, what path should they pursue, to set themselves up for success and fulfillment? I have a few nieces and nephews at this stage in their lives, and I think also about my son, who will become a teen this year… all likely influences for this dream!

In my dream, I answered with surprising conviction. I said, Forget happiness. Happiness is shallow and fleeting. Forget passion. Passion burns too hot and will ultimately burn you out. Forget money, fame and recognition. If you deserve it it will come, and if you deserve it and it doesn’t come it will only devastate you.

I was asked again, then what should a young person use to guide their decisions? What’s the secret to finding meaningful work?

I am much wiser in my dreams than I am when lucid. My answer, which could only have come in this way, was this: Decide what you want to occupy most of your thoughts. How do you want to use your marvelous brain? When you are truly engaged with your work, it will always be rattling around your head, whether you’re at work or not. Some of these thoughts will be pedestrian and easily dismissed; others will be astonishing and all-consuming. If you don’t want these thoughts, they’ll make you miserable.  But if you do, if you truly like thinking about your work, you’ll know you’re on the right path.

Personally, I didn’t figure this out until roughly halfway into my working years, and in some ways it is just now becoming clear as I write this!

Before I discovered leadership development, I spent over a decade in an HR role that left me somewhat short of fulfillment. Like any career, it was the focus of much of my thinking. Some of these thoughts were welcome and energizing, but others were not. In my various jobs and roles, there was always something in my head that I didn’t want. There was always a tradeoff.

Then, I began to notice the things I most enjoyed thinking about: leadership development, how people think, and how to help people achieve their best selves. I followed these thoughts all the way to my present role at Emergent, where I have found my vocation. It took me 30 years to find it fully, but I found it in the end. I am happy to think about work whether I’m on the clock or not. My career is challenging, engaging, and aligned with my purpose and values. So much so, in fact, that it makes the seasons fly by!

No matter where you are in your life, you have the opportunity to meta-think–to think about your thinking. What’s occupying your mind? Is it what you want to be thinking about? Are you diminished or enlivened by the work thoughts that follow you home? Self-awareness is the first step toward fulfillment. Figure out what you want, then figure out how to get there. It’s never too late.

Nor is it too late for me to enjoy the holiday season. It’s only December 7th as I write this, so I still have time to get in the spirit. After all, fulfillment cannot come from work alone. As we approach the end of another year, I encourage you to reflect on all of the things that bring you joy. And if you’re interested in finding greater fulfillment in the work you do, send me an email at bill@getemergent.com. I’ll see you in the new year.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert Napoletano on January 2, 2024 at 11:43 am

    Bill,

    Profound thinking. As I have past through my career it was only by luck that I found my passion and a career that I have been with for better than 50 years. Unfortunately, over these years I have run into many young people who have a great degree but no understanding of what they want to do with that knowledge. I look across the Pacific Ocean and find that many top Japanese companies don’t place a new employee into a specific position until the employee has held a position, at least 6 months, in all of the functions of the company – engineering, manufacturing, HR, finance, quality, and others. Then, with their sensei’s approval they can pick where they work. Actually, another learning experience. In the western culture we thrust our young adults into the education world without any idea of how it all works and they in turn find jobs they don’t like in companies they can’t become loyal to and flit from career to career without a clear path.

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