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LIFE ON THE WIREAvoid Burnout and Succeed in Work and Life
By TODD DUNCAN
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Todd Duncan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFIRST TENSION POINT
"I Have To" vs. "I Really Want To"
one of the things I've learned ... is to first ask myself, "do I philosophically believe in what I'm doing?" ... But I also have to ask, "do I get warm fuzzies from what I'm doing?" When I asked myself that question my answer was, "no, with this stuff I don't." That was a real eye-opener.
Jason Lacy has a strong foundation for success. Raised by an entrepreneur mother and a famous motivator father, he grew up surrounded by tools of inspiration. After putting his self-proclaimed "idiot years" behind him, he naturally set his sights on starting a groundbreaking business. Admirable as that vision was, it had to marinate in the bittersweet broth of experience before finally coming to life. Today Jason sums up the lessons of his last eight years as a "constant challenge to answer the question, Am I pursuing the right objective?
"I am still always asking, Is this for the money? Or for the prestige of being a successful entrepreneur? Or for something I really believe in?" Now Jason can answer these questions with a measure of confidence-though there was a time when his answers didn't come so easily. He struggled with the tension common to creative and entrepreneurial types that develops when job requirements compete with a passion for work that is emotionally rewarding.
At twenty-two, Jason was clearing six figures as a broker for a small financial services firm in Carmel Valley, California, when a brainstorm began one day during a conversation with a friend. The two of them discovered an underused tax advantage in the lucrative life insurance industry and then composed a plan for creating and marketing new software that would help policyholders utilize it. After raising private funds, both quit their steady jobs and ventured out. You may have considered the same move as you slog through the mire of mundane workdays. The few who take action are those of a rare mind-set, willing to experiment before firming their feet in a job or career. Jason embraced this experimental thinking wholeheartedly.
"It was a great idea," Jason explained of their venture, "but we quickly discovered our product was hard to describe. We kept hearing things like, 'It sounds great but I just don't understand how it works' and 'Why hasn't my financial advisor told me about this?'" After a season of frustration- and nearing the end of their funding-Jason and his business partner morphed their product into something more marketable.
The revised concept was broader in scope and easier to describe, and the adjustments proved lucrative. A large southeastern firm saw the new software's potential and offered to fund its overhead and marketing in exchange for a share of ownership. "From a financial standpoint, it made perfect sense," Jason admitted. "The unspoken reality was that we needed it to happen if we wanted to keep paying our bills."
What Jason didn't immediately see was how the merger would squeeze the vigor out of the venture. Partnering with the large company was a step toward financial stability but away from what he loved about his workdays as an entrepreneur. Jason was unknowingly entering a common tangle.
Most of us reach a point where our initial efforts to land a stable job transition into the desire for an inspiring one. The quest for satisfying, emotionally rewarding workdays generates a natural tension we must harmonize in order to meet our simultaneous needs for job stability and meaningful achievement.
Jason is seeking a rudimentary need in maintaining a steady job while also striving for personal achievement higher up the pyramid.
The Value of Your Work
Lack of job stability is not only a strain on your well-being but also on the health of your relationships. I've seen it take marriages to the brink of divorce. On the other hand, the consequences of a dreary day's work that never excites you can be just as detrimental. It's hard to say which deficit is more serious. Wrestling with these two needs-stability and meaningful achievement-defined the next year of Jason's journey.
The tension became evident when the larger firm asked Jason and his partner to move to Florida and assume broader, company-wide responsibilities. Jason knew this meant he could no longer focus day-to-day on the venture he'd nurtured so intensely. Though he didn't have to accept the offer, it promised a steady, sizable paycheck, and his recent marriage made the prospect of stability suddenly attractive. He and his bride packed up and headed east.
It didn't take long for him to feel out of place.
"I quickly saw that I had sacrificed job enjoyment for job stability," Jason admitted. "It didn't feel like a big sacrifice until I really got to know my new position. When I realized I had become a sales manager with responsibilities that didn't excite me, I started to rethink the trade."
Yet having moved twenty-five hundred miles to take his new position, Jason was motivated to make it work. "I honestly didn't feel like turning around and going right back home. And the truth was that our venture was still moving forward. I felt that if the venture turned out to be successful, it would all be worth it ... Still, things were moving a lot slower than I wanted."
Through the experience, Jason was discovering what he valued most about a job: not stability, but seeing his ideas flourish. His work/life tension peaked when he realized his daily responsibilities no longer included pursuing his dream. His workdays fed job stability but starved job gratification.
Jason set a decision deadline. "I told myself I'd stay one year and make the best of it. I knew if I still felt the same after being here a year, I had to make a change-even though I didn't have a clue what that would be."
For months Jason gutted it out in hopes the software venture would bloom under the umbrella of the larger company and his workdays would regain the flexibility, independence, and inspiration he craved. Unfortunately, a few weeks from his anniversary there, he saw but little progress. It was at this point-when doing what was required kept him from doing what was rewarding-that we first spoke to Jason. He was candid about his missteps and the lessons he was still learning. His insights will illuminate the tools for harmonizing your tension in the same area.
A Question of Objectives
"One of the things I've learned about my work pursuits from now on," Jason explained, "is to first ask myself, Do I philosophically believe in what I am doing? It's critical to know that, at the end of the day, I actually think what I'm doing is ethical and useful. It makes no sense to spend time doing something you are philosophically at odds with. When I asked myself if I philosophically believed in what I was doing here, my answer was yes. Life insurance is a useful product I can get behind.
"But I've learned that is only half the equation. I also have to ask myself, Do I get warm fuzzies from what I'm doing? When I asked myself that question, my answer was, No, with this particular job I don't. I can be motivated to do it from a moneymaking standpoint, but ultimately the daily tasks don't inspire me at my core ... Seeing that was a real eye-opener."
Ultimately, Jason discovered the tension he felt was a result of a misalignment between his work requirements and his work objectives. If that tension point hits home with you, you're probably struggling with the same conflict.
The relationship between your work requirements and work objectives plays a major role in whether you feel tension. If the two are aligned, there is little room for tension-because the end justifies the means. If there is misalignment between them, there's a high potential for tension-because the end does not justify the means.
The various seasons of life lead you to take jobs for different reasons. As long as the requirements of the job promote your work objectives, you're not likely to feel any serious tension. If your current objective is to maintain a predictable schedule and paycheck, you're less likely to feel tension from a lackluster job because it doesn't keep you from reaching your main goal. During another season, however, your primary objective might be emotional gratification, in which case you'd be less willing to accept the same lackluster job because it would be out of alignment with that "higher" (according to Maslow's pyramid) objective.
The first step toward decreasing misalignment and harmonizing the tension between your job requirements and job objectives is to figure out what type of job best fits you and your current circumstances. For the most part, there are two types of jobs: comfortable ones and inspirational ones.
The comfortable Job
Advantages of a comfortable job include stability, predictability, and a clear path to advancement. Certain seasons of life are ideal for a comfortable job:
Graduating from college, when your most desirable career path is not yet clear Entering a new industry, when you don't yet know if there is philosophical alignment Moving to a new city, when you don't yet know if the location suits your and/or your family's needs Completing a post-graduate program, when you have large debts to pay off Reentering the workforce after having children, while you are navigating how to simultaneously be a parent and an income producer When you have large debts for any reason and want to maintain a consistent pay-down strategy to become debt free
There are other situations where a comfortable job might be the best fit, but before you lean that way, be aware that comfortable jobs share these potential drawbacks:
1. Limited independence. Most comfortable jobs come with a defined set of responsibilities that dictate your weekly to-dos. While there is usually room for creativity and change, your required work often has little variety. 2. Limited inspiration. Many comfortable jobs are not likely to give you warm fuzzies. Their requirements are not ones many people are passionate about. This can make your workday feel more obligatory than gratifying. 3. Limited flexibility. While companies are increasingly willing to redefine nine-to-five, many comfortable jobs require standard hours with scant wiggle room, and even that is available only to those who are shrewd (and gutsy) enough to negotiate for it. 4. Limited advancement options. In many comfortable jobs, your opportunities for growth or change are limited by company policy and industry tradition. If the ladder is wrong for you, climbing it will not be very fulfilling.
Knowing the potential drawbacks will help you decide whether your circumstances make a comfortable job the right choice. Defaulting in that direction without also taking a close look at an inspirational job, however, is unwise and shortsighted. Remember that you'll only reduce your requirement/reward tension when your work objectives are aligned with your job requirements. If you want more from work than just stability, an inspirational job may be the better way to go.
The inspirational Job
Key advantages of an inspirational job are its infectious enthusiasm, large growth potential, and emotional gratification. Certain seasons of life are ideal for an inspirational job:
Discovering an organization you could happily spend your entire career with Finding an industry or cause you deeply believe in Creating a specialized product or service that demands a focused, long-term effort Discovering and developing an extraordinary talent with high market value You can sustain the lifestyle you desire with minimal income (i.e., you have money in the bank or another source of income that requires little time commitment) You are single with few obligations, financial and otherwise
As is the case with a comfortable job, before you pursue an inspirational job, it's important to weigh the potential drawbacks:
1. Inconsistent income. Many inspirational jobs require you to forgo a regular paycheck and depend (at least initially) on outside investment or personal funding. This can be a nerve-wracking time, requiring great patience and unflagging conviction. 2. Unpredictable hours. In most inspirational jobs, long days are both rewarding and unavoidable. If you don't have a plan for maintaining your other values, this time requirement will pose a threat to the pillars of your best life. Many workaholics love their jobs but lose their lives along the way. 3. Higher risk. Any time you invest the core of who you are into an endeavor, failure feels heavier. If you don't have a strong emotional and spiritual foundation as well as a body of supporters, such disappointment can disenchant you for a long time, sometimes permanently. 4. Ever-changing responsibilities. Many inspirational jobs require you to evolve with the venture or organization. You may be a salesperson one week and an accountant the next. While not all inspirational jobs are entrepreneurial in form, most of them require the willingness to cross-train, multitask, and continue learning.
So which is the better choice for you? That depends.
Your Higher Need
Maslow's original pyramid indicated our higher need is for rewarding achievement (or gratification) and thus an inspirational job. This probably holds true for the majority of workers at some point in their lives. But Maslow would likely also indicate that the tension will remain if you completely ignore the lower need for stability to serve the higher one. This incongruity is where Maslow's contemporaries questioned the stringent, stratified form of his pyramid. Most in the field of human behavior now agree that we all have common, ascending needs but believe that we all inherit (by nature) and learn (by nurture) inclinations that cause our pyramid of needs to differ from individual to individual.
In other words, you may naturally have a greater need for an inspirational job (and hence for rewarding achievement) and not feel the sacrifice of stability. On the other hand, financial stability might naturally be your higher need; therefore you aren't inclined to find an inspirational job.
The point is that there is no standard answer for which type of job is better for everyone. You have to determine what's best for you in this season of life, and that hinges on two things:
Your current circumstances. Do you have large debts? Are you entering a new industry? Have you found a cause or company you are passionate about? Have you discovered and developed a unique gift? Your current makeup. Which way do you naturally lean? Is job stability or rewarding achievement your higher value?
It's important to note that both your circumstances and your makeup can change over the course of your life. For instance, you might have just bought a new home; therefore job stability is a higher need because now you have a big mortgage payment each month. But perhaps two years from now financial leverage will allow you to pursue a job that is more emotionally rewarding. Note also that not all jobs fit perfectly into one category, but nearly all lean in one direction or the other. While it's possible to have a job with both comfortable elements and inspirational elements, one side or the other will usually predominate. And, again, if the result is tension, you have some adjustments to make-toward greater job stability or toward rewarding achievement. This is where the path to requirement/ reward harmony begins.
I recommend using the following quick reference guide at least twice a year to gauge which way you're leaning. If you discover you're on the wrong side, don't panic. There are straightforward, practical steps you can take right away to begin crossing over.
Finding Your Harmony
Teetering on the brink of a big decision, Jason finally got the shove he needed. First came news that a financial services giant planned to launch a venture closely related to his. Then, about the same time, Jason received separate calls from his best friend and his brother back home. Both proposed new business ventures and wanted Jason involved. While the opportunities were no guarantee of income, they had a far greater potential to meet his higher need for an inspirational job.
Excerpted from LIFE ON THE WIRE by TODD DUNCAN Copyright © 2010 by Todd Duncan. Excerpted by permission.
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