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MORE THAN MONEYQuestions Every MBA Needs to Answer Redefining Risk and Reward for a Life of Purpose
By Mark Albion
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Mark Albion
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWho Are You?
If the things we believe are different than the things we do, there can be no true happiness. David O. McKay Ninth president of the Mormon Church
It was that day in 1943. A nineteen-year-old boy from Dorchester, Massachusetts, had become a low-beam radar navigator in the Eighth Division of the United States Air Force. And today was the day that he would fly his first mission—over Germany. That day, this boy had to make a decision that would leave childhood far behind: whether or not to wear the Jewish Star of David on his missions. He knew the price he might pay if his plane were shot down. He knew his chances of survival would plummet if he were caught wearing that Star.
He decided to wear that Star. When he did, he joined peoples from all nations, religions, races, and creeds who have chosen throughout the course of human history to uphold their beliefs and heritage in the face of persecution, torture, and even death. As that legendary Scot, William Wallace of Braveheart fame, exhorted his men, "Cowards die many times; brave men die only once."
By declaring himself publicly, my father told the world and himself who he was, who he wanted to be, and what he believed in. By that one act, he took the abstract concepts of values, conscience, and personal responsibility and made them real, creating a living heritage for his future family.
I often think of my father's challenge. I ask, "What is my Star of David? What are the values that direct my decisions? What am I passionate about, whatever the cost?"
My father was not a zealot or even a practicing Jew. He chose to wear that Star of David because it was how he made sense of his world and his place in it. Although he wasn't aware of it then, in many ways that singular decision would define his life forever. It helped him come to terms with who he was. It was also the greatest gift he took into civilian life. That reckoning imprinted by thirty-five missions gave him the confidence to develop a winning career after the war. He found himself and his internal compass through his allegiance to that Star.
I'm sometimes jealous of my father's "opportunity" to discover who he was and what he stood for. Whereas his life was put at risk, the war forced him to dig deep into his soul and clarify his passion to be a Jew and an inner drive to win, whatever the odds.
Few of you will experience such a dramatic situation. Yet to realize your potential by fulfilling your destiny, you too need to search inside yourself to awaken what makes you come alive with passion and without fear. This chapter guides you with the first step in creating your destiny plan: three lifelines that open your heart and your inner self. By working through the twelve lifelines and addressing the questions offered that most resonate with you, you will have written down the basic information you need to construct your destiny plan. Think of it as your personal, authentic strategic plan.
I think it might be helpful for you to see a brief description of my destiny plan to guide you in developing your own. Without a timetable or more specifics, the plan that serves as my North Star appears at the top of the next page. As you can see, a destiny plan is not a résumé, nor is it a description of any particular job. It is a summary of your hopes and dreams and how you will make a contribution to a better world. Like the word service, it is less about a specific act than an attitude, a consciousness of how you want to affect people and the planet, all living things. It is not only a window into the future but also a mirror to let you look at yourself today.
Constructing a destiny plan therefore requires you to address all four chapter title questions and a significant number of the other sixty-four "destiny plan" questions in the book. Select the questions that you find most helpful in reframing your risk-reward assessment of different job alternatives. Chapters 1 and 2 will offer a mirror in six lifelines to help you understand yourself. In my description, my responses are recorded in the "how" and "values" lines. Self-actualization, learning how to serve yourself, is a big step for most of you, something you are not taught in school.
Chapters 3 and 4 offer guidance for the next step: bringing your dreams and desires into the marketplace of your life (the "goal" and "why" responses to the challenges of this chapter and the next). These chapters do not tell you what to do or what job to pick. They are more cautionary in tone. Their purpose is not to carve out your path for you but rather to give you the greatest opportunity to find your path, stay on it, and get back on it more quickly when you fall off.
Today, your career, your destiny, is in your hands. Your destiny is something you achieve. With your passion and values as your guides, your ultimate success will be less a function of your abilities and more the result of your choices— choices of "small deeds done with great love," in Mother Teresa's words.
First Steps: Unlocking the Courage to Be Yourself
In your career search, how you begin affects where you'll end up. It's much easier to make small adjustments than to reroute your entire path (though it can be done). Your foundation and starting point are based on discovering who you are and what you want—your value and values that come from deep inside. You need to fight being defined by what you do and first and foremost discover who you are, what you stand for, and what you believe in. Otherwise you risk being stuck in a career you never really wanted.
Your guide is your passion. It's what makes you special. I'm surprised by how many MBAs write me that there's nothing special about them. In Leviticus 19:2, God says, "You shall be holy because I the Lord Your God am holy." For me, saying we are "holy" is another way of saying that we each are special beings with a special purpose and that we reach that purpose through study, prayer, and deeds of loving-kindness. Whether you are a Bible reader or not, that's still a powerful way to start off thinking about your career!
Your passion will allow you to get lost in something bigger than yourself, as it is that passion—your will, not your skills—that will define you and make you great. That's how you find yourself: by getting lost in something you feel has importance beyond yourself. It may be addressing a social challenge, building a company, or collaborating with colleagues to meet a deadline. And when you can meet a business need and a social need, especially if it is personal, the feeling is priceless. As an example, look no further than social entrepreneur Joe Sibilia.
Joe houses a series of businesses called Gasoline Alley in a troubled area of his blue-collar hometown, Springfield, Massachusetts. Buildings and furniture are constructed from discarded materials and recycled products, and the 375 feet of front footage and acres behind have been renovated organically. Prisoners and former drug addicts, people "discarded by society," populate the businesses. What is Joe doing? "You ask me what the mission of my business is? It's to give value to that which has been abandoned."
Compassion comes from being linked to your passion. Joe's dedication to the "abandoned," to a neighborhood that he could have left decades ago when his financial success first began, is personal. It comes from his past. "When I was born, my folks split up, Dad moved out, and soon thereafter Mom left. My brother is ten years older, and he left, too. An aunt came to live with me. My real support came from the 'guys on the Corner.'"
The Corner is where Joe hung out, growing up in Springfield with few resources but big dreams. His buddies went through a life of difficulties. Today many of them work for Joe at Gasoline Alley, finding new life and purpose.
Joe has owned over twenty companies; you too will have many changes in your work. But whereas the form of what you do may change, that core of who you are, often developed in your early adolescent years, doesn't change. It gets tested and grows.
Finding out who you are and where you belong is often a process of finding out where you fit in by not fitting in. It's a lonely business, trying to fit in and failing. But that's what you have to do. It typically starts when you're a child, around nine to twelve years old.
What Did You Want to Do Before the World "Should" on You?
This is another way of asking yourself to try to remember your childhood instincts and aspirations before adult conditioning took over. You may have considered that lemonade stand "play" back then, but in many ways, you were experimenting in a child's version of making a living. For me, it took my younger daughter's impression of who I was, sharpened by her instincts of what I enjoyed, to get me back on track in my mid-forties.
When my daughter Nicolette (Nikki) was five (she's now seventeen), she drew a picture of who she thought her Daddy was and what he loves to do—two ideas linked inextricably as one for her. Her drawing, along with her description of me appears on the next page.
She was right. Earlier that year, I'd gone up into my attic and found the proverbial "box in the attic" of memories buried, suppressed, and repressed long ago. In a box were short stories I had completely forgotten about! I now remembered what served as my "lemonade stand."
When I was eight years old, I'd write these stories, type them up, and get them mimeographed at my grandfather's office. I'd then sell them door-to-door: 3 cents for a one-page story, 5 cents for a two-page story. The stories had titles like "I Went Mad," "I Was the Fiery Demon," and "Friday the 13th." (What do you want? I was just a kid and obviously no Hemingway.) As you might expect, no one in the neighborhood turned me down. And it certainly beat having a paper route. But what was the message I got at home? "You can't be a writer. Writers don't make much money." So the dream went into the box.
The next year, I had a counseling business: I would advise my friends on how to get along better with their siblings. (Of course, I myself had no siblings at the time.) I charged a nickel for that service. Like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, I did well with my little advice stand business. And what was the message I got this time? "That's great, Mark. You want to be a psychiatrist!"
When I explained that I had no intention of becoming a doctor, well, my parents' expressions were ... priceless? I then followed the "I want to be a" with two words that can kill any parents: "social worker." Better to be a sculptor—at least the folks get to see something tangible!
Today, I'm living my childhood dreams. I write and advise. I guess you never truly leave childhood; rather you take a little bit of it with you. For me, it took a daughter's drawing and forty years to get back there! Want to do it sooner? Listen to your children and friends. Think back. What did you want to do in your early days? What lights you up, makes you jump out of bed in the morning, excited by a new day?
It's the complex, wondrous journey of the heart whose only risk is not being true to itself. That's a risk overcome by following the first three lifelines.
Destiny Plan Questions
* What are you passionate about?
* Describe your perfect day. What does your description tell you?
* What did you love to do when you were around eleven or twelve?
* Do you do things that are at odds with what you believe in? If so, what are they, and why do you do them?
Don't Get Really Good at What You Don't Want to Do
I'm a fan of the comedian Drew Carey, who responds when someone complains about work, "Oh, you hate your job. Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called 'Everybody,' and they meet at the bar."
Funny, but sadly true, even among highly educated MBAs—surprising for a community with lucky lottery tickets. You have options but lots of pressures; you fear being an outsider—the required identity to follow your own path. You forget that each person has a unique story to live, one that you need to identify and actualize. You forget that work can give you joy.
It's easy to slide into a career that matches your skills but not your deepest desires. At first, it can be harder not to do what you are really good at and instead to work at what you really love. And what do you love? Sometimes you're not sure; other times it requires you to balance a cluster of core values that include work, social contribution, family, and personal life (see Lifeline 6 in Chapter 2).
When you get good at something you don't want to do, you feel as if you're dying a little bit each day—that your soul is being sucked out of you. Worse yet, it takes time to realize what's going on. Maybe you don't enjoy your work as much as you used to, or you aren't performing as well as you know you can. Maybe Sunday nights are a misery, causing you to wake with a knot in your stomach Monday morning. Maybe you're wondering, "How did I get here?" That's why I agree with the late George Burns: I'd rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.
I call "Don't Get Good ..." my "bobble head" lifeline. When I use this expression in a speech, I can see the heads of my audience bob up and down in acknowledgment. We've all been there. I was a Greek major in college and then wanted to do graduate work in psychology. But I was good at math and economics, so that's where I went. It took me thirty years to get back to Greek (Bible study group) and psychology (my work with MBAs).
I have scores of letters from MBAs talking about jobs they hate but "can't leave" or "don't know how to leave." Here's a sample: "Since I was 15 I wanted to be a teacher and a coach. Instead, after getting my MBA I've chased the golden handcuff s as a management consultant, had IPO dreams with an Internet company, and then ran a hedge fund. I always promised that I wouldn't 'sell out' like so many of my friends who are lawyers or I-bankers. As I sit here watching five computer screens 80 hours a week, I ask myself, What am I building?"
This first lifeline asks you to start your destiny plan, to consider what your contribution will be and your eulogy will say, by clarifying what you don't want to do and who you don't want to be. Start by asking yourself instead, "Who are my heroes, and why do I admire them?" Your answers allow you to visualize your future self so that you can work your way back to what you need to do today—and may not be doing.
My heroes built a strong platform and then used their money and status to have a positive impact on their community and the world. They are Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Shirley Temple Black, Robert Redford, and Oprah Winfrey. (I also admire my mother and how she has run her business for forty years, as well as several Net Impact MBAs who show me repeatedly what's possible.) Each of these five people will be remembered as athletes or entertainers who gave much of their life energy to serving others. When they pass on, Redford may be more remembered for Sundance and Oprah for her work in Africa then for their "careers."
I have surveyed several thousand MBAs at my speeches. The common "hero" responses include parents and teachers, along with Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Gates, and heads of state who have made a significant contribution to world peace. So ask yourself, "If this is a person I admire, am I on a path to honor what he or she stands for? If not, what changes do I need to make?"
It all comes back to knowing who you are and what your values are. If you're not clear in defining yourself, others will do it for you. Moreover, you can become a creature of your uniform. You go from being defined by parents to falling under the influence of your peers, your workplace, and its culture. You become the person of that job. You may be further influenced by well-meaning senior colleagues and lose yourself if you're not careful. I almost did.
Excerpted from MORE THAN MONEY by Mark Albion Copyright © 2008 by Mark Albion. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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