Rest is Not the Answer

Recently I was watching Jon Stewart's introduction to Bruce Springsteen receiving the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors.  You owe it to yourself to do the same for the amazing mix of hilarity and moving tribute that Stewart offers in less than two minutes.

I was struck by the closing words he used to honor Springsteen: he always leaves the tank empty ... for his fans, for his family, for his country.

In recent conversations with a variety of folks—friends, colleagues, workshop participants—I've encountered more people who feel like they are running on empty, not emptying the tank like Springsteen, not pouring their passion into something that holds great purpose and meaning for them.

I have to believe this at least partially occurs because our U.S. culture conditions us to engage with the wrong questions.  We ask young people What do you want to be when you grow up?ˆ as if their life should be determined by the title or profession they might only temporarily pursue.    My favorite answer to this question BTW comes from comedienne Paula Poundstone who once said: "Why are adults always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up?  They're looking for ideas."

 Think how different the conversation is with these questions, "Who do you want to be when you grow up?  What kind of person do you plan to become, and what contributions do you want to make on the issues and to the communities that you care about?"

Similarly, we often talk of climbing the corporate ladder.  Lately, we have shifted that metaphor to climbing the corporate lattice, a beneficial change that is more inclusive of diverse aspirations, one that gives us permission to move in all directions, not just onward and upward.  But I think we congratulate ourselves a bit too quickly that this shift in thinking is all that is required to not be running on empty.  Again, what if we changed the question?  Isn't this the more compelling inquiry: How do you see yourself climbing the ladder or lattice of your life, and what role does work play in that story?

I'm passionate about my purpose.  I believe deeply in my profession.  I'm excited about the contributions I have yet to make.  But even for a workaholic like myself, I completely understand that I am not my work.  It alone will not be the greatest accomplishment in my life.

So if you're running on empty and think you need a vacation to recharge, dig a litter deeper. Laptop and camera batteries don't hold a charge forever, nor can they be recharged in perpetuity.  At some point they have to be replaced.

Wholeheartedness is the answer.  You just have to be asking yourself the right question.


Sekeno said...

Jeffrey, thank you for this! This really fits into my children's Montessiori school mantra... and I am going to share this with them.

Joan Eisenstodt said...

A friend's son, when he was very young, answered the "what do you want to be" question this way:

"Be? Kind, giving. If you mean what do I want to DO, that's something else."

Through my work, about which I am passionate 99.9% of the time [after a day of travel around rude people, my .1% is showing], I am comfortable being who I am and what I do -- being my work. In it I put "who I am".

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Your friend's son sounds like a wise young man, Joan.