A few weeks ago, Inspired Work celebrated 26 years of business. There are so many reasons to party, but today I am going to step back and share with you my biggest payoff: I am happy much of the time.
It isn’t the fleeting kind of happiness that happens when I buy a new car. It is happiness that comes from doing the kind of work that fits my definition of meaning and purpose. It comes from having my work dovetail perfectly with my personal life. In the end, I have never been happier, and that is how I also measure the success of the participants in our programs.
In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy urged Americans to think about how we can measure what makes a country great in new ways. He said the gross national product doesn’t measure the health of our children, the beauty of our poetry, our courage, our wisdom, or our compassion.
“It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile,” Kennedy said.
In much metaphysical thinking, there is a common idea that we become what we pay attention to. In the modern world, many of us are paying attention to frenzy, and the more that we live there, the more frenzied we become.
I was once on a radio show where the host accused me of coming from “laid-back Los Angeles.”
I laughed. “The only laid-back people in Los Angeles are waiting for their autopsies. They’ve got toe tags!”
We are running off to our meetings, weaving through traffic so dense that it is wise to bring a picnic lunch and a catheter. People elbow each other aside in line because God forbid they miss something. We are speeding toward auditions, getting our kids into the right schools, rushing to meetings with the decision-makers who will move us one more notch up in the game of life – and you know what?
Many of us are simply too busy to be happy. Many of us are too frenzied to even define what that means. People are so busy they run in the doors of our programs proclaiming, “I will be the one person who doesn’t get it. I’ve been working on the question of what would make me happy for so long. Why would the answer come to me here?”
The fact is, most of us are so busy in our frenzy of checking our TVs and smartphones and – soon – virtual reality that we have lost touch with ourselves.
I have client companies that give life-changing programs to their employees who walk in the door resentful because we are intruding on their busy and frantic schedules. And many of them realize their calendars are filled with quite a bit of meaningless stuff.
Where does it end?
Personal engagement, employee engagement, success with change and reinvention – it all begins with self-inquiry. Without a clear sense of mission, vision, and purpose, we live in aimlessness and frenzy will keep us occupied.
In 1990, I found myself sitting on the beach in front of my home in Malibu with a journal loosely titled, “My Miserable Life.” I went down to that beach every morning committed to finding my way out of the malaise I had created for myself by believing that if I had enough things, lived in the right place, wore the right clothes, and hung out with the right people, I would find some form of nirvana. For years I had run businesses that helped people move from one job to the next. We didn’t bring them nirvana; we brought them new jobs – in many cases, just like the ones they hated.
But I knew that if I kept running through life looking for the next “deal” nothing would change, and I had enough good sense to sit down and write questions. In the game of jobs, I had realized that most of us were conditioned by a three-hundred-year-old event known as the Industrial Revolution to pursue predictability and survival over every other possible standard in our work. Many of us fell into what we were doing, and we settled there forever because it gave us predictability and survival.
But, the work had little, if anything, to do with what our souls wanted and craved.
One morning, I thought, “If we were sold this predictability and survival thing, what would be an antidote?”
Two words popped into my head as I dug my toes in the sand: “Irrevocable happiness.”
For a few minutes, I was afraid. I thought that if I defined those words for myself, I would be well down the path toward wearing a saffron robe and hitting a gong.
But I realized that if I were actually sentenced to happiness, I would be living life on my terms, with my values, with what my heart and soul craved – versus being caught up in the survival and predictability game.
Today, I will share but one definition from that self-inquiry: “If I were happy all of the time, I would only work with brilliant and loving people.”
Last week, I was working with a group of CEOs in Canada. During the discussion following my presentation, the leader of the group said, “David brought up something that I have never heard in my entire life and I bet no one else has told us.”
He brought up that one standard and the implications it could have on the life of a CEO.
I responded, “That was my standard. I don’t bring up personal standards with the implication that everyone adopt them as well.”
I can say that one standard has changed my life and has become part of the foundation of my happiness today, but that one definition was one of many.
So, if you lived in irrevocable happiness, what would that look like?
Go ahead; take a few valuable minutes to describe that state to yourself. We would love to hear about it.
David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.