In this month’s column and continuing in next month’s column, I am going to deviate from a clinical discussion and instead write about some important life and career lessons I have learned over the years. What I am about to discuss is not revolutionary – in fact it is pretty basic – but I think we sometimes get sidetracked by the daily grind and forget to look at the big picture. It is my hope that by discussing my experiences and thoughts you can avoid some of the situations I have experienced. If you simply cannot avoid an unfortunate lesson, then hopefully you can at least turn it into a positive experience.
Above all, respect yourself
When you spend more time working than you do spending time at home or with family and friends, I think it is critical you respect the people you work with and work for. If you don’t respect the people you surround yourself with, there is absolutely no reason to spend one more day of your life among them. Life is simply too short, and although many people are familiar with this adage, few truly appreciate it and fewer still act on it.
Take a look around you. Are the people you work with the kind of people you want to share your life with? When you work 8- to 16-hour days, 5 to 6 days a week, month after month, year after year, that is exactly what you are doing. You are taking the priceless gift you have been given and allowing them to share it with you.
If your answer is yes, then it is a beautiful thing. Congratulations and enjoy it. If your answer is no, then it is time to do some serious reflection. Perhaps you are young, just like receiving a paycheck, or do not care about life’s details or even the big picture at the moment. I was there once. Chances are, however, you feel stuck but are afraid to move, are afraid to take “the big risk.”
If this is the case, you have to ask yourself what the cost of biding your time truly is. I know you have responsibilities – be they financial, personal, family – that you use as justification for your security. Don’t get me wrong – these responsibilities are extremely important. What about the responsibility to your own soul? Do you simply want to get to the finish line, crawling if necessary? Or do you want to soar, taking in the beauty that life has to offer regardless of when and where the finish line is?
Life is not about making it to the end because everybody does. All too often, people have deep regrets about how they lived their life. Seldom do they spend too much time with their family or too much time drinking in the essence of life. So sit down, have a chat with yourself. Understand the value of decisive action and weigh that against the cost of uncertainty.
What are you made of? Do you respect yourself enough to do what is right for you? Sit down with your family and discuss with them the many choices you face. They may surprise you with a “go for it, we believe in you.”
Confidence is king
Company culture is comprised of many things – one element of which is interpersonal relations. You are constantly interacting with your peers and the ebb and flow of the work environment is greatly affected by the nature of these interactions. Throughout my life, I have seen one personality trait – confidence – stand tall above the rest. The difference between confidence and ego is a critical one. Confidence is merely the belief that you can accomplish what you set out to do. No more, no less. Ego is insecurity wrapped in the façade of confidence.
In a work environment, it is rather easy to spot those who have confidence, and those who do not. Confident people are so satisfied with their life that they simply want to help you enjoy yours. They do this by either actively assisting you or getting out of your way so you can reach the top of your personal mountain. The insecure are fearful that they don’t measure up to their peers. They spend a majority of their time trying to sabotage others in an effort to level the playing field. Rather than using their vast resources of energy to simply climb the mountain and gain ground like their more confident peers, they instead reduce it to rubble so they do not have to climb at all. This brings everyone down around them. Insecure people are so consumed battling their inner demons they cannot recognize the damage they do to themselves and do not care about the damage they do to other people.
When you run across these unfortunate people, the key is not to take any of this personally, but most importantly, get their crosshairs off your back. It is important to understand that they alone are responsible for conquering their own fears. You cannot do it for them, so your best course of action is to avoid these people at all costs. If you simply cannot avoid insecure people, then at least you have the knowledge that fear is their motivator, and anything you do to assuage it will lessen their damage. If this doesn’t work, you may need to simply exit the target zone.
My solution after years of trying to work side by side with such people and trying to ease their fears, was to go into business for myself. You may have a different solution. The important thing to remember is that if you have confidence, you will be a large target. In your confidence, you have the knowledge that you will always make it to the top. So believe in yourself and pity those people who do not. They have a tough climb ahead.
If you are struggling with your own confidence level, ask yourself why. You need to identify what it is in your mind that has convinced you not to believe in your capabilities and your potential. Ask yourself if this is reality, or simply a product of your imagination. My belief is that people can do anything. They too often tend to put up their own roadblocks.
Balance work and life
Why is it that we never seem to get a handle on balancing work and life? Could it be because we are focused on the wrong goal? When I was young, I used to think I wanted to be an Olympic athlete. I soon discovered what becoming one truly meant in terms of sacrifice. I was not so much focused on the training demands because that was the fun part to me. Sacrificing the joys of a life fully lived in both depth and breadth was not something I was willing to do.
My father received a full scholarship as a physics major at Stanford University and also worked full-time just to make sure there was food on the table. That is dedication. He never has stopped working at such a high level because it is ingrained in him that work is the essence of a good life and he wants to leave something of value behind for his family.
What he does not realize, and what many parents do not realize, is that often the greatest thing of value you can leave behind to your children is the lessons learned from a life well-lived – not the trinket or security, but the lessons of a broad and deep, rich life. These lessons are worth far more than dollars and cents.
You need to ask yourself will your memories be of work or will they be of life, family and friends? Take vacations, leave the office at the end of a good day and go home to be with your family. Sign up for yoga, unplug your laptop and go take a hike on the weekend and forget about work for awhile.
To quote Michel de Montaigne, “To compose our character is our duty…Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, to rule, to lay up treasure, to build, are at most but little appendices and props.”
Randall Alley, BSc, CP, LP, FAAOP, CFT is chief executive officer of biodesigns, inc. He is chair of the CAD/CAM Society of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists, an international consultant, lecturer and a member of the O&P Business News Practitioner Advisory Council. Alley can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.