Not so long ago, I met a young and intelligent lady working as a student in a big organisation. A Monday morning, she was tasked to review the translation of some official documents. Around 10.30, she was already nearly laying on her keyboard, her head between her hands, whispering that she wanted to be on Friday. Not because she had a special event planned, just because she wanted this week to end.
If you compare her to other students having a holiday job, she was supposed to be lucky as she was actually doing the job she was studying for instead of counting hardware pieces in a store or delivering mail.
At some point we started a discussion and I took the opportunity to ask her:
– What are you gonna do with your life?
– Translator, she answered.
– You are here, doing the job you are preparing yourself to do the rest of your life and after one week, the only thing you can think about is not doing it. Are you sure it is what you want to do with your life?
– It is all I can do!
– Is is what you think or is it what it is? Which evidence do you have?
– None, but I don’t know what else to do!
– Maybe you should figure out that first?
Obviously, it is not the only thing she’s good at and it is not what she really want to do in her life. But somewhere, she became convinced that she had to follow this path and that it was the only one possible. At around 20, she was already in autopilot mode, following a path that is not her but the one her environment offered her.
A few days later she came to me and told me that she will use her time abroad (she was going to study abroad for a few months) to discover what she really wants to do.
In a rock festival, I discovered a Belgian New Orleans’ jazz band called Big Noise. The 4 musicians played like if they were possessed or in transe. The drummer was so into it, playing an “infernal swing” that he looked like he was drunk or on drugs. But, evidently, his drug was his pleasure to play. To play music, to play whit friends, with the audience, to have fun, a lot of fun. And the public was seduced, sharing the nearly shamanic transe, powered by the music and the magic of this group sharing the same love for music. From where I stood, at that moment, they had the best job in the world, the one making them happy.
I discovered recently the new Aaron Sorkin TV show called “The Newsroom”. The series is set behind the scenes at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) and centers around the team of idealistic journalists working for the news, seeking the truth and aiming to educate their audience. As it was the case before with “West wing”, Sorkin’s wrote again some of the most intelligent scenarios and dialogs ever. I was captivated by the show and found myself excited by each episode. As images of the series where present in my mind the next day, I wondered what was so appealing to me in the show. Obviously, I was probably projecting myself (in the Freudian acceptance of the term) in the show. Something was talking to me. But what? Fortunately, meditation helps a lot to make your mind clear and it became rapidly evident to me that it was the commitment of the characters and their values that was stimulating my soul. These characters are devoted to their work, or, should I say, to their cause. In fact, they don’t work, they do something they believe in it, they live their passion and they stick to their values. They are committed to their life, not someone else’s life.
More than a decade ago, I was running a company with my associates and, at the same time, I was coaching young children from 5 to 7 years old to teach them how to swim. Surprisingly, although my daily job was very interesting and I was successful at it, I happen to wait all the week for this moment, on Fridays, when I was in the water, teaching those kids how to float, dive, breath or jump into the water. At first, I tried to ignored this and managed to have so busy weeks that I couldn’t even think about it or anything else than my work and my occupations. Fortunately, at some point, my mind or my body (or both as they are one) found a way to pass the message. And it was clear: something was going wrong in my apparently picture perfect life. Unfortunately, the root cause of this “unhappiness” was not as evident. As I didn’t understood at the time what was laking me unhappy, I started to change nearly all aspects of my life, private and professional. During the process, I was lucky enough, as I often am, to cross the road of wonderful beings that helped me to understand what was missing in my life. At a bit more than 30 years old, I decided to go back studying and found myself on the way to the University to pursue a master in Psychology. It was a very long journey during which I continued to search for the meaning of my life as a sense on “un-achievement” was still haunting my mind. It took me a while, and a lot of these blessed encounters with wonderful people (sometimes through books, sometimes during a very short time or sometimes for a long lasting and beautiful journey) to understand that the meaning of my life was not the goal, the end of the road, but the road itself. I found my direction, my path, my identity as I was able to accept myself as I am, with my paradoxes and my weaknesses as much as with my strengths and my values. I finally understood the true meaning of Steve Jobs saying, in his 2005 Stanford commencement ceremony address: “for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: « If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? » And whenever the answer has been « No » for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” or the “Carpe Diem” from Dead’s poets society. I discovered my values and found my balance to integrate all aspects of my life. Writing this, even if you are just a few hundred to read it, should it even be only one person, is a part of it. I
Our society is very good at picturing a way of life and making us believe that we must fit into this scheme. Unfortunately, in some aspects, our society has lost her values, or, to be more accurate, I cannot recognise myself in some of these values and, maybe, you don’t either. As Jiddu Krishnamurti once said: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” And unfortunately, our society and most corporations, are so complex that it become difficult to understand what is the goal, the meaning and the role we have to play. And the pace imposed by our “modern” way of life do not often leave time to think about our values, our dreams, our expectations. We must be artists, philosophes or even fools to dare thinking about our purpose, the meaning of our lives or, more simply, what really matters for us, deeply inside. “Stay hungry, stay foolish” was the closing sentence of Jobs’ 2005 speech. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives. We can be foolish too for this commencement. We can demand the meaningful life we deserve. It is often not so far from where we stand. A few centimetres close even. It is not necessary to change everything, we can just change what is not in line with our values, with the direction we want to take.
According to recent studies, people with a purpose in their life, with a meaning, are happier and are also in better physical condition (less stressed). Corporation, society, should think about the meaning of what they do and the meaning of what their people do. If everyone could find a true meaning (money is obviously not one, as such) at what it does for leaving, nobody would have to work anymore, or at least, we would not have to call it labour because it wouldn’t be labourious anymore.