A favorite movie line of mine,– and my children will tell you I have many, comes from Colonel Saito in the Bridge on the River Kwai who says “Be happy in your work”. For a long time I tried to apply that advice to my own life.
Last week, I was in NY, steps away from where my great-grandfather was born in 1851. During his time, it was known as Newtown Creek, today it is Long Island City. In 1851 it was a small settlement destined to become one of the most industrial areas in the US. Today it is home to a creek that was once the most polluted body of water in the US and is a complete multi-cultural hodgepodge.
I was there to work and I was not happy in it at all. I was there, or so I thought, to develop a go to market client acquisition cycle for my company launch. Turns out that it was work, hard work and I was not happy in at all. In fact I was consistently bringing awareness to how unhappy I was. Now, I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and I’m pretty good at setting my mind to a task, even if its unpleasant, and getting it done. So why was I meeting such internal resistance?
I am a native New Yorker, even recently lived in the Greater New York area, spending a lot of time there prior to and after 9-11. It was good to see what was to be Freedom Tower and seems to be One World Trade Center rising like a Phoenix in Lower Manhattan. Truth be told however, I don’t like the drama of New York. Tell a NY person what has gone wrong with your day and more often than not, they are scrambling to top your story with what in their life is worse. This is not unique to New York, only more common than in say, Pittsburgh. But the drama is overwhelming to me and I was not prepared for it.
I kept bringing awareness to it, but I also found myself being drawn in to patterns of behavior that I thought I’d left behind me. I found myself swearing more in four hours than in the last six months. I was sitting there, talking about the business of coaching. Nothing can mess something up faster than talking about the business side of it. Why should anyone listen to me I was asked. What do I have to offer? In my mind, I struggled to even form the words “I thought you could change the way that you show up in difficult circumstances and that would make all the difference”. I even tried on “I could still be making more money a year than I ever imagined and be happy with it, if I had only changed my way of thinking”. It turns out that this line of thinking, for me, is simply not accurate. The decision to get out of the C-Suite in 2006 was right for me then, and continues to right for many others today.
I believe now that I had to re-experience it. In New York, you tend to hang on to small things as identity. I was a Giants Fan – my coach is a Jets fan. If you are from New York, you understand this gulf. If not, think about Israel and Palestine. My coach sees the world from a small business development perspective. I have always worked with large companies and organizations, even in my small business background we wanted to be big, and our customers were huge.
So, I had a bad day. It started out really well. I had a delightful conversation with an 81-year-old woman who was both wise and curious (perhaps these traits inform each other?). I maintained awareness throughout the experience of traveling to Long Island City including the cab ride in on the LIE (Long Island Expressway). However, as soon as conflict arose around my personal branding, I was not happy – still “aware” but decidedly not happy. I had a branding experience once before in Brooklyn when working on my photography business. At the time, that branding felt constraining to me and was a framework I quickly outgrew. So it seems I have a history with “New York brand people” and rather than staying fully present in the moment, I was time shifting between the two experiences.
As we worked though the discussion and arrived at my “Truth”, I was aware of the shift in my understanding although still unhappy. I had to realize that sometimes life sucks and it’s okay to be aware that I did not want to be having this discussion nor would I enjoy its ramifications.
Returning home however, made all the difference. I felt better driving from the airport in Pittsburgh to the northern suburbs and our home in the forest – they called it Penn’s woods for a reason. The energy of nature and its healing effects is palpable.
Being happy in your work is not enough if it no longer is True for you – if you have shifted in your values and priorities. Last week, I repeated a ritual that was part of my life for far too many years. Up before dawn – drive to the airport – lunch on the road – meetings – dinner on the road – back to the airport and back home – door to door in less than 18 hours. Too tired to process the information that day.
The difference now is that I scheduled time to process it the following day – and process it I did. The Truth from my New York trip is that I do not help launch new businesses – yet. Someday – I might. What I help people do is get in touch with what is inside of them and identify a way to launch their on-core venture. This is what I did in my own life, and what I have now to offer others. I stepped away from a life I was drowning in because even though I made a lot of money – quite frankly, it simply sucked. It was not always that way; after The Shift it was abundantly clear that this path was no longer mine.
If you are no longer happy in your work, even if other’s feel you “have it all” and “should be happy”, now is the time to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Figure out what will you be happy doing – and go do it.