I’ve just had the fortune to experience a restful week away with my family at a rural cottage in Scotland. Apart from an excursion into Edinburgh and an occasional stop for coffee and cake, it has been blissfully, crowd and Covid-precaution free.
We all need a break sometimes and, for my family and me, that would typically involve filling every day with a different experience that we couldn’t fit into a normal weekend; giving ourselves a schedule that would easily rival the hectic pace of a day at work. However, a change isn’t always as good as a rest, and I feel as if this is one of the first breaks of many years when I mindfully paid heed to that.
A holiday should be a time when you accept the permission you have given yourself to leave work behind and allow thoughts around family life and personal relationships to relax into the space the opportunity has created in your head. I always feel as if it takes at least 3 days for my “pass-out” from the office to take effect whilst my wife would say it takes me a week, and she may well be correct if you add in the 2 days I spend at the end of a break, preparing my mind to re-engage with work.
I’m certain I am not alone in this.
Well, on this break, I did allow my work to linger on my mind a bit longer than usual, but it was intentional. This time I wanted to try and answer for myself why I do what I do for a living, despite all the indications that, even in the sixth decade of my life, I could still find a legitimate, less stressful and more financially rewarding livelihood.
At the core of it all is my desire to feel needed or appreciated. I realise that these are two very different emotions because there are very many things we may need, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee we appreciate them. Nevertheless, either will satisfy my desire to have my self-worth affirmed.
I know that isn’t enough; I want to be needed because there’s something about what I do or how I do it that differentiates me from my competitors; and this is where the idea of appreciation comes in. All of us can appreciate a job that is done well but, when your job is delivering a commodity (no matter how specialised or technical) what is it exactly that elevates an experience from “job done” to “job done well!”?
My Dad was a mechanical engineer by training but, due to intervening circumstances, spent most of his life working as a retail salesman. Engineering is an interesting profession; things either work or they don’t. Something that doesn’t work well has either been poorly designed or poorly engineered. I’m confident that my Dad would have been a very competent Engineer because everything he did in life was well-considered, and his way of dealing with things instilled absolute confidence in the outcome. He carried this into his career as a Salesman, which meant he always tried to make sure that he understood his prospective customer’s expectations and then fulfilled them. If he couldn’t match the expectations with the product he had on offer, he would always go the extra mile to help that person find what they needed, even if it wasn’t something he sold.
That’s what I mean about a “job done well”. My Dad did that even if it meant he didn’t achieve a sale, and therein lies the irony. Sometimes, even a Salesman can do a job well without doing a job (making that sale).
This brings me back to the question; “what is my why?”.
In my ponderings, whilst on holiday, I realised that I do what I do, and I do it the way I do because I want to help people deal with things that they can’t deal with alone. I want to provide solutions that don’t just work, but which work well. I want to be appreciated as much for how I do things as for what I do, and I want the satisfaction of knowing that even if somebody else had delivered the solution, it couldn’t have been delivered in the way that I did it.
In elite sports, coaches emphasise the importance of 1% gains; by focussing on the marginal differences that aren’t left to chance, athletes reach and sustain their peak performance. This is the outward display of their “Why” and the element of what they do that explains their otherwise indefinable difference.
My “Why” is the kindling, the match and the fire that energises what I do and how I do it, and I am eternally grateful to all those people over the years that have put their faith in my colleagues and me to assist them with some of the most difficult challenges of their lives.
There is no relationship on this entire planet that doesn’t work better or perform stronger, or last longer than one that is symbiotic. A need feeds a need, a why feeds a why and a job done well is a rare delight that brings its own rewards.