It was 10:30 in the evening. I sat rather exhausted outside the Atlanta airport on a bench, soaking up waves of the Georgian humidity. The only aspiration I had at this point was anticipating the hotel shuttle picking me up. Marty, another jet-lagged passenger, shuffled his way over to the vacant seat beside me and sat down. I was on my way to speak at a conference the next day and he was on his way to attend a weeklong training course with his company. Marty was going places in his company, and he had been selected as a 'high potential for promotion' individual, which placed him onto a one-year fast-track integrated leadership development program. I am not a believer in the idea that success is being in the right place at the right time. Marty, a keenly astute 36-year-old, seemed, from all appearances, to have a firm grip on where he was headed and how to get there. I asked Marty what his formula for success was. I really had no expectation of how he would answer this question, but I can tell you that I did not expect what came next. "I would like to think that I did everything right in my job, and that my company would just promote me because they recognized my potential—you know, by my merit and hard work. At least that is what my parents told me when I went off to university. I thought that was all that was important, right? Do a great job, and you will be recognized for it. But that didn't happen," he said with a smirk. "I guess I didn't realize that I had developed my skills to an exceptional level, but I had done little to develop my character."
I probed slightly deeper with Marty, wanting to know what he felt was the dichotomy between developing skills and developing character, and why character was important. "I was known as someone who always had to be right, at all costs, and I mean that literally. I would go to the wall to prove my point. I was bypassed for promotions, and if you were to ask me if I enjoyed my job, I would say definitely not. In fact, I don't think I ever enjoyed any job I had, because I spent so much energy trying to be right. One day I went to my desk and someone had put a little pocket book by my computer, written by some guy named George Matthew Adams, called You Can. 'Not much to the title,' I remember thinking, and there was no note, nothing to tell me who had left it. The book sat there for months until, one day, I tipped the scales on a really crappy day. I was thinking of quitting, and so I picked up the little book."
At this point, Marty reached into his computer bag and pulled out a well worn, dog-eared notebook, and turned to a page with a quotation from Adams. "Check this out," he said, and proceeded to read it to me. "Every one of us, unconsciously, works out a personal philosophy of life, by which we are guided, inspired, and corrected, as time goes on. It is this philosophy by which we measure out our days, and by which we advertise to all about us. It takes but a brief time to scent the life philosophy of anyone. It is defined in the conversation, in the look of the eye, and in the general mien of the person. It has no hiding place. It's like the perfume of the flower—unseen but known almost instantly. It is the possession of the successful and the happy. And it can be greatly embellished by the absorption of ideas and experiences and made useful on this earth." Marty explained further, "Somewhere, somehow I 'got it'! I just 'got it,' and the light went on for me with this quotation. I realized that the only life philosophy I had that guided me was that I had to be right. Always right. Adams called it my 'scent,' and I realized it wasn't necessarily a good one," Marty groaned. "I remember thinking that I needed to get a new 'smell,'" he said "So I did. My life philosophy has changed now.
My new philosophy is I can be right, or I can be happy. It's simple, but it means a lot to me. As soon as this became my new life philosophy, everything shifted, and here I am—and, oh," he added, "I am happy as well." Marty later told me that this mantra has served him well, both in his personal and professional life, and his engagement has returned to his work. He loves his job and sees life and work through a new set of eyes. Marty had grasped a profound 'life tool,' and I wish that I had been so self-reflective at his age. I would have to agree with Marty that skills are only one factor required in this new post pandemic economy and the new world of work. It is also about the character of the person that counts, equally to their skills and knowledge.
I've also learned I can either be right or be happy. Being right can be important--it has its time and place for moral, safety and fairness. However, not all hills are worth climbing, or dying on, when it impacts our emotional state. Being "right" then losing it validity quickly. Today, what "right" is calling you to let go of for the sake of your wellbeing. What so called "right" is really your ego getting in your way and stunting your personal growth?
Many people ask me with sincerity if, at the end of the day, the workplace is this important. I can only emphatically answer, "Yes," because we will spend close to 100,000 hours at work during our lifetime. We know we must work to enjoy the fundamentals of life such as food, shelter, clothing and perhaps even some indulgences along the way. Work also provides an avenue to grow our self-worth and confidence through our actions and provides a primary source of social interaction, connection, and community all culminating to growing our compassionate self.
So, do you want to be right, or be happy?
Director & Education Advisor, Charter Education Institute (CEI)
Author, The Business of Kindness, Four Generation-One Workplace, I See You
This message from Olivia McIvor, Director & Education Advisor for the Charter for Compassion Education Institute, appears in our 7/23/2022 weekly newsletter, and it's an excerpt from "Four Generations-One Workplace." To sign up for our newsletter, scroll all the way down to the end of this page to get to the bottom menu; in the newsletter section, enter your email address and click on subscribe.