… From Oppressive Obligations to Incredible Opportunities
The phone isn’t just ringing, it seems to be screaming. You’ve got yet another meeting to attend, there’s someone at your office door who wants a piece of you and now another call. Your blood pressure is rising almost as quickly as the demands made of you.
When you answer the phone, your tone of voice gives you away. The caller recognizes that it probably isn’t a good time to talk. When you turn your attention to the person at the door, your impatience and abruptness sends them away feeling diminished. Your energy level is on empty when you finally get to the meeting late and your attention wanders as important issues are being discussed.
Later that night after dinner, you have little time and even less enthusiasm, to spend time with your kids. You think that maybe if you get a couple of hours work done you can get caught up before tomorrow…
…and you wonder why the success you’ve worked so hard to achieve doesn’t make you feel, well, successful. It wasn’t that many years ago that you didn’t get invited to high powered meetings, the phone rang less frequently and you weren’t the first person people went to when they needed advice. And now, it seems, you aren’t enjoying your success, you—and the people around you—are suffering from it.
One of the common dilemmas of the workplace today is that people are working harder to get more done with less resources. And for many, it just isn’t fun. People are busy making money, but often by giving up any sense of meaning.
I know. Several years ago I was close to premature flame-out.
Thankfully, I had good problems: my business was so brisk that it was hard to keep up. My involvement as a board member of a national association increased my load of responsibilities and I was traveling nearly non-stop. Not only wasn’t I having much fun, I found it increasingly difficult to give people the attention and consideration that they deserved. When the phone rang, I didn’t want to answer it. I wanted to smash it.
I knew that soon I would be experiencing the repercussions. When we aren’t having much fun, neither are our clients, colleagues or families.
I wondered how can anyone could live happily and lead effectively with so many oppressive obligations? Thankfully I made the time to find an answer.
I stepped back to review everything I’ve learned by studying and working with effective leaders. I thought about all I’d read about the lives of great people. And as I pondered it all, I was struck with an insight.
The people who change the world—their companies, communities and families—rarely acted out of a sense of oppressive obligation. The people we call leaders almost always act out of a sense of incredible opportunity.
They don’t change the world because they have to; they change the world because they want to.
I don’t think Mother Theresa wakes up in the morning and mourns, “Oh Lord, not more lepers!” She is a woman doing some of the hardest work on the planet, and she seems to be having more fun doing it than we who sit in our air conditioned offices. How can that be?
It is a matter of perspective. When we feel harried and pressure, we tend to look at our circumstances as obligation. Yet other view the same circumstances as opportunity. It comes down to how you frame you life.
I learned to reframe my business and life from obligation to opportunity, and it has made all the difference. When the phone rings now, I have a different response. I now view an incoming call as an opportunity to serve, earn, influence, network, learn, encourage or teach. The difference isn’t in the nature of the call; the difference is in my response.
There isn’t much I really have to do in life. Sure, like you, I have a commitment of providing for my wife and son. But I could accomplish that by diminishing greatly my current workload, or even by changing careers. My colleague Ian Percy said he found from experience that his family didn’t really want all the money and trappings of affluence. They would have gladly live in a trailer as long as they had him.
As you read this, you might be facing dire circumstances. Foreclosure may threaten, relationships may be on the brink of disaster and you may be wondering about your ability to put food on the table. I would never make light of those kinds of situations but—and please think about this carefully—even in the worst circumstance lies an opportunity. It is the opportunity to overcome, to save, to improve. I know many highly successful individuals who faced similar situations and worse. What has enriched their lives most was the challenge to overcome and learn from them. In the darkest hour, someone they saw opportunity.
I appreciate simplicity. I keep a post-it note over my desk. On it are three handwritten words: obligation or opportunity. That becomes one of the most important choice I made on a daily basis, moment by moment.
I would like to impact the world around me in some way. I would like to add to the lives of others, rather than pass by them like an invisible phantom. I would like to think that my efforts did more than earn a living, that they helped create a better life for myself, my family and the clients I served. And now I realize that that the chance to accomplish those things is not an obligation, but the greatest opportunity of all.