In the early '80s, I was a member of a cult. It was a worldwide movement with membership in the hundreds of thousands, requiring total devotion to its cause.
You might have thought of it as an international corporation offering services to the Fortune 100, but believe me, for those of us who worked there, it was a cult. Early on, we were indoctrinated with a single overriding message: Your job is the most important thing in your life.
As young, ambitious professionals, it was easy to believe the message, and once we started to believe it, we were hooked. We worked 80 hours per week, traveled constantly and said yes to every assignment.
Alone in a hotel one night during a two-year assignment, I was reading a new book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People." The author, Stephen Covey, suggested something radical -- that we define our lives not by our jobs but by the things we care most about.
I listed the various things that were important to me in terms of my roles: Donna's husband, Scott's dad, Sarah's dad, business leader, writer and friend, and when I looked at the list, I was struck by how many aspects of my life were important to me beyond my job.
Next, I built a compelling vision of all that I wanted to do, who I wanted to become in each role. To get this vision, I imagined my own eulogy, the words that would be said at the time of my passing.
I started with my newest role -- father to my beautiful baby girl, Sarah. In my mind, I saw Sarah, many years in the future, standing in front of our friends and family to describe what her relationship with her Dad meant to her. I then wrote one sentence on the tablet in front of me, a sentence that changed my life. I imagined Sarah saying, "My Dad was always there for me."
Only, I wasn't there. I was away, as I had often been, giving everything to my job.
As I stared at that sentence, my heart broke open. I wrote pages and pages in the most visionary experience I have ever had. I wrote about what I wanted to be, the moments I wanted to share, the heart connection I wanted to make.
On the following Monday, I walked into cult headquarters and resigned. Today, I might handle this decision differently -- the word "transition" comes to mind -- but on that day, I had a vision so clear, so real, so compelling, that I had no choice but to live it out.
In the years that have passed, Sarah and I have lived out everything that I envisioned, from dozens of backpacking trips and rock-climbing expeditions to kayaking, whitewater rafting, earning our black belts in taekwondo, and so on. Today, I could tell the same story, as husband to Donna, dad to Scott, CEO of a highly successful company and many other things.
In the process, I've been able to build a great life and a great career. This is what I mean by the business of life -- having a vision of what you want and the ability to bring that vision into reality.
Here are three questions to get you started. I have come to believe that they are the most important we can ever answer.
* Who are you? Beyond all surface descriptions, who are you really?
Action item: List the roles in your life and rank them by priority.
* What do you want? Do you have a clear vision? Are you living your life "on purpose?"
Action item: Write a personal eulogy for your highest priority role.
* What are you prepared to do? This is the most important question of all.
Action item: Set one goal for this year that will take you toward living out that vision.
Recently, I watched Sarah receive her high school diploma as a lifetime honor roll student. As one chapter of my life was ending and a new one beginning, I realized that I had become the dad I envisioned all those years ago, and my joy at the memory of all that Sarah and I had shared was beyond description.
You really can have it all. In "The Business of Life," I'll show you how.
As an author and keynote speaker, Jim Huling helps leaders and their teams understand a simple formula for achieving extraordinary results, both personally and professionally. He challenges and inspires his audience with a unique blend of humor, practical examples and real-world results. He is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has received the Turknett Leadership Character Award, and several other top employer recognitions. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.
I heard the sound of the bone snapping before I felt the pain. It was the end of a grueling workout and my karate instructor had challenged us to finish by attempting a difficult technique. I knew I was too fatigued to perform well, but when the younger students eagerly responded, I foolishly followed my pride.
As I jumped into the air to perform a series of kicks, I failed to get enough height and landed with my leg beneath me, breaking the bone in three separate places. Seconds later, I was lying on the floor screaming in pain. It was a moment I will never forget.
Months later, I was in the doctor’s office looking at a new X-ray of my leg and comparing it to one from the day of the accident. All three breaks had healed, but their location was still clear because, in the place where each break had been, the bone was denser and showed darker on the film.
As the doctor began to remove my cast, I asked him the question that had been on my mind for weeks, “Will my leg ever be as strong as it was before?”
He stopped and looked directly into my eyes. “Don’t you know what happens when a break heals?” he said, smiling. “The bone heals stronger in each place where it was broken. One day, this will be your strongest leg.”
Are you feeling the pain today of a relationship that is broken or of trust you once had with your company or your boss that has fractured under the pressure of challenging times?
If so, then know this: The point of your greatest pain can become the point of your greatest strength. You must only follow the body’s example heal stronger.Heal stronger by learning about yourself
Today, I can easily see how I broke my leg. But seeing the factors that led to a break in a relationship is not always so easy.
I once lost a long-term friendship whose final moment was a single heart-wrenching incident. While I initially thought that this incident was the cause of the break, I now see that it was simply the culmination of differences that had been growing for some time differences that neither of us addressed and that ultimately became too great to resolve.
If you’ve recently broken with a company or received a step back in your title or income, look back to see what the real cause may have been. You may find that the signs were there long before the final moment, whether you were less and less engaged with the work you were doing, becoming increasingly frustrated with your co-workers or simply bored in a position that you had outgrown.
Whatever the cause of the final break, you could likely have created a different outcome if you had addressed the early warning signs more quickly. You can heal stronger by using this experience to learn about yourself and deciding how you will handle similar situations in the future, before they reach the breaking point.Heal stronger by changing your thinking
Weeks after my leg was completely healed, I was still unwilling to train to my full capacity. My body was ready, but my mind wasn’t. Each time I would prepare to use my leg in a challenging way, I would hold back, afraid that it would break again.
One day my teacher called me aside and said, “You can only do what your mind believes. Believe first, then do.”
It was advice that set me free to move forward.
In the same way, it’s tempting to hold on to the emotions surrounding the loss of a job or a change in position, replaying them constantly in your mind. As long as your keep your thoughts focused on the break, you will never completely heal.
Instead, begin to focus on what you’ve learned, on the talents and experience that you possess, and on the successful future that is still ahead of you. The more you focus your mind on these thoughts, the more you will believe them, and as my teacher said, the more you will be able to do.
Not long ago, someone asked which leg I had originally broken. When I had to pause to remember, I knew my healing was complete.
No matter how painful your break has been, you can heal stronger. And the strength you gain can be the key to a new level of performance and success.
Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Huling is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Again!” my tae kwon do instructor shouted, commanding the class to another repetition of the fighting combination we were learning. The moves were difficult, and I was already tired from a long day at work.
With each repetition, my arms and legs felt heavier, and I began to hold back, conserving my energy while hoping that no one noticed. Because I was the highest-ranking black belt, I had the senior position on the mat in front of two dozen students, a position where my every move was visible and expected to be an example for others to follow.
As my instructor moved among us, inspecting each person’s form and technique, I was careful to give my best when he was near and then rested when he walked away. In this way, I believed I was maintaining my image as the senior student without actually having to exert the effort.
It was in one of these moments of executing the movements halfheartedly that I was surprised by the whispered voice of my instructor close behind me.
“Who are you when no one is watching, Mr. Huling?”
Even now, I can recall how I felt at that moment. At the instant I heard his voice, I realized that there was no shame in being tired or unable to perform at my highest level; the shame was in trying to uphold an image that wasn’t true.
Have you ever tried this same approach? Can you remember a time when you had lost all passion for the work you were doing but put on an image of energy and false enthusiasm for the people around you? Perhaps you can remember sustaining an image in a relationship, portraying a personal connection that you no longer felt or feigning dedication to a community service project that, in truth, had become a dreaded burden.
No matter when or where it happens, the moment you shift your energy toward maintaining your image crafting your actions and your words to sustain the appearance of something that isn’t true you compromise your most valuable attribute: the content of your character.
If this is where you are, there are three important things to remember.
First, the people around you usually know the truth, in spite of your efforts to conceal it.
They have built-in radar for inconsistencies and subtle cues that tell them the smile on your face isn’t matched by the feeling in your heart.
While you may not be quite ready to resign from the job or end the relationship, you can stop exhausting yourself to convince people that everything is great. Instead, begin to be more authentic in what you say and do. Don’t say yes when you mean no, compliment only what you truly respect, and pause to consider whether each action you are about to take aligns with your personal values for honesty and integrity.
Second, if perfection were the requirement, no one would succeed. All of the people around you face their own fear of inadequacy and rejection and, like you, are tempted to create a better version of themselves through the image they want you to see.
But if you will begin to acknowledge your own imperfections that you don’t always make the right choice and aren’t always in control of every situation you will not only drop your own image and become more authentic, you’ll set others free to accept their imperfections as well.
Finally, remember that the image you are sustaining is actually a reflection of the person you want to become. When you create an image of passionate engagement with your work, it’s because you really want your work and your life to have these qualities. Instead of pretending that you love your job, channel that same energy into a written vision of what you really want, and then commit to finding an opportunity that takes you toward it.
Let this simple Latin phrase become the standard for your life: “Esse quam videre,” which means “To be, rather than to appear.” When you do, you will discover that the person you truly are is actually greater than the image you tried to create.
JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the third year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.
It was almost midnight when the message flashed across my computer screen. I was alone in my office, working on a report that was due the next day. I was tired and had no time to waste. But now, I was forced to wait, staring at the message that had unexpectedly interrupted my typing.
Your connection has been lost. There was truth in those words that went far beyond my company’s computer network. For months, I had been conscious of a growing emptiness as I worked each day.
On the surface, nothing had changed. I had a position that many would envy, and I was working for a good company that valued my contributions. But where once my job had been an exciting adventure, it had now somehow become an obligation that I had to force myself to fulfill.
Although I could still remember a time when I was excited to begin each day a time when I faced both the challenges and the successes of my work with enthusiasm I was now caught in a spiral that was slowly taking me down.
Are you in this same spiral? Do you feel more exhausted each day from the effort to fulfill your role? Whether you’re leading a team at work, teaching a classroom of students or managing a household, it happens to all of us. And when it does, there is only one answer, an answer that is one of the greatest lessons in the business of life you must re-establish your connection.
Without the energy and inspiration of a real connection to your work, you will never experience the success, or the fulfillment, that you want. But once you find it, it can fuel a level of performance beyond your imagination.
- Find a deeper connection to the people
around you. Do you really know the people
with whom you work closely? Do you feel
that you are part of a team or are you an outsider with little sense of belonging?
Start to build a connection to the people you work with by simply listening. Listen to their thoughts and ideas, as well as the stories about their families and their lives. Really listen to what they have to say without processing other background thoughts, interrupting or checking your Blackberry.
The more you do this, the more you will create a connection of understanding and trust, a connection that will give you a sense of belonging and inclusion that can become one of the most important elements of the work you do.
- Find a deeper connection to your personal excellence. Are you proud of the work you
do? If not, challenge yourself to reach a higher standard.
When you choose a personal standard, such as, “I will keep every commitment I make,” you set in motion a force that establishes what’s important to you and makes you accountable for living up to it. The pride you feel when you set a standard for excellence, and then achieve it, will forge a powerful personal connection to your work.
- Find a deeper connection to your real purpose. Do you see your work as part of something important?
If I view my job of running a staffing company as simply a series of business goals and financial objectives, I only tap into a fraction of the passion I feel when I remember that our real purpose is finding jobs for people who need them. Seeing a larger purpose in what you do brings inspiration to even the most mundane tasks and connects you to your work in a deeply meaningful way.
Sitting in my office that night I vowed to reestablish my connection to the work I was doing and, in the end, I was successful. But in the process, I learned something vitally important.
The real cure for exhaustion is not rest. The cure for exhaustion is to establish a wholehearted connection to what you do. This connection will give you the sustaining energy of meaning, purpose and pride, not only in your work, but in who you are.
JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources, Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.
I hate to tell you this, but you may be bankrupt. You’ve been withdrawing from your accounts regularly, and your deposits have been infrequent and small.
You may have almost nothing left, and soon you could be beyond any hope of recovery. By the way, I’m not referring to your financial status. I’m referring to your life.
Impossible? Then how about submitting to an audit? Choose one role in your life that is truly important to you, such as your role as a spouse, a parent or a friend. Write the name of this role, such as Scott’s dad or Donna’s husband, at the top of a blank page. Now, draw a line down the center of the paper. This is your balance sheet.
On the left side of the page, list everything you’ve done in the past month that made a deposit in this account. Deposits can range from small things, such as expressing appreciation or sending a card, to remembering your wedding anniversary with a special gift to your spouse.
But the key to this side of the balance sheet is that each entry must be emotionally meaningful to the recipient. If it doesn’t matter to the person who is the focus of this role, it doesn’t count.
Now, on the right side of the page, list all the things you did in the past month that represented withdrawals. If you broke a promise or said something in anger that was hurtful, you made an obvious withdrawal. You must list not only the things you did, but also the things you didn’t do. This is tough, because withdrawals of omission are hard to face.
For example, are you consistently adding hours at work and missing time with the people you care about? Note a withdrawal. Are you absent even when you’re present, such as checking your BlackBerry while one of your children is talking to you or thinking about a problem at work while trying to appear interested in your spouse’s needs? Note another withdrawal.
What about emotionally? Are you able to recognize your team’s achievements at the office, but unable to verbalize genuine passion and emotion with your loved ones? Do you hold back when you really want to say “I’m proud of you” or “I love you”?
If you have the courage to note all of these withdrawals on your balance sheet, you will get a true picture of your life, perhaps for the first time. One of the harshest realities we must face is that the cost of the things we didn’t do can outweigh the value of the things we did.
If this exercise reveals that your balance is not what you thought it was or indicates that you are headed for a crisis, don’t despair. You can still build a deep reserve of meaning and fulfillment in every area of your life. You just can’t do it overnight.
The key is to begin making consistent investments over time. If your finances were depleted, you couldn’t restore them in a single deposit. The same is true in your life. But you can decide today to begin decreasing your withdrawals, and increasing your deposits, however small they may be.
Remember also that some deposits have an emotional value that is disproportionate to the effort involved. Writing a heartfelt note or giving someone an hour of your completely undivided attention are gifts whose value far exceed their cost. Over time, these deposits are not only cumulative but are compounded by the impact of consistently demonstrating how much you care.
Are you overdue for an audit? Start today to invest in your life. You’ll be glad you did.
Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Reach Huling at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.
Many people believe they have a vision for their career, their marriage, or their role as a parent or a friend, but because they never follow through on the actions required to fulfill their vision, they reduce it to nothing more than a fantasy. And a fantasy is worth nothing. At the end of your life, you will find no joy in all that you meant to do.
The people who lead great lives, who challenge and inspire us to be like them, are the people who actually do something to make their vision a reality.
There are three key distinctions between a fantasy and a vision that can move you from imagining the life you want to live to actually living it.
The first distinction is clarity. Do you really know what you want? Have you taken the time to thoughtfully define what you want from life? If not, remember this: fantasies hide in the mind, visions pour out onto paper. If you want it to be real, write it down. When I took the time to write all that I would want my children to say in a eulogy for me, I went from hoping to be a great dad someday to actually being one.
The second distinction is progression. Almost nothing of significance can be completed in a single step. In business, we’re familiar with breaking large projects into smaller goals or milestones, but we seldom apply this to our lives.
My vision of being a great dad includes spending time one-on-one with my kids, and this year, I’ve set the goal of planning a one-week wilderness adventure with each of them.
Last year, my goals were different, as they will be next year. But over the course of a lifetime, the cumulative completion of these goals has enabled me to become the dad I wanted to be.
I like to express my goals as newspaper headlines because of the extra energy I get when I read them. Headlines such as “Scott and Dad complete week-long rafting trip in 2005” not only give me a clear goal, but one that I can’t wait to accomplish. Setting at least one goal for the year in each major area of your life will give you the focus and the clarity to take action toward achieving it. The third distinction is regular investment. Even if you’ve set a goal for the year, you still must take the time to plan what to do each week.
Every Sunday for the past 22 years, I’ve spent a few minutes choosing actions that will take me toward my vision in the coming week. In the world of investments, this is known as the drip method. Alone, each weekly action might seem insignificant, but cumulatively, they add up to something great.
So, if part of my vision to be a great dad is to take a long rafting trip with my son, then my investment this week might be simply to research various rivers out west or to buy a map. By reducing this big goal to small, weekly investments, I can make steady progress while still balancing all my other responsibilities.
What are your fantasies? Do you want to be a great leader? A loving, engaged spouse or parent? A trusted and dependable friend? Fit and healthy?
Whatever it is you want from your life, it will not happen until you determine what you are prepared to do and then do it. Your fantasy can be transformed into a vision-filled life by simply deciding today to take action. Will you do it? Just think of the possibilities.
Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Contact him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.
But the real question is about how you are living your life. Are you living on the assumption that there will always be a tomorrow to do what you want to do, to become the person that you want to be?
Three days ago, I was having dinner with my wife and daughter at a favorite restaurant and life couldn’t have been more perfect. A few hours later, I was in an emergency room with my blood pressure crashing and my family watching a monitor that no longer registered a heartbeat for a full three seconds.
Did I wish for the chance to send one more e-mail, review one more report or attend one final meeting? Of course not. But what about you? Isn’t that what you do day after day as you’re working late, taking cell phone calls at dinner and canceling your vacation? We consistently make these decisions based on the conscious or unconscious assumption that there is always tomorrow to create the life we want. And then one day, our tomorrows are gone.
Wouldn’t it be better to live each day making sure that we aren’t missing the things that matter most to us? Over the years, I’ve been able to combine a successful career with a phenomenal marriage, being a great dad to my kids, backpacking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, earning a third degree black belt, becoming an author and a speaker, and now being Papa to my three grandchildren. And I possess no greater talent, ambition, drive or luck than you do.
The difference is that I had a plan. Start right now to build your own plan by choosing an area of your life that is one of the most important to you, such as your role as a spouse, parent or friend. Now, think about what you really want in this role. What kinds of experiences do you want to share? What do you want the relationship to have meant throughout your life?
Stephen Covey recommends a powerful exercise in the “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” for gaining a vision of all that you want from a particular area of your life writing a eulogy. I want to warn you, this is not for the faint of heart.
Picture the face of the person who is the focus of this role for you. Imagine them standing before your friends and family one day when your time with them has passed. Hear them saying, “I’d like to tell you what my relationship with my dad/mom/husband/friend meant to me.” And then write the words that come from your heart.
As you do this exercise, use real language, resisting the temptation to settle for lofty words such as “He was a great person who dedicated himself to the highest use of his talents and to serving the common good.” Not only is this meaningless, it carries no emotional content. Without emotional content, you’ll be missing the spark that will inspire you to want to live it out.
In my eulogy for my daughter, Sarah, to give about me, I started by writing “My dad was always there for me.” It was a sentence that changed my life. I then went on to write about how much we loved each other, the times we shared and all the things we would do together. Today, I have a written statement of what I really want from my roles as Donna’s husband, Scott’s dad, CEO of my company and many others.
This is the plan that gives my life focus and a sense of meaning, the plan that lets me live knowing that I’m creating the life I want. In an emergency room three days ago, I was reminded that none of us is guaranteed a single tomorrow. Start today to win at the business of life.
Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company which has received the Turknett Leadership Character Award and several other top employer recognitions. Reach Huling at http://Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.