This page features a few pieces that highlight our thinking about celebrating the human spirit at work, at home, and throughout your life.
Are You Climbing the Wrong Mountain?
It's a sad story... for 27 years, Dan climbed The Mountain of Power. Three months after summiting—that is, becoming CEO—he had a heart attack and died. His wife said at his funeral, "Ironically, Dan was happiest when he stepped away from his quest and spent time with his children and friends. He was most miserable the closer he came to power. But he could never shake the habit of seeking power."
Dan was climbing the wrong mountain.
To respect confidences, all the names and specific examples in this story are fictional, but they are based on the type of misguided careers that happen with heartbreaking frequency.
Our intention today is pretty simple: to provide you with a touchstone you can use to test your own goals and actions.
At heart, Sarah is an artist. She spent ten years climbing the Mountain of Perfection, trying to master the medium of fluid painting. During this period, Sarah was her own toughest critic, never satisfied with her work and always reluctant to A.) offer it for sale, or B.) charge high enough prices to support even her minimal needs.
Over time, she began to support and encourage other artists. When she finally worked up the courage to sell her works at summer art fairs, she always brought a few pieces created by her friends. It was far easier for her to promote and sell these other works, which she did so effectively that friends gave her more and more artworks to display.
Three years ago, Sarah opened an art gallery, then a second location. She has never been happier or more gratified. Now she is climbing the Mountain of Artistic Fellowship, and she paints for her own personal pleasure.
It is so easy to accidentally climb the wrong mountain. Many of us never pause long enough to consider what matters most to us, or to think about the implications of our decisions. "My father was an attorney," a newly-minted lawyer might confess. "I have a mind like his. It never occurred to me that the practice of law could leave me feeling empty and alone, as though I was living someone else's life."
Here's the thing about climbing the wrong mountain: for years and years, it can feel like you are being so productive and effective. You reach milestones that required years of grit and growth to achieve. You get promoted. You make more money. Friends and neighbors are impressed. Hell, you might even be impressed.
But when you get to the top—and when you start to gaze at another peak with a sense of longing—you are further than ever from your true path.
External metrics won't reveal whether you should be climbing the Mountain of Wealth versus the Mountain of Compassion. To find the answer, you must look inside yourself.
Can we give you a simple five-step system for doing this? Nope.
No, our gift to you today is far simpler... and more effective. It is the thought that you can decide which mountain to climb over the course of your career and life. It is the realization that you have far more latitude to make such a decision than you may realize. You are not stuck in the middle between financial and family obligations. You are not too late in your career to make a change. You are not forced to be "practical" or "realistic" instead of focused on what your heart and soul and brain is telling you.
Focus on Your Eulogy, Not Your Resume
A few years ago, David Brooks wrote an eloquent piece, The Moral Bucket List, in which he made the case that there are resume virtues and eulogy virtues; the former are skills you sell, while the latter are those that your family, friends and colleagues celebrate at your funeral.
Few of us want to be praised at our funeral as a "darn good product manager," but most of us lead our lives as though that outcome would be good enough.
My headline may be a bit inaccurate. The question isn't what will others say at your funeral? It's...
Where should I focus my efforts, for all my remaining days?
David's piece outlined six ways that some make the leap to eulogy virtues. In truth, all seemed a bit intimidating to me. It occurred to us that we could share a simpler formula for acquiring eulogy virtues. We didn't invent it, but rather pieced it together from the work of others.
1.) Growth: You start by recognizing what Carol Dweck wrote about in Mindset, which is that people with a growth mindset tend to outperform those with a fixed mindset. That is, if you think your abilities are fixed, you won’t do as well as people who believe that with enough effort, they can expand their capabilities.
But it's not enough to simply understand this. Doing so won't change the quality of your life.
You have to.. make growth your #1 goal, in both your career and personal life.
To be clear, if you embrace this mindset, your number one goal will no longer be "become a CEO" or "take my startup public." It will be growth as a long-term, unrelenting goal.
Once you adopt this mindset, you will never be content to plateau.
2.) Grit: Next, you apply grit behind your long-term goal of growth.
As University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth explains, grit is “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”
Duckworth, like Dweck, believes that effort is more important than talent. Her research suggests that the longer the time period you consider, the greater the advantage of effort over talent.
For example, if you are betting on a impromptu race between two teenagers on a football field, bet on talent. But if you are betting on which teenager will have the most rewarding life, bet on effort.
3.) Giving: Focus on the needs of other people, not just on your own needs. As Adam Grant - also at UPenn - pointed out in Give and Take, the most successful professionals in the world have a giving mindset; they are primarily focused on the needs of others.
A giving mindset brings purpose to your life. It gives your life a massive nudge in the direction of eulogy virtues. It is what transforms a great career into a stellar life.
We'd argue that a giving mindset is both altruistic and selfish. On the one hand, it vastly increases the odds that you will help others and make our world a significantly better place. On the other, helping others has a way of coming back your way with numerous personal and career benefits. We can't fully explain how this works, but have experienced firsthand that this is true.
A video series on based on our Aperture for Growth framework.
Everything You’ve Ever Wanted Is Sitting On The Other Side of Fear
One of our favorite quotes from George Addair states:
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.”
Consider that for a moment: to get what you want, you just need to get past your fear. We can hear some of you now: “Fear? I’m not scared.”
But if you’ve had trouble progressing in your career, we beg to differ.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It often masquerades as a cloak of protection, keeping us from doing things that may cause us harm. But sometimes, the real damage comes from the inaction that fear enables.
We avoid at all costs those things that make us uncomfortable, but there is no growth in the status quo. Sooner or later, that caution and those fears that prevent you from getting hurt or put on the spot, stagnate you.
Here are some sneaky ways fear halts your progress:
Your Head Is Full Of Negative Self-Talk
Somewhere along the way, out of fear of ridicule or rejection, you started to tell yourself that it was okay not to go after what you wanted. You fill your head with negative stories that prevent you from learning, growing, and stretching your wings. You say things like, I'm not good enough, I'm not ready, or I'm just a __________ (whatever you are now), not a _________ (whatever you'd like to be).
Self-sabotaging talk can be a dream killer and a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a vicious cycle. It plants seeds of doubt, so we start to retreat and succumb to the negative stories echoing in our heads.
“________ Is Holding Me Back”
You’d be able to achieve your goals if only (fill in the blank) wasn’t holding you back, right?
It’s far easier to blame others for your lack of growth than it is to step out of your comfort zone.
The truth is that the things that prevent you from growing are not external; they are internal. It's easy to think that other forces — your boss, the economy, or bad luck — block your path. Not true.
You’ve Fallen Into The Trap of ‘Good Enough’
You’re gainfully employed and have supportive friends and family. You have a good life. So good, in fact, that you should be grateful. You should be happy. You should feel guilty for wanting something different when so many would kill to be in your shoes.
You end up “should-ing” all over yourself.
You convince yourself that rocking the boat would upset everyone around you, and who wants that? Rather than go after your dreams, you settle for good enough.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, fear has reared its ugly head.
The good news? Once you’ve acknowledged that fear exists, you can take measures to address and disarm it.
If you want a better life and career, you have to change the stories you tell yourself.
Words have power, especially the ones you say — or don't say — to yourself. By replacing self-sabotaging talk with self-affirming talk, you’ll abandon limiting beliefs and adopt a growth-focused mindset. This doesn’t mean that you‘ll transform overnight, but it will create a more welcoming environment for positive change.
The Only One Who’s Holding You Back Is YOU
Until you take responsibility for your own growth journey, everything will remain the same. To make positive change, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You need to muster the courage to acknowledge and tackle your hidden fears. By doing so, you’ll get out of your own way, gain traction and go after your goals.
Realize That ‘Good Enough’ Rarely Is
It is hardest to admit what you most want in the world, and so very easy to settle for something short of that “risky” path. Lose the fear and guilt about going after what’s missing, and start to explore. A healthy curiosity is often the best educator, as it leads to new opportunities and experiences.
As we’re fond of saying, your dreams and fears are neighbors; this is one instance where you’ll want to get to know both.
You Are Something Specific To A Special Few
Years ago at a conference, a speaker said eight words that made such an impact on me that I still have them taped to my office wall:
You are something specific to a special few.
His point was that having clarity—about yourself, your offering, and your intended audiences—was the key to success.
The same principle applies when you're trying to make a significant career change. Let's break down that statement:
Clarity begins with your ability to answer a simple question: “What do I want?”
Though simple, that question isn’t easy for most to answer. Some wrestle with insecurities and fears about coming to grips with their true desires; others have never pushed the pause button on their busy lives to give themselves space to do so.
It takes thoughtful introspection, and sometimes, a reality check: do you really want (fill in the blank) and are you willing to do what it takes to achieve it? Make sure that your reply isn't merely a grass-is-always-greener scenario, but a genuine desire for which you're willing to work.
It’s likely that your answer will be different from your friends’ or co-workers’, and that’s okay: this is about being crystal clear with what is of the utmost importance to YOU.
...Are Something Specific...
Clarity demands specificity: there is no room for a wishy-washy answer.
For instance, it's not enough to say that you want to "work with people." Instead, dig deeper to figure out what elements of working with people you most enjoy. Would you rather work with high school students or senior executives? Do you like to interact with people one-on-one or as part of a larger team? Would you prefer a stable company environment or a fast-paced start-up?
The more focused you can be about what matters most to you, the better.
...To A Special Few
Once you figure out what you want, you need to be able to explain it to others—those "special few" who can help you.
Most people are willing to assist you if you're clear on your ask: can they make an introduction to a colleague in your desired field? Provide intel on a prospective company? If you’re fuzzy about what you want, you’ll confuse them and spin your wheels.
Your "special few" also includes those who might hire you, so being able to articulate what you want is crucial to achieving it.
For instance, on social media sites like LinkedIn, that means paring down all the extraneous information from your profile (yes, really—edit away!) to highlight what matters most, aligning your experience to support your desires, and consistently creating or sharing content related to those things that matter most to you. You need to say what you want, not what you do.
It also means viewing your profile through the lens of your intended audiences. If a potential employer, client or partner were to read it, would they immediately understand how you were uniquely qualified and positioned to help them get what they want? Doing so makes it easier for others to see your value.
Remember, your aim is not to try to be all things to all people, but to be something specific to a special few—including yourself.
And clarity is the key to achieving it.