Pay Attention To Taylor Swift. Really.

 

taylor-swift-vance-joyA friend reached out this week to ask if I’d ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search For Meaning. I told her I had, it remains one of the most important books in my life and it’s formed much of my approach to living. We had a sparkling dialogue about it (I just love sparkling dialogues, don’t you?) and the next day I pulled my copy off the shelf and settled in for a re-read.

Frankl, a leading psychiatrist and thinker, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and other camps during World War II. Coming from that horrific experience, Frankl gained deep understanding of how people under tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual pressure react. It became his life’s work. In short, Frankl believed that people can endure nearly anything if they are deeply connected to something bigger than themselves, or are doing something in service to others.

This is why you might stay in a job you hate – it provides the income you need to give your children a great education. Or, it allows you to care for your aging parents. It might give you the space to write poetry, or raise rescue animals.

You do what you do – even if it’s hard – when you feel you’re serving a bigger purpose.

In the re-read, a key passage from Frankl’s preface stood out to me:

“Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

And that’s when I realized just how powerful Taylor Swift is.

You see, I recently saw Taylor sing on a British TV show called The Live Lounge. Now, the premise of the show is this: famous musicians sing songs that aren’t theirs. They cover other popular songs - a really fun concept.

So, Taylor could have chosen any song. She could have phoned it in – I mean, she’s an international superstar! She could have been silly or jaded or intent on preserving her famousness and make a boring choice.

But she didn’t.

From what I could see when I watched the clip, Taylor chose to sing a song that gave her joy, that she could be creative with.

She covered Vance Joy’s great song “Riptide.” Here’s the link: BBC Radio

If you watch it, you’ll see that at certain points Taylor is amused with herself as she sings certain words. She lingers on phrases. She doesn’t just cover the song – she interprets it.

And that’s when I realized that Taylor Swift is deeply, powerfully connected to her “why”. And it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with seeking fame.

Her why, in my opinion? She’s a musician. Plain and simple.

I am sure she faces a lot of pressure to be commercial and crank out hit after hit. There are probably people who suggest she phone it in and collect the cash. I’ll bet she has plenty of haters.

But I’ll also bet that despite all of that pressure, she feels compelled – yes, compelled – to do what she’s doing. And to do it her own way.

She’d do it even if she wasn’t famous.

Which, according to Frankl, is precisely why she’s famous.

Now to you. And to me. What can we learn here?

I think it’s this: whether you know it or not, whether you’re currently connected to it or not, you’re here to create something. You’re here to make meaning with your life – to do good – in service of something larger. The more you do it, the happier you’ll be. The more you do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Try as you might, it doesn’t work to only pursue fame – you live fully when you fully pursue meaning. 

Serve your creativity – whatever it looks like for you – and in so doing, you will succeed. It might be a long path, and the success may look really different than you imagined, you might even fail a time or two. But if you are deeply in touch with your “why”, you’ll get there.

And, if you’re at a place in your life where you feel disconnected, or things seem futile, or you don’t even know why you wake up in the morning – do yourself a favor.

Read Frankl.

 [photo credit: Time]

The Simple Manifesto

Red-Tailed Hawk
Let’s make this simple.

And when I say that, I don’t mean just these words you’re reading right now.

I mean, let’s make everything simple.

Let’s stop making things hard just because we have an idea that anything worthwhile has to be a challenge.

Let’s stop complicating things in some misplaced effort to justify ourselves and affirm our right to be at the table.

Let’s be done with attempting to prove something by being difficult and inscrutable.

Because it really never works. That is, if you intend to get anything done.

Sometimes people complain to me that they send email and never get any responses. When I review what they’ve written, it’s easy to see why – they’ve very formally written right around whatever they have to say. And often they fail to clearly ask  for what they want the reader to do, so they never get what they need.

That right there is the definition of ”doesn’t work”.

And we want it to work, don’t we?

Here’s something to consider if you’re struggling with the idea of “simple”:

Wordy, flowery, clever does not equal smart, insightful, helpful.

Formal, complicated and incomprehensible does not help clarity, understanding and action.

1 + 1 does not need sine, cosine or tangent to solve.

When you have a choice, and you always have a choice – pick simple.

Make your presentation less about bullet points and more about a story.

Make your meeting less about catching everyone up and more about making decisions.

Make your email less about sparkling, witty repartee and more about asking directly for what you want/need.

Take one clear step forward instead of three steps to the left if you want to move ahead.

Always, always, always look for the simplest solution. You don’t need stress and friction.

Own easy.

Be easy.

And you’ll win, easy.

Quietly Desperate

 

 

It must have been in high school where I first heard the famous Thoreau quote:

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”group of people waiting in line, back view

At fifteen or sixteen, I’m sure I had no clue what Thoreau was getting at. For one, I was not a man, and, for me, “desperation” meant calling that cute boy from third period and hanging up in a fluster the moment he answered the phone.

Today, although I am still not a man, I have a better sense of Thoreau’s sentiment.

And I see it quite often in people who come to me for coaching. They will tell me that things are stuck, or stale. That they can’t seem to make progress, can’t get a break, can’t overcome the forces aligned against them.

So, they stay where they are, hung up and quietly (or not so quietly) desperate.

When you think about the last hundred years in the developed world, there’s been such a seismic shift in the way most of us live our lives. Then, so many of us were union members who worked in factories at the mercy of time clocks and management bullies. The average worker learned to report, do his or her job and keep out of the cross hairs of the suits with their time-wasting “improvements”.

Today, with the shift to a more service-based economy, fewer and fewer people are making their living using their muscles and brawn. Jobs today are about knowledge, customer service and adaptability.

Yet, if you grew up the child or grandchild of a working person, you might just hold onto some of the working people vs. suits sentiment.

What’s harder today is that you’re probably more like ”them” than your grandparents ever were.

But the us vs. them dynamic lingers. So often I see people who still wait for permission from “them” to come up with a new idea. Who won’t dare act without approval. Who need to have a supervisor to blame when they’re stuck.

These are the truly desperate people.

And they don’t have to be.

Now, more than ever, you have to be the architect of your own career. Those who wait for an authority figure to step forward and bestow blessings and permissions will miss opportunities.

This, my friends, is guaranteed.

The other day I heard a story about a young woman who’s in her first job right out of college. She’s utterly entry-level, yet heard about a new project the brass was excited about. She did some thinking and came up with an idea, based on what she could gather about it. She wrote it up and sent it to the big boss. Who kindly wrote back to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

So, she thought some more. Brought in a friend who was also lower level and together they brainstormed another approach.

She submitted again.

And her concept is the one the very large, innovative organization is going to implement.

I told this story to someone recently who said, rather bitterly, “Millennials! They don’t know their place!”

But that’s not it at all.

No, that 23-year old woman knows that she’s not going to live a life of quiet desperation. Not her.

She’s in charge of her career, not anyone else. And to get where she knows she wants to go – she’s going to get herself there.

It’s an important lesson whether you’re twenty and just starting out, or sixty and feeling very stuck.

And the lesson is this: quiet desperation is a choice you can certainly make. But you can also choose something else.

You can choose to stop waiting for permission and start creating opportunities.

Because you don’t need anyone’s else’s permission to do that.

 

Tell Me Something Good

 

There are times in any of our lives when we feel off step, out of sorts, maybe even stuck. For some of us, these moments come when we find ourselves at a moment of change.

Maybe that change is something you’ve invited. Maybe it’s univited. Maybe you don’t even realize there’s been change until it’s done.

Regardless.

You find yourself completely at sea and there is no breeze to fill your sails.

What do you do?

Will you stay stationary? Or move?

Will  you stagnate? Or grow?

(In case you’re taking notes, “movement” and “growth” are always preferable to “stationary” and/or “stagnate”, just FYI.)

But how do you do it? How do you start moving when you’ve been in the doldrums for so long?

Good thing I know the answer.

There’s one thing to do that’s guaranteed to move you.

One thing to ask yourself. One thing to get clear on. One thing to own and implement.

Here it is – you ask yourself: “Where in my life, right now, can I do something good?”

Sounds kind of simple, doesn’t it? But it’s really kind of hard to do when you’re locked in a box and can’t seem to find a way out.

And you owe it to yourself to find a way out.

You know, I’ve long held that all of us humans have the same purpose in life – to be a force for good in the world, in our own way. And meaning comes from however we decide to do good.

So when you’re stuck in place and can’t seem to find a way out, look for something good to do.

Look for some way you can contribute.

Maybe you focus on customer service at your job.

Maybe you mentor someone.

Maybe  you volunteer.

Maybe you buy coffee for the person in line behind you.

Maybe you figure out what’s missing in terms of creating good in the world… and you do it.

Regardless.

There is a ton of research that shows that finding the way to matter in the world – in ways large and small – is more impactful on your life than even being happy.

So work on finding meaning in your life. Do something good.

One thing. You can choose.

Then drop me a line and tell me how it goes so we can sing one of my favorite songs together.

 

 

On A Tightrope Over A Chasm of Failure

 

 

I wonder about you.Own It!

I know things are stressful, and you’re unsure.

Every day you question. Every day you worry that you don’t know where you stand, and if what you’re doing is appreciated.

Or even seen as important by anyone. At all.

I know it’s not fun to be so uncertain. Not one bit.

So, I wonder if –  for just one day – you could shift it.

That for one day, as a test, you could own that…you actually do know what you’re doing.

That you’re not making it up as you go along. That you’re not walking on a tightrope over a chasm of failure, one error away from falling.

What if – for one day – you could ignore the tightrope and come at your day from a place of calm? Generated from a deep understanding of your own expertise?

Not in a boastful or bullying way, but with a centered sureness.

Sure in your bones that you haven’t gotten to where you are by luck, chance or happenstance.

Because, you, my darling friend, are not a fluke or a mistake.

No, you’ve gotten where you are by showing up, doing what needs to get done and honing your practice.

Whatever your practice might be.

I know it’s easier in some ways to say that it’s all luck. Or chance.

Because then you don’t have to claim anything. You’re sort of off the hook.

And no one can say you’re too big for your britches.

Or that you’re calculating.

Or trying too hard.

Or not nice.

If you shrug off your expertise, you’ll probably continue to fit in with the crowd. You know, the Whac-A-Mole herd-like people who are only happy when no one sticks their head up?

Those people.

There is comfort in a crowd, for sure. But you might also feel anxious. And as if everything could change in a moment.

Unsure.

Unsteady.

Stressed.

Do you know what I’m talking about?

Does it keep you up at night?

It doesn’t have to.

You can have calm, steadiness and success. You can have great days.

But to get there you have to own who you are and what you’ve got.

So, for one day – just one – give it a try and see what happens.

Stop pretending you don’t know what you’re doing and start owning everything you do know.

Of course, be open to learning. Be open to the perspectives of others. That’s what people who center in their strengths do.

It’s what the best leaders do.

It’s what you can do.

Step away from the crowd. Dip into your expertise. Feel it. Own it. Live it.

For just one day.

Just one.

I wonder what that will be like.

I wonder if this week holds the day you’ll give it a try.

And as one day leads into another, maybe you’ll happily find that you’re permanently off the tightrope and walking your own, broad path of success.