One book has transformed how I think about what I do—and why
A friend of mine, for my birthday, got me Warren Bennis’ classic On Becoming a Leader. I thanked him for the book but it sat on Mount Nightstand for five months. Last weekend, on a whim, I picked it up.
Just tore through the thing. Finished it Sunday. A lot of it’s meant for the business class but some of it applies to everyone, storytellers especially. Here are three of Bennis’ best points, arrived at after decades of consultations and scholarship:
1) A purposeful career comes from the full expression of one’s creativity.
Do you allow yourself to pursue the thing you want? A lot of us are our own worst enemy. Even when we overcome ourselves we have to ask: Does our job allow us to do the thing we want? Sometimes the answer is, not exactly. Not fully. But we tell ourselves that’s okay because there are bills to pay and a roof to stay under. Bennis’ point is you will never be happy with your career unless you Do The Thing, that thing that drives your curiosity and creativity. Let it above all guide you.
2) Late in life, the people most satisfied are the ones who did the stuff that scared them.
Bennis is talking about new projects and even new directions for your career. He cites studies of how people who suffer from a near-death illness or, say, a heart attack in mid-life are far more likely when they recover to start their own businesses. They realize that fear has kept them from doing what they want. They realize, too, that there’s something worse than fear: regret.
Many, many Fridays ago I wrote about Kemp Powers, the contract-working journalist who had a life-threatening illness and vowed that if he survived he would quit his job at AOL to focus on the plays and scripts he’d wanted to write for 25 years. He survived, quit his job, and last year was nominated for two Academy Awards.
An inspiring story, right? Well, Bennis makes an even better point: The retirees who have the fewest regrets about their careers are the ones who did the thing that scared them, and stuck by it regardless of the outcome. The result didn’t matter. The pay didn’t matter.