Who Belongs in Your Life – and Who Doesn’t
Finding a source of positive mentors outside of your workplace can give you the courage to turn “good enough” into a compelling future.
Episode 32 - Who Belongs In Your Life - And Who Doesn't
One of my early mentors was a man by the name of Jim Rohn.
Primarily a motivational speaker, he talked about business, relationships, and how to live a better life.
One of the things he was fond of repeating was,
“We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn
Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360.
The first time I heard Jim Rohn talk about how others influence our success, I was in my late twenties, working fifty-hour weeks for Eaton Corporation, a Fortune 200 company, and at that time, an employer of about 56,000 employees.
I’d been there for about six years, pursuing the plan that had been laid out for me. And I was committed, I was dedicated, even determined to achieve success within the corporate world.
Unfortunately, part of that plan meant forming relationships with people I had absolutely nothing in common with — except they represented the potential to buy the products that Eaton Corp. sold.
And it was my job to make sure they did.
In working my assigned base of customers, I typically saw the same group of people several times a month.
The “business” part of my sales calls — while usually involved answering technical questions and resolving competitive pricing situations, was usually finished in a few minutes, leaving lots of time to talk about other things.
And that meant they talked and I listened.
Most of the time, the conversations centered on my clients’ personal lives, including subjects like their out-of-control kids, or the affair they hoped to keep hidden from their wife, or the neighbor who intentionally let their dog poop in their yard, and a hundred other things that people typically need to get off their chest.
At first, I’d encouraged the conversations, because I knew that the best way to establish rapport with clients was to be a good listener. And, my customer’s often took advantage of those one-on-one discussions.
And what that really means . . . is that I became a kind of emotional dumping ground. A place where they could unload and express their anger, disappointment, and frustration over anything and everything.
And when I use the words, anger, disappointment, and frustration as the general subjects they wanted to talk about, I do it because I want to make it clear that these exchanges were usually negative- about their problems at home or at work.
Lunch meetings often became impromptu therapy sessions. And no, I didn’t offer any advice or give my opinion concerning their particular problem or predicament, I just listened and nodded my head, giving them my non-verbal assurance that I cared.
But if you want to know the truth . . . I didn’t care.
Because their lives didn’t mesh with mine.
The only thing we had in common was a vendor-customer relationship created by our respective employers.
Oh sure, most of these people were hard-working, responsible folks. But if you gave them the opportunity to shortcut their assignment, steal time or money from their company, or meet a co-worker in the copy room for a quickie, the majority were more than ready.
And they relished the opportunity to tell me about it.
At first, I found their revelations sad and disappointing. These were educated professionals and I expected more from them.
So I thought, “Maybe I’m being short-sighted, maybe I’m missing something, being too judgmental or making inaccurate generalizations.” Because I didn’t know these people beyond the personality they exhibited at work. And I wanted to think, that there had to be other areas of their life — their hobbies, goals, ambitions, or charitable work — where they did find some enjoyment and satisfaction.
So I prodded a bit, asking questions, encouraging them to open up about the parts of their life that got them excited, brought them satisfaction and gave their lives meaning.
The majority described the joys of a Friday afternoon happy hour, eating at expensive restaurants, and getting a great deal on the last major purchase they made.
I expected to hear something entirely different. And it made me wonder if the nature of their after-work involvements was a symptom of compensating for a job that left them disappointed or dissatisfied.
Maybe happy hours and constantly buying new toys were substitutes for the meaning and satisfaction missing from their careers.
My first thought is that I could change these people.
I decided to offer a series of seminar-style training classes, focusing on work-life balance, goal-setting, and communication — skills my clients could use both on and off the job.
I believed that if I showed them it was possible to operate from a bigger-picture perspective, they could develop a new enthusiasm for their work.
I even imagined my efforts would be the catalyst that caused some of them to take a hard look at their lives and decide to change their direction, to move from the mediocrity they described in our lunch conversations to a more positive mindset, improving their performance on the job and even improving their personal lives.
I sent out invitations with a description of the course content, and made a point of emphasizing that the training was free. The only cost was an investment of time.
With very few exceptions — I could count them on one hand — the several hundred people in my client database were not receptive.
What I found out is that the overwhelming majority of these folks were not motivated to do any more than to show up at work, put in the time, and collect their weekly paycheck. They weren’t interested in learning something new, especially if it had anything to do with their job.
And many of them responded to my invitation by letting me know that my after-work seminars would “be a waste of time for them.”
And this is what I remember most about that experience: As if a simple refusal wasn’t enough, a few of my more outspoken customers came right out and criticized my attempt to improve their work and personal situation as youthful expectations. They called me, “naïve and unrealistic.”
They were lifetime subscribers to the theory of “good enough to get by,” and they cautioned me about working too much, and how I was throwing away my youth without taking time to have fun.
And as they tried to convert me to their mindset, they usually ended their conversation with a countdown, pointing out the number of years remaining before they could retire.
Another ten, twelve, fifteen years, they would say, and then I’m free.
And then came the rationalization: “It’s not a bad life,” they’d tell me. Put up with the company BS for thirty years, do as little as possible without getting caught, and hope you stay healthy to enjoy twenty years of paid retirement.”
That was their plan.
And at the end of the day, it left me with lots of unanswered questions.
Why had they settled for so much less? What had happened to them to make them so cynical, so susceptible to taking the easy way out?
And then the big question hit me:
Is this going to happen to me? Despite all my good intentions, will I finally cave in and accept a fate of just getting by, putting up with the frustration and disappointment of a less than satisfying career?
I took my questions to a co-worker. He’d been with the same company for over twenty-five years and was a respected division manager. Here’s what he told me: “The feedback you’re getting is half right,” You are full of youthful expectations. And some of those need to be tempered with the realities of the work arena. Not everyone is going to want what you want, or be as motivated as you are. That’s life. It’s time you recognize it and deal with it.”
I told him I appreciated his input, and assured him I understood what he was trying to tell me.
But the more I thought about it, it didn’t make any sense.
How could someone willingly throw their life away? How could they just let the years pass without wanting to make their life more productive and ultimately, more rewarding?
And that’s when I realized that many of the other professionals in my work environment saw the trajectory of their lives as the result of playing it safe, of accepting the monotony and repetitive status quo in exchange for a paycheck.
Whether it was inherent to the industry, or the result of poor management, I realized I was in the wrong place. And I didn’t need a crystal ball to see the future that waited for me.
If I didn’t find an alternative source of motivation, I would eventually adopt the status quo of professional stagnation, which was very obviously a big part of business as usual.
And that meant that in time, I would become the one with a sad story to tell. I would be the one bending the ear of anyone who would listen, talking about the dreams that never came true and my youthful aspirations that I eventually abandoned as an unrealistic waste of time.
Looking back, it doesn’t take a psychologist to see my problem.
I was depending on the work environment — and on a limited number of others in that environment — to be the prime source of my professional development. I was relying on the circumstances and conditions of my job to keep me invested in my work, to provide the mentors and stimulus I needed to fuel a continuing engagement with my profession.
But it doesn’t work that way — not as a constant.
And I know there’s some who will disagree with me, wanting to tell me about the company they work for, the one that provides its employees with a mentally-stimulating atmosphere, the one that initiates thought-provoking conversations, instills higher ideals, and motivates their employees to achieve the highest standards of excellence.
And if that’s where you currently find yourself, that’s great. But as you continue to grow, sooner or later, your needs will exceed what the company can offer. And here’s why; all influenced environments have inherent limitations resulting from the need to serve the average, the median, the greatest number of people in the most beneficial way possible.
The environment is designed to serve the lowest common denominator. If you’re going to shape a professional work environment to serve the majority, you have to consider the needs of a very wide set of needs, ranging from the twenty-one-year-old with little life experience who needs career direction and help in prioritizing her life-values, to a mid-career division head who is weighing her options for a fast-track to a vice presidency.
So how do stay on a personal fast-track? How do stay focused on the things that are important to you and make a real difference in your life when you’ve reached the upper limit of an environment that no longer serves your highest values?
You want to pursue the idea of independent discovery and learning — but you’re working in an environment that’s grounded in values that are very different from your own.
Here’s what I did.
I made a decision to purchase a monthly audio program from Nightingale Conant (www.nightingale.com). The authors of these programs were speakers, teachers, and industry leaders who became a source of motivation and inspiration, giving me the opportunity to learn what I couldn’t find in my own work environment.
When I finally donated them to a local library, I delivered over 120 programs authored by people like Wayne Dyer, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, Earl Nightingale, and Brian Tracy.
What did I learn from listening to over 700 hours of audio content?
The most important revelation was that no one will care more about my personal development than I will.
Being dependent on your employer, your workplace, your co-workers, or supervisor to furnish an idealized environment customized for your specific needs is taking a huge risk with your future.
On-the-job development is not necessarily about being with your own kind. Nor is it about an occupation or a specific company.
Employment brings together people of different backgrounds, education, values, and priorities. Some will offer the possibility of mentorship, most will not. The key is to determine the specific curriculum you need to start making desired personal changes in your life, or taking the next professional step in your career, and then commit to completing it.
Today, there are audiobooks, blogs, podcasts, videos, and web-based courses on just about any subject you can imagine. And there’s no reason — and no excuse — for putting your personal development on hold, or ignoring your need for a source of intelligent and relevant ideas and concepts.
Because, you have the ultimate responsibility for your personal growth, not your employer.
Hey, if you’re fortunate enough to work for an employer that supports in-house personal development, great! But job offers, promotions, and advancements don’t always come pre-packaged with higher levels of excellence and a life-effective philosophy.
In most cases, you’ll have to go out and get it yourself.
That’s why it’s called personal development.
Thanks for listening, and I‘ll see you next time.
© 2021 Roger Reid. All Rights Reserved.
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Contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure and check out my new book now available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback. It’s titled Better Mondays: The New Rules for Creating Financial Success and Personal Freedom (While Working For the Man)
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You can find more information on my website, www.successpoint360.com. I’ve posted the first chapter on the site as a free read, so I encourage you to take a look.