Last week, one of the true legends of my organization retired after 30+ years of dedicated service. There are very few people able to single-handedly and consistently improve the fortunes of a large company… and this is one of those rare individuals. She very successfully promoted a culture of innovation and also invested an immense amount of time and energy in training, teaching, and coaching countless individuals throughout her career. Our business, our products, our consumers, and our employees are better because of her efforts, and her day-to-day impact will be severely missed. She left a clear and deliberate “legacy” on the entire organization, and it is amazing how directly that her philosophy drove her time investments, which directly drove her organizational impact and ultimately her results.
Concurrent with this retirement, I personally am crossing a milestone of my own having spent 15 years of my life and career at this same company. Honestly, I want to say that I am celebrating this anniversary, but I am feeling less celebratory and more anxiety. This represents the half-way point to the traditional (even if no longer entirely relevant) 30 year career, and that realization is strangely disconcerting. Looking back, I am proud of my first decade and a half, but also frustrated
as I reflect on wasted time, unfulfilled dreams, and missed opportunities. And as I look forward, I have a heightened sense of urgency on defining my own purpose, on maximizing my impact, and on determining the legacy that I want to leave behind when all is said and done. Really, this conceptually seems simple- figure out what I love to do, what I was made to do, and what I yearn to do… and just do it. But if it is that simple, then why do so many of us struggle with this very same question. “What is my purpose and what legacy do I want to leave?”
While I could, and ultimately will, spend time on answering that big question, today I am instead focusing on the obstacles that get in the way on the road to “Purpose”. I believe that there are three main barriers that need to be overcome:
1) Mental Clutter: Work and life are filled with so many distractions and, frankly, “garbage”, that it is easy to lose focus and to wander off the road to meaning while being overwhelmed by the meaningless.
2) Ego: It is far too easy to get in our own way and to get too caught up in trying to fulfill our own or others’ superficial expectations. It is not that we should abandon goals like promotions, raises, and status, but if we prioritize them over doing meaningful work that we love, we will struggle to find purpose and fulfillment.
3) Fear: Whether it be fear of failure, fear of straying from a comfortable situation, fear of judgment, or some other fear… being too frightened to make a change will ultimately prevent that change from ever occurring.
And thus the Wizard of Oz analogy… while the journey to finding meaning and purpose in our careers may seem “black & white” at first, it ultimately is far more colorful. While searching for the “Yellow Brick Road” that leads to our legacy, we need a brain to overcome the mental clutter, a heart to overcome the ego, and the courage to overcome the fears. It was inspiring last week to see someone I admire to retire with such a strong legacy. I pray for the focus, the passion, and the conviction to find “my way home” and to more consistently and deliberately work toward my lasting purpose.