Throughout this blog I have attempted to share my perspectives on trust, empathy, and leadership in business. This post is not about indecision – far from it. My journey over the past year began with two of my interests – food and business excellence – but through the simple act of writing I have come to a stunning conclusion.
When we first begin a new line of work, usually we’re attracted to the subject. Maybe we have extensive knowledge about a certain area, or perhaps we see a gap in the market and we launch our own business. Whatever it is, it’s usually an industry in which we believe we have some authority.
Yet as we learn more about our industry and the work of our associates, we might realize that it’s not only the subject that gets us up in the morning. It’s not the subject that can steer us through our darkest days or steel our nerve when push comes to shove. We have changed our minds from subject to object.
In my case (surprise), the subject was food. One question – Where can I find the highest quality? – led me across the country and exposed me to almost every aspect of our modern food chain. But over the past few years, and especially in the past 12 months with this blog, I’ve changed my mind.
What began as novel way to explore excellence in business – associate each post with a relevant recipe – ended up leaving me tense and anxious. I had worked with food for so long, this seemed like a natural way to share my interests in strategic planning and design thinking. So why did I feel like I was tearing myself in two every time I tried to find the “right” recipe? I didn’t realize it at the time, but the simple act of expressing my thoughts in print was beginning to push me from subject to object. It’s been almost one year since I began this blog, and now the object is coming into focus.
Our work only has value to the extent that it enriches those around us. When we change our minds and move from subject- to object-thinking, we touch on the deeper values that unite all of us in our shared humanity. Ideally, the subject would be the final coat of paint on a house we’ve spent a lifetime designing, building, and furnishing. When someone asks you where you live, it’s easy to say, “The blue house on the corner.” Only when you invite your friends and family inside do they begin to understand and appreciate your soul.
It is exactly the same with our work. All of us have a soundbite, an elevator speech – call it what you will – to help those we meet immediately place us into context. But is one sentence about our job (the subject) enough to convey our deeper values (our object)?
Context is an imaginary map with mythical continents that we only view from 10,000 feet. If I learn that he’s a lawyer, she’s a chemist, and he owns a restaurant, I have not gained any insight into their lives and goals. Even worse, which all of us must try to avoid, I might cast my own biases from past experience with other people who worked in those professions.
My personal mission statement – my objective – is to apply my passions for teaching and long-term strategy to help everyone in my community succeed throughout their careers. It’s interesting that when I first began working with food more than 10 years ago, I defined my subject broadly at the expense of my object. If I were to translate my mission statement now into Andrew 2005 words, you could have removed “long-term strategy” and “throughout their careers” and replaced “associates” with “customers.” Huge difference, but back then my goals were much more immediate and near-sighted. When a customer calls, you pick up the phone.
What a difference a decade makes. Looking back at my career, even from this relatively early vantage point, convinces me that we all have a personal objective deep within us. Mine was never food; it was always teaching, consulting, coaching, guiding, and nurturing business owners in their quest for success.
Unfortunately, many of us – myself included – often squash our true objective before it can emerge into the sunlight. Where would I have been if I had realized this eight years ago? Wrong question. The converse is much more valuable:
Now that I know this about myself, what I will do?
This is the question we must all ask ourselves – and each other – if we are to succeed in our work and our lives. The next step is to transform our work so that it becomes aligned with our personal mission. Turns out that WHAT we do is not nearly as important as HOW we do it.
My next step on this journey is still unfolding. Let’s just say that things are about to get interesting.