I have a mentor. He is a friend and someone I have trusted to guide me through my career – without judging me – for 31 years.
We meet twice a year.
Last month, whilst chatting, we remembered the first piece of advice he ever gave me all that time ago as I began my career in training.
His advice was simple.
“You will be happiest if you do your best at something you enjoy.”
The more we thought about it, the more profound we realised his words had been.
There are two parts to his advice.
The first is to do your best.
The second is at something you enjoy.
My mentor’s first point encouraged me to go beyond just trying hard. He taught me the skill of personal reflection. Using that skill, I explored how to continually improve on my current ‘best’.
He helped me to make a conscious choice to exercise humility and challenge my own attitude, behaviour and performance with a critical eye.
This was key to identifying how to improve and never settle for ‘just good enough’.
You could argue that striving for excellence in this way could be detrimental to happiness. After all, how can a person be happy if they are not content with ‘just good enough’, continually seeking ways to become ‘better’?
Well, the second part of his advice has the answer to this question.
The second part of his advice was about the choices I made about the work I did.
It seems obvious when we stop to think about it. If we choose to work at something we love, it is easier for us to keep going when there are challenges and problems (and there will always be those!).
Our passion for the work carries us through when we may otherwise give up if we were doing boring work.
Daniel Goleman refers to an interesting concept he calls “flow“ in his book, ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence’.
He describes a sensation of inner calm and deep focus when we immerse ourselves in work that we enjoy doing. We find it easier to produce our very best quality work whilst we are in the state of “flow” because time seems to stand still.
Have you ever found yourself so engrossed in a piece of work that when you look up, you realise hours may have passed without you really noticing?
This happens when we enter the state of “flow”. When this happens to me, I invariably look at the work I have just created to discover it is some of my best work.
Naturally, this leaves me with a heightened sense of pride in my work and makes me happy.
I remember as a young man working for an insurance broker answering the telephone to provide insurance quotations manually and feeling incredibly bored.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that I needed to change my job for more interesting work, otherwise a negative set of events would have occurred (first, boredom… second, laziness and we know the devil makes work for the lazy!).
So I decided, with the help of my mentor, to do something about it and began my journey to strive for personal effectiveness at the age of nineteen.
I look back now at the age of 50 and realise our learning must never stop.
With the massive technological advancements made in the last two decades, information has never been more readily available for anyone wishing to improve themselves.
You can surf YouTube for free self-help guidance as easily as checking the time. There are thousands of excellent TED talks online to inspire you for free.
All you need to do to become personally effective is choose to do your best at something you enjoy.
PASS IT ON
What I find really interesting is that people who are personally effective are positively infectious. I think it is known as ‘positive role modelling’.
It is amazing how personal effectiveness has a knock on effect.
For example, I recently held a graduation ceremony for some students I had been teaching Human Resource Management at a central London College.
Whilst the majority of the students passed the qualification comfortably, one particular student had missed some evening classes, was late turning in some written assessments and had an attitude that suggested she did not feel capable of passing the qualification.
Remembering the words of my mentor I sat with her for half an hour after an evening class to try to understand why she was struggling.
“Why are you studying human resources“? I asked her.
“Because it’s the most rewarding line of work I can imagine“ came the reply.
“And why is that?“, I continued.
“Because no matter which organisation I work for, my job is to help the employees of that organisation enjoy their work and be fairly recognised and rewarded for doing it. I will be creating happiness in the workplace“.
She was clearly passionate about working in Human Resources and would enjoy working in it.
I then simply asked, “do you feel you are doing your best on this training course? “
She took a moment to reflect on the question and looked a little surprised.
Then her shoulders dropped slightly and a look of resignation came over her face.“No, you are right… I have not been doing my best on this course “ she confessed.
I said nothing.
She paused and then continued,
“… And if I want to pursue a successful career in human resources, I know I need to pass this qualification. I think I have become distracted and need to re-focus.“
I smiled and asked, “How can I help? “
To which she replied,
“you just have!“
My mentor had encouraged me to do my best at something I enjoyed which helped me build a successful career spanning over 30 years.
In encouraging my student to do her best at something she clearly enjoyed, I had passed on that encouragement for her to be more personally effective. All that was required was a little nudge to help her towards higher performance.
The result? She studied hard for the next few weeks catching up on work she had missed. She submitted her late assignments, produced her highest quality work and passed the qualification with flying colours.
But her success did not stop there.
Once inspired to be personally effective, she returned the following semester to study the next level of qualification and recently landed the human resources role she had been dreaming of.
When I asked her how she was, a beaming smile came over her face as she explained how happy she was in her work.
What then happened was amazing.
She went on to explain that she had recently applied the personal effectiveness principles to her personal life as well as her work life and was now running a gospel choir one evening per week to exploit her singing talents. She was genuinely inspired.
That inspiration was inspiring.
On hearing her story, I decided to return to playing classical piano and am enjoying that in my spare time.
When I recently played a piece for my 13-year-old daughter, she asked if I would teach her how to play. Naturally, I agreed. Imagine the joy that is currently bringing us.
The point is, all of this brings positivity and happiness to our lives and the lives of those around us.
So there you have it.
A simple piece of advice that encourages personal effectiveness brings happiness to you and those around you…
Do your best at something you enjoy.
The positivity that follows is inspiring.
Tony Kerley FCIPD, FInstLM