to build a ship

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I want to build a ship.

I need your help.

Were I to follow Antoine’s sage advice, how would I teach you to long for where that ship will take us? How would I get you onboard? How would I imbue in you the passion and the drive to love every part of the process and the journey?

That has a lot to do with the ship I want to build.

What lofty goal requires mustered driven masses? Specifically , I want to promote a world that I’m proud to have helped create. I want to beam with joy when I am on that sea. I really think it’s that simple, but of course there is an endless immensity behind that desire.

So, how do I teach you to long for the endless immensity of the sea? I must show you the sea. I must drive you to the shore and let you breathe in the briny air. I must share with you my sea stories.

In other words, I must strive to be a role model. I must strive to cultivate in you the belief that the world can be great. I must demonstrate what I think it will take. That will resonate with some of you, and some of you will be enough.

Great. Now you know my goal. Let me share a sea story with you. I promise to be much less heavy-handed most of the rest of the time.

The past couple years have been transitional for me. I have known that I am in transition, on a journey, and I am still not sure where it leads. I’m trying to figure it out as I go. Knowing such things may not be as important as doing such things. I hope that both of us, you and I will benefit from this experience.

Earlier in the year, I stumbled on the insight that I have been an overachiever. That is to say, I have been a person whose internally driven sense of self worth has been externally located. I had been one of those people who strived to be the best at everything in order to prove to myself that I was good at anything. I always needed to out-perform my last success. My yardstick for measuring my worth had no inches on it. This is a recipe for burnout, crash-and-burnout.

That realization was the first step. I knew I needed to have an internal absolute benchmark for my worth. After decades of operating under a different premise, I had no idea how to get there.

The successes of my career had given me a fragile confidence. Unfortunately, I had misplaced my identity and felt like I was my job, the sum of years of projects and programs, products and business plans.

Being unemployed this last year forced me to rethink that strategy. If I am my job and I have no job, what am I? Well, clearly, I’d better go get a job, so I can be a person again. That wasn’t working, so I started consulting. I was adding value and solving problems, but it was tenuous. It wasn’t steady enough to feel like an identity. Consulting was something I did. I wasn’t a Consultant.

I embarked on a new roller coaster, designed by the same people who brought you that ride we all love, Crash-and-Burnout. I was looking for new employment with the same faulty premise. If they didn’t hire me after I did my best, was I worth hiring?

I had been on this path long enough, I had to stop and take stock. Frustrated to the point of desperation, I found myself pondering the metaphysical. It seemed like Life was some entity that had put me in a holding pattern, not to continue my journey until I had learned some lesson. Okay, fine. What do you want me to learn already?

I told my wife this story. She told me, you just need to learn that you are not your job. You need to stop being so invested in these outcomes, as though your self-worth depended on them. It doesn’t. (I’m paraphrasing, of course. She doesn’t talk like that, and I’m jealous that she seems to always know crap before I do, like the plots of most movies.)

I always try to be a good listener, and I often fail at listening to the people I trust most. I guess they’ve always been too close to support my erroneous need for external validation. Nonetheless, I am trying to stop all that. I am trying to listen and learn, and I hope that sharing this with you will help codify this lesson.

I am not my job. I am not what you think of me. I am a man blessed with a wonderful family. I am a loyal friend. I am person committed to doing the right thing the right way.

I am here to build a ship.

But that’s me. What about you?

When you stop to ask yourself who you are, do you bother to differentiate between your roles and your self? Do you see value in stripping it all away to see what’s left?

Lastly, wanna help me build a boat?


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