Today our theme is “Don’t Get in a Hurry.”
Our show covers three dimensions:
When I was growing up, I was always in a bit of a hurry. I dreamed of traveling the nation and the world doing important work. I wanted to speed dial my way through high school and college to achieve my romantic but nebulous goals. I knew what I wanted to do but I was not sure how I would do it.
I was so anxious in fact, that one of my mother’s constant admonitions was, “John G, don’t get in a hurry.” That was always followed by one of her frequent themes with me: “You have to have a good education, you have to learn before you can do.”
I am not sure my mom was acquainted with the writings of Josiah Gilbert Holland, a 19th century author and poet, but it was if they had compared notes:
He wrote: “There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly endures.”
I eventually realized my goal of traveling around this country and the world doing interesting and, hopefully, important work, but Mr. Holland’s prose, “One thing at a time all things in succession,” was spot on in my life.
Quite by accident, although my father believed that my curiosity would once get the best of me, I discovered a passion for the business of writing, editing, and reporting the news. Without consciously realizing it, I rescheduled my more global ambitions.
It was a good thing because my days in the news business led me to public affairs and corporate communications and from there I was presented a life-changing opportunity: to be the first director of Hermann Hospital’s Life Flight program.
That great job led me to becoming the national marketing manager for the helicopter company responsible for creating the successful model we implemented at Hermann. In that new role with the aircraft company, I traveled the country from coast to coast, helping to set up the next 14 programs nationally.
I think of that story every time I am involved in coaching both the young executives who are impatient be to be CEOs, as well as those whose impatience to rise to the top has sidetracked their careers.
In one case, a smart, savvy young man whose goal it was to become a CEO of a large hospital or regional health system thought that he was not moving up as fast as he should, or as fast as some of his perceived rivals. So, he decided to take a detour and become CEO of a small long-term acute Care Hospital, a hospital within a larger acute care facility. His rationale was that once he had the title of CEO on his resume, that would be the key that would open many new, growth-opportunity doors.
If it were only that easy.
It did not take long for him to realize that he had made a mistake. He had the CEO title but he was really a glorified chief administrative officer reporting to a regional CEO who made all the important decisions as well as a lot of those that were not so important.
For those of you who are not in the healthcare industry, let me share one of our industry’s little secrets. Healthcare can be pretty provincial, especially when it comes to evaluating an executive’s career path for promotion.
After 18 months in a position he really disliked, this bright, young, impatient executive began his search to move back into acute care. It was then that he began to realize the consequence of his decision to quickly earn the title CEO, no matter what the job, and more significantly, that it wasn’t that easy to return to acute care. He lost several jobs to candidates coming from other acute care settings – they had, after all, that current experience and he did not. They were not any smarter or more accomplished but they had not taken a career detour that was driven by impatience. After nearly three years he finally was able to make it back into acute care and the first thing he did was call me to promise that he would never, ever, get impatient again.
Today I can report that his career trajectory has been re-established and hopefully he will achieve his ultimate career goal — but one thing at a time, all things in succession.
In this story the take away for me is that it is important to have a career plan and to execute on that plan. Be cautious of those sideway steps to get ahead. Take the time to build a foundation of skills and performance and do not get in a hurry. Trust that when the answer is No, there is a better Yes down the road.
Next, in our second dimension, take the time to stop and measure your happiness.
Years ago I learned an important lesson in life from a group of lawyers at a professional networking dinner: You can achieve your life’s professional goal only to find that while it may be incredibly rewarding, financially speaking, there is no fulfillment or deep satisfaction.
I have shared this story in a previous blog post but it is a powerful illustration of what can happen when, in your haste to find success, you do not take the time to critically think through a career-choice decision.
It was a cold, rainy night in Dallas when this group of 11 attorneys gathered for their monthly dinner, some might call it therapy. I was the 12th attendee and the only non-lawyer in the room. A regular member had to bow out, a last-minute business trip, so I was invited to sit in.
As after dinner drinks were being served, the conversation turned to job satisfaction, or lack thereof. I was shocked that so many successful people could be so unhappy with their chosen career. Everyone in the room was doing exceptionally well financially but only two or three seemed to really enjoy their work.
One young attorney was the youngest partner of a major national firm with a Dallas office. He was a litigation superstar. He was single. His annual compensation was approaching seven figures. He lived in a luxury penthouse condo, drove a big time sports car and frequently appeared in the society columns of the newspapers.
What he said about his career shocked me. To this day I continue to think about his said:
“Everyone says I am really good at what I do. They pay me extremely well and that affords me a nice lifestyle, but I really hate what I am doing. I only have to stick with it for 25 more years and I can retire.” I thought he must be joking but he wasn’t.
While his story may be an extreme example of a career choice run amok, he is certainly not alone in not enjoying his work.
For executives who are well on their way to achieving career goals, it is always wise to take some time to reassess, to take stock — is what you are doing professionally fulfilling and personally rewarding? Are you able to take the time to maintain the life-work balance that you will need for sustainability.
As you progress in your career it is not uncommon to feel a sense of urgency to take the next step up. The risk is that you can become so focused on your professional wants and needs that you may sacrifice those of your family.
I have found that good leaders do not get in such a hurry that they fail to achieve balance in their personal and professional lives.
My takeaway is this: If you are not happy with your work, if you do not feel fulfilled, then you are not living, you are existing. Don’t be in such a hurry to get on with your life that you sacrifice your life and your happiness in the name of a paycheck or a title.
Take the time to think about your strengths and skills and then open the window of your imagination and think about your real passion in life. Everyone one of us has been endowed with a gift. Are you using your gift? Are you doing the work in life you really want to do? If not, why not?
If you are stuck in work you hate because it is all about the money, know this: If you focus on the money you will never have enough and you will never be fulfilled.
There is a better way.
Finally, in Part III, we discuss trading your personal values and beliefs for the golden ring.
Being a leader by definition means that you are in the people business. Successful leaders are adept at balancing the needs of their team members and the goals and objectives of the organization.
Good leaders understand that a helping hand versus a critical word is essential to building the kind of relationships that support mutual success.
As you rise through the ranks of an organization, do not let your pursuit of success, or the realization of your goal, crowd out those who were an important part of your journey. Stay in touch, stay connected, and reaffirm the importance of those relationships with a helping hand always at the ready.
Treat people with respect and integrity. Every executive who aspires to be a CEO will need that goodwill at some point in their tenure. Do not take it for granted. Trust is essential to your success.
Develop your people. Education is not an expense it is an investment. If you invest and trust in your people, they will take care of your customers who, in turn, will take care of your bottom line.
Achieving your goal requires a lot of hard work, devotion, sacrifice and performance. Do not sacrifice your happiness or your values. Do not be in such a hurry that you become carless with who you are.
It is so easy to cut corners to achieve success. It is so easy to justify an ethical compromise in your quest to achieve financial objectives. Once it is OK but if you are not careful, that one time ethical compromise can become a way of life. It has happened to so many leaders in the name of fulfilling their goal of success. Do not be that person. Do not sell your soul.
Author Maria Robison said it best: “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but you can start today and make a new ending.”
© 2021 John Gregory Self