I was sitting in bed drinking coffee with my girlfriend this morning (whoops! Did I just admit to something?)
Anyway, I was drinking coffee with my girlfriend this morning, and she said that she had heard someone say that the secret to happiness was to find one thing you’re good at, and be great.
Wow. What a great observation. No pun intended.
It does sound pretty simple, doesn’t it? I participated in a study at work a few years ago about employee satisfaction and retention, and we ranked the top 10 reasons employees were happy in their jobs. Number one was recognition. People feel good when they are appreciated for what they do. They want to be great. Imagine how good that feels. Just for fun, number two was feeling like they were being heard by management, and three was making a difference. Pay was number nine.
But now, that’s really hard.
The workplace has changed a great deal in the last 10 years or so. It used to be that you were hired to do one job, and were allowed, even encouraged to be excellent in that job. Now we’re expected to do the work of two, three, or even more people. Companies are running lean, and the job market is tight, so they can just keep forcing you to do more and more with less and less. I’m really good at my job. I’m reasonably successful at the other job I’m doing. And I’m definitely adequate at the third. But when you put them all together, I’m basically getting by. The work is getting done, but it’s far from great.
Seems like now the goal is to find three or four things you are adequate with, and try not to royally fuck up.
Being great outside the job is difficult too. I’m a pretty good musician. Not only do I feel accomplished, I’ve been asked to play at weddings and have done some gigs playing dinner music at a restaurant. I used to be very successful with photography; I’ve won some shows and participated in exhibits. I’m very mechanically inclined. When I was a lot younger I completely restored a 1966 ½ Ford Mustang. Any of these attributes have the potential for greatness.
Like I have time for that.
When you work 10+ hours a day (There’s the job thing again), add in a 45 minute commute, take the dog to the park, cook dinner and clean up, not only is there not enough time left in the day to pursue anything else, there’s no energy left. And when the weekend rolls around, assuming you don’t have to do any work, there’s a house to take care of, yardwork to be done, laundry, and all the other things that are needed but can’t be gotten to during the week. When I do manage to organize a little time to myself, I want to be out on the water in my boat. That’s good, but there is nothing that could be called great.
Unless you are fortunate enough to be extraordinary from the beginning, and can be given the life choice early to concentrate on just one thing, it’s damned near impossible to find that one thing. Athletes generally find their skill early, and the really good ones start developing that skill at a young age. When’s the last time you heard of a pro football player that didn’t get into the sport until their late teens or early twenties. Nope. They’ve been at it since adolescence or before. Great musicians are the same. Look at Joe Bonamassa. By 10 years old he was playing the blues professionally He didn’t just pick up the guitar after work and find he’s a master bluesman. And even if there is a greatness developed later in life, it’s because you have the independent means to live so you have the time to dedicate to focus on their joy.
So I got to thinking. What can I be great at? There has to be some way to find excellence. Something a little more non-tangible.
I can be a great father! In fact, I like to think that I am. But that is fleeting. The time for greatness is when your kids are in the formative years when they get the basis to build on as they grow. In fact, I don’t like to claim too much credit for my kids. They’ve grown into their successes on their own. I don’t want to take away from their accomplishments. Not to mention, they are grown and gone so fast. If you have older kids, you know. It’s impossible to believe that those little babies are driving, or in college, or married with their own kids. When did that happen? And if you have small children? Hold on! You had better start planning that wedding, because it will be here before you know it. So I might have been a great father, but that time is past. I could be a great Papaw to my grandkids. Hm. That might be one to hold onto.
I could be a great husband! Wait a minute… Been there, done that. And I’ve failed, and more than once. You can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t have the opportunity for that again. I’m a slow learner, but I can be taught. And think about it. How many couples do you know that have been great in their marriage? Not only do 50% or more marriages end in divorce, but the ones that don’t end generally fall into mediocrity. Nothing great happening there. I only personally know one couple that seem to have that kind of marriage. But that’s in public. Who knows how it is out of sight from everyone.
I could be someone’s bestest friend ever! Definitely satisfying, but for me at least hardly qualifies as a measure of greatness. That’s a very limited audience (one), and isn’t part of the gratification being recognized for your accomplishments? Likewise, being a great neighbor. Good goal, hardly a basis for happiness. I’m running out of ideas here.
I’ve decided that the key to being happy isn’t finding the greatness. For me, the key is being the best that I can be as an individual. I may not be a guitar virtuoso, but I damn sure get a lot of joy when I play. Creating show quality car restorations? I’m thrilled when I can do my own brakes. I can appreciate the beauty of a photo I’ve captured without winning awards. All of which is a part of life’s satisfaction. But really, .what I want to be is a good person. Like a doctor, first do no harm. Treat everyone with respect. Lend a helpful hand when needed. Support those who are struggling. Give without reservation. Practice forgiveness. And allow yourself to not be perfect. Not that I want to wait until the end to realize this by any means. But I’ll consider my life well lived if my eulogy is…
What a great guy.