Great leaders always move towards growth, change, and transformation. Yesterday’s success is not always indicative of tomorrow’s, and more importantly, the path to past achievements might not be the right path going forward. The word change is omnipresent in all organizational management consulting pamphlets. But, for many executives, this leaves us with a constant existential struggle. Nothing we do is ever enough. We’re constantly checking the time to ask ourselves what we’ve gotten done lately. What’s this year’s award? This month’s innovation? This week’s numbers? Today’s accomplishment? How much is satisfactory? Maybe nothing. Maybe, as Alexander Hamilton said, we will never be satisfied.
On the other hand, we’re told by mental health and spiritual experts, as well as an array of cleverly imaged social media memes, that we need to find our gratitude for the present or we will find our lives a spiritual wasteland of unhappy wanting. So, we endeavor to flip a switch from the anxious soulful need to achieve, to meditation or prayer in search of love for the moment. Is finding joy in the present inconsistent with the urge to create? Doesn’t gratitude kill creativity? Is incessant dissatisfaction necessary for motivation?
When is enough, enough, and will we as leaders and builders ever find comfort in past creations? Are these even the right questions to ask? In answering, I submit that neither of the above two paragraphs are accurate. First, while dissatisfaction can serve as a motivator for creation, it can also be replaced by an entirely different and equally motivating motion: joy. And second, finding and holding on, not to ideas, but other humans can always serve as the constant we need for fulfillment.
‖ The Joy of Creation ‖
What if we shape tomorrow’s accomplishments not on the basis of the angst that we aren’t enough without them, but purely and simply for the instinctive human joy of doing so? The passion for the act of innovating is therefore, in itself, the motivation for that growth. This breathtaking possibility sounds simple but is far from it. In fact, I confess I struggle with it quite a bit myself. it requires a shedding of ego combined with an extreme form of humble confidence that’s rarely perfected. But I have at least succeeded in comfortably internalizing the following:
The uncharted world of ideas, the one traversed by explorers, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, and all innovators, is fueled by the ambition to go beyond the current borders of our knowledge. And yet, it’s a truth universally known among all people, languages and religions that the most profound of discoveries lie not beyond the stars but within ourselves. Even more remarkable is knowing that the power inside of each of us is not passively awaiting discovery. Rather, we control its potency and application. We define its color and width and height. Through creative exploration of who we are and what we can become, we build our own state of being.
This is the space where gratitude, satisfaction, and the need to create intersect. And, at the center of this Venn diagram, in this space of crossings, sits joy itself. Thus, joy is not an adjective, but a verb. Indeed, instead of defining “joy” as some reference to a fleeting “feeling” of happiness, “joy” can represent “the very act of bringing to life reimagined constructs of the past.”
‖ The Stable Awakening of Relationships ‖
Waxing poetic about the philosophical plight of transferring our fuel for creation from angst to joy reads lovely. Actually doing this work, though, takes time. For some, it is a near impossible task. What then can we do right now to fill the voids within us? The constant nagging in the minds of all overachievers that we haven’t done enough, didn’t help enough, and are not enough? Here is where we can turn to our relationships, for those, too, are a component of our creative capabilities. Here is where we can take pure unimpeded gratitude without any cost to our drive.
One of the greatest business leaders of our time, Sir. Richard Branson, once said that, “I cannot remember a moment in my life when I have not felt the love of my family.” We may judge ourselves constantly by comparing current accolades to the old, but the space where we do feel at home is with our family and friends. If Covid-19 and this era of isolation-trauma has taught us anything, it’s that the core of our humanity hinges on the embrace of those who define the best parts of ourselves. And so it may be that you’ll always want yet another uncharted professional goal within your grasps, but so long as you can come back inside your body, look around, and find people you love who inspire you, you have access to an infinite well of satisfaction. And if you don’t have such people around you, well then good God my friend, get to work. Because they will be your “enough” when no amount of accomplishments can.
Perhaps, however, the greatest strategic insight a business leader can have is to extend some fraction of this awakening to their professional relationships. Studies show that the most brilliant leaders are at the highest risk of over-reliance on their intellect while ignoring other skills necessary for success, such as relationship building. Call it diplomacy. Call it a motivated culture. Call it what you will. The truth remains that while our professional impact will never mirror the relevance of our family, to lead a company, a profession, or an industry in a manner that fills our existential fractures, we must build a work-culture that resembles the joys of home.
If you accomplish that, I promise you, it will be enough.