One of my very favorite quotes about career and life comes from Thomas Edison. The inventor, who also taught us many great lessons about success and failure, tells us, “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”
That quote is on the inside front cover of my writing notebook. (Yes, I write old school – pen and paper first.) And, when this notebook gets filled up, I’ll add it to the inside cover of the next one, too.
I love this quote.
I find it incredibly powerful and inspiring, and I believe in its truth.
We’re all great at something. We have energy and passion and talents that, if released, could contribute to something pretty amazing.
But are we in positions to release all of that energy, passion, and talent?
Survey Says… No
Studies show that a staggering majority of American workers are dissatisfied with their present occupations. Of those surveyed, 71% percent classify themselves as “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” at work; 66% plan on looking for a new job in the coming year. (I guess the other five percent plan to just stick it out in their misery…?)
The reasons for being unhappy at work vary. The job itself may not be a good fit. Relationships with co-workers or supervisors may be difficult. Lack of job security, flexibility, or adequate compensation may be the issues. Too much travel, responsibility, or corporate politics could be the culprits.
Whatever the reason, the results are the same. If you’re in that situation, you’re not astounding yourself (unless you consider your abilities to refrain from screaming “I quit!” or strangling your annoying co-worker or boss astounding, but that’s not exactly what we’re shooting for here).
No – you’re exhausting yourself. You’re trading your time and some of your talents for a paycheck, but, at the end of the day, you’re not experiencing the joy of a job incredibly well done – a job that allowed you to use your favorite and best talents.
To astound ourselves in the way that Edison talks about, we need to be in roles that allow us to release our best selves. We need to be using the talents that we most delight in using – not just the skills that we can perform with competence.
We need to use those talents to serve those we admire or desperately would love to help. And we need to be in settings that allow us to be us. We don’t need to change into our “work personalities” to fit in; we get to shine as our true selves.
Settling for anything less robs us of this opportunity. So, how can we go about the business of astounding ourselves?
Put Your Best Talent(s) Forward
What talents bring you the most joy when you use them? What skills do you have to offer that you want to share? Most of us could create nice long lists of things that we’re good at or able to do, but that list of competencies doesn’t necessarily fit our dream job descriptions. Boil it down to your favorite abilities and find a way to spend more of your time focusing on them.
Follow Your Heart
Does that sound like fluffy advice? It’s not, I promise. Don’t ignore your natural passions – they’re the fuel for why you do what you do (the reason beyond the paycheck). If you’re a parent, you’ve surely discovered that your child has interests and attributes that are just in his or her wiring. They’re drawn to certain things naturally, and they’re clearly disinterested or not cut out for others.
Don’t ignore that about yourself. There are certain things in your wiring too that energize and inspire you. And there are certain types of people that you’d love to serve or serve alongside. Find them.
So here’s the great “What if” thought: What if you could find a way to:
- Use the talents you delight most in using
- Serve a cause or group that is meaningful to you
- Work in an environment that energizes you
What would you be capable of then?
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”
There’s your challenge.
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