There are two principles that I adopted this past year that have helped me immensely in my personal and professional life, to reduce suffering and increase my frequency of being in the happy-state.
The first is – I don’t need to have an opinion.
What this means is that there are areas in my life where I can be in complete control, for example, how I make my bed, where the pillows go and whether the comforter is tucked under or lays on top. Most of life doesn’t fall into that scenario.
In particular, a lot of the things that happen at work are situations that I really don’t need to have an opinion about. The thought short circuits our basic human tendency to want to assert an “I”-dentity. This identity is usually based off your title, role, previous experiences – it is your ego-self trying to make itself known. How many times have I been in a work meeting or conversation and brought up a dissenting opinion or highlighted some criticism of the ideas or topic in front of me?
It’s also important to recognize that most of our opinions are based off of feelings, of “not wanting” this and instead wanting something else. At the bank, I didn’t want to implement risk and control training, I didn’t want to draft the email about updates to the expense policy – so I had an opinion, and I voiced it in elaborate corporate speak to reduce my sense of responsibility or to heighten my sense of importance about the matter. I was difficult to work with, because you could expect push back. I thought it made me less of a push over. It just made me unpleasant at the workplace and closed many doors to what could have otherwise been fruitful, collaborative relationships.
In my most recent performance review (now a different company), my manager noted that I had a “can-do” attitude and how refreshing it was to work with someone like me. I laugh to that, because it was not too long ago when I was a terror to try to manager.
So I share this one insight from this year. You don’t need to have an opinion. Just do the work. The path of least resistance most of the time, means that when you do voice an opinion, it is probably more likely to matter. And you want to be able to choose when those times matter.
The second principle I learned this year was to have the discipline to execute. I wrote about this over the summer and this has mostly been a very practical guiding principle from my time at the second start up. I was leading a junior sales team that needed to conduct cold calls and generate business leads. I had to preach discipline to execute because cold calls suck. I knew the inherent challenge of managing remote, young people required constant motivation, and my preaching of “discipline” was just shorthand for hey, can you please do the work required of your own volition because I can’t make you do it in this current setting?
But I soon adopted the concept as well, because what is a leader without setting an example. I probably worked the hardest in my entire career that summer. I was also being paid more than I was ever compensated. And finally, I also knew that my time with the team, the startup, and the role was to be short lived – I was actively interviewing to return to the more stable and predictable world of financial services. All of this combined meant that discipline to execute was important in making sure I left a meaningful impact and a good impression before my eventual departure. I wanted to make a difference while I was there and I wanted people to think highly of me even though we only worked a few months (12-weeks) together.
I have tried to keep these two principles top of mind and in everything that I currently do for work. I didn’t want to regress into a former, less capable version of myself. The 360 performance review was a good reminder of how much I turned around in just a year’s time. Three jobs later.
These principles have helped me maintain a sense of calm by not having an opinion and just doing the work. When I am calm, I make room for happiness.