I made a mistake last week involving pants… I bought them. The problem is, and I have to say that I pretty much knew this before I left the store, they don’t fit.
In my defense, I am a man. I don’t like clothes-shopping to begin with, and when you throw in the extra step of having to try things on, I get to a point where I’d gladly plunk down my credit card on an ill-fitting clown suit, if I thought it would get me out of the store faster.
But the real mistake was taking the pants home, cutting off the tags and then deciding they don’t really fit. Now I’m stuck with them, and despite having spent the better part of this week trying to convince myself that they’re okay, I know I am a liar.
In my experience (and in this case, I don’t think it applies to just men) most of us settle on a profession in about the same way. We wander around, try a few things on, and, if we find something we can squeeze into, we take it.
Unfortunately, and based on emails, phone calls and cups of coffee with lots of working people, there are way too many of us just tolerating work, instead of thriving in it. We have, in effect, cut the tags off before finding a good fit.
Which brings me to Michael Jordan. Here’s a guy who, in his 13 years as a professional basketball player, won just about every award imaginable in that sport; he’s arguably the best ever to walk the face of the Earth. So much so that if you were to describe the attributes of the ideal basketball player, you’d more or less describe Jordan, up to and including his winning personality, which made him ideal for product endorsements.
But here’s the key question: Was he really that extraordinary as a human being, or was he just lucky? Lucky, in the sense that the things that came naturally to him – height, speed, strength, intelligence, endurance, competitiveness, and a love of basketball – just happened to be a perfect fit for an existing profession?
I believe it’s more the latter. Sure he worked hard, but no more than you or I do. The fact is, if being unusually tall were a negative in basketball instead of the positive that it is, Jordan might have just turned out to be one more good-looking bald guy named Michael.
This next thing I’m about to say may sound like an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is.
I think we’re all Michael Jordans (or Bruce Springsteens or Donald Trumps, or anyone who’s had extraordinary success in a given field). The problem is that for most people, the unique package of skills, abilities and interests within each of us doesn’t fit perfectly and obviously into an existing profession. So we pick from among the available options and settle for good enough.
Or maybe we don’t. My view – after spending the first 20 years of my professional life in conventional jobs, being slightly successful doing things I slightly liked – is that the point of starting your own business is to create a custom-made occupation. A unique livelihood that pulls together all the things you love and are good at doing, into one basketball-dunking, crowd-pleasing, “Can I have your autograph please?” concoction. It sure beats working.
And so as you sit here thinking about 2007 – particularly if you’re not energized by what you’re doing every day – maybe it’s time to take a new approach.
In the coming year, why don’t we all spend a little less time straining to fit our idiosyncratic selves into an existing pair of pants, and a little more time thinking about a new wardrobe entirely… one that’s based on whatever natural talents and interests are uniquely our own.
I’ll see you at the All-Star game.