One Cowboy’s Take on the Art of Having a Career that Doesn’t Suck
A Rambling by Dennis
Quaintance, CEO & CSO (Chief Storytelling Officer)
Read our Winter 2017 Neighborhood Letter
Some civic groups have asked me to talk about this outfi t being employee owned since we made that announcement last winter. It is an honor to share this story with our neighbors. I usually mention that after 45 years in the restaurant and hotel business, I’m still skipping to work—and I have even more spring in my skip because of the context of aligned interest that this employee ownership program provides. After these gatherings, folks will ask, “Really, you skip to work? What is the secret?” Thus, the topic of this Rambling.
Nancy, my bride and colleague, and I share the constructs you’ll read about here, and we use them as organizing forces for our lives. Mostly, we skip to work because that is our intention. That sounds simple, which it is and is not. Our intention is supported by methods of getting us closer to authentically experiencing ourselves as consistent with our grounding points of being loving, compassionate and of service…without the pat-a-cake BS pushover routines that often accompany those sorts of notions. This short and sweet (like Nancy’s husband) metaprogram is the general force around which we endeavor to live. Our goal is to use our brains, bodies and consciousness as instruments to make those ideas real.
Rather than saying, “We are not nearly as effective at actualizing our ideas as we’d like” each time it comes to mind—which will be often (like now!)—I’ll say it here and insert NEAIIL (Not as Effective at Actualizing Ideas as I’d Like) from now on.
How did we get to these grounding points? Methodically. We knew we didn’t want to wake up at 95 (optimistic cusses, eh?) and say, “Shucks, I wish I had slowed down and decided how I wanted to experience that brief lifetime of consciousness.” We learned most everything from others—friends, family and strangers—but also, as odd as it may sound, from the pain associated with the angst of “becoming” (When do we get to transcend that?) and other challenging stuff life seems to bring everyone’s way. That and our curiosity about the mysteries of consciousness led us to a path of discovery we are still traveling. We have so much fun reading, collaborating with each other (and many others), working with behavioral science professionals, journaling, arguing (while avoiding the mean-spirited), toiling, slowing down, speeding up, checking out, checking in, taking risks (like writing this?) and generally maintaining a level of comfort with the uncomfortable.
We knew we could live robotically, sort of sleepwalking…or we could decide how we wanted to experience the amazingly brief strung-together moments that make up our lives and set things up so our imaginings could become probable. We also knew that the only way we could be effective at behaving in ways that were consistent with our intentions and purposes would be to get them quick-like to the screen that influences our actions. (NEAIIL) In other words, our grounding points needed to be simple, easy to recall and comprehensive!
To get that clarity, we employed several exercises and methods, including imagining that it was our 95th birthday and a group of eight people, each representing a significant role we played in our life, would say just one sentence each about how they experienced us playing that role….duh, we’d want them to say nice things! (BTW: One of my eight roles was a word I may have invented: momenteer. I’m tickled by it. I was searching for a noun that described a person who embraces the moment.) We also looked at the broader context of the current era and considered the idea of being the change you want to see. (NEAIIL) We put all that and a lot more in a saucepan and reduced it over the warm heat of our love and mutual respect to get to this good stuff. We’ve not fiddled with these easy-to-reference touchstones since we cooked them up!
The model that lives under the umbrella above that we use for our careers looks like a three-legged stool, with the legs representing purpose, sticktoitiveness and bliss.
Purpose: Without the unifying force of purpose—a specific definition of and sincere commitment to an understandable, foundational idea that really, no-kidding, holds the authority—how can anything meaningful be accomplished? In order to provide a sustainable context in which folks (we two, for instance) enthusiastically throw their shoulders to the oxcart and skip to work for years and even decades, the purpose must be sincere, consider all those “touched” by the organization, understandable and held as the ultimate road map (even when it isn’t convenient). At QW, ours is: We are sisters and brothers who choose to be of genuine service to, and to cause delight for, our brothers and sisters who are our guests, colleagues, owners (now our staff members), vendors and the earth and her people, in that priority sequence.
Everyone knows it ain’t easy connecting our actions to our intentions. Having a strong sense of purpose helps. Impulses load automatically and lightning-fast, while intentions have to be purposefully inserted through our own volition. In that brief moment between a stimulation and our response, often our impulses reach our lips and body language sooner than our intentions get considered. (NEAIIL) Everyone knows how tricky this is.
Sticktoitiveness: It used to be that a pebble on the rails could knock me off track; now it takes a tremendous boulder. The value of this idea is obvious, but it’s taken some doing to stick with sticking to it.
Carefully considering the advantages of sticktoitiveness led Nancy and me to think about what derailed us. We came to realize that we needed to embrace the “whole package” and not run away from our fears. For example, one of the things I love most is collaborating, yet I used to think that I didn’t want to deal with a lot of problems. But authentic collaboration is often brought about by collective problem solving…so I had been running away from what I wanted. Duh. I now believe that it is a good thing to have sweaty palms several times a week, because it means that I am running toward a problem that is purposeful to address. If I don’t experience some angst, then maybe I have either fallen into the old robotic, check-the-box routine mode…or I’m hiding from the core responsibilities of my role.
Early on with our implementation of this stick-to-it idea, we made three-year commitments to our jobs in order to reduce the potential distraction of too-frequent reevaluation. Now we only allow ourselves to look around every six to eight years. A significant event can change this, but we are careful to not consider something significant that really isn’t so that we don’t run around like dogs chasing our tails. We think this way: We’re here, we’re doing this. Let’s get on with it. Experience aliveness, milk it for that and for the practice. Have fun!
This sticktoitiveness leg raises a discussion about burnout. I recently heard an extraordinary keynote address at the NC Theater Conference by Minneapolis-based Jerome Foundation head and Triad native Ben Cameron (What a guy!). He said, “Burnout is disconnect from core values.” After a ton of thought, I think he is right. When we have genuine enthusiasm for the mission and purpose of the outfit that we are serving, we can usually figure out a reasonable work/life balance. Maybe his point explains one reason why Nancy and I are still skipping to work.
Early on in my professional life, the grass was nearly always greener on the other side of the hill (not a stick-to-it kind of mindset). I was never sure if I was on the correct career path—or if I was on the right path but working for the wrong company. I came to realize that rather than ask myself the typical, “What do you want to do?” sorts of questions, a better question might be, “What do I want my experiences to be in the career dimension of my life?” (That’s a mouthful, and tackling that question helped a ton!)
Because I think that all we really “own” is our experience in the moment, and since the moment is the only place where bliss can exist, it made sense to me to put my focus on what I want to experience. I was surprised (but probably ought not have been) that the list of experiences I desired overlaid fairly closely with the skills at which some claimed I possessed some competence. I guess it is kind of obvious: We like what we are good at and vice versa.
Bliss: We think our careers ought to be a source of joy, challenge, fulfillment and delight. It just makes sense that those ideas would be central to our career intentions, so we consolidated them into the word bliss as the third leg of our stool. In this context, it might be helpful to know how we define skipping to work. We think that the optimal ratio is skipping to work 60 to 70 days out of 100. I know, though, that no matter how intentional and joyful one’s life and career might be, some days it just doesn’t fl ow. On those days we think, “Fake it till you make it”…while checking to be sure our actions stay grounded in sincerity.
About 30 years ago, I heard someone misquote part of a book (or maybe I remember it wrong) that affirmed our instinct that purpose, sticktoitiveness and bliss make an appropriate career foundation. It was: “All paths in life are the same and they lead nowhere so choose the path with heart and pursue it impeccably.” It is from The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda. I choose to interpret it like this: Don’t think that your path is more worthy than others, or that your path is less noble. Find a path that emotionally moves you and travel it with vigor, courage, enthusiasm and humility. Avoid worrying if it is the optimal path: Just live it. You only get a little time on this orb. Don’t spend it on the fence, spend it out on the playing field, enjoying it!
In summary: We are enthusiastic volunteers. Some years ago, I read an obituary for a social scientist who had dedicated his career to studying various self-help movements and techniques. He concluded that the idea of self-help was an important advancement for humanity. Nancy and I got to a lot of what I’ve talked about by employing self-help, an expression that can conjure up images of self-appointed gurus and self-satisfied “motivational speakers,” yet I can’t help but think: If I’m not helping myself, who is? I think that to effectively help ourselves, we are well served by employing processes and methods that might allow us to live a considered life. Doing that has us clicking our heels!
We volitionally play our roles in the career dimension of our lives as if we are playing a game that we love. Bockenberries—the part-chicken, part-egg invention of our wonderful daughter, Kathleen—come to mind… because they don’t worry about which came first. We don’t worry if our methodical approach or fate leads to our joyful experiences- we are grateful either way. We define success as getting to experience right much joy tranquility and enthusiasm. Thus far, by that definition, we are successful. So, literally and figuratively, we plan to continue to dance with the one that brung us (these ideas and each other!). I hope that this Rambling has answered the oft-asked questions that triggered it. Bock! Bock! (Translation: Thank you! Thank you!)