Written by John Toomey
Where are you headed? What’s in store for you in your life from here on?
Where am I going is a pressing question for some and a rarely considered possibility for others. What about you? Think back 10 years. Where did you think you would be now? Perhaps try the exercise with a 20 year interval. Are you where you thought you would be? Is it better or worse?
Twenty years ago I was a first time parent who was also trying to get a business off the ground in the middle of a recession. My wife had post natal depression and I had little time to think about the present or the future. I was hopeful of a good life.
Ten years ago I had just made a sea change and was excited about possibility. Things were pretty good. Did I at any point think I would be where I am now? Perhaps in a dream if at all.
My next question is predictable but I will ask it anyway. As you are right this moment, are you happy? Are you completely happy and content with yourself and the life you have created?
Take a moment to consider this question. Many of us get excited about how things are going to be. You know, when we get that thing done we are working on, things will be great. But what about right now? John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”
Yesterday I took a bit of time out after a long run to have a coffee and read the paper. There was an article by AFL footballer Gary Ablett about his future and the pending decision about whether he would stay at Geelong or go to the Gold Coast.
In the article he stated that his over riding concern is his own happiness. Not a bad clue for choosing a future direction. Not once did he mention the money, but he did mention family and friends and a range of more simple things.
I get a sense that good health often comes from one basic factor; happiness. When we are happy we are less likely to succumb to negative stress, we suffer less fatigue, we eat less and drink less and are more likely to be productive in our daily lives. All of these things point to better health.
When we are happy we laugh more and spend more quality time with loved ones.
But what is it that makes us happy. Most of the valid research leads back to a single factor: feeling good about ourselves. This feeling is not one of elevated ego aggrandizement, but one involving a deep sense of knowing that our contribution means something.
We see this time and time again when we come across people in life who don’t appear to have much but who are deeply happy and content with where they are.
Modern life measures success with money, wealth and social status. But do these things make us feel happy or do they just give us a sense of power? Happiness and power may not be the same thing.
Over the years, I have seen some great companies, started by individuals or small groups that rose to a point of financial success, high level productivity and a place of importance in the community. These companies started because someone saw a need for a service and set about delivering. The original aim of the company was to provide a sound and valuable service. The founders would no doubt have felt really good about themselves.
In these companies the employees were happy and tended to remain with the organization for long periods; many for life. The owners made very good money and became very wealthy.
But for some reason, somebody deemed that these companies must “go to the next level” to keep growing. So they float them on the stock exchange. At that moment the original intention of the business takes second place to the need for ever increasing profits. Often this is done through acquisition. New and sometimes suffocating pressures enter the business.
It appears that the only measurement we have for growth in a business is profit. Something strange happens to managers in these businesses too. Their integrity seems to change from clearly defined to flexible and changeable.
In these cases, a happy business full of happy people becomes a pressure cooker. Often, individuals do the same in other ways by upgrading assets (and debt as well), to match their perceived level of financial success and social status. This can create a personal pressure cooker.
There is a concept called power flow that some people may not realize exists. I had a discussion with some influential people in the Australian arm of a successful world wide business. The Australian arm was struggling to find any growth and had been struggling for a number of years.
After doing more research into the company I learned that the original founder had decided to establish his business to fulfill an obvious need in the community. The foundation of his daily operation was to help people. His products were health and nutrition supplements designed to help people regain their health and vitality.
The business was enormously successful and grew quickly, spreading all over the world. But here in Australia it grew then staggered. The lead people I worked with were placing all of their attention on profit and almost no attention on helping people. One of them even said to me, “I don’t care about people.”
His attitude and his mode of doing business was going against the original intention behind the business and its products. He had been given access to excellent products and an incredible business model but flowed no reverence back to the original intention of the founder. He was happy to receive the power but not flow any back. There is little chance of growth with that motive.
I believe the same is so with these great private businesses that eventually succumb to the share market and hand over power to a diverse group of faceless owners. The aim changes and the original motive and intention is lost.
At some point a really weird thing begins to happen; something that may never have happened before in that business. In a rampant drive for increased profits, managers begin to push staff to produce more with less, reduce staff by taking away once safe and stable jobs and push for greater effort when the employees are already at breaking point. The reason given for this is to give more profit to the shareholders. In this situation, employees are treated in a way that the original owners wouldn’t have condoned.
The managers, who have an experiential knowing of how the original owners liked their people to be treated, remain silent and reduce their own personal standards to follow the directives of the new CEO. Cut costs, produce more and don’t get sentimental. Screw your suppliers down (even when strong relationships have been built over decades) to get a better rate.
In operating this way, these managers lose their integrity as they begin to make decisions they do not feel good about. Some months down the track, they pick up a bonus for their actions. It is an amazing scenario that occurs for no apparent sound reason other than a rampant drive for profit.
But here comes the very next paradox as we have seen in recent years. These companies go to the ends of the earth to make the workplace safe to ensure people do not get injured. Is the motivation care or fear of the law? Either way, workplaces are safer than ever.
But in the search for profits, financial safety goes out the window as more and more risks are taken out of desperation rather than good intention.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of people have been fired from highly safe workplaces, as a result of the insane risks taken by executives.
Many of these executives that I meet in my life are not happy. They tell me about what they have achieved or about the growth of the business but it is plain that they are not where they want to be and they are not happy. Somehow this drive for profit and status seems to steer us away from happiness.
Now I do not say for a minute that everyone who works in a large public corporation is without care, purpose or integrity. It seems though that in these domains, people operate with their head and there is little room for heart. Everything is a calculation or a strategy. Where care and compassion for people do not feature in the bottom line in any way.
Over the years I have seen some highly successful businesses that deliver returns in many ways. Yes they make a financial profit but along the way they produce a valuable product or service that makes life better for other people. They provide a workplace that challenges people whilst supporting them.
This is all a fascinating study of what we create. It can become a treadmill. We often find ourselves trapped, wearing the golden handcuff; depending on a salary we need to say afloat financially, whilst we quietly die inside.
So where to next?
Your life is yours to do with what you choose. Are you going for more money or more purpose (which can bring money)? Power or Happiness? Your call! Have fun exploring.
John Toomey is one of Australia’s leading Health Educators. Holding a Degree in Physical Education, John has worked in a number of diverse areas including extensive work in the middle and upper levels of Australia’s corporate community as a Health Presenter to companies like BHP, Telstra, Lend Lease and Esso.
He has presented over 1500 seminars in Australian companies on Health, Wellbeing, Life Balance, Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
With his wide Media Experience, John has served as an expert commentator on Wellbeing topics. He has also been published on a number of occasions in the Melbourne Herald Sun and the Melbourne Age
Further, John is a licensed Avatar Master and serves on a number of courses each year guiding students through an exploration of their own consciousness. Find out more at his website
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