Last month, I lost two people who had an important influence on my life. One was a dear relative and the other a close personal friend from my college years. As I have reflected on these two remarkable women, I am struck by one thing they both had in common: They lived their lives in color. Unlike so many people who simply punch the clock on their personal and professional lives, both of these women lived their lives to the fullest, and pursued their passions (personal and professional) with zeal.
We have all encountered individuals in our professional lives who are living their lives in black and white. While I am sure they love their families and enjoy their personal lives, in their professional lives, they are literally and figuratively just punching the clock. I have always struggled to understand how anyone can spend such a substantial percentage of their adult life going through the motions in the workplace — simply watching the clock until the workday ends. But I see it around me with frightening regularity.
Rather than living my professional life in black and white, I have strived throughout my career to live it in color whenever possible. I have been inspired not only by my aunt and my college friend, but by countless others whose passion for their work inspired me to live my professional life as if I would only live it once. I am sure there are times when — to borrow the illusion from the Wizard of Oz — I stepped out of Oz and back into Kansas. When that happened, I either changed my attitude or my job as quickly as I could.
As I have thought about this topic, I have developed five questions that one could apply to assess whether they are living their life in color:
Are you passionate about your work? To live your professional life in color, passion for your work is the table stakes. Without passion, I believe there is no color. If you don’t think your work is important, or can make a difference in some way for others, it will be obvious to others that you are simply consuming oxygen in the workplace. With my extensive travel obligations, I spend a lot of time on airplanes, and it is always obvious to me which flight attendants are passionate about their work. The same is true whether you are an internal auditor, a professor, or a restaurant waiter. Be passionate about what you do or move on to another role.
Do you settle for less than excellence? This goes with passion. Too many professionals are content to be average and to generate average results. Obviously there has to be an average, but individuals who are passionate about their work and who live their lives in color are not content to be there.
Do you treat those around you with dignity and respect? Passion for your work and obsessive pursuit of excellence often come at a cost. Those around us can simply become instruments to help us excel. Those who truly live their lives in color respect that others may be trying to do the same thing. We must treat our professional colleagues and others with whom we come in contact with dignity and respect. We should be recruiting others to live their lives in color alongside us.
Do you dwell on the negative? It is easy to find negative aspects in the workplace. I often find that those who live their lives in black and white thrive off of negative energy. When you identify things to be negative about, strive to change them or circumnavigate them. Otherwise they will doom you to a life in black and white.
Are you genuine? Finally, you must be genuine. Just as we can typically identify a fake piece of jewelry or a knock-off article of clothing, it is likewise easy to identify professionals who are not genuine. Acknowledge your faults at the same time you embrace your strengths. Others will respect you more than if you only boast of your accomplishments.
These are a few of my thoughts on how we can live our professional lives. We will all make mistakes along the way. I certainly have. However, life is so much more rewarding when we strive for rewards beyond the obvious. I encourage you to live every day of your professional life in color. I will be eternally grateful to Aunt Florence and my friend Karen for inspiring me to live mine in color.