Earlier this week, the legendary American pro football quarterback, Tom Brady, announced his retirement. That was big news because, at 44 years old, Brady was considered by many as one of the best NFL players in history. He holds nearly every major quarterback record, including passing yards, completions, touchdown passes, and games started. He never played in a losing season, and is the NFL leader in career quarterback wins, quarterback regular season wins, and quarterback playoff wins. In his final season, Brady was still playing at an extraordinary level. He set an NFL record for pass completions and became the oldest player ever to throw for more than 5,000 yards.
The fact that Brady retired didn’t surprise me. Everyone moves on at some point. But something he said in announcing his departure caught my attention. Calling himself “the luckiest person in the world,” he also noted that he didn’t want to make the “competitive commitment anymore,” and instead wanted to focus his “time and energy” elsewhere. That immediately reminded me of my own long-standing mantra on the importance of “living a life in color.”
I first wrote about living a life in color in 2013. I was motivated to share my philosophy following the personal loss of three important people who had led their lives in color. Unlike so many who might simply “punch the clock” personally and professionally, these individuals had “lived their lives to the fullest and pursued their passions (personal and professional) with zeal.” Like Brady, when they had lost the passion for a pursuit, they “changed the channels” to pursue other paths in color.
We have all encountered individuals who are living their lives in black and white. I am sure they love their families and enjoy their personal lives, but professionally 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 time merely going through the motions in the workplace — watching the clock until the day ends. I’ve seen it with frightening regularity.
Rather than foundering in a world of black and white, I have strived to pursue my career in color, inspired by countless friends and relatives whose passion for their work taught me to live my professional life as if I would only live it once. When I announced my plans to step down from being President and CEO of The IIA, I was driven in large part by what I suspect motivated Brady. I didn’t feel like my performance had fallen off. My passion was now burning brighter for other pursuits. To continue living a life in color, I needed to change channels.
Writing on this topic over the years, I developed five questions to assess whether you are living your 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 it, I believe there is no color. If you don’t think your work is important, or that you can make a difference in some way, it will be obvious – to you and to others – that you are simply consuming oxygen in the workplace. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on airplanes, and it has always been 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 or pursuit.
Do you settle for less than excellence? This goes with passion. Too many professionals are content to be average, to generate average results. Obviously, there must be an average, but individuals who are passionate about their work and who live their lives in color are not content to live 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 negative energy. When you identify things to be negative about, strive to change them or circumnavigate them. Otherwise, they will doom you to an unfulfilling life in black and white.
Are you genuine? Just as we might spot a fake piece of jewelry or a knock-off article of clothing, it is fairly easy to identify a professional who is not genuine. Acknowledge your faults at the same time you embrace your strengths. Others will respect you more if you demonstrate humility along the way.
I am not suggesting that I could have always answered those five questions satisfactorily. But when I couldn’t, I usually made a swift change – through self-improvement, or by changing channels. I believe life is so much more purposeful when we strive for rewards beyond the obvious. I encourage you to live every day of your professional life in color. I know I am eternally grateful to everyone who has inspired me.