Theologian John S. Dunne tells the story about a group of Spanish sailors who reached the continent of South America after a long and dangerous voyage. They happened to approach right at the headwaters of the Amazon River, an expanse of water so wide the sailors assumed it was a continuation of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Amazon River is the greatest river in the world. It contains over 20% of the earth’s fresh water. During the rainy season it expands to 24.8 miles wide at inland points. Where it opens into the Atlantic Ocean it is 202 miles wide, discharging eight trillion gallons of fresh water a day into the ocean. That fresh water can be detected over 200 miles out into the sea.
But these Spanish sailors didn’t realize that subtle change in the water. They had spent months knowing they couldn’t drink the water in which they were traveling. Any experienced sailor knows that drinking salt water will kill you. Although it didn’t look much different, and the change had taken place slowly, now they were right on top of the largest quantity of fresh water in the world. And with that nourishing, fresh water all around them, some of those sailors died of thirst.
That picture serves as a metaphor for how I see many people in the workplace today. They have become accustomed to work being drudgery, a bitter pill, a curse from God – something to be endured, a necessary trade-off for a paycheck – the “salt water” that life has dealt them. They know that work is not to be fulfilling, they eagerly anticipate Friday or retirement when they can leave that stinking job and really do something they enjoy and care about. But at the same time they are sitting right on top of the greatest opportunities for fulfilling work the world has ever known. Companies are desperately seeking people who understand their areas of competence and are ready to make a clear contribution to their corporate mission. With our shift from production work to knowledge work it has never been easier to transition into free-lance or independent contractor status, providing more time freedom and income potential. Being an entrepreneur no longer requires a big chunk of start-up capital or even a bricks and mortar structure.
Several years ago Jim Hodges was eager for a change. Over a casual dinner conversation his wife asked Jim, “If money were not important, what would you do?” Jim responded immediately, “I’d sit around the house and read old history books.” Guess what Jim does today. He reads old history books. He creates audio CDs as he brings to life old historical novels with his dramatic, engaging readings. With primarily a home schooling customer base, children beg to hear the next installment as they are simultaneously learning the rich stories from history. Recently I received this note from Jim – “Just thought you’d like to know that, doing what I love, my gross sales increased 49% this year to over 104K (and the year isn’t over yet), gross profits are up 69%, and net income is up 241%. All with a 7 second commute.”
Kathy came to see me because she wanted a change. She was a high level human resource director at a Fortune 500 company. With that she made the trip to the office complex each day in her business suit to find the cubicle with her name on it. I proposed that because of her training background she was an excellent candidate to present the training that companies like SkillPath, CareerTrack, Fred Pryor and others offer. They promote for a specialized workshop, fill a hotel conference room and need someone to walk in and do the presentation. Kathy was eagerly accepted by two of these companies as a presenter. For that she chooses 3-4 days a month where she presents the material and is paid $2000 for each day. In addition she is now an online faculty member for two major universities. She “teaches” and has office hours from her ranch where she sits at her computer in her blue jeans and cowboy hat. Recognize that she is still using the same skills that she used previously in a corporate setting. But Kathy told me recently that she is working approximately one third the time she did in her former position – and she has more than doubled her income.
Is it possible that rather than sitting in “salt water” you are actually right on top of your greatest opportunity as well? Let me assure you that as we hear about layoffs, recessions and economic downturns, there are opportunities all around you. Business is not declining and opportunities are not diminishing. However, they are most surely changing. We have seen subtle changes as we have moved from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age to the Technological Age to the Information Age and now to the Idea Age. But just as we have seen transitions from production work to knowledge work, we are now moving into an era that embraces “high concept” and “high touch” models of work. In place of the left-brain skills that were so important in the recent Information Age, we are seeing empathy, caring relationships, storytelling and compassion as the defining characteristics of those who are prospering today.
Any time is a good time to draw that proverbial line in the sand and ask yourself, “Where am I and where am I going?” Don’t let life happen to you – put yourself in the driver’s seat by designing the future you want. I know you don’t want to die of thirst while you’re sitting on top of an unlimited body of fresh water – stop, take a drink and savor the nurturing, life giving properties freely available to you.
Principles from No More Mondays.