Okay, so watch this video for just a little bit before you continue reading:
One of the things I really love about music is that when we hear great music performed, we aren’t just hearing great music, we’re also hearing an individual who has risen to his or her full potential.
The guy in the video is of course Bono, U2’s lead singer. The song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” As you watch Bono singing to thousands of people, you can just tell that Bono has 150% embraced his role. You don’t get the feeling that he’s thinking “Gosh, am I enjoying singing this song? Is this really what I want to be doing with myself?” You can just tell that he is totally congruent with what he’s doing, and is expressing himself to his full potential. Sure enough, thousands of people came out to hear it.
This may sound silly, but sometimes when I’m working alone in a room and trying to accomplish what I think is my full potential, I think of myself as the “Bono” of my little world. The way that Bono sings on stage — with purpose, and passion, and strength — that’s how I want to build Omedix, or deliver our web services.
So what other jobs require that 150% embracing of your position in order to really truly be performed well? I think actors have to do that, too. If an actor half-asses a role, it just looks ridiculous. Watch a random B-movie on Showtime at 2am on a weeknight and you’ll see what I mean.
But an actor like Russel Crowe who throws himself completely into every role he takes…he’s the Bono of his world.
In fact, I once saw a 60 Minutes episode featuring Russel Crowe. At one point he said:
“Do I feel in an odd way that there should be some kind of understanding between me and an audience now that if I’ve done the movie, regardless of the subject matter, you should turn up ’cause it’s gonna be a good film? I know that’s kind of wacky to say that, but, yeah, I do feel that.
I do feel after, you know, ‘L.A. Confidential,’ ‘The Insider,’ ‘Gladiator,’ ‘Beautiful Mind,’ ‘Master and Commander,’ ‘Cinderella Man,’ there should be some understanding between me and the audience that, you know, if I’ve done it. One, I’ve put a lot of effort into it. And two, there’s something about it that’ll touch your heart.”
You can’t help but notice the pride and passion in a statement like that. And again, in order to have that kind of personal investment in a professional endeavor, you simply HAVE to embrace it as your life’s true calling.
I think my Dad, a cardiologist, is one. He simply loves what he does. He loves being a doctor, and taking care of patients. He loves cardiology, in particular. I’ve asked him before, and he said he’d enjoy doing other things, but there’s nothing else he’d rather be doing…25 years into his career.
For myself, I had a weird epiphany sometime in early 2008. I just realized one day that I love business. I love the idea of having an idea, exploring it, analyzing it, planning for it, mobilizing resources to achieve it, and then going out and trying to do it…and maybe making some money from it, too. I can’t explain why, but that is incredibly exciting to me.
I really like computers, I really like programming, I really enjoy working with people, but my true calling is to be an entrepreneur and businessman. I feel like I have an endless fascination with how businesses are fun and how they succeed. I love to read about businesses and business leaders. I love to meet other entrepreneurs. I’ll work all day, and still be interested in those things. I think for myself also there really is nothing else I’d rather be doing.
And then there’s the opposite side of a spectrum. I was in a doctor’s office a few years ago, waiting to meet with him about his practice’s Web strategy. While I was waiting, there were two pharmaceutical reps there. Apparently, a pharmaceutical rep has to prove that he did in fact talk to a doctor and give the official company speech on why a particular drug is so appealing to prescribe. He proves that by getting a signature. All he really needs to show at the end of the day is that he got that signature.
I watched one rep basically doing his job, and he hated it so much it was just painful to watch:
REP: “Dr. Jones, if I could just get a few minutes of your time to explain the benefits of Lipitor…”
DOCTOR: “Oh, um, I have to see a patient, and then I’ll sign your paper.”
The rep took a deep breath, lowered his shoulders, and hung his head. “Yes, sir. Of course.”
Ten minutes later the doctor returned: “Okay, let’s hear your speech.”
In a brilliant display of absolutely zero passion, the rep proceeded to explain how studies show that Lipitor bla bla bla bla. I didn’t pay attention to the science of what he was saying, just the intonation. He hated what he was doing. He hated “condescending” himself to the doctor. He hated repeating the official company line, and he obviously didn’t believe in what he was saying.
After all of this, he sheepishly held out a piece of paper with a bunch of illegible signatures on it, the doctor signed, they shook hands and he was on his way.
Was this man living up to his full potential? I don’t think so. I don’t know what he would have been happier doing, but he was not Bono talking to the doctor.
Steve Jobs gave an awesome Commencement Speech at Stanford in 2005. One of the things he said in it is that you should accept that eventually, you will in fact die. He said that once you accept that fact, you realize that you really do have nothing to lose by undertaking pretty much any endeavor. After all, if you’re dead, who cares?
He then went on to say this:
If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today? And if my answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
In a way, if you hate what you do every single day, aren’t you dying a little bit each day anyway?
There is, I think, one tricky twist in the road to doing what you love. What if you are really passionate about your destination, but your journey is a pretty lousy one? For example, having experienced emotional pain in its most visceral form in my darkest hours with Omedix — working 100-hour weeks, feeling completely demoralized, and then realizing I just lost $10,000 that month…and had no social life — I think I pretty much exhausted my tolerance for “suffering through.” At this point, if I knew that’s what it took to get my company going, that the journey ahead would be THAT bitter, then I’d have to take a different road. But I’m happy today, so what’s the lesson there?
I think the lesson is that if you know upfront you’re going to hate the journey, why not just find a different route? If the journey itself is going to be that painful, can the destination really be worth it? I think the corollary is that if you’re in the middle of your painful journey — what Seth Godin calls “The Dip” — sometimes it makes sense to keep on keeping on because the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow really is worth it; and sometimes it makes sense to get the hell out.
So what about more established career paths? Is suffering upfront worth the rewards later on? I remember at Wharton that many of the finance people said that they were dreading starting on Wall Street, but that if they could just suffer through the first two years, then they could basically work anywhere they wanted and they’d be set for life.
Hmmm. Well, what else could you have done with those two years of your life? And if you just suffered for two years, won’t it be hard to justify not taking those next easy steps?
Or doctors in medical school. I meet a few doctors now and then who kind of hate being doctors. One doctor even told me he’d rather do what I was doing (Healthcare IT). I think these guys “suffered” through college, medical school, residency, and fellowship, only to realize that the destination wasn’t as great as they thought.
I guess what it comes down to for me is that if your journey is going to be bitter but your destination is sweet, maybe you can take a different road there. I don’t know, though…this is not yet a fully developed thought.
Anyway, the takeaway of all of this for me is that we all owe it to ourselves to find our inner Bono, or at least to go looking for him. For each of us, in our own unique way, when we do find it, it’s just like we’re on our own kind of stage “singing” to thousands of people, sharing our own potential with the world, while celebrating that we have in fact found what we’re looking for.